Category Archives: User Experiences

Designing Better Libraries For The Dream Economy

A new economic era is on the rise. Call it the Dream Economy. Will libraries be ready for it?

Actually, I have no idea if the Dream Economy is upon us, but it does offer some interesting perspectives about changing consumer expectations, and how a service organization like a library could use this knowledge to design better user experiences. Pat Jordan explains what the Dream Economy is by explaining that:

Consumers are increasingly looking for products and services which will meet their higher needs, enhance their self-image, and perhaps even help them move towards self-actualisation. People want great experiences and an enhanced self-image, they want to express their values and convictions through their purchase choices. The key to success is in understanding people. The better our understanding of consumers, the greater our ability to create products and services that they will find compelling. To connect with people we need to know what is important to them – their hopes, their fears, their dreams, their lifestyle, their aspirations.

Self actualization? Enhancing the self-image? Libraries are fundamentally good places. They make a positive contribution to the quality of life. But to say they can help people to achieve the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy – well, that might be stretching things a bit. At a basic level libraries are about connecting people with information so that they can get their work done. Excluding the most passionate of library users, the vast majority of people will only visit the library when they have to, and how do we expect to be a part of the Dream Economy if that’s the nature of our service? Can we aspire to meeting the end user’s higher level needs?

The answer to that question may become more clear with a look at the “Four Pleasures” which Jordan says provide a framework for understand the good experiences that people can have. As you read them ask yourself if libraries could deliver these experiences:

Physio-Pleasure. This is to do with the body and the senses. It includes pleasures associated with touch, taste and smell, as well as feelings of sensual pleasure. It also includes pleasures associated with physical enablement, such as being able to perform physical tasks.

Psycho-Pleasure. Pleasures associated with the mind such as being able to understand things and positive emotional states. Mental challenges come into this category as do things that people find interesting.

Socio-Pleasure. This is to do with relationships, both in the concrete and abstract sense. Concrete relationships are those with specific people, such as friends, family, co-workers, neighbours and loved ones. Abstract ones are concerned with our relationship with society as a whole, such as our social status, image and memberships of social groups.

Ideo-Pleasure. These include our tastes, values and aspirations. Tastes are to do with our preferences – what colours we like best, what kinds of music and art we like for example. Values are to do with our moral belief system and our sense of right and wrong. Meanwhile, our aspirations are to do with our sense of who we want to be and the self-image of ourselves that we want to have.

Let’s take a closer look at each. Physio-Pleasure? Well, no one will mistake the library for a fine restaurant or spa, but even a good physical environment – comfortable furniture; a cafe brewing aromatic beverages; attractive displays – is within the reach of many libraries. Psycho-Pleasure? This seems to play to our strong hand. Few societal structures are so closely associated with pleasures of the mind and mental challenges as are libraries. What can we do to better promote reading as a path to Physio-Pleasure? Socio-Pleasure? Libraries have always had a role in the social life of the community. One challenge is making the library a destination for community members. The library should be the place you WANT to visit, not the place you HAVE to visit. We can capitalize on Socio-Pleasure by facilitating the community member’s ability to establish relationships with others. Ideo-Pleasure? Somewhat more challenging to grasp, but are their ways the library can connect with human desires for good taste, strong values and developing a good self-image? People certainly value success, and want to see themselves as being successful. Libraries can help people achieve success, both academically and in careers. How do we transition our brand from books to life success?

It can be difficult to design a better library user experience when there is difficulty in grasping what users would define as a great experience. You can’t deliver an experience without a thorough understanding of the user and their desires, and then shaping an experience that not only meets those desires but makes a lasting impression (the WoW factor). I think this is where thinking through the Dream Economy may be of help. It can provide better insight into what our users’ desires are – or at least four categories of desires that can be used as foundations for well designed user experiences. Jordan provides a few case studies. One of them is about the L’Oreal cosmetic company. He writes that “L’Oreal has understood contemporary femininity better than any of their competitors, have built a brand to reflect this, and then, through their initiatives, built a community around the brand. Their in-depth understanding of their customers has been rewarded with a huge success”. Now, imagine that statement with “your library” there instead of L’Oreal and “their community’s information needs” instead of femininity. It sounds pretty good. Now we need to make it happen.

Libraries Need To Deliver The Wow Factor

Do libraries, particularly academic libraries, have loyal customers? Do our library users come back again and again to use the library building, and if so, why? In every academic library I’ve worked in I’ve gotten to know the regulars, and beyond that are students and faculty you see again and again – if not frequently enough to gain “regular” status. But I have to ask if that loyalty is earned or if it’s because those library users have no choice. While academic libraries, and even public libraries to some extent, have a captive audience by virtue of being the only game on campus (well, there might be a Barnes & Noble in the vicinity) it doesn’t mean our users – even the repeat ones – are making use of, let alone being aware of our resources.

One characteristic of delivering good user experiences is that it typically results in return business. Whatever that experience is, it is something the user wants to experience again. The idea of the Wow Factor is another way of describing a good user experience. According to Brandon Schauer, an experience design director for Adaptive Path, the Wow Factor (or Long Wow as he refers to it) “is a means to achieving long-term customer loyalty through systematically impressing your customers again and again. Going a step beyond just measuring loyalty, the Long Wow is an experience-centric approach to fostering and creating it.” Looking at it from that perspective I do think librarians are capable of providing that impressive experience again and again. He also points to the importance of empathic design:

Deep customer insights and empathetic design pave the pathway to wow moments. By diving deep into a customer’s life and closely observing their behaviors, you can wow your customer by addressing needs that they’d never be able to articulate. By immersing yourself in the customer’s wider world of emotion and culture, you can wow them by attuning the offering to practical needs and dimensions of delight that normally go unfulfilled.

As a profession we appear ready to accept that much more information is needed about our user community. More librarians are getting interested in ethnographic methods that can provide more detail about our users and how they make use of or ignore what the library offers.

Even if we don’t yet know our users as well as we should the opportunities to provide the wow factor are available to us. While we have loads of folks that never come into the library, some who only use our resources online, others who just use the building as a shortcut or a place to grab a quick nap, librarians are making great impressions every day. Just recently I found a document for an administrator that he didn’t think could be obtained in time for his meeting; he had a PDF version of it in his e-mail within 15 minutes. Think about the many students who come to the library expecting that getting a research project started will be a truly painful experience, only to find a librarian who has them sailing smoothly in no time at all; you know they are impressed by the totally unexpected ease of the process. An unexpected level of service, like when the Nordstram sales clerk offers to carry your packages to the car for you, is one way to provide “wow” user experiences. You just didn’t anticipate getting that much help and personal attention. I don’t doubt that we have the capacity to wow our users, but I am concerned that it doesn’t happen often enough.

What we could use is a more systematic design approach to delivering Wow experiences. Schauer recommends these four steps:

1. Know your platform for delivery. Recognize the palette of touchpoints that you can combine to deliver wow experiences.

2. Tackle a wide area of unmet customer needs. Find an area of the customer experience that has long been overlooked and is teeming with potential for new insights.

3. Create and evolve your repeatable process. Discover the organization’s approach to delivering wow moments regularly.

4. Plan and stage the wow experiences. Developing all your ideas at once is a risky undertaking. Instead, organize a pipeline of wow moments that can be introduced through your platform of touchpoints over the long haul.

I especially like that last point. Many academic and public libraries will have a number of facility and technology developments in the pipeline. Instead of just making them available, we need to look at them as opportunities for wow moments. As in so many other areas of our profession that need change, another critically important one is to change our own ways of thinking about how to do business. We absolutely must pay more attention to how we can impress our user communities, and what must be done to leverage that to increase our visibility, community buzz and word of mouth about the library.

Can we ever really move beyond the self-centered library?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I have a good reason—I’ve started a new job. I’m still at Georgia Tech, but now I am the User Experience Librarian. I’ll get into what exactly that entails in a future post, but for now I wanted to share some thoughts on being “user” centered.

There has been a lot of talk about libraries becoming more “user” centered, even back in 2000 I recall seeing user-centered or user-focused in several job postings. With the emergence of all the Web 2.0 magic, this term has become even more prominent.

But are libraries really any different? Can patrons detect a difference? I think that those of us working in libraries have seen a change, but what about our users? Has any of our rhetoric translated into a noticeable change? Do they perceive us as being user-centered, or is it just us who perceive ourselves as being more user-centric?

Taking it a step further, can we ever break the boundaries of departmental self-interest? The Reference department has one perspective, while Circulation has another; Systems/IT has their agenda, while Cataloging has another—and so on. I’ve worked in several large academic libraries and this territorial thinking seems to be universal. If each department perceives the “user experience” differently than how can we ever truly be user-centered? That’s one of the challenges I face now since I am essentially floating without a department… but perhaps that is a good thing? I’m trying to take a more holistic approach.

The book Understanding Your Users provides a good illustration of this problem. When it comes to designing services, we each hear different things.
user centered design

So where do we go from here? Sure there are strategic plans, vision and mission statements, and maybe a library brand, but do these unify staff? Do we really hear what patrons are saying or are we only listening to ourselves?

A Graphic Representation Of Creating Experiences

Though it can be a bit difficult to read you may find this of “approach to creating experiences map” of interest. It was developed by David Armano of Logic+Emotion. In fact, he recently offered a gallery of his favorite graphics and you may find something there that is also useful for better understanding design and user experience concepts.

For librarians that ask how they can organize themselves to create an experience for their users, the graphic gives five steps for moving through the experience development process as a team. The key things I like here…”start with the customer” and “teams must experience it for themselves” are steps in the process that strike me as being essential to understanding the users and how they experience the library. Once we grasp that, then we may begin to develop a better user experience for them.

Simplicity Is Not Merely The Absence Of Complexity

There is an ongoing conversation in the library profession about the need to make things – our web sites, our OPACs, our databases – more simple. Simple is good. Pondering how the library profession finds a balance between simplicity and complexity has been an interest of mine for a number of years now. In several of my past talks I’ve made mention of the simplicity-complexity conundrum which challenges academic librarians. In a nutshell, the research process and library research databases (and using them) offer some inherent complexity, yet we dwell in a world where the quality of the user experience is often judged soley by its simplicity. How do we resolve the need for complexity with the desire for simplicity? I don’t quite have the answer, but I do like to read about this issue as it helps to better understand the issues.

So I was glad to come across an article from boxesandarrows titled “Simplicity: the Distribution of Complexity.” Author Rob Tannen offers his own views on the simplicity discussion, prompted by his reading of the John Maeda book The Laws of Simplicity (just 100 pages and well worth reading). Tannen’s argument is that it’s not possible to engineer simplicity into products by starting a pre-defined set of parameters (e.g., this webpage will only have 10 links and 1 search box). Rather his philosophy is that “true simplicity is determined by a set of decisions made during the design process that respect the nature of the subject being designed.” Sounds a bit nebulous, but Tannen provides some amplification with the primary focus on achieving simplicity by relocating or redistributing the complexity so that what’s left offers simplicity. 

*  Aim for redundancy in design over uniqueness. What functions are critical and should be made available to users in multiple locations? Make sure they are available in multiple locations so they are readily found.

*  Choose dedicated over multi-function controls. What are the features that users want to use immediately and repeatedly? Make that feature crystal clear to the user.

When making these decisions during the design process “user research methods (ethnographic approaches) guide design decisions for the appropriate balance and placement of simplicity…and the exposure of complexity to the end user.” The goal is to displace complexity so that it doesn’t detract from the users’ experience.

So can Tannen’s advice help librarians to resolve their own simplicity-complexity conundrum? I think it can help in two ways. First, we should be thinking about the simplicity-complexity balance during the design stage when developing web pages, instruction products or making interface choices. Where in the process can we relocate or redistribute the complexity? Second, we should accept that, as Madea writes, “some things can never be made simple.” We need to understand that our users will find some of our resources complex, and there may not be much we can do to design that complexity away. In such cases we may explore user education as a device for helping the user to overcome complexity. Accepting the inherent complexity of the research process and its associated resources may help us to stop debating whether we should simplify and how to simplify. Instead we should focus our efforts on the things we can do to design some simplicity, and stop wasting time on that which will never be made simple and instead focus our efforts on user education.


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.

Coping With The Features Conundrum

Presenting too many features to users is recognized as a problem in the age of the user experience. According to Adreas Pfeiffer in an article titled “Features Don’t Matter Anymore“, what users really want is simplicity, not features. This can be a real challenge for libraries seeking to design a better user experience because many of our resources are feature laden products that ultimately overwhelm and confuse the end user – a definite problem in the age of user experience.

In a new article by James Surowiecki, of wisdom of the crowd fame, he discusses what I would call the features conundrum. In an article titled “Feature Presentation” he explores the difficulties of meeting consumer expectations. The challenge is that “although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive.” When given choices of varying products consumers will go for the ones with the most features. It appears they want to have their cake (features) and eat it too (simplicity).

But here’s something of interest for librarians who want to provide better user experiences. Surowiecki writes that “as buyers, users want all the bells and whistles, but as users they want something clear and simple.” So since we work with “users’ rather than “buyers” it may be that our focus should be on simplicity rather than the features. Or we may need to strategically identify features that have value that will be immediately obvious to users. Whatever we do and whatever balance we may try to create in developing a better library user experience, it just may be that “even when you give consumers what they want they can still end up hating you for it.”

Assessing The User Experience

There is a good deal of talk about creating a user experience, but how would you assess that user experience to determine if its design is producing the desired outcome. Intel is a corporation that is developing extensive expertise in creating and evaluating user experiences. Intel is also taking the lead in using ethnographic research techniques to identify and understand how users relate to their products. So I wasn’t surprised to find that a recent issue of the Intel Technology Journal featured an article on the topic of “Assessing the Quality of User Experience.”

While there is some technical complexity to this article (I will need to read it a few more times), it offers some valuable insights into understanding the user experience. For example, for those who might confuse usability with user experience, the authors point out that usability focuses on task efficiency and effectiveness while user experience concerns itself with emotional and perceptual components across time. They define the user experience as emotions, attitudes, thoughts and perceptions felt by the users across the usage lifecycle. Having established what the user experience is, user experience quality is defined as (1) the degree to which a system meets the target user’s tacit and explicit expectations for experience; or (2) the measured level of quality of a particular user experience when compared to a specific target.

The article then proceeds to describe the research established to measure the quality of the user experience. Three quality assessment approaches are described. For example, one of the three involved observing people setting up home networking technology. The data collection routines were extensive, involving interviews, photographs, voice recordings and follow up-probes. After initial in-house work with test subjects, their homes were visited as well. Data analysis seemed a bit complicated, but it was clear that the study was valuable to Intel in discovering “clear gaps in features” that will be “used to help prioritize future requests.”

Now, is it possible to take what appears to be a rigorous assessment process designed to determine if users are having a good experience and apply that to the assessment of a library user experience? That’s going to take more pondering. I do think it could be of value to explore the “emotions, attitudes, thoughts and perceptions felt by [library] users across the usage lifecycle.” Of course, we need to get a better handle on what our product is and how that fits into the concept of a usage lifecycle. If our product is identified as “academic success of the student” or “lifelong learning for the community member” then the usage lifecycle could be the time during which the student moves from entry to exit (hopefully as a graduate) from the institution or the time during which a community member has access to the public library. I will be thinking more about this article to develop some better ideas about identifying how library could create and manage user expectations – and assess the library user experience as well. It should be more than just asking the users “how are we doing” on the occasional satisfaction survey.

Ethnographic Research As A Tool For Understanding Users

Key design firms have long used ethnographic research methods to study the users of products they are designing in order to understand how the users actually use the product. When IDEO was asked by Apple to innovate a new mouse for the Mac many years ago, the IDEO folks spent hundreds of hours studying people using the mouse device, as well as trying to better understand what people wanted to do with the mouse.

This article “Big Brands Turning To Big Brother” (not a particulary good title) describes how the makers of consumer products are turning to ethnographic research to understand how consumers choose and use their products. According to the article:

In less than a decade ethnographic research – detailed observations of the day-to-day behaviours of a small sample from a target group of consumers to shed light on how they use, choose or buy products – has established itself alongside consumer surveys and focus groups as a leading tool of market research.

In libraries, usability studies are far more common than ethnographic techniques. One weakness of most usability testing is that users are asked to perform certain functions and then are observed doing them. But the users will often do what they think the observers want to see (such as how fast can they find a book in the OPAC), rather than what they would normally do. Ethnographic research just observes the users as they use the products with no specific tasks in mind. This is one way in which the makers of the product learn that users are doing things they never expected or anticipated. This leads to unique forms of discovery and innovation.

But as you will learn when you read this article, proper ethnographic research techniques can be far more invasive into the lives of the subjects, and may be beyond what libraries could be capable of accomplishing. But by studying and understanding how ethnographic research works there may certainly be possibilities that we can integrate some of the techniques into our user studies – which will no doubt contribute to the design of better user experiences for library users.

The Age Of The User Experience – Part Two

I had my first enounter with the user experience concept just about a year ago, and I wrote about it in ACRLog. It was an article titled “Features Don’t Matter Anymore” (a link is found in the ACRLog post), and it gives a somewhat different focus on the user experience than the one described in the book The Experience Economy. According to the author, the “Age of the User Experience” was entirely focused on making things, particularly electronic gadgets, as easy to use as possible. Hence, the essence of the user experience is simplicity. Users prefer to do without fancy features. A good example of a user experience, for the author of the article, was an iPod. That is because it is so so simple to operate, and has only the basic features one needs. So if one source claims a user experience is about a memorable purchase and another claims it is about simplicity, are we now less clear on what a user experience is? But if a good user experience is, to a large extent, about giving the user something that is simple, than libraries, with their inherent complexity, have much work to do.

Unfortunately, as more information industry players and librarians discuss the user experience concept it is going to grow even murkier. The challenge we’ll be taking on is how to move from commodity to experience, and it is unlikely we’ll discover any one size fits all solution. Take for example some of the proceedings at the recent SirsiDynix Superconference that I attended. The theme for the conference was creating transformational user experiences. Again, it would be difficult to say, based on the different programs, that there was a consistent sense of what it means to deliver a user experience. Most of the presentations, including my own, discussed some form of Web 2.0 technology. Does creating a user experience involve using some technology to do a better job of reaching the user community? I suspect there’s more to it than that. But I have to say that the leadoff presentation by a representative from the company Human Factors International offered some interesting insights into the concept of designing a user experience, even if most of the discussion focused on web site experiences.

The speaker said that user design is not just about making things simple. Rather, he said, it is about influencing the user of the system to do what you want them to do. The latter, he said, is strategic usability. Strategic usability involves branding, opportunity, and costs. One thing I was not surprised to hear is that it is based on understanding human needs. That really brings us back to emphatic design – which is about first learning who your users from their point of view. Another important point the presenter made is that a core element of good use is just making sure things work right. The opposite side of that coin is “this is broken”. Look around your library and your web site. Can you see what’s broken – what needs to work right? If not, start asking outsiders to give you their perspective.
If you’d like some other perspectives on the concept of the user experience take a look at this blog post by John Udell in which he discusses the use experience (what he refers to as having the “aha moment”) as opposed to the user experience (all the things you need to go through to have the use experience). Another worthwhile read is an article in the Feb. 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review titled “Understanding Customer Experience” (sorry – no longer online for free) – which I think is pretty close to a discussion of the user experience. They write that “customer experience is the integral and subjective response customers have to any direct or indirect contact with a company. They customer experience is perceived as a successful brand that shapes customers’ experiences by embedding the fundamental value proposition in the offerings’ of every feature”. As librarians do we have a clear sense of our fundamental value proposition? Let’s say that proposition is all about information access without barriers. How do we embed that value into our resources and services so that the user community clearly understands what we do and why we do it? That would seem to be an important element in the design of a great library use experience.
In some ways these readings may muddy the waters for you, but I think the more perspectives we get on the user experience the better able we will be to understand it.