The Interview Learning Experience

There’s nothing quite like reading good, clear explanations of the basic concepts and approaches we focus on here at DBL. Librarians may struggle as they seek to understand and familiarize themselves with design thinking, user experiences and other important elements of a library that delivers a great user experience. That’s why I found Kate Rudder’s interview with Nathan Shedroff to be informative and enlightening on several levels. Shedroff is experience strategist, author, and the Program Chair and founder of the brand new MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts. Unlike some of the more technical articles on design thinking and user experience, the interview format makes it possible to learn from an expert who puts the theory into a more practical framework. Here are some snippets from the interview:

Design processes, specifically, approach the challenge to imagine and devise new solutions, in any context, by looking at customers in meaningful ways, integrating data from a variety of sources, and using it as a starting point instead of an ending point. Design respects different kinds of prototyping and iteration, which is an important part of the process.

You don’t have to be a designer to learn to innovate like one, but it helps if you’ve been through the process a few times to understand what to expect and how the process needs to be supported.

Design [with a big “D”]is about how people approach a challenge and develop a solution and, as such, these processes are extendable into almost any domain: interaction design, organizational design, etc. However, most of the time that the word design [with a little “d”] is used, it is often referring to a particular type of design or domain: graphic, industrial, web, interaction, fashion, interior, etc. and it invokes all of the baggage associated with that domain in both the speaker and the listener.

Great designers have processes they rely on to investigate, ideate, prototype, iterate, validate, and communicate that they can employ to validate what their intuition may be leading them to.

Check out the rest of the interview. I think you’ll find it a good learning experience

Soft Launch VS. Big Blowout – A Design Perspective

Every library gets to experience the excitement of developing or acquiring some new product, technology or service. Once most  of the hard work of design and implementation is completed, the fun part happens – letting it loose on the user community. But what’s the best way to do that? The field of instructional systems design make a real science out of this process, and it can involve everything from developing a budget for a release campaign to using a variety of methods to disseminate information about the new – whatever it is – among the community. But I’d like to consider just two possibilities for the product launch: the soft launch and the big blowout.

You might be asking, “Who cares?” or “What does it matter?” It might not make a difference if we knew exactly how our user community would respond or if we were so convinced that our new product or service was going to be a hit that we didn’t need to care about how we released it to the community. But we typically don’t know, so in the face of uncertainty we need to carefully consider our strategies. It’s a bad idea to leave a new product introduction to chance. Library organizations need to make the most of these opportunties – they come around infrequently.

Apple is a good example of a company that uses the big blowout strategy to powerful affect. They use the MacWorld conference as the place and time to launch their newest and biggest products and software. Steve Jobs’ presentation is considered the highlight of the event, and raises incredible anticipation about what Apple will do next. The iPhone was introduced during a big blowout event, and this was months before it was available. It was a huge hype-generating campaign, and it achieved exactly what it was intended to – massive technophile interest. But there are thousands of other products and services that go public in a different way. Mainstream movies are often first viewed in limited screenings so the producers can guage audience reactions and decide if the first iteration needs revision. They might remake the first scenes or the ending, based on audience reaction.

So what if anything can libraries learn about the relative merits of big blowouts or soft launches. There’s no question that far more buzz can be generated with a big blowout. The introduction of a federated search product or a newly renovated section of the building can generate lots of hoopla. It might even serve as the core of a new branding exercise. But for a new service that might be less well understood, an institutional repository for example, a soft launch may provide more opportunity to get the word out to users who can help to make or break a new product or service. There’s no question that the soft launch is a safer method, because if there is uncertainty about the product or service’s quality the soft launch can allow more opportunity for tweaks.

From a design perspective I tend to prefer the soft launch. While prototyping can help to refine the product or service to the point where it’s ready for the launch, there’s no doubt that a few details were probably overlooked or something obviously in error isn’t being seen; sometimes only the end users can capture those faults. A subtle mention in the library blog or throwing up a link on the home page, along with targeted messages to core stakeholders, makes the soft launch a far less complex process and it keeps the pressure for success at a lower level. None of this activity need preclude a more hyped announcement after the soft launch has accomplished its task.

Does my approach sound too risk adverse? It might be. I can understand why big corporations need big blowouts, and I am not sure libraries can accrue the same benefits. I think there might be better ways and different events to keep the library at the forefront of the user’s mind in a landscape crowded with hype and big announcements. Perhaps the bottom line for making a choice depends on local strategies for designing a better library. Which approach, the soft launch or big blowout, does a better job of fitting into the overall design scheme? From my perspective the soft launch contributes more to the users’ library experience in the long run through better design of library services and practices. There’s no question the big blowout can deliver better on the WoW Factor though, and that’s something to consider. Timing can be a factor as well. I think it always benefits the library to have something significant to announce at the start of a new academic year in order to generate some buzz – and to demonstrate the library is no static operation – but is it worth it to rush the release of something new before it’s ready for primetime? It can be a tough call. What method do you prefer to use at your library?

Overcoming The Rules Culture In Our Libraries

Two things are on my mind lately. I’ve written previously about what would constitute a good user experience for a library user, and I continue to explore how we could make this happen for our local library user community. But to do accomplish that I’ve also been thinking about what holds us back from reaching our great experience goals. One barrier that emerges again and again is our traditional library rules culture. We have so many rules and policies that we have to search our own web sites to find them when a rule check is required. How does this contrast with the rules environment our users experience in the retail environment?

Have it your way! No rules, just fun! But when you get to the library – “You want that book for another loan period. Sorry, the rules say you can only renew it twice.” I just finished reading The Starbucks Experience, and while the book is by no means one of the best I’ve read on user experience, a librarian reading the book would immediately sense the significant difference between a Starbucks and a library – even the libraries selling coffee. When it comes to their customers, Starbucks doesn’t have rules.  I’ve gone in Starbucks and asked for a small coffee in the medium cup, so I can add milk. Guess what? There’s no cup size rule. I’m sure Starbucks, like all service organizations, has policies that dictate the delivery of customer service. But the difference is that Starbucks employees are empowered to bend, break or shatter the rules if that’s what it takes to deliver a great experience to the consumer.

There are good reasons to institute some rules in our libraries. If study rooms are in significant demand during the exam study period, imposing a time limit can create equitable access to the rooms. That’s a case when a rule makes sense because it does try to allow a good experience to be shared among the community. Where rules break down the experience is when they are used to frustrate users and inhibit their ability to use the library. For example, a student group has already signed up for and used a study room earlier in the day. Now they want to use a study group again in the afternoon. The library rules clearly state only one room per day per group. So they don’t get the room. But there are three study rooms that aren’t being used, so they want to know why they can’t use one. What happens now? Will the library staff member stick to the rule for fear of being disciplined for breaking one or put a commitment to giving those users a great library experience ahead of the rule book?

I suppose the outcome depends on how much effort is made at that library to empower all staff members to  adjust the rules and policies as needed to accommodate and satisfy the library user. That seems to be the conversation we need to begin having in our libraries if we are to change our rules culture. To my way of thinking the first step is to shift the library culture from one that’s designed around the needs of the library administrators and staff to maintain control over the collections and facility, to a culture that is designed around a focus on delivering great library experiences to the user community. Until we take that first step collectively as a library staff, we will have little success in changing our rules culture. 

Designing Thinking Backlash Surfaces

It had to happen sooner or later. A business journalist decided it was time to burst the design thinking bubble. Does she succeed? Lara Lee, in a BusinessWeek article titled “Innovation at Risk” writes:

There’s a belief in some quarters that design can keep innovation relevant—that applying design thinking to our biggest business problems will deliver sustainable growth. “If we can just get business people to think more like designers,” the argument goes, “we’ll get them out of their linear, analytical boxes and inspire them to generate novel, customer-centered solutions that will drive new growth.” The problem with this thinking is twofold: First, it paints businesspeople who aren’t designers as uncreative and inattentive to customer needs. Worse, it runs the risk of overpromising what design thinking can deliver, which is a surefire way to undermine the role of design, and innovation, in creating new business value.

She goes on to compare design thinking with a previous business infactuation with strategic planning, and states that most companies did just as well with strategic planning as without it.

It’s certainly reasonable to question what design thinking can contribute to business practices, and Lee isn’t the first person to suggest that design thinking has all the makings of another business fad. On further reading one sees that Lee isn’t trashing design thinking. Rather she’s simply stating that its proponents must be careful about overpromising what it can deliver. Remember, the librarian-designer’s mantra should be “underpromise and overdeliver” – not the other way around.

While I view design thinking as more than just the innovation tool that Lee suggests it is, I do think it’s wise to avoid presenting it as a panacea for all that ails libraries. At DBL I think we’ve been thoughtful about how we view and present design thinking. Along with strategic planning, team-based organizations, identity branding and other methods being used in libraries to promote better user experiences, design thinking has its role to play in providing a mental process and practice approach for frontliners and administrators. I agree with Sherry Bailey’s recent comment here that more examples of good design thinking practice are needed, and we’ll be working to identify and promote them.