Managing The Higher Ed User Experience

A better library experience in an academic institution would hopefully be part of a more holistic and superior experience designed to provide students with an overall learning experience. That experience would be memorable, different and would encourage students, if asked, to indicate they had received a superior educational experience. But if the experts at Bain and Company are right “80% of organizations believe they deliver a superior customer experience but only 8% of their customers agree.” Not good.

So we all need to do a better job of creating an environment in which our community members – many more than just 8% – believed they had a great experience at our institutions. According to Robert Sevier, writing in University Business, great experiences don’t just happen. There has to be intent. A superior customer experience has to be designed or managed as Sevier likes to put it. In his article “Managing the Experience” Sevier shares ideas on how organizations can move from just letting experiences happen to actively designing them.

Right at the start Sevier makes an important point that we’ve also made here at DBL: user experience is not the same thing as customer service. He says “experience management is much more strategic and begins with the big question: Are we offering the right experience?” But it’s more complex than that because the student college experience includes “the academic experience, the campus life experience, the resident life experience, the athletic experience, and myriad others.” That list would also include the library experience. In fact, in research conducted by Sevier’s firm they discovered 13 sub-elements of the academic experience. The library is on that list.

You could also think of the library experience in the same way. It is made up of sub-elements: circulation; reference; study space; media services; and more. Each sub-element is a touchpoint in the total user experience, and according to Sevier improving the touchpoints most essential to the community can dramatically enhance the overall experience. As you might expect with a design process, identifying what the “right” experience is depends on understanding the community member. Sevier recommends focus groups and individual interviews. Once the touchpoints are identified Sevier offers tips for how to create the right experience.

* Pay special attention to the boundaries between touchpoints; that is where the “broken” stuff happens when no one knows who is responsible. A student gets confused going from the reference desk to the book stacks. Who helps, the desk or stack attendents? We should know if advance how to fix that.

* Best practices are there to borrow from, but from time to time remember to invent.

* Remember that if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed. What are the metrics for determining the quality of the experience?

* Assign responsibility and authority for each touchpoint to a single person.

Sevier makes a good point though. It’s important to have the right experience well defined and to know all the touchpoints involved. He also points to the importance of engaging, equipping and empowering the people who provide the experience. It’s critical for organizations to acknowledge or reward the individuals who make the experience happen. Put it all together and you’ve taken a step away from letting an experience (probably a bad one) just happen and moved towards designing the right experience for your library and academic institution.

Design For Librarian Educators

The designers at IDEO will tell you that they have no real expertise for most of the projects on which they work. Rather, they emphasize that they are experts at the design process – the IDEO method of design thinking. And I know that IDEO has designed hundreds of different products across industries and helped service organizations, such as hospitals, to improve their customer service. But I just discovered that IDEO is also working in the education industry as well, teaming up with school districts to pioneer “a special investigative-learning curriculum” to help students become “seekers of knowledge”.

I learned this from an article I came across in the publication Metropolis, in which Sandy Speicher, who heads IDEO’s Design for Learning initiative, is interviewed. In this article Speicher offers “IDEO’s Ten Tips for Creating a 21st-Century Classroom Experience”. Here are Speicher’s ten tips along with my thoughts on how they can help a librarian educator:

1. Pull, don’t push – It’s not about spoon feeding the knowledge into their brains; create an environment that gets your students asking questions that lead to self-discovery.

2. Create from relevance – put the learning into the context of what’s relevant to them; that’s why designing research skill building into assignments is critical.

3. Stop calling them soft skills – good research requires creativity, collaboration and other so-called soft skills; they’re a necessity for 21st century learners.

4. Allow for variation – everyone learns differently and at different speeds; incorporate that into what happens in the instruction session.

5. No more sage onstage – to deliver authentic practice and build experience you have to step away from the lectern; let them do the work while you guide.

6. Librarians are designers – give librarians space to create a learning environment that suits their teaching style; allow them to design the learning experience.

7. Build learning communities – what happens in the classroom requires participation from the administration and faculty; librarians and other learning support professionals need to create the community.

8. Be an anthropologist, not an archaeologist – don’t study the past; study the people to understand their needs. Pay attention to connecting with them rather than digging through the data.

9. Incubate the future – It’s not about finding the right answers; it’s about learning to be ambitious, able to solve problems and taking responsibility for learning.

10. Change the discourse – You can’t measure creativity and collaboration on charts; we need to create new assessment to track the building of 21st-century research skills.

Keep in mind that these were written with K-12 classroom instructors in mind. But there are still some useful ideas here to help librarians develop better practices for designing a classroom experience.

Design Thinking Books Make Their Mark

Here at DBL we’ve consistently tried to share those articles and books that we find particularly useful in helping us to better understand the concepts and practice of design thinking and user experience. I wanted to share an article that may save you some time since it provides good overviews to three different design and design thinking books, one of which I wrote about here recently. You may be able to save time by reading this article rather than the books. But I especially hope that reading the article will inspire you to want to read these books.

In the March + April 2008 issue of Interactions Alex Wright contributes the article “Doing Business by Design.” [Note: you need to click on the “contents” link to scroll down to the link to this article] Wright astutely observes that the business book publishers are beginning to realize books that offer a design perspective will be of interest to the mass market. He writes:

The business press has published a raft of articles testifying to the rise of so-called design thinking among corporate managers. So it should come as no surprise that designers are finally starting to break out of their professional literary ghetto to write books targeted to businesspeople.

So Wright offers an overview, with comments, about each of three different design-oriented business books. They are Subject to Change, The Designful Company and Do You Matter. He finds some things to like and dislike about each; the reviews are fair. I think he preferred The Designful Company.

Wright concludes that :

Ultimately, all three of these books share a purpose: trying to influence business readers to shift their focus from one-off-product development to a more integrated approach to designing the customer experience. The books also share a flaw; succumbing to the idealistic pitch mentality that is, alas, the consultant’s stock in trade.

I am also eager to get my hands on another new book by Nathan Shedroff titled Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must Be Sustainable. Shedroff is a co-author of the book Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences which is a must read for those interested in user experience design. You can read an interview that Core 77 does with Shedroff in which this new book is discussed.

Using Design Thinking At Your Library

When speaking about design thinking at a library conference or in a webcast one question will routinely be raised: “How are librarians actually putting design thinking to use?”. It’s a good question and one that I can answer with a few examples. I often try to encourage participants in the discussion to think of ways they might already be using design thinking or some part of that process without realizing it. I provide examples of how I’m using it in my work. But having even more examples would be better, and in time I think there will be as librarians begin sharing their applications of design thinking in the literature. I recently came across an example of that exact thing.

In the latest issue of the journal Medical Reference Services Quarterly I discovered an article titled “Single Service Point: It’s All in the Design” by Pamela S. Bradigan and Ruey L. Rodman, of the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library at Ohio State University. It appears in the Winter 2008 issue (v. 27) on pages 367-378. It’s not freely online but your library may have a subscription via the Haworth Jounals online collection. Here’s the abstract from the article:

‘‘Design thinking’’ principles from a leading design firm, IDEO, were key elements in the planning process for a one-desk service model, the ASK Desk, at the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library. The library administration and staff employed the methodology to enhance customer experiences, meet technology challenges, and compete in a changing education environment. The most recent renovations demonstrate how the principles were applied. The concept of ‘‘continuous design thinking’’ is important in the library’s dailyoperations to serve customers most effectively.

Where this article can be most helpful to other librarians wanting to know how they could use design thinking is the well laid out discussion of how the five steps of the IDEO design thinking process were applied in the merger of their two service points into one. They elaborate how they put into practice the ideas of understand, observe, visualize, evaluate/refine and implement. All of these phases are fully discussed in the book The Art of Innovation. As a result I think it becomes easier to grasp how this process can help a library to identify problems and then develop appropriate solutions. Bradigan and Rodman used design thinking to first determine in what ways their patrons needed a better, more streamlined service desk. Their solutions were based on understanding and observing their library users.

While it’s likely that this journal doesn’t get read much beyond the medical librarian community, I’m hoping it will reach a broader audience. I am encouraged that it will because the Journal of Academic Librarianship included this article in its “Guide to the Professional Literature” in the January 2009 issue. That’s how I discovered it, and I hope more librarians will as well.