Just as we were preparing to debut DBL I came across an article that suggests that we were too late arriving on the scene with our emphasis on design. “Beware the Backlash” appeared in Core77, and its main theme is that a backlash against design is on the rise. It seems that real designers are growing tired of the rest of the world using design themes to generate “useless stuff.” The author states that “design has lost its magic now that everyone has an opinion on it. It was clearly much more special when only a select group of designers swooned over the latest Apple product.” Is the world of design experiencing a bandwagon effect? Is it now just faddish to talk about the importance of design? And most importantly, is DBL just being superficial when we talk of the influence design can have on librarianship?
I prefer to think that design has not been “striped of much of its meaning” as the author contends it has. It is possible that design is being overused in the media which adds to the overexposure. So I’m not surprised that those who’ve been long-term design thinkers and practitioners might react by suggesting that those new to the concept are misusing it and are simply jumping on the bandwagon. Given that design principles and design thinking have seen little exploration in the world of librarianship, I think there is much room for the growth of this concept and the related practices in our profession. DBL is about more than just design hype. To my way of thinking, given that many of our libraries need to discover what’s broken and how design can help make things work better, there is much that we can explore and learn in the worlds of design thinking, instructional design, innovation and creativity.
So what am I going to contribute to Designing Better Libraries? You may know me from either one of two blogs. I’ve been maintaining Kept-Up Academic Librarian for 3-4 years now. I also contribute occasional posts to ACRLog. Since I needed something else to do I thought it might be time to get working on another blog. With the other members of the team I worked onÂ developing this new blog, and after a few months – here we are.Â Some of the inspiration for DBL comes from the work I’ve been doing, with John Shank, at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community where we’ve been exploring issues related to design (by way of instructional design) and its implications for libraries.
I also becameÂ interested in design while at Philadelphia University. It transformed from a legacy textiles college to an institution with multiple design programs, from industrial design to fashion design to instructional design. So I was getting exposure to lots of design activity, and it occurred to me that there was little talk or thinking about design within librarianship – outside of the design of buildings and their interiors – and quite possibly the design of interfaces. But there wasn’t much discussion about the design of a library experience that would be highly satisfying to those who use libraries. It seemed that libraries were the exact type of service organization that could benefit from design thinking.
So I’ll be focusing my blogging on design thinking. I also like to follow a number of innovation blogs and other sources, so I’ll be sharing some thoughts in those areas as well. For those who are new to design thinking I recommend two places to begin learning more. First, take a look at a video lecture delivered at MIT by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. IDEO is perhaps the leading design firm. The company has designed everything from the original Mac mouse to the Palm PDA. Brown gives some good insight into how design thinkers work. Also take a look at The Art of Innovation. The author, Tom Kelley, is also affiliated with IDEO, and it takes a deeper look into the process that IDEO uses in its design work (largely influenced by a design thinking process).
I expect that the concept of design thinking will be vague to those who are new to it. I will be working to share with DBL readers more ideas and resources to promote a better understanding of design thinking, particulary in the ways librarians can benefit from weaving it into their practice. One thing that design thinkers try to do is develop clear outcomes for their products or deliverables. In order to evaluate the quality of the experience and the achievement of that outcome, it is critical to know at the start what one is seeking to accomplish. If DBL inspires librarians to develop more passion for design thinking – and enables them to firmly grasp the concepts and integrate it into their practice of librarianship – then one of myÂ priority outcomes will be achieved.
Design Thinking is not about bricks or clicks. Itâ€™s not about interior space or web usability, although both of those topics should be addressed. No, Design Thinking is about solving problems. This requires a cultural shift for libraries, since we tend to have a narrow world view. Librarians take pride in critical thinking, narrowing down concepts, whereas Design Thinking is quite the opposite. Itâ€™s about generating numerous ideas and building up the possibilities. The most practical solution is not always the best. 10 good ideas are more valuable than 1 great idea.
An approach that I have been exploring over the past year is Empathic Design. I donâ€™t simply ask patrons how we might improve or what they would like to see differently, but instead focus on the problems they encounter not only with the Library, but academically, socially, everything. I want to know where they fail, where things go wrong, as well as what works. I want to understand their total experience. This doesnâ€™t happen through just focus groups or surveys– it comes from being out in the field and gaining trust.
Design Thinking focuses on understanding and defining problems, and then making improvements to address those needs. This requires broad perceptions, which can be a challenge since the concept of libraries is so engrained in our minds and theirs too. People toss the â€œoutside the boxâ€ phrase around too much, but it takes great imagination to break-through stereotypes and expectations. Simply asking patrons what they want will only result in them trying to tell us what they think we want to hear. Instead, I want to examine the big picture and then build or reshape services to address actual needs. Letâ€™s target problem areas that we can fix and then promote the value that we are providing: The Library as Remedy.