More librarians are taking an interest in exploring how user experience design, coupled with a design thinking mindset, can help them deliver a better library experience to their community members. This is evidenced by the increase in libraries adding user experience librarian positions and even UX units, going beyond user satisfaction surveys and into ethnographic research to truly understand the library experience from the user perspective. There is also an increase in the number of librarians writing articles about UX and giving presentations on related topics. Expect to see more conferences and workshops based on UX themes. This trend is moving the library profession beyond perceiving UX only as a method to improve the online experience to acknowledging that it applies, perhaps more importantly, to the total library experience.
As they grow more interested in adopting UX approaches, I hope librarians will take time to read and understand how UX evolved into a recognized dimension of competition in multiple industries. For example, reading Pine and Gilmore’s seminal work The Experience Economy, would offer perspective on how industry moved from competing on price and convenience to competing on the quality of the experience (e.g., convenience store coffee vs. starbucks). This demonstrated that people (not everyone but many) would be willing to pay a premium for a better experience – and that could be defined by taste, treatment, ambience, etc. The end result was to design an experience that exceeded expectations, created meaning and loyalty and gave the consumer a memorable experience that sparked the consumer’s desire to repeat it.
We may now be moving beyond the experience economy into the “purist economy.” Today, there are only a few industries exploring this territory and there are limited numbers of consumers who seek out this level of experience. More than a few experts believe that what is a small market today could be the next wave on which service and product industries compete, outdoing each other to deliver the purist possible experience. According to an article titled “Brewing the Perfect Cup” by Danielle Sacks in September 2014 issue of Fast Company, the third wave is a movement of purists who are committed to taking every part of an experience to the level of obsession with quality, uniqueness (not just being different – more than that) and quite possibly an elitism that sets the purist apart from the mere aficionado.
Just as Starbucks succeeded in moving coffee lovers from convenience store brands and office coffee pots to $4 expressos and frappucchinos, a new generation of firms want to tap into those coffee lovers and convert them into purists. One of those companies is called Joyride and its mission is to spread:
…coffee religion. It is one of a rising army of startups seizing on the financial opportunity to convert Keurig, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks drinkers into coffee purists. Known as the Third Wave, this movement started a decade ago by a splinter group of true believers who approach every part of the coffee life cycle with meticulous obsession…a cup of black coffee so dimensional, they believe, that there’s no need to pollute it with milk or sweeteners–and so valuable that it can earn a price tag as hefty as $7 a cup.
The article points to this as a growing food trend noting that “yogurt, chocolate, and juice have made this leap from commodity to mass delicacy”. Want to offend a coffee purist? Put milk in your java. One purist likened it to putting ketchup on a steak. No wonder some coffee drinkers regard purists as elitists or snobs – but snobs who will pay an even higher premium for an even better experience. And as they have their third wave experience, purists are not apologetic. Rather, they revel in their enjoyment of a higher form of experience.
It’s hard to predict if these third wave experiences will go mainstream or remain limited to a small cadre of purists. The firms bringing the products and services to the marketplace certainly hope they can convince coffee lovers to become purists who can tell the difference between obscure flavors with just a few sips of a black coffee. This movement, to my way of thinking, goes into territory beyond the superuser. The superuser is certainly passionate about a product, and can make the difference between its success or failure, but enjoying a product and discovering new ways to use it is not quite on the same as the purist’s insistence on only the best and being willing to pay a significant premium to get it.
Offering a higher quality experience can also have the affect of turning a community member into a more passionate library user. There are examples from other service providers that benefit from designing experiences for the passionate people who really thrive on what is being offered – usually something that cannot be easily obtained through the Internet. It may be the person in your community who eagerly anticipates new and unique acquisitions, seeks out historic artifacts found in special collections and archives or who appreciates cultural programming. We lack the capacity to reach every person in our communities. It may be wise to avoid expending effort to attract those who will never connect with librarians or who may believe that libraries no longer offer value to the community. Passionate library user. Yes, we can reach them and design experiences to create a bond. Purist library user? While it would no doubt be advantageous to have a core of such committed supporters, it is also possible that an obsessive community member could have a much higher level of expectation – and demands – than most libraries could meet.
It will be interesting to see if the third wave experience has a significant impact on our coffee consumption behavior. If it does, and there is evidence that a segment of any market desires the purist experience, expect to see similar types of movements in other services and products. Before Starbucks none of us would have thought it possible that people would routinely go out of their way for coffee beverages at double or triple the price. Now no one thinks twice about it. Never underestimate the power of the human desire for unique and memorable experiences, and where it will lead.