Tag Archives: steve_jobs

Be Your Library’s Greatest User

Note: I wrote this a few days before the untimely and unfortunate passing of Steve Jobs. Jobs did so much to add to our understanding of what it means to deliver a great user experience – and a total, systemic experience. Although he is gone his presence will continue to have a lasting impact on the study of user experience and his accomplishments will no doubt continue to influence our thinking and writing on this subject.

There are many different ways a library staff can express its desire to become more focused on designing a better library. Some of them fall into the realm of improving the user experience. It might be something as basic as usability tests on the library website. It could be creating a staff position dedicated to user experience. It may even take the shape of a larger, staff-wide initiative to design an experience that emphasizes totality. Whatever initiative your library takes up to improve the user experience, it may be wise to step back and position yourself as a user of the library, and not the creator of its services.

Since Steve Jobs announced his retirement as Apple’s CEO numerous articles have both celebrated and critiqued his leadership of the world’s leading technology firm. More than a few could be said to go overboard in their praise of Jobs, and lead us to wonder if it isn’t all a lot of hype. After all, Jobs is but one more CEO of a technology company, albeit one whose vision and innovation has impacted many lives. One of the dozens of articles about Jobs that most captured my attention was featured in Fast Company. Titled “What Steve Jobs Can Still Teach Us” it too puts Jobs up on a pedestal despite a few obligatory remarks about his micromanaging and berating employees over minute product details. What it expresses well however was the way in which Jobs excelled at designing products for passionate users.

What Cliff Kuang eloquently points out is that in order for Jobs to do that he had to be Apple’s greatest user. He tells a story that shares, from Kuang’s view, the moment that more than any other shaped Apple’s future. When Jobs returned to Apple after a 12-year hiatus he found a company ill prepared to compete with Dell, IBM and others. Apple was only doing what all the others did but with higher priced, less competitive products. What happened? Jobs encountered an unknown Jonathan Ive (now Apple’s top designer) working on the iMac. That’s when their long-time relationship began, with an emphasis on great, user-centered design. Kuange writes:

That single moment in the basement with Ives says a great deal about what made Jobs the most influential innovator of our time. It shows an ability to see a company from the outside rather than inside as a line manager…That required an ability to think first and foremost as someone who lives with technology rather than produces it…It’s not clear that anyone else at Apple will possess Job’s same talent for looking at Apple’s products from the outside view of a user.

Therein may lie the important lesson that Jobs can still teach us librarians. We certainly use our own products – we have to – but we do so as the information experts not the typical user. While our expertise allows us to make things simpler for those who seek us out for mediated research assistance, it also prevents us from seeing our library’s facility, resources and services from the outside – as the user experiences it. How might we do a better job of becoming the library’s greatest user? For a start, we might try spending more time with users asking them to tell us how they see and use the library. That’s not a particularly new idea, and we already know what we’re likely to hear (too complicated; less useful than Google; intimidating; etc. ). Perhaps this story about Jobs can encourage us to become more passionate about using our own resources – and really caring about how they are making (or could make) a difference for people – and then demanding from them what any great user would.

Just Hire Steve Jobs

Want to design a better library? Looking for an individual to help your library achieve new levels of creativity? Are you in need of an employee who can help your library innovate like Apple? The answer to all these questions has a single simple answer. Hire Steve Jobs. Sorry if you thought I had a better answer to those questions. But what if you can’t hire Steve Jobs. Then hire someone who works closely with him.

This sounds pretty silly because no one is going to hire Steve Jobs. For one thing he has a pretty good job right now. For another, you probably couldn’t afford him. I just bring this up because I’ve now recently twice encountered this exact recommendation in different readings, of course, in a facetious way. In the book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World by designers from Adaptive Path the authors write:

There are a number of ways to encourage and maintain an experiential focus throughout your development process. One way is to hire Steve Jobs as your CEO. Apple’s success in delivering satisfying experiences stems directly from Jobs’ maniacal focus on customers’ interactions with products. As CEO, he ensures that Apple delivers only the best designs.

In an article titled “Design: A Better Path to Innovation” (subscription to Interactions needed) author Nathan Shedroff, experience designer, writes:

I got a call from an editor of one of the biggest business magazines in the U.S. What he said was “We’re planning on writing a book about how business can innovate like Apple does, and I was told to talk to you about it.” My answer stumped him. “You can’t write that book”. I had to explain that, no, the book wasn’t writeable. “It would consist of one sentence: Hire Steve Jobs.” I went on to explain their type of design, usually disastrous for most companies, works only when you have a leader with ultimate authority who also happens to have a keen sense of design and amazingly accurate understanding of what customers need and want.

The point of both sources is that many businesspeople want someone who can run their organization or company like Apple, and they are looking for the secrets that make Apple what it is – one of the most innovative and forward-design thinking companies on the planet. But Shedroff makes the point that Apple, right now, has a unique perspective that is is exceedingly difficult to achieve without Jobs. As an example he gives Microsoft. They do all the right design thinking things such as ethnographic research, rapid prototyping, user testings, etc. Yet many of their products yield a bad user experience. Shedroff goes on in his article to explain how design can lead to better innovation and meaningful user experiences.

So when you realize it’s not possible to hire Steve Jobs you may want to borrow your strategy from Sony. A recent BusinessWeek article detailed how Sony is working to catch up to Apple. The CEO of Sony couldn’t hire Jobs, but he did hire a top lieutentant of Steve Jobs. But even that move hasn’t had the expected payoff just yet. So what can libraries take away from this? Well, for one thing, if you can’t hire Steven Jobs don’t worry. You can still use design thinking to develop better processes in your library that will lead to more satisfying experiences for your users. But strong leadership, as Jobs demonstrates, is at the core of innovation and risk taking. It just may be the next best thing to hiring Steve Jobs.