Category Archives: Books

Keeping the Antennae Up: How Listening In The Library Improves The UX

In an earlier post at Designing Better Libraries I introduced the idea of “Putting up Your Antennae”. I described those innovators who come up with breakthrough ideas as “the folks who have their antennae up, ready to pick up the signals that communicate something important is happening. They are listening and observing.” That’s the key phrase – listen and observe. But there are other ways in which we may listen to and observe our community members.

Many of those practices, as well as the science and art behind them are shared in a new book titledListening to the Customer is a new book by two of the library profession’s leading experts on assessment and evaluation, Peter Hernon and Joe Mathews. The book is a really fine compendium of methods for learning about the user community members. If you and your colleagues want to start exploring the library’s customer base, and develop techniques for connecting with them you will want to take a closer look at this book.I had the honor to share a practice piece for the book. It is in some ways an elaboration of the original post above.

I asked the authors (and the publisher) if they’d be all right with me sharing with you the section that I contributed to the book. They were fine with that, as long as I waited until after ALA. I received a copy of the book so I’m going through it now. Those of us interested in designing better user experiences will appreciate this book. To dedicate an entire book to listening reflects the importance of observing and taking in information – not being quick to provide your point of view. Many librarians bristle at the use of the C word to describe our user community members, so I respect the authors for holding nothing back there, and deciding to refer to them as customers. I recommend that you check the book out – and then think about out you can do a better job of listening – and acting on it – at your library.

Here is the piece that I contributed to the book:

Keeping the Antennae Up: How Listening Improves Service

Much of my undergraduate studies is long forgotten. Fortunately, what I do recall tends to be among the most valuable content to which I was exposed. One of those bits of memorable wisdom was learned in an unlikely course, an introduction to poetry. While I lacked genuine talent for poetry writing, the value of the course was that it taught the importance of drilling down beyond the surface of the words. One cannot underestimate the importance of learning to read in a way to really understand the author’s message. My instructor said something that I remember to this day. “The poet is the antennae of society.” He actually told us to visualize the poet with stalks protruding from their head, capturing all manner of information from the world around. Then the poet would write in a way that would inspire others to explore life through poetry. Poets needed to be astute observers of the world around them.

In our library work we must never underestimate the power of listening. To excel at it we must always have our antennae up, picking up the signals our user community members emit all around us. Doing so allows us to gain sensitivity to the needs and desires of our users. Put simply, listening leads to a better library experience. While the act of listening sounds simple, doing it effectively in a way that leads to positive change is anything but simple. The major challenge is that in our day-to-day work we become so involved in our routines that we become oblivious to much of the non-routine activity happening all around us in our libraries. Those things which are problematic to our users and that prevent them from having the best possible library experience are what’s likely to fly right under the radar of the library worker. In order to become good listeners library staff must make a conscious effort to become more attuned to the sounds and sights around them. When the antennae are up, it can make all the difference.

Two old standbys

We all tend to fall into ruts when it comes to finding out what the user community members think about library services. Two of our favorite old standbys are user surveys and focus groups. The former is an indirect form of listening while the latter is all about listening. At my library we use both techniques. We have found the two are connected. Academic librarians are accustomed to conducting all types from surveys, from quick-and-dirty website polls to the more elaborate LibQual. All of them leave us with some good insights but more questions. Why did they say the website confuses them? How come so few respondents know we already are open past midnight? What we’re hearing often tells us there’s a communication gap.

To enhance our ability to conduct surveys, both simple and complex, we recently became a subscriber to Counting Opinion’s LibSAT software. One of the challenges of satisfaction surveys is developing the questionnaire and collecting the data. LibSAT reduces the amount of time required to create a survey, and provides more options for inviting community members to participate. It will also enable a new type of survey, the post-service survey. Think about a recent hotel stay or a retail purchase. A few days later a request to complete a survey arrives in your inbox. This type of survey, sent to a targeted user right after a reference transaction or an interlibrary loan would provide some direct feedback about an actual service interaction. In conjunction with annual “how are we doing” satisfaction surveys, this will amplify our ability to listen to what community members want to tell us about our services and resources. Surveys are good starting points. They help us refine our interests so that instead of trying to listen to all the buzz and noise, which ultimately overwhelms us, we are instead able to point ourselves in the proper direction.

Equipped with this sense of where we need to direct our energy, it’s a logical step to learn more through focus groups. In the past, like many libraries, we’ve used focus groups to help us better understand the less than satisfactory ratings showing up on our satisfaction surveys. More recently we enlisted a team from our institution’s Leadership Academy, an internal professional development institute, to conduct focus groups with students and faculty, both library users and non-users, to provide insights for the early stages of a building planning process. While we want to listen to our users, in this instance we opted to designate the actual listening to a non-library focus group team. Concerned that having librarians present in the focus group might bias responses, we thought it best to do the listening second hand. With tapes, transcripts and reports, it’s almost the same as being there. Focus groups are not without their problems. As Gerry McGovern, web usability expert, stated in a column about focus groups, “The biggest problem: what users say in a focus group rarely matches what they do in a real-life setting. Users’ opinions about a site or product are very rarely consistent with how they behave when they actually interact with it.” ( So while listening is important to approach what is said in focus groups with a touch of skepticism.

That’s one reason for the growing popularity of anthropological techniques. Well known as an instrument used by corporations to better understand how consumers use their products, field studies add observation to listening. Consider the following example from the corporate world. A company that made body wash products asked their customers what they like and didn’t like about the product. No men ever mentioned in the focus group what was learned in observing them use the products. Many men shampooed their hair with the body wash, a good example of consumers using a product in ways it was never intended. What happened next: all-in-one body
wash/shampoo products targeted to men, which are quite successful. Had the company stopped with focus groups, they might have lost out on a great opportunity. That’s an important lesson for librarians. We need to pay attention to what we hear, but also what we see. Take the focus group report mentioned above. Many participants indicated they wanted the library to be open 24/7. If we listened only to focus groups perhaps every library would be open 24/7. But we know from actual observation that as it nears the midnight hour the library grows deserted. It’s a classic example of people asking for things in focus groups that they would rarely, if ever, truly use. That’s why more limited, self-access 24/7 spaces have grown in popularity in academic libraries. It’s a cost-effective, lower-risk solution to the challenge of listening to the few whose needs hardly represent the average college student. If my institution gives the go ahead to build a new library facility, we’ll listen carefully to the community members, but chances are we’ll want to base some decisions on our observations of their behavior.

Other formal listening devices

In addition to the survey and focus group, librarians can organize more formalized sounding boards in the effort to seek out advice, ideas and feedback related to decisions and planning. The most common approach is to organize committees that allow for representation from community members. At my institution we have several different types of advisory group. In addition to the ones organized at the administrative level, many of our individual subject specialists tap into their own networks in the disciplines so that they too serve as remote listening outposts. Our two primary advisory groups are the Faculty Senate Library Committee and the Student Library Advisory Board. Each group meets two or three times per semester. The meetings are mostly for bi-directional information sharing, but also to create positive connections between the library and its constituents. While there are some common topics at each meeting, such as a report on the library facility, the two groups focus on the issues of concern to the groups they represent.

The faculty are most concerned about collections and services that support teaching and research. The students want to know what we’re doing to make the library better for their fellow students. For both groups we offer a glimpse at pieces of the budget; they all want to know if the administration is treating us decently. The danger of these groups is that the tendency exists for them to become more about us and less about them. Rather than tell them what we’re doing, we need to know how they use what we have and what they’d like to see. That means getting them to do the talking while we listen, and we are usually able to come up with good questions to get them going. As much as the groups are a sounding board for our ideas, we need to learn from them. They are the voice of the community. They allow us to extend our antennae into that community.

Informal Techniques

With the formal methods described above, there are limitations on the effectiveness of listening. Today, technology allows us to extend our ability to listen into cyberspace. To listen to its community members in that space, librarians leverage technology to establish new outposts for tapping the virtual conversation. Take a simple example, the library website. Libraries always offered suggestion boxes conveniently located by the entrance or circulation desk. Some still do, but many more now have a virtual equivalent, the suggestions blog, on their website. We call ours “What’s Your Suggestion” and it allows any community member to let us know what’s on their mind, be it a complaint or an idea for improvement. Either way, we take it seriously and pay attention to what we’re hearing through the messages received. Sometimes we can take action with a positive response, such as when we were asked to provide more single student study carrels in our quiet zones. Other times we cannot, such as when we are asked to provide more electrical outlets, but even then we are able to post an explanation of why we may not be able to satisfy the request. The suggestion blog then becomes an ongoing record of all the requests and explanations – along with comments from students. Above all, it shows the community that we are listening to them.

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter also offer ways to communicate with community members. While they provide a good channel for announcing updates and events, they are perhaps even better as listening posts. By monitoring the tweets and status updates, the library staff and administration can stay alert to any complaints, problems or other issues of which they might not otherwise hear. We have all heard stories about corporations using social media to monitor consumer reactions to their products and services – and responding quickly when problems arise. We can do the same thing. It’s fairly easy to set up alerts on search engines and with other web tools that allow the social media to be monitored 24/7. In 2008, we introduced some new furniture. When we had it available on display for review and community comment, there was none – so we went ahead and bought some of it. To our surprise a student made a video complaining about the new furniture, and then posted it on YouTube. Rather than get upset, we took it as an opportunity to make some minor corrections that would improve the furniture and respond to the complaints. Now, everyone likes the furniture even better.

That is why listening to the community is so important. We are professional librarians. We are experts at acquiring, storing, organizing and retrieving information. We are not experts on design, customer relations management or many of the other elements that add up to a great library experience for the community member. It is often the case that they know what is best. If we fail to listen and pick up these signals we also fail at delivering the great library experience that builds loyal community members, keeps them coming back and most important of all, encourages them to tell their friends to use the library. Following social media to detect what’s being said about the library is proving to be a powerful way to listen, and quickly respond to demonstrate that the library does care.

Carpet Time

New technology tools and social media can improve our ability to listen, but there is still much to be said for good-old fashioned low-tech listening. Good listening approaches that involve no technology could fit into the category that Nicholas Webb, author of The Innovation Playbook, refers to as “carpet time”. It’s a simple concept that emphasizes the importance of spending quality time with the people who use your services and products. Webb says that to “understand what customers really care about – or what could be going wrong in the course of delivering meaningful value – you have to spend carpet time…to see them, feel them and experience them.” If you are a library administrator you can’t experience members of the community from your corner office; you need to walk the floor or get out for face time with your constituents. Here’s an example.

In our LibQual surveys we consistently get low ratings from faculty on information content. To learn more I started visiting department chairs, along with the subject specialist for that discipline. We are occasionally joined by that department’s liaison to the library and possibly a graduate student. When I engage them in conversation about our collection, I rarely hear anything but praise for the quality of the collection in that discipline. If anything, I might hear some requests for specific journals or electronic resources. It may be that when being surveyed anonymously faculty are much more critical, or it may be that when we take the time to ask questions and listen we get a completely different perspective. I am not sure what accounts for this inconsistency, but in the end, regardless of the strength of the collection in that discipline, by demonstrating our willingness to engage in dialogue and listen we are improving our ability to serve our faculty. It is much better to hear about problems directly from the faculty then to get surprised when the LibQual report turns up. I will be interested to see if our carpet time has an impact on faculty responses when we do our next LibQual in 2012.

Carpet time works just as well in the library as it does beyond the walls of the building. We were thinking about creating some flexible study spaces using freestanding wall dividers. Our building has too few formal study rooms. I had one space in mind in our computer commons where there were no electrical outlets, and usually ended up as the place where students lounged and ate meals – which was sometimes a problem as there was more noise and mess than we would like. I thought we could turn it into more productive space. However, there was some concern that students would prefer the space as is. So what did I do? Conduct a survey? Run focus groups? Neither. I simply spent some time on the carpet, literally, talking to students and asking them what they thought of the idea. I also observed to what extent students were already forming study groups in the computer commons. I asked those groups what they thought of the flexible study space idea. Nearly every student I spoke with thought having a flexible space was the best of both worlds, study space when needed and lounge space when it wasn’t. That encouraged my administration to make a modest investment in adding electrical outlets, a wall-mounted flat-panel monitor and two collapsible wall dividers. Now the space can easily and quickly become an enclosed, private study area when needed that has all the features of our traditional study rooms. Surveys and focus groups may have worked equally well, but carpet time was faster, simpler and more direct. By listening and observing, we were able to make a good decision that will improve the library experience for our students.

Keep the antennae up

The best thing about listening to the user community is that it is something any library worker can do. No special training is needed. There are no listening workshops. The more staff members we can enlist to think of themselves as individual listening posts the better positioned the library is to both discover what’s broken and quickly fix and detect ideas for new services. When an undergraduate walks up to the reference desk and asks the librarian on duty why it’s not possible to send a text message from the library catalog, the antennae should start buzzing and the ideas should start flowing. If we do a good job of picking up the signals, there is no end to the ways in which we can enhance the library experience for our community members. What we need to do, as a staff, is engage in a conversation about the importance of listening and observing what happens all around us every day, rather than just going through the motions and being oblivious to the experiences that community members are having as they work, study, relax, socialize, game or whatever it is that motivated them to come to the library. It all starts with getting those antennae up.

Managing As Designing: A Worthwhile Discovery

While I cannot quite recall where I came across it, most likely in one of the two dozen or so design-oriented blogs that I follow, I recently discovered the book Managing as Designing. First published in 2004, it was edited by Richard Boland and Fred Collopy, two faculty members at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. The book itself is the product of a Managing as Design Seminar that took place at the then recently completed Peter B. Lewis Building, home of the Weatherhead School. What triggered the seminar, book, and even a DVD about the seminar, was Boland’s experience working with Frank O. Gehry on the design and construction of the Lewis Building. In the first chapter, Boland and Collopy write:

During the four and one-half years of working with Gehry Partners on the planning, design and construction of the Lewis Building, we experienced an approach to problem solving that is quite different from our own, from that of the managers we study, and from what we teach our students. We refer to this mind-set and approach to problem solving as a “design attitude”…What is needed in managment practice and education today is the development of a “design attitude” which goes beyond default solutions in creating new possibilities for the future.

As you read this chapter you can feel how impressed Boland and Collopy were with what they were learning about the design attitude from Gehry and his associates. It had such a profound impact on them that they became determined to radically change the nature of business education at Weatherhead. The term “design thinking” is used here and there in the book, but Boland and Collopy seem to prefer their own design attitude. Perhaps if they were writing this book today they would use the term design thinking. As I read different chapters I kept asking myself how I could have missed this book for so long? When I first became interested in design thinking in 2006 there was far less material being generated about it, and having this book would have been a big help in shaping my thinking. It was actually in the collection at the library I was working at back then; I just missed it.

In the first chapter, Boland and Collopy expand on the differences between their traditional “decision attitude” and the design attitude they were learning from Gehry. The decision attitude, which was the long-held focus of management education, towards problem solving was “overwhelmingly dominant in management practice…and solves problems by making rational choices among alternatives and uses tools such as economic analysis, risk assessment, multiple criteria decision making, simulation, and the time value of money.” The design attitude by contrast “is concerned with finding the best answer possible given the skills, time, and resources of the team, and takes for granted that it will require the invention of new alternatives. The decision attitude assumes there is already an optimal solution to the problem, and that managers just need to be rational and analytical in order to identify that solution. The design attitude allows for the possibility that the solution doesn’t already exist, and that a team will need to create a new, untried possibility. One can’t help but make a connection between these ideas and Martin’s “opposable mind” and “knowledge funnel” models of how design influences decision making so that it is a blending of the rational and intuitive mind in which the goal is to neither choose solution A or B but rather innovate solution C.

You don’t need to read every essay in this book. Some are highly theoretical, others may be more design specific than desired. One chapter to explore is the one titled “The Role of Constraints” by Vandenbosch and Gallagher. They discuss how dealing with constraints impacts the work of artists and architects, and that it is important to acknowledge that constraints are fundamental to the design process. Designers must constantly deal with constraints, and appreciating them can lead to improved creativity. There’s hardly a project in the academic library that is free of constraints, be it time or money. I think this is an area where we can learn a great deal from design in learning how to turn our constraints in thinking opportunities – and I hope to write more about this.

If you don’t have time to read Managing as Design you can get the gist of the ideas and applications by watching this interview with Richard Boland or you can now view the original DVD made to accompany the workshop. It is found in seven parts on YouTube. Start with this video. By the way, discovering these videos has also been a great part of this find. I hope you will enjoy learning from them.

You Know How To Capture Your Good Ideas But How Do You Get Others To Support Them

Seems like there’s a lot being written about good ideas these days. If you follow what’s been written here in the past about design thinking, creativity, innovation – and capturing your good ideas when they come – chances are you are already improving at coming up with good ideas and capturing them as well. But just coming up with good ideas isn’t enough. How do you get others – mostly your work colleagues – to buy into your good idea? That’s where most of our ideas tend to run into the proverbial brick wall.

Consider this example based on a rather simple idea – a good one on the surface – that a library worker developed that he thought would make a small, but noticeable difference for some members of the library community. What I like about this idea is that it provides a great example of how we can come up with a good idea by keeping our antennae up so that we more acutely observe and listen in our library environment for ways to design a better library. The staff member noticed that in this one part of the library where there was nothing particular going on, students would gather in small groups to study. They would sit on the floor or pull some chairs together. They might make some noise. The staff member thought the library could do better for these students, but knew the library needed great flexibility to make the most of every piece of real estate. The simple observation lead to a new idea for a better library – create a flexible study space by installing a set of folding room dividers. Not only would it give the students more privacy, cut down on noise and make for a better study space, but it could be enhanced with a flat panel monitor on the wall for collaborative work. Great idea, right. Well you know what happened next. Of course, lots of reasons why that’s a bad idea. Too much foot traffic in that area already. Students who like the current setting will complain. The reference desk will be swamped with students asking how to use the monitor. When the walls are closed we won’t know what the students are doing in there…and so on. Certainly the project will require some funding, but it’s hardly what Jim Collins would refer to as an “above the waterline risk”, not to mention that if any of the imagined problems actually surface the room dividers can easily be removed. Still, there is opposition to the idea. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

First though, back to the matter of more being written about good ideas. Seems there are two new books driving this conversation. I previously mentioned one of them, Steven Johnson’s new book about where good ideas come from. I noticed that Profhacker also had a post about Johnson’s book (if you aren’t reading Profhacker – sign up today). I also noted that Profhacker has a good post, along with comments, about capturing your good ideas – something I wrote about a while back. But there’s another book about good ideas you may want to read. This one, by John Kotter, isn’t about coming up with ideas and capturing them, it’s about the problem described above – how can you come up with simple ways to defend your ideas against the critics so that they have the best chance of surviving and actually getting implemented?

Kotter’s book is appropriately titled “Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down“, and I’ll share a few ideas from the book here. You can also read about it here, and there’s a good interview with Kotter in which he shares his ideas from the book in the October 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review (p. 129-132). Here is a brief summary of some of the key points that Kotter shares that explain why new ideas are attacked and how to instead gain support for an idea. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to anticipate that your idea will be attacked. Kotter says the attack response is murky mix of human nature and group dynamics. His research showed that the most successful idea champions didn’t respond by trying to put down or marginalize their opposition. Instead they did what Kotter calls “inviting in the lions”. These folks embraced those criticizing their ideas, and invited their opinions. One of the biggest problems in getting support is information overload. Rather than give time and attention to a new idea, co-workers find it faster to just write it off and hope it will go away, thus giving them attention for other projects. Inviting their participation by engaging their attention – even if it is negative – is a good start. Then what?

Of course, there’s more. You need to know the four common attacks and how to avoid them. In fact there are up to 24 attacks (everything from “why change” to “we can’t afford it”) that Kotter and his fellow researchers identified. By being more familiar with what they are, Kotter says you can be prepared to respond – what you don’t want to do is respond by winging it. That usually ends up badly. So where do you learn all this? From the book. If you’re not sure if you should read it, here’s a ten-minute video interview with Kotter that should give you a better idea of what to expect from the book. I’ll be taking a closer look. Good ideas are hard to come by. When I get one, I want to give it the best chance possible of making it past the idea stage.

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.

Best Books In Design & Innovation

It’s that time of the year. Many publications and websites are issuing their “best” of the year lists. I always check BusinessWeek’s best business books list to see if our library has acquired them all. But I made a new discovery this year. I found that BusinessWeek also produces a separate listing of their picks for the top ten books on design and innovation. I thought I’d share that list here.

I can’t quite say these books are ranked, but the first book listed is one I’m reading right now (well, sort of, I started reading Subject to Change about half way through). That’s Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam. This book has attracted a great deal of attention and deservedly so. The idea of communicating through doodling is big right now – you’ve no doubt seen those popular UPS whiteboard commercials – although I don’t think that guy is actually doing the drawing. I’m enjoying the book although I’m not sure I’ll be drawing my way through presentations. But I am learning much more about the power of visual communication, and how to reach people with visual messages. In addition, even if you never use drawings in communicating with others, there is value in using drawing to work through challenges or to simplify complicated ideas. Visual thinking through drawing can provide an alternate and creative approach to problem solving – and it fits in well with a design approach.

Unfortunately I have not had time to get to most of the other books on BusinessWeek’s list, but I plan to get to a few of these in 2009:

Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy by Judy Estrin

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, Michael B. Horn
If you don’t have time to read Christensen’s latest or it seems of only marginal interest, you can grasp the book’s core ideas by reading this IdeaConnection interview with Christensen in which he discusses the book.

The Endless City by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic

The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation by A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan
This one also showed up on BW’s best business books list. I try to pay attention to any article or ideas coming from Ram Charan, one of the most interesting consultants in modern business.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies byCharlene Li and Josh Bernoff
This one should be of particular interest to the library community because it focuses on using social networks to create and share ideas, and explains how companies are using it to reach new customers.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Here’s a title well known to the library community as it was mentioned in more than a few librarian blogs. Not surprising given the interest in the social communication tools that Shirky discusses. Personally, I just didn’t get into this one, but the ideas may really resonate with you.

The New Age of Innovation: Driving Co-Created Value Through Global Networks by C.K. Prahalad and M.S. Krishnan
One reason I may try to take a look at this one is because the authors discuss the importance of creating unique experiences for customers. Note that there is a link to a video interview with the authors – another good way to get the gist of the book if you don’t have time to read it.

The Numerati by Stephen Baker

The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World by Amar Bhidé

Here’s to better reading for new ideas in 2009. The bloggers of Designing Better Libraries appreciate your support and readership, and we look forward to continuing our mission to share with the library community the best ideas in design thinking, user experience, innovation and creativity. We continue to believe that by integrating these ideas into our practice we can design better libraries with the end goal of giving our user communities the best possible library experience.

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. 


Organizational Tension Between Innovation And Control

There is an inherent dualism within most organizations between the desire for innovative workers and the desire to control those same workers. Afterall, if everyone is off being innovative who’s going to be getting the work done? This seems to be a problem in the library world. I am reminded of a rant by David Lee King in which he claims that his presentation attendees almost unanimously agreed that if they tried to implement innovative Web 2.0 technologies in their libraries they’d hit a brick wall with their supervisors and library directors. Is it that some library directors are simply resistant to change or do they fear that their organization will suffer if workers spend a few hours here and there experimenting with new technology – the result of which could be an innovative service enhancement?

This problem is by no means unique to libraries. It’s a challenge for all types of organizations, and it’s a conundrum that must be addressed by the organizational leadership. The problem and potential solutions are explored in a new book by Gary Hamel titled “The Future of Management“. I recently read an excerpt in Fortune magazine. Though the book received just a fair review over at BusinessWeek, I think the excerpt offers some stimulating ideas, and I’ll want to see more of what it has to say about innovation. For example, Hamel writes:

When talking to senior executives about the need to encourage innovation, I often get the sense they’d like their employees to loosen up a bit, to think more radically and be more experimental, but they’re worried this might distract them from a laserlike focus on efficiency and execution…I’ve heard this concern expressed in a variety of ways: “Yeah, we want people to innovate, but we have to stay focused.” “Innovation’s well and good, but at the end of the day, we have to deliver.” “If everybody’s off innovating, who’s going to mind the store?” These sentiments reveal a persistent management orthodoxy: If you allow people the freedom to innovate, discipline will take a beating.

In other words, having more of one means less of the other. So what advice does Hamel have for organizations that would like to have their cake and eat it too? Hamel’s approach is to provide examples of companies that, in his words, have learned to “double dip” and have both innovation and worker discipline in the same setting (not just a separate innovation or design lab). His examples are Whole Foods Market, W.L. Gore and Google. One problem that most library managers might have with these examples is that they use some fairly radical organizational structures. This can include the use of small teams with with the power to make key decisions, highly flat structures where there are no titles and no supervisors, half-days off for “dabble time”, financial rewards for innovation and a host of other practices that may be indeed difficult to implement in traditional library hierarchies. In fact, this is a problem that the BusinessWeek reviewer had with the book. How many organizations can structure themselves like these three companies? Even Hamel acknowledges that there have to be mechanisms to “keep things in check.”

So while it’s unlikely library organizations are suddenly going to re-structure themselves to resemble Google, there are some libraries that have organized workers into teams, others that are allowing for more experimentation time and others yet may be trying techniques that allow workers a bit more freedom and a little less control. If you know of some good examples or you are making progress in this area at your library, please leave a comment to share your insights.

The Power Of R-Directed Thinking

While we probably have a number of Blended Librarians among the folks who make up the regular readers of DBL, I’m going to assume that the majority of our readers have never heard of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community (on the Learning Times Network) or participated in a Blended Librarians Webcast event. If that assumption is correct then a good number of you would likely miss a post I recently made to the discussion board at the Community. So I’m going to share it here because I think it also has value for those who are interested in using design thinking to improve their libraries, develop better user experiences for the library user and to get ready for the Conceptual Age. What’s the Conceptual Age you ask. Well, that’s covered in the post. Read on…

A couple of weeks ago Lauren Pressley shared some thoughts on a book she was reading titled “Everything is Miscellaneous” and there was a fair amount of response to her post (if you don’t have time to read the book, I left a link to a video presentation by the author).

In the same spirit of sharing what you’ve been reading I wanted to post about the book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel Pink. He begins by explaining how the brain works. In essence the left hemisphere and right hemisphere control different areas of the body. You probably already knew that. But when it comes to thought processes, not just body control, the two sides are very different. The left side produces what Pink refers to as “L-Directed Thinking”. L-Directed Thinking is sequential, literal, functional, textual and analytical; not bad qualities for a traditional librarian – we certainly are text-oriented. The other approach is the “R-Directed Thinking” controlled by the right side of the brain. R-Directed Thinking is simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual and synthetic. While L-Directed Thinking worked well for the knowledge age (think accountants, stockbrokers, computer programmers – and traditional librarians), Pink gives evidence that we are moving away from the knowledge age and into what he calls the “Conceptual Age.” Think of it like this. The coin of the realm in the knowledge age was an MBA. The new coin of the realm in the Conceptual Age is the MFA. To excel in the Conceptual Age, one must “become proficient in R-Directed Thinking and master aptitudes that are high concept and high touch”. After laying out this basic thesis Pink devotes a chapter to each of the specific aptitudes he says are necessary to be a success in the Conceptual Age – what he calls the “six senses”. They are: Design; Story; Symphony; Empathy; Play; and Meaning. [Note to DBL Readers – the chapter on design is inspiring but on a practical level there are a number of good ideas and resources at the end of the chapter for becoming more design oriented and thinking like a designer).

I commend you to read the book to learn more about each sense – particularly design because that’s an important skill for a Blended Librarian. But what really resonated with me when I read the book is how much of it reflected what being a Blended Librarian is all about. To my way of thinking, Pink could have subtitled his book “What You Need To Know To Be A Blended Librarian” – but then he probably wouldn’t have sold as many copies. For example, in the section on symphony, he talks about “boundary crossers”. A boundary crosser is someone who blends multiple skills into one profession. Pink says “while detailed knowledge of a single area (e.g., traditional librarianship) once guaranteed success, today the top rewards go to those who can operate with equal aplomb in starkly different realms.” Sounds to me like a good way to describe the importance of being a Blended Librarian.

So if you think of yourself as a Blended Librarian, and you really have been working to incorporate new skills from the areas of technology (computing, networking, software, teaching technology, etc) and design (instructional design, design thinking, etc.) into your traditional librarianship skill set, then you are probably also an R-Directed Thinker. You are probably ready for the Conceptual Age. But just to be on the safe side, pick up a copy of A Whole New Mind (well, the traditional librarian in me forced me to get a copy via ILL) and brush up on all six senses.

If you’ve read the book too – or when you do – please share some of your thoughts here.

I hope you enjoyed the mini-review of the book – obviously biased in some ways. But if you have in interest in Blended Librarianship you can learn more at the website (link in first paragraph). I would encourage you to join (no fee – and you can join by going to the Blended Librarians website) the Community and join us for the next Blended Librarians webcast (totally free) on Thursday Oct. 27 at 3:00 pm EST. John Shank and I will be giving a presentation on design thinking for librarians. To learn more and register (free – but you must register) join the Community and get more information on the “What’s New” page.

Academic Librarianship By Design

That’s the title of the book written by myself and fellow DBL blogger John Shank. The official title is Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques. The book was recently released by the publisher, American Library Association Editions. In fact, we didn’t expect the book to become available until sometime in July or August. So I was quite surprised to find it in the ALA Bookstore at the annual ALA conference in Washington, DC last week. Here is a photo of a stack of volumes waiting to be purchased.

design book

The book has three general sections. In chapters one through four we lay out the foundations of design thinking and how it can be practically applied for the practice of academic librarianship (much of it could be applicable to other sectors of librarianship as well). Chapter one is an overview of Blended Librarianship. Chapter two provides an overview of design thinking and connects it to Blended Librarianship. Chapter three examines instructional design using ADDIE as the main discussion topic, but we also introduce our own model called BLAAM (Blended Librarians’ Adapted ADDIE Model). Chapter four, concludes section one, with a discussion of collaboration with faculty and other academic support professionals, and how it can be enhanced through design thinking.

The second part introduces more practical applications for design thinking through the framework of Blended Librarianship. Chapter five looks at ways in which the academic library can be integrated into courseware, and introduces the A_FLIP (Administrator, Librarian, Faculty Instructional Partnership) model. Chapter six introduces LTAs (Low Threshold Applications) and explains how they can be used to further collaboration with faculty. Chapter seven covers the use of digital learning materials in integrating the library into the teaching and learning process.

The final section contains just two chapters, and brings the book to a close by suggesting further steps for incorporating design thinking into practice. Chapter eight introduces and explores the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community where interested parties can further explore these ideas. Chapter nine examines current socio-technology trends that are impacting on the information world and user behavior, and introduces strategies for designing better libraries and better library user experiences.

We began writing the book in January 2006 with the idea of building on our knowledge of blended librarianship (a way to better integrate the library into teaching and learning as well as enhance collaboration with faculty and others in higher education). We sought to further explore design thinking and how it could be used to improve library services. As our enthusiasm for this topic grew we wanted to develop on ongoing outlet for discussing design thinking and its applications for designing better libraries. That’s where this blog comes into the picture. Since we completed the manuscript in October 2006 we’ve learned a good deal more about design thinking and how it can be applied to improve our libraries and the experiences our user communities get when they use them. We intend to keep sharing what we discover right here. We look forward to learning more from you as well.

Squeezing the Most from Creativity

Authors Pat Fallon and Fred Senn describe how they put creativity to the test in their book, Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity into a Powerful Business Advantage. Fallon, CEO and Chairman of advertising agency Fallon Worldwide, and his partner Senn describe how they use creativity to gain a secure competitive advantage. In fact, they argue that

“Imagination is the last legal means of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition.”

Fallon Worldwide is the agency responsible for memorable campaigns such as Citi’s “Live Richly,” BMW Internet films, and Lee Jean’s “Buddy Lee” spots. You can see a collection of their work here . The authors tell the stories of how these memorable ads came to be and summarize the book with a chapter called “Lessons Learned,” which I highly recommend taking a look at. (You may also want to see a book review in Business Week).

What’s significant from a librarian perspective is that the authors don’t rely on huge sums of money to carry out these campaigns. Rather, they employ something called “creative leverage” to get the job done. As they define it, creative leverage is the ongoing process of making creativity accountable for eliciting changes in consumer behavior. In other words, they make creativity work and achieve concrete results.

What’s also notable is that there is no one technique for unleashing creativity. Sometimes, creative leverage is found through humor, other times it’s found through artistry, rigorous market research, or innovative uses of online media. There are, however, some themes that run throughout that give us insights into how to seize our creative potential. Here are some of the points about creativity that struck me:

Hit the pavement. The advertising teams never did their work from the sidelines. They conducted focus groups and talked to people on the front lines. In the case of the Holiday Inn Express campaign, planners hitched rides with business travelers and recorded their accounts of their family and work lives. Creativity, it seems, can’t be found from a desk. It’s necessary to see the problem from many different angles and points-of-view. Keen listening skills also come into play here.

Define the problem. The first of the authors’ 7 principles of creative leverage states, “Always Start from Scratch.” In the book, they illustrate this point from their work with Purina Dog Chow. The product had been commoditized and so it was undifferentiated from its competitors. The planning team rallied their dog-owning friends to find out what motivates people to buy dog food. The team found that customers mistakenly believed that changing their pup’s food frequently offered them desired variety. In reality, a steady diet is easier on dogs’ digestive tracts, and so the team focused its message on re-educating consumers. I personally have also found that identifying the correct problem is one of the most challenging tasks in designing services because it’s easy to over-rely on past experience and assumptions rather than approach an issue with a fresh take.

Don’t underestimate emotions. People are rational beings, to a point. At one time or another, emotions will exert influence on thought processes. As we apply creativity to design work, it’s important to recognize that our services should appeal to people on both a rationale and emotional level. In Juicing the Orange, the authors describe their work with United Airlines and their “It’s Time to Fly” campaign. Their breakthrough was recognizing that target customers were brand-conscious and wanted to display their success through consumption choices. In other words, these travelers considered more than just the costs and flight times when buying their tickets. Being creative involves tapping into emotions, as well as intellect.

Finally, welcome risk. Creativity, as I previously defined it, is the ability to create something. Making something out of nothing entails making guesses about the present and future. When those guesses are well-received, we achieve some measure of success. In fact, the authors argue that we achieve a competitive advantage. When attempts fall flat, organizations must maintain a creativity-friendly environment to encourage further risk-taking that may lead to the next great innovation.

As you can see, there are a number of pointers that can enhance an individual’s creativity, but you may be wondering how we can encourage creativity at an organizational level. In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss research conducted in the financial services industry that produced a model for establishing creative and innovative organizations.