Category Archives: Articles

Design – It’s About Creating The Options That Do Not Exist

Since this is the break week for lots of us I thought I’d keep it light with a few quotes that I came across recently that got me thinking. I could have chosen a line from any of these quotes for the title of this post, but the one I did choose, from Roger Martin, I think speaks best to this blog’s first year of existence. In the past, as a librarian, when it came to the word “design” the only option was a discussion of building interiors or exteriors. DBL has created a new option that, for many, did not previously exist. Now design can enter our vocabulary as a way to discuss a process for thinking about ways to improve our workflow, our services, the way we innovate and the overall user experience we deliver. We hope that reading DBL has changed how you think about the word design, and has provided some new ideas for thinking about how you approach problems and develop the solutions. Thanks for your readership.

“It does not take vast resources to create buzzworthy experiences. And the events themselves, like the campus visit experience I described, can be commonplace. All it takes is a willingness to identify and enrich key touchpoints, to equip and engage faculty and staff, to train well, and to continually improve. But first, there must be a willingness to change positions with your students, donors, and other audience groups, and to work at seeing those experiences from their perspective.”

Robert A. Sevier from “Delivering on Your Brand Experience” an article about experience marketing and how it can be used to turn routine experiences into memorable ones.

“I’ve become conviced that many innovative ideas fail to be commercially successful beacuse we haven’t understood the role of design. Design isn’t decor. At Stanford, we teach ‘design thinking’- that is, we put together small, interdisciplinary groups to figure out what the true needs are and then apply the art of engineering to serve them. Only by combining design and technology will we create innovative products and services that can suceed.”

Hasso Plattner, cofounder of SAP, from an article titled “Launching the Next Generation

“And the Big Idea for 2008? Stop competing against your competitors. Your traditional rivals aren’t your biggest worry. Disruptive innovation is hitting corporations from outside their business. Verizon (VZ) was forced to open its cell-phone service because Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) smacked it hard. Verizon’s new business model will probably generate 10 times the demand for service. You just never know. That’s life, in beta.”

Bruce Nussbaum in an article “Innovation Predictions 2008

“I see creativity as central to design strategy. For me, design is centrally about creating options or possibilities that do not currently exist, not choosing between or among options that currently do. So at its heart, it is about the creation of something new. This highlights the difference between business administration and business design. Business administration entails the intelligent selection from among existing known options and the taking of action on the selection in question. Business design entails the creative production of a new option that is superior to the existing options.”

– Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto (From a presentation at the ID Strategy Conference 2007)

The Latest “IN” Is Now Out

IN, otherwise known as Inside Innovation, is a regular supplement included with BusinessWeek. It is a good source for keeping up with recent trends in design and companies that use design thinking for competitive advantage. The November 2007 edition of IN is included in the November 26, 2007 issue of Businessweek, but it is also available online. If you happen to skip this particular IN you won’t miss much. This one is a bit short on articles about design; the focus this time around is on innovation. Two companies, HP and Yahoo, are profiled about the development of an innovation culture within their organizations. You may want to find out more about how companies are using software mapping to organize their intellectual property and information content. While it’s not a “must read” issue, if you have a chance take a look – some of the charts may catch your eye.

InformeDesign – A Designer’s Database

Many thanks to DBL reader Marc Gartler, Harrington College of Design, for contacting me to share a new design resource – well new to me at least. Marc pointed me to InformeDesign, which I would describe as a database of article on a spectrum of design topics. A good number of the articles are going to appeal primarily to architects or interior designers, but there are areas of content that are likely to have a more general appeal.

Marc also pointed me to a specific article he found in the database title “Closing the Research-Design Gap“. I would usually be less interested in an article that discusses design in the content of architecture, but this one has some interesting perspectives. It also discusses the concept of evidence-based design. The author describes it as “a deliberate attempt to base design decisions on quantitative and sometimes qualitative research”. This discussion of research as it applies to design may not appeal to all. But near the end of the article comes a quotable comment that does focus more on the mental process of design:

Good design, in the end, requires people with different experience, skills, and perspectives drawing on many forms of information in the pursuit of making creative and informed applications of knowledge as they generate and evaluate possible design solutions. Most important of all is a mindset that acknowledges that more information, including that generated through formally structured research processes, has the potential to generate plans and buildings that, as noted earlier, work synergistically on multiple levels.

I will be spending more time at InformeDesign. Thanks Marc for sharing this resource. 


I Wondered When I’d See This

Since its inception in February 2007, Designing Better Libraries has pretty much been a lone voice in the library blogosphere – or the profession itself - when it comes to discussing design thinking – and pretty much anything about design in any sense other than what it has traditionally been for librarians – designing buildings and interiors. As DBL readers know, our treatment of design explores it as a creative mental process that can be used to create better libraries and better user experiences for those who use libraries.

But I didn’t think that it would remain this way for long. There are more than a few ways to discover design, and I knew eventually I’d see someone else writing about it as well. That can be a good thing. Discussions of design is not the sole privilege of DBL, and it can certainly be helpful to have others sharing these ideas. So I was interested to come across an essay in Library Journal’s NetGen column that said “If we are going to look beyond librarianship for a professional model, we owe it to ourselves to study a discipline more akin to ours: design.” I think that’s just one theme we’ve been promoting here at DBL. In his essay “All Work and No Play” Terrence Fitzgerald advocates that what librarians can learn from designers is the value of play. He says that “Designers are taught to approach every problem with a sense of play.” I suppose there is some truth to that. If you’ve ever seen the Nightline segment called “The Deep Dive” you can see that there is a playful spirit at IDEO. There, toys litter the workspace.

While I agree that librarians do design things, such as instructional products, I would argue that there’s more to emulating the design profession than simply being playful. When I watch “The Deep Dive” I see some designers who are quite serious and even a bit competitive. I’m not suggesting that Fitzgerald’s take on the design profession is shallow. It may be that in the short essay he needed to dwell on just one element of the design approach, and thought that encouraging librarians to be more playful would be the best message to share about design work that would make for a sticky message. I certainly agree that we can potentially accomplish more through creativity and play, than simply following the “business as usual” methods that have been in use for…well, too long.

More Evidence That Design And Business Are Blending

I recall seeing a few BusinessWeek articles in the past about design education, but now BusinessWeek has rolled out a great special report  all about design schools, including a ranking of the world’s top design schools. It’s got articles about the schools, about the designers and about the companies that are incorporating more design thinking and practice into their business. I think my favorite read is the article “The Cross-Discipline Design Imperative.” It speaks more directly about design thinking than just about any other article in the special report. From the article:

The word “design” has different meanings in these different schools, and as these meanings intersect, design becomes bigger, something that sits well above vocational skills and techniques. Design is a set of principles and ways of thinking that help us to manage and create in the material world. It values creativity as much as analysis. It is a way of seeing and painting a new, bigger picture…Now business schools and other interdisciplinary graduate programs are entering the fray under the banner of “:design thinking.” They have recognized that the creative principles found in design can be used to develop new solutions for business—and they see this as the next cutting edge…There is a tremendous demand for design thinkers today. In industry and in consulting, those who can marry creative right-brain thinking and analytical left-brain thinking are at a premium. That’s because innovation often happens not in the center of a discipline but in the space between disciplines, and right now a lot of new value is being found at the intersection of design and business.

So grab the issue off your library shelf or take a look at what’s available online. There’s some pretty good reading here.

Fast Company’s “Masters Of Design” Issue

Perhaps as a sign of the growing interest in design within business, Fast Company’s October 2007 issue is largely devoted to design. Printed boldly on the cover is the title “Masters of Design” and the issue does indeed profile several prominent designers. Don’t expect too many insights on design thinking in this issue. It’s really focused more on how design in influencing industry, and the changing emphasis that is being placed on the value of design. As the introduction to the issue states “Studies have now shown the design-oriented firms in all kinds of industries outperform their more traditional peers – that design and innovation go hand-in-hand with financial success.”

But the insights that do come in the interviews, and the examples of great design (mostly industrial) are worth a look. Definitely take some time to check out this issue.

Check Out The Latest Inside Innovation

The September 10, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek contains the latest IN:Inside Innovation supplement. If you don’t have the paper issue handy the supplement is available in online format. The focus of this edition of IN is collaboration. Featured articles include ones that explore how IBM gets its innovation networks to work, how 10 top innovators use cross pollination to draw inspiration from crossing the boundaries of their own professions, and how twenty-somethings are transforming social sites into business networks.

An article that should be read by librarians is the one on brand hijacking. That refers to situations when customers take over the brand to conduct negative attacks on the product or institution. Yes, it’s true that most libraries don’t even know what their brand is, let alone offer one that the hijackers would want. But there is some good advice here for libraries that want to use branding to build better relationships with the members of their institution (be authentic and honest; listen to consumers; and get more involved with user communities). There are some good, brief examples of making things work better with design.

The Library As The Experience…But It Must Work

A good user experience is memorable. A memorable experience is one that induces people to return again and again so they can recapture that experience. Think of any service or retail operation that provides a great user experience, and its likely they thrive on legions of repeat customers. As I contemplate what a library user experience really is or should be, I have struggled to imagine what would make it truly memorable. Would it be the individuals working at the library, and their provision of great customer service? Perhaps providing access to materials that are difficult to find would be memorable. Let’s face it. Going to the library is hardly a trip to DisneyWorld or Las Vegas, two destinations known for providing the kinds of user experiences that people crave. On the other hand Pike’s Fish Market is one of the best known tourist attractions in Seattle, and all they do is, well, sell fish. But it’s how they sell the fish, and the unique experience people get when they visit or buy fish there.

When I first began exploring design thinking and user experiences I imagined that libraries would need to do something particularly special in order to create a great library user experience. But a recent article by Peter Merholz at Core77 is encouraging me rethink my conceptualization of a great library experience. In a post titled “Experience IS the Product…and the Only Thing Users Care About“, Merholz returns to 1888, and he recounts the work of George Eastman to market consumer photography. There’s no denying that the early Kodak camera was simple in design and operation, but Eastman didn’t market the device. Rather, he marketed the promise of an experience. The focus was on the simple pleasure of capturing a moment in time. Eastman did the rest. Merholz asks: Why is it that what Eastman figured out over 100 years ago seems forgotten today. Why do so few products seem concerned with how they fit into the lives of their customers.

This leads me to believe that libraries may only need to give their users an experience that they can’t get elsewhere, and that our experience has to blend into the lives of our users. We have to get beyond the technology, and focus on the experience people are having in our libraries and when they use our virtual electronic resources. Getting help from a skilled reference librarian can be a unique experience that can blend into the life of the user. In public libraries storytelling hours could certainly be a memorable experience for parents and their children. Delving into shelves of historic print journals and making serendipitous discoveries is something you can only do at a library.

So perhaps what we need to do is focus on the simple experiences, memorable ones that perhaps only libraries can offer. But in order for these user interactions to shift into the realm of experience whatever we do or offer, any of our services, must work. If the services are broken, if they are not working to high standards of quality, then no user will have that great library user experience we seek to provide. What can help? Merholz suggests an “experience strategy”. We have stategic plans, but few libraries have an experience strategy. The experience strategy is “a clearly articulated touchstone that influences all the decisions made about technology, features, and interfaces.” We should use the experience strategy as an approach to better acknowledge what it is that we can do to develop the right sort of experience.

Latest IN Looks At Innovation

The June 11, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek features the latest installment of IN (Inside Innovation), a special section dedicated to articles about innovation, design, creativity, and more. Articles in this special supplement to BusinessWeek include a look at the tension between efficiency and creativity at 3M, how companies are creating secure environments in virtual worlds, the impact of six sigma on innovation, and some re-design stories.

Those interested in keeping track of activity in social networks will find two charts of interest. One graphic shows that while the use of social networks and media is growing rapidly (an increase of 668% in web traffic at these sites in the past year) very few users actually create content. Another graphic illustrates what different categories of people are doing (creators, commentors, collectors, etc.)  in social networks and breaks down the participants by age group. Those under 26 (young teens, youth and genY) are the biggest contributors – no surprise there.

An Approach to Customer-Centric Innovation

Generating innovative ideas is imperative for the survival and growth of any organization, including libraries. However, those ideas are only worthwhile insofar as customers value them. Authors Larry Seldon and Ian C. MacMillan propose a process of customer research and development (R&D) that results in products and services that directly address customer needs. Their HBR article, Manage Customer-Centric Innovation – Systematically addresses the “growth gap” that results when R&D is far removed from customer and investor support.

The solution for more relevant innovations, as they see it, is a process they call “customer-centric innovation” or CCI. This is a growth strategy as well, since the process results in an extension of the consumer base as well as product offerings. The process consists of 3 phases:

Phase 1: Establish and develop the core

In this phase, the focus is on understanding current customers better and developing a value proposition for them. The authors define the value proposition as,

“the complete customer experience, including products, services, and any interaction with the company.”

In the authors’ example of how one company achieved this, designers applied ethnographic research to understand the exact relationship between their product (luggage) and their current customer base of male frequent business air travelers.

Phase 2: Extend (2a: Extend Capabilities; 2b: Extend Segments)

Extend Capabilities

Here, innovators need to devise the resources and mechanisms for filling the needs identified in Phase 1. Essentially, this phase ensures that the firm is keeping its core segment happy.

Extend Segments

In the process of completing Phase 1, researchers should seek other customer segments who could benefit from them their offerings. These segments have similar needs to those in the core segment, but their needs are different enough to justify modifications to offerings using the firm’s existing resources.

Phase 3: Stretch (3a: Stretch Capabilities; 3b: Stretch Segments)

In my view, this is the phase where innovators leave familiar territory for the unknown, and where greater risk enters the process.

Stretch Capabilities
New capabilities are developed to attend to various needs of existing segments as well as new segments.

Stretch Segments
Here, the organization attempts to find segments unrelated to the core who can benefit from existing offerings.

In this CCI model, a deep understanding of current customers and abilities forms the basis of growth in two arenas: what the organization is able to do and who it’s able to do it for.

There are three other key components to a successful CCI. First, frontline employees MUST be participants in the R&D. As the authors put it,

“Our experience shows that the only way to sustain customer R&D is by putting customer-facing employees behind the wheel.”

They mention numerous companies that do so successfully, including Best Buy which has 750 outlets designated as Customer Centricity stores. In these stores, frontline employees are free to experiment with marketing tactics like signage, product groupings, and displays to determine what effect these changes have on customers’ behaviors. The result has been sales growth that is double that of the rest of the stores, according to the authors.

Secondly, organizations must retain a defensive posture. In doing so, they continually scan for changes in customer expectations, technology, and other possible disruptions. The authors insist,

“Customer R&D’s mission is to know more about the company’s existing customers than anyone else on the planet and to ensure that the company is strategically and operationally prepared to preempt any competitor’s move.”

Finally, did I mention that CCI should involve customers too? Not just observing customers, but bringing them into the R&D process as co-innovators. One company mentioned in the article uses an online panel of thousands of customers as sounding boards for new projects.

What does this mean for libraries?

There are a number of key points I took away from this article as it relates to library work:

  • Managers must put frontline staff in charge of innovation. The innovation process is not a top-down approach. If anything, it’s a grassroots effort. Internal structures may need to be realigned so as to empower employees and entrench innovation as a part of doing business.
  • Innovation begins here and now. No library can expect to add new services or attract new patrons without first being able to identify, understand, and serve existing ones. The innovation process begins with taking stock and knowing your patrons and their needs at a level of detail unmatched by anyone else.
  • Instability is the only way to stay safe. If we’re not scanning the horizon for new and better ways of serving patrons, we’re vulnerable to competitive threats. Experimentation and risk-taking, though possibly disruptive, are healthy and the basis for successful, meaningful growth.
  • Patrons are innovation partners. To get to know our patrons better than anyone else, we need reach out to them as well as bring them into our organization as partners. The authors of the CCI article take customer involvement a step further:

“The firm should institutionalize customer centricity. This is accomplished by making the customer segments the basic business unites of the company; that is, organizing by customer segment rather than by product, geography, or function.”

In this way of thinking, we’re not only in business for our patrons, they quite literally ARE our business.

[This article can be found in the Harvard Business Review, April 1, 2006, p. 108-116.]