MIT’s Special Report On Design Thinking

“Hard skills from a soft science” is the tagline that the MIT Sloan Management Review gives to the special design thinking report that is found in the July 2009 issue. Unfortunately only subscribers can access the full-text articles online, but I was able to access all of them through my library’s ProQuest ABI/Inform database. It provides a mix of articles that are either essays or interviews with designers. Of special interest are:

* “Designing Waits That Work” – an article by Don Norman on how to use design to create a better user experience for customers that must wait to receive a service.

* “Problem Solving by Design” – insights into problem solving from John Shook’s new book Managing to Learn that examines the “problem finder” role played by designers.

* “How to Become a Better Manager…By Thinking Like a Designer” – an interview with expert presenters Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds in which they discuss how to design presentations that both influence and persuade.

And don’t miss a short essay by Matthew May, “Elegance by Design: The Art of Less” in which he explains how great designers use the skill of subtraction to create elegant solutions.

I found much great reading here with lots of ideas worth contemplating. I regularly follow the blogs of Norman and Reynolds so some of the concepts here were a bit more familiar. But if you are just discovering design thinking this issue is a must read.

Libraries Can Learn From WoW Providers

I thought the “WoW” experience was something that librarians could integrate into the design and development of the UX plan for their libraries. No doubt it is a challenge to figure out how to create something worthy of a WoW in the library. Experts will point to Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market as an example of what it means to deliver a WoW experience. Turning a fish purchase transaction into a highly visible, entertaining and tourist attracting experience is a real inspiration for others, but not always transferrable to a library:

A fish market "wow" might not work at the library
A fish market "wow" might not work at the library

But we may be able to learn more about “getting to wow” as it was phrased in a recent Knowledge@Wharton article covering an annual study of great retail shopping experiences. According to a report titled “Discovering WOW –A Study of Great Retail Shopping Experiences in North American” there are five major areas that contribute to a great shopping experience. They are:

* Engagement – being polite, caring and genuinely helpful.
* Executional Excellence – having product knowledge and the ability to patiently explain and advise while providing unexpected quality.
* Brand Experience – good interior design and making customers feel they’re special and get a bargian.
* Expediting – being sensitive to customers’ time in lines and being proactive to streamline the process.
* Problem Recovery – helping to resolve and compensate for problems while ensuring complete satisfaction.

The report found that survey respondents identified 28 elements of a great experience and the typical WOW experience has 10 of those elements at the same time. For example, customers expect someone who can explain a product and seem genuine and complete the transaction efficiently. So let’s say I visit your library. I immediately am not sure where to go to ask a question. I wander a bit and see a desk with people behind it. I ask my question and am told to go to another desk. I need to get some stock prices from a few years ago for a public company. When I ask for information on a company at the next desk the person there seems more interested in looking at their computer screen. I’m told to go to the microforms department for annual reports on microfiche. At the next desk no one is familiar with the collection, then not sure how to use the micorform reader printer. After all this I don’t find what I need. I’d like to complain about it to someone, but there’s no one available who will take responsibility. Thinking it through are there ways the library could turn this into a WOW experience given what the report tells us about what people want in a service transaction?

Giving library users a better library experience, call it WOW if you like, doesn’t involve cool new technology, an infusion of expensive resources or drawn-out internal debates about service desk consolidation (though that might help). What it does require is a better understanding of user expectations in a shopping experience. At a minimum we can do better by focusing on just two simple things. One, be polite and courteous. Two, be familiar with the products. That’s a start. Quality is also highly rated. This is less within our control but we can do more to emphasize the quality of library research resources. Here’s the reason why we need to work towards the WOW experience. The study reports that 75% of shoppers who enjoy a great experience will return; when the experience is merely “standard” the likelihood of a return visit drops by over 65%. Futher, when shoppers have a great experience they are 80% more likely to recommend a store to their friends.

You may argue that many libraries already have steady users who have no where else to go for a computer, or use the library to get free DVDs or to get their bestsellers – or because their professor told them they have to go to the library to complete an assignment. I understand that your library has a core group of users who regularly visit, but rather than being satisfied with their dependence on the library – and increasingly they will have other more convenient options – why not concentrate on turning them into patrons who talk to others about how great the library is. Are you content with your regular users or would you like to turn more non-users into regular users? Or do you feel secure in knowing your patrons use the library because they have no other choice? Personally, I want library users who have other options, but choose my library because it is what they prefer. They don’t have to use this library, but they do because it is their preference.

What’s Your EBS?

Perhaps you’ve read one of these books: When Fish Fly, The Starbucks Experience or The New Gold Standard. If you have you have probably obtained a few new ideas about designing a user experience for your library. One thing that you’ll learn from all of these books that is highly relevant to libraries is that it is possible to turn mundane, ordinary transactions – something librarians know about all too well – into memorable experiences. Something else these books have in common is their author, Joseph Michelli.

I had the great opportunity to meet Michelli when I attended the American Library Association Conference in Chicago. Just a few weeks before the conference I learned that the OCLC Symposium on “Leadership Beyond the Recession” (always held on Friday afternoons of every ALA Midwinter and Annual Conference) was having Michelli as their speaker. Having read his works I was glad I’d be in Chicago for the program. I even mentioned it here at DBL, and was surprised when Michelli himself left a comment on the post. It got even better about a week later when OCLC invited me to participate in the program by joining a panel of librarians who would talk about their library user experiences after Michelli completed his presentation. You can view a streaming video of the post-presentation discussion here.

Rather than give you a play-by-play of the talk, I’ll just refer you over to It’s All Good where one of the bloggers (Alice) summarized the presentation. I’ll just bring some attention to one thing that stood out for me – the Experiential Brand Statement. The idea is to create a brand based on the user’s interaction with your product or service – an experiential brand. For the Pike’s Peak Fish Market the experiential brand was “make everyone feel special”. It was just that simple. The folks who worked at the first market sought to make everyone they interacted with feel as though they were world famous. Michelli told us that prior to the experiential brand the Market nearly went out of business. The Ritz-Carlton’s experiential brand is “create the home of a loving parent”. They want all their guests to experience what it feels like to get the special treatment from a parent. And this really interesting article about Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc) discusses the experiential brands they create. Olive Garden’s experience is to “make you feel like you are joining an Italian family for a meal” and that experiential brand is designed into the décor of the restaurant.

The benefit of developing an experiential brand, as Michelli pointed out, is creating customer loyalty. Fifty percent of customers desert a business because of a bad experience. But customers are three times as likely to be loyal to a business if the customer feels like he or she has a bond with the product or service. So you can’t underestimate the value of creating good relationships that build these bonds. The library workers must be the transforming agents. They must be connected to the EBS. That helps to ensure that every touchpoint in the library will reinforce the EBS.

So what’s a good EBS for your library? I’m working on mine.