A Well Designed Meal Results In An Excellent (learning) Experience

I’m hardly a gastronome. I’ll eat just about anything, and I’m happy with simple foods – anything from mac & cheese from the box to a grilled piece of fish tossed from the skillet to the plate. But at the ALA Midwinter Convention in Denver a vendor invited me to dinner. I could hardly decline the generous offer.

So we trundled off to what I believe is one of Denver’s tonier dining establishments. It was small, crowded and gave the air of exlusivity. Not what I’m used to by any means. Take me to a beer & pizza joint. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

A look at the menu revealed a number of concoctions that left my head spinning. Anything I could have chosen would represent an entirely unfamiliar dining experience. That could be a good or really bad thing. I wasn’t even sure how to start narrowing down the puzzling options. But that’s not what happened.

My hosts decided to opt for the seven-course tasting menu. Now don’t get the wrong impression. It’s seven courses, but the portions are “tasting” size. At first I was thinking how hungry I was going to be after seven courses of tea room size portions. I was pretty hungry after a day of trudging around Denver from meeting to program. Next I was worried about what I was going to get to eat. Turns out the chef just does whatever he or she likes for the tasting menu. – stuff they don’t even advertise on the menu.  How did I get myself into this mess? I said I’ll eat just about anything, but I tend to draw the line on raw foods, super hot surprises and tentacled creatures.

I don’t think I was the only one having doubts. In fact, that was later confirmed at the end of the marathon meal when one of the hosts uttered “I’m wondering if we should have just stuck with the regular menu?” But once we put in the order there was no turning back.

Now unfortunately I have no way of relating to you what I ate. First, after seven dishes in a row you can hardly remember anything. Second, I never saw the names in writing. Third, all I know is that a snooty waiter rattled off the names faster than Google can find a billion hits on Britney Spears. I can tell you that it started with a plate with four different minuscule appetizers. Two of them tasted pretty good. The other two – well to paraphrase the famous words of Homer Simpson – “We shall never speak of those appetizers again”. Did it go downhill from there?

That’s not the important part of this post. Sure, we went through the shellfish, pasta, meat, fish and I-have-absolutely-no-frickin-idea-what-was-on-the-plate-courses, and there was even an interlude for a sake/lime liquid that served as a palate cleanser (actually pretty darn tasty). What is important is how this meal gave me a completely different perspective on the value of design in creating a great user experience.

This was no haphazard, just put something on the plate meal. This was an exquisitely well thought out, well designed and well executed meal. Everything had its place. Everything had to be in the right order. Everything had to have a certain appearance and taste. Here’s the surprise. Not only was I not hungry at the end of it all, but I wasn’t feeling stuffed either. It felt just right. Total satisfaction. And although there were a few things that went in my mouth that just didn’t feel right, the overall impact of the combination of different tastes, textures, colors, and portions resulted in a perfect dining experience.

It was in the cab ride back to the hotels when the question about whether or not the tasting menu was the right choice surfaced. I kept my thoughts to myself. As I walked back to my room I reflected on the experience, and decided that given the choice I’d opt for the seven-course tasting menu again. It gave me some real insight into design and user experience. If you want those you serve to have a great user experience in your library, design thinking needs to happen on the front end. It was clear to me that the chef who thought up that meal had to be very intentional in the food selection and presentation. He or she clearly wanted to differentiate it from the regular menu items.

It certainly would have been easy enough to just drop a smaller portion of each of those regular items onto smaller plates and serve them up. That’s why great user experiences don’t come easy. They require real thought, an appreciation of the consumer, prototyping (I’m sure the chef has to experiment until he or she discovers the best combinations), solid implementation, a crew of staff that completely get the totality of the experience they are delivering (the chef is the chief designer but if the servers don’t get it the whole thing fails) and a total commitment to the consumer having a great all around experience. I learned things of great value thanks to that seven-course meal. All learning experiences should be so tasty.

So I am in debt to my gracious hosts for taking me to that restaurant and introducing me to the seven-course tasking menu. And it’s good to have a story that helps to share what great user experiences are about.

Quotes Worthy Of A Mention

Imagining The Future Through Design Thinking

Arnold Wasserman, runs The Idea Factory in Singapore. I came across this interesting quote from Wasserman, and wanted to share it with you:

Central to design thinking is designers’ unique ability to bring imagined futures to life in the here and now. Most people think about the future as a linear projection of the present. Designers think differently. We inquire deeply into peoples’ lives today…then we take an imaginative leap into normative (desired) futures and then integrate backwards into what has to happen starting Monday morning to bring those futures into being. We create provocations—depictions, simulations, visual narratives and immersive experiences of future worlds. We progressively iterate technological and social prototypes. We invent day-in-the-life scenarios of specific people in those worlds engaged moment-by-moment in life, work, play, learning and mobility. In addition, designers have an ability (almost an obdession) to take massive of undifferentiated information and make knowledge structures out of it—assembly it into visual models and frameworks that give it clarity and meaning and make it usable for decision making.

[Source: NussbaumOnDesign]
We often think of design thinking as a process for solving our most immediate problem, so I found Wasserman’s quote of interest because he sees it as a process that will also allow us to imagine the future as well.

Creativity Doesn’t Come Easy

From John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design and author of “The Laws of Simplicity”:

Photo and music editing software can make creativity seem easy. But I’m concerned about the way we assess creativity these days. Look at corporations: when they want to get “creative,” they bring in the beanbag chairs and make people play games and have “brainstorming sessions.” But the truth is, creativity doesn’t come easy. It comes hard. It demands discipline and knowledge and application.”

Hmm. I wonder how David Kelley of IDEA would respond to that statement?

Design Starts With the Experience

From Robert Brunner, an award-winning designer and author of “Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company”:

If you’re creating a product or service, everything must work from the customer experience. Great companies don’t think in terms of “moving products” – they think in terms of moving people. Design is the way you connect, and therefore should drive development. I believe that design is about capturing and communicating ideas, and doing it in a way that draws people in.

By the way, the quotes from Maeda and Brunner come from a Samsung advertisement I found in Time magazine. The ad focused on “Designs on the Future”. Another sign perhaps of the growing appreciation of design thinking in popular culture.

People Don’t Go To Libraries For Information…They Go There Because…

What do libraries really offer? It’s an important question to ask because the answer helps to determine what the library’s core business is. And in seeking the answer we need to think less about the goods, services and content libraries provide, and to focus instead on the value that our user communities derive from the services and content. As I learned from a Bill Gribbons talk on user experience, the whole process of designing the experience begins with knowing what the library’s core business and values are. But grasping the library’s core business and being able to articulate it is a challenge.

A brief article titled “Innovation Strategy: What Business are We In?” in Innovation Tools got me thinking that a way to start defining the library’s business is to imagine what it isn’t – and what it is that people really want from the library. The Innovation Tools article shared a number of those “they thought they were in the …business, but…” and that got me thinking about applying that to the library. For example, “Black & Decker doesn’t sell drills, they sell holes in the wall” or “Harley-Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles it sells the concept of freedom to middle-age men.” And of course you’ve heard those lines about companies that thought they were in one business but were put out of it by disruptive technologies. For example, “companies that thought they were in the typewriter business were really in the communication business and they were put out of business by the word processor.”

The first thing that comes to my mind is that libraries think they are in the information business but they are really in the education or learning business. Members of the library’s community need information the same way Black & Decker’s customers need power tools and drill bits. It’s just a means to an end. For years we have heard that the library’s basic business is to acquire, store, organize and make information – in all formats – accessible. That now seems to be the classic focus on the commodity or product rather the benefits libraries provide to their users. David Lankes gets it. In a recent Blended Librarians Online Learning Community webcast he said that libraries are in the knowledge business, and that since knowledge is created through conversations libraries are also or ultimately in the business of facilitating community conversations. That’s a core principle of Lankes’ Participatory Librarianship concept.” My fellow DBL blogger Brian Mathews shared his thought that he sees libraries as being in the productivity business, helping students and faculty to efficiently get the resources and help they need to acheive their objectives.

It may be that there is no single business that defines libraries. Each library differs somewhat with respect to its culture and community so the nature of defining the library’s business may be, to some extent, situational. Your library may be in the community building business or your library’s children’s department may be in the business of creating the next generation of readers. The bottom line, according to the Innovation Tools article is that you begin defining your library’s business by:

– ask the customers

– ask the people who consider your product but do not buy it

– observe your customers and see how they use your product

The point is that “Unless you know exactly why prospective customers will buy your product (or use your services) you are unable to properly market or sell. Worse you will be blind to the alternatives, the opportunities and the threats which exist.” In other words, if we fail to truly know what business we are in we can’t possibly innovate in order to avoid be marginalized by another disruptive technology. If we think we’re in the business of creating gateways to content then we deserve to be disrupted by the next great technology that everyone will use to achieve their learning outcomes – which is why virtually all students use Google first to tackle course assignments or use YouTube to supplement course content. Librarians do demonstrate innovative practices, but too often we innovate in technologies that do not address our core business. If we really want to create change that is of value to our users we had better figure out why they go to libraries and what they use them for. Then we can clearly articulate the business we are in and innovate based on benefits people derive from libraries.