Tag Archives: user_experience

Signposts On The Road To The Library User Experience

Two things happened this past week that stood out for me as signposts that more librarians are becoming familiar with the user experience concept. It is mixed news. It is good that more librarians in all spheres of the profession are gaining awareness about library user experience. What is not so good are the signs of skepticism and misunderstanding about library user experience. Even with the ups and downs, it is encouraging that a broader group of colleagues is engaging in the conversation about user experience.

The first was a discussion over at Friendfeed. A librarian I follow (Nicole Engard) had re-tweeted something a conference speaker (Aaron Schmidt) said during a talk about UX which was quoted as: The future of libraries isn’t a book mausoleum; it’s providing EXPERIENCES. This ignited an interesting conversation because at first there was some offense taken to the “book mausoleum” reference – given that books still are and will continue to be an important part of the experience for many community members. But then it morphed into a conversation about user experience, and that’s where the skepticism appeared in the following types of statements:

“I don’t want my library to give me an experience”; “the experience thing is overblown”; “I am firmly against the experiences movement”; “what I have seen around “experience” in libraries has to with what seems like a relentlessly retail-centric model of what kinds of experiences we should imitate and foster”.

That’s just a sampling. Do keep in mind that these quotes are out of context, and that those who wrote them raised good questions and made good points. I am fine with the skepticism and lack of enthusiasm for user experience when I come across it. That’s because it challenges me to work harder to find better examples and to write more effectively in sharing what I know and believe about the value of designing better library user experiences. While I believe in it, I don’t think everyone else has to, and if there are colleagues who have no interest I’m not about to try to convert them to the accept the gospel. But I would like them to at least better understand what library user experience is really about, and not simply write it off as a business fad, an effort to mimic Starbucks or Zappos or even worse a ploy to psychologically manipulate community members. Here’s what I added to the conversation:

It’s true that no one goes to the library for an experience. But once you get there and use it, you’re going to have an experience. The experience starts as soon as you walk in the door. What are you smelling, seeing and hearing? Is the carpet dirty? Did anyone say hello to you? Make eye contact? Acknowledge that you exist? Was the reference librarian attentive – take an interest in your question? Very helpful you say. What happens when you get lost in the stacks or the person checking out your book is having a bad day? Maybe looking up the book on the OPAC frustrated you. Every single thing that happens is part of your library experience. Good experiences are not random – or if you don’t pay attention to the experience and just let it be random – then bad things can and will happen to degrade the experience. UX isn’t about trying to copy what malls do or Disney or Las Vegas. It’s about being thoughtful to put into place, as Cecily said, the design elements that will help to facilitate good experiences. No one can create an experience for someone else because everyone experiences things in a unique and personal way. But you and your library colleagues can think about the totality of the experience you facilitate so that library community members have a good experience at every touchpoint.

I have no idea if that changed anyone’s mind, but I suggested that folks take some time to visit here and check out the posts that DBL offers on UX. I hope it might get some doubters at least considering the possibility that there could be some value in designing better library experiences. The other positive outcome I took away from the conversation is that a few folks did ask for suggestions for books or other readings that could allow them to learn more about user experience. It’s great to encounter open mindedness about UX. My own suggestion was Subject to Change.

The second sign was a new ARL SPEC Kit survey on – guess what – user experience. Unless you are working at a library that is a member of the Association of Research Libraries this might not mean much to you, but this is the first time a SPEC Kit, which is essentially a survey of activity at all the ARL Libraries, has covered the topic of user experience. So it was great to see this international organization of academic libraries recognizing that we need to know more about how we are studying the user experience in our libraries. Because the survey was just issued, and it will be quite a few months until the final report is issued, I’m not about to pass judgment on this SPEC Kit. I will say that I was mildly disappointed in that, for me at least, it didn’t go quite far enough in asking questions about developing user experiences in the way I tend to think about it. Many of the questions were focused more on assessing specific parts of the library user experience, such as the reference service, the website, etc. So to a certain extent it felt more like the survey was asking what assessment was taking place and what methods were used to conduct the assessment (surveys, focus groups, ethnographic studies, etc.). I would have liked to seen a few questions about projects targeted at developing a library-wide user experience or efforts to get staff thinking more about the user experience, but perhaps that might have created more confusion. Maybe next time.

Despite this, the appearance of the SPEC Kit is another signpost that there is a growing recognition of the user experience concept and its practice, and that’s a good thing. I will be looking forward to the publication of the report. If you’re seeing other signposts of the growing awareness or recognition of the library user experience, share it here.

A Reference Service User Experience – Tell Me More

Back in August 2010 I had the pleasure of participating in the Reference Renaissance Conference. I participated in the closing plenary as part of a panel presentation and discussion about the reference service user experience. The gist of my presentation was that delivering reference service in a library could be more than just a series of transactions, many mundane and some quite challenging – but transactions just the same. If you have read my posts here at DBL in the past, you would have a pretty good idea of what I’d had to say about this topic in my presentation. But just in case you’d like to have more detail, you can read the article I wrote “Fish Market 101: Why Not a Reference User Experience” based on my presentation. It was published in a November 15, 2010 issue of Library Journal.

I hadn’t thought much about that piece until recently when I received a question from Lisa Reuvers. Lisa is a Library Technician at the Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, MN. Here is what Lisa asked me:

I am from a library in Minnesota, and have just read your article on the “Reference User Experience”. You speak of having a memorable reference experience and I am curious what your ideas might be? How can we make such a formal process more inviting and fun? It is intriguing to me to make the experience memorable, other than just giving them some information and then call, “Next!”.

I think Lisa poses an excellent question, and it’s the exact type of thinking I like to see. I know that some of what I have to say about user experience doesn’t always translate to the front line of the library, and library workers should challenge me to come up with better ideas and examples. I suspected that Lisa was asking me for specific actions she and her colleagues could take to transition a reference encounter from a transaction to an experience. Should I tell her to be more entertaining? Maybe juggle a few books while taking a question? So what did I have to offer as an answer. Here it is:

One of the points I make in that piece is that it would be a real challenge to turn a reference or circulation transaction into something more inviting and fun – as you say. I point out it would be a bad idea to throw books to patrons the way the Pike Place Fish Market throws fish.

That said, what we often think of as a mundane transaction could be – if not more memorable – a better contributor to the holistic UX library experience. By that I mean that you want to be thinking about your library experience as a TOTAL experience – of which the reference UX is one part of a larger design for a great library experience. In that piece I describe some of those components – being different, service that inspires loyalty, etc.

In other writings I have discussed how library transactions can focus on being memorable by exceeding user expectations. Have you tried things such as starting transactions by asking the person how their day is going, by introducing yourself, by asking them what their name is and letting them know how much you appreciate them using the library. Do staff remember frequent users and greet them by name? Have you followed up with patrons on occasion to ask them about their experience using the library? Did you let them know that their opinion mattered? All of these things can send a message to the community that the library cares about them and values their use of the library – and that we see each community member than more than just a number on a library card and a transaction. These are the types of actions that help build relationships and loyal library users who tell their friends about the great community library.

As I have stated in other writings and presentations on UX, many individuals do not like coming to the library or have a great fear of research which intimidates them. So they already come to us with low expectations of having a good experience. So anything we can do to make them more at ease, more relaxed, and more aware they have people who are there to help, already exceeds their expectations and contributes to a great and unexpected experience.

But if we just see ourselves as personnel who answer questions, check out books, maintain the stacks – and not as important components in delivering a well designed experience – then it won’t happen. This begins with a staff conversation to figure out what the experience is now – and what it could be and needs to be.

Lisa wrote back to tell me that she found my answer helpful in providing more insight into what I meant by a reference user experience. In fact, she asked me for permission to share it with all of her library colleagues. I was glad to hear that, and I hope that both the article and the follow up sent to Lisa will be at the center of a discussion at the Buckham Memorial Library to begin a conversation about what their desired library experience is and how they will go about designing and implementing it.

The Relationship Between User Experience And Customer Experience

In the past I’ve heard talks or read articles where user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) are used interchangeably to describe some process of designing and implementing an enhanced service environment for the end user/customer/community member. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using them interchangeably for most audiences, but it may be informative for our own understanding to get a sense of how they are differentiated and how they relate to each other. Perhaps we can to establish the uniqueness of each term, although some of you may decide it’s just a matter of semantics. Read up on and it and come to your own conclusions.

A good starting point is this interview with Samantha Starmer, Manager, eCommerce Experience at REI published at UX Magazine. You can read the transcript or watch a video of the interview. The interviewer asks an interesting question of Starmer: How does REI define ‘user experience’ and its relationship to customer experience (CX)? Here is Starmer’s response:

I think that it’s an interesting question, when you talk about user experience and customer experience. User experience, in general, we’re thinking about people using something, people interacting with something. Right now, most specifically, that’s the website and any mobile applications or mobile sites, but that’s really part of a larger umbrella around the full customer experience, which would include interactions with a store employee, using the product, using our services, taking a class, that kind of thing.

Seems fairly clear. UX is a subset of CX. You want to design a good user experience for the library catalog, or what happens at the reference or circulation desk of your library. Each one of these can be thought of as a unique experience that requires its own design – and thinking about what we want that experience to be about and then put into place the elements that facilitate that experience (e.g., expedient; product excellence; accurate one-stop problem resolution, etc). Taken together these unique and somewhat different experiences create the total experience for the community member. That requires us to create the UX with the overall CX in mind, and then make sure the organization consistently achieves the UX at all possible touchpoints. If we do that well, we’ve created a better library experience. You can read an additional interview in which UX and CX are discussed, also from UX Magazine, with Harley Manning, Vice President, Research Director for Customer Experince at Forrester Research. Manning also points to CX as a broader set of concerns, while UX is described as “focusing on narrow concerns.”

I suppose the term that I’ve been using for CX is “totality“. Again, what we call it may not be as critical as making it happen – and making it happen is a challenge. That’s one of the messages in this good post, also about customer experience. Over at the blog The Conversation, Adam Richardson has started a series of posts about customer experience. In this first one he explains what customer experience is (and much of will sound familiar to those with an understanding of user experience). He finds it hard to define:

How we can really improve something if we can’t even define it? This is the first in a series of posts looking at customer experience — what it encompasses, how to structure it, how to approach and improve it.

But he comes to the conclusion that:

It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.

I think that comment does a great job of pointing out to those of us in the library field that our interaction with members of the user community is more than just a single transaction at a service desk. We need to be thinking in terms of the customer experience, and what’s happening at every touchpoint during that person’s journey through the library experience we deliver. For more of Richardson’s posts on customer experience see this one that’s all about touchpoints.

So, have these customer experience readings changed my own perspectives on UX and CX? I think so. Moving forward I will still use the term user experience to refer to that total library experience we want to design and deliver. In my presentations on UX I would be more likely to introduce the term “customer experience” and point out how each term adds to our knowledge about and conversation on designing better libraries.

The Link Between Storytelling And UX

Listening to a professional storyteller really had quite an impact on me. It made me realize, and I wrote about it here, that storytelling presents an entirely different way to make a presentation – or enhance a presentation. Since then I’ve made an effort to do some storytelling in my own presentations, either at the start or the end. In between I’ve made more use of videos that help to tell the story. My other visuals, as much as possible, serve more as supplements or backdrop to the larger story I’m trying to tell. Personal experiences are a good source of stories, and I’ve crafted them with tales about an old family car or the time my family raised a chicken (or so we thought) in our house. I’ve also used some of my camping trip experiences to make a point. I’ve also experimented with shooting short videos, using my Flip, of librarians responding to a question or sharing a thought, and weaving an edited version into the story line. The challenge is making it relevant to the main theme of the presentation – as a lead in or to bring it all to a close. If the story is completely disconnected then it makes little sense. By no means would I describe myself as a good storyteller, but I’m trying to get better each time I try it.

One thing I’ve found helpful is to better understand the fundamentals of storytelling – knowing the elements of a story and how to present it in a way that will have the best effect on the audience. I recently discovered some good reading for those of you who want to be better storytellers or give it a try. What I also learned is that storytelling can help more than presentations. It can be essential to designing a good user experience. I started my discovery with a post called “Juicy Stories Sell Ideas” by Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks. But I didn’t realize these co-authors also have authored a book titled “Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design” until I read about it here – where they were interviewed. My library did not have a copy, so I thought I’d see if interlibrary loan might help. I was amazed to discover that not a single U.S. academic or public library has purchased this book (according to Worldcat). Perhaps the other countries where the book is found know something we don’t. Anyway, these new discoveries lead me back to the “Juicy Stories” post, and there I found some additional links with one to a post at Smashing Magazine titled “Better User Experience with Storytelling”.

I really enjoyed this post’s breakdown of the of the elements of the story. The key points are:
* good stories have a specific design to them
* stories need to create an emotional connection with the audience
* the story arc explains the structure of a story (e.g., beginning, middle, end – but with more detail)
* every story ever created/told uses the same basic formula (a chart explains it using contemporary films)
* storytelling can help in designing user experiences.

One challenge to creating a library user experience is that some library workers may resist the idea. They will make the point that the people who come to the library are not really interested in having some sort of experience. What these library users really want is to complete a transaction or make use of the space – and then be on their way. If libraries offers those things so that the user accomplishes what he or she wants, with nothing beyond the bare basics, then it can be described as a good experience. None of that is unreasonable. Yes, things must work right so that the user gets what he or she wants in an efficient way. If our library is unable to provide that simple “it works” experience, then we must figure out what is broken and fix things so that we at least deliver a baseline acceptable experience. Perhaps we can aspire to do more by taking into consideration the entire experience the library delivers, not simply what any one worker sees from his or her own vantage point in the library?

Let’s use storytelling to reflect on the value of the user experience. Consider the following scenario:

John is a sophomore at a large public research university. During his freshman year, a librarian came to John’s class and explained how to do the research for his introductory writing course. John never needed to actually go to the library though, he found all the resources needed from websites and one of the library’s article search engines. This semester however, the instructor specified that two reference books had to be consulted for the project, and both were only available in print in the library. So after his morning marketing course, John walked over to the campus library. Upon entering the building a security guard stopped John and asked him to show his campus ID card; that made him feel a little uneasy. Wasn’t he a student here and was this the way to welcome him to the library? The first thing he noticed was the smell – not a good one either. Maybe something moldy or perhaps some food another student left in the trash a few days ago? Either way, not pleasant. No matter, John would just find the book he needed, make a few copies and get to lunch. But there was just one problem. John had no idea where to find the book, and he saw nothing in the way of a sign that he could use to get started. So lacking a sign he decided to walk into the first stairwell he saw, figuring the reference books would be on the next level up. The stairwell looked like it could use a fresh coat of paint and there was some graffiti on the wall. On the next level there were lots of computers, but John looked around and didn’t see any books at all. There were still no signs to provide an overview of the layout of the building. Fortunately John saw a desk and thought he could get some help. It turned out the desk was mostly for help with computers and printers, but the student sitting at the desk was able to look up the call number for the reference book John needed. John found out he needed to get to the lower level. Once there he struggled to get to the right call number location – again – no helpful signage. Finally, he figured out the way the numbers worked and managed to get to the right spot, but only to find that only one of the books he needed was there, but with no sign of the other one. John figured someone else in the class may have gotten there before him and taken the book away. This should have been simple, he thought. It was anything but simple. After finally finding out where the copiers were, he found out the copiers only worked with campus cards and he didn’t have funds on his card. One copier accepted change, but John only had a $20 bill. Since he only needed two copies John managed to find a friend who gave him the twenty cents he needed to make the copies. Then he left, and decided he’d do anything he could to avoid coming back.

While our character John satisfied, at least partially, his need can we say this is a good experience. Other than the lack of good signage, nothing was really broken. It’s just a matter of having to deal with the library and figure things out. You could easily re-write this story to vastly improve the experience (e.g., the smell of fresh coffee coming from the cafe, a well-designed interior, a greeter at the door welcoming you and getting you off in the right direction, etc). Yes, many people come to libraries to accomplish something specific, such as finding a reference book for an assignment, viewing a DVD or even asking for help with a research project. But in accomplishing those things the experience each person has could make the difference between never coming back again or wanting to become a regular user of the library. Which do you and your colleagues prefer to offer? If you want to find more examples of how storytelling can be used as a planning device, look no further than ARL’s recently published “ARL’s 2030 Scenarios“. Each scenario is built around a story about a researcher. It helps the reader to imagine a different future for the large research library. The point of the “Better UX With Storytelling” post is that we can work with our colleagues to develop stories like this one about John to help us think through the type of experience we are giving community members, as well as the one we’d ideally like them to have at our library.

Whether it’s integrating a new dimension into your presentations or sitting down with your colleagues to craft stories that can help all to understand the type of experience the library offers. and to think through the desired experience, storytelling can be a powerful tool for designing a better experience. You should take a look at the post “Better User Experience with Storytelling” for two reasons. First, it (along with the other posts mentioned above) will help you to become a better storyteller if that’s a skill area where you’d like to improve. Second, it will help you to better grasp the power that stories can have in creating emotional connections. As DBL posts have state previously, a great user experience provides more than just a transaction, it provides meaning for its users. Every library worker has, at one time or another, engaged with a community member who experienced the library at far more than a transactional level. The challenge we face is how to build meaning and emotion connections into all the touchpoints where the user community interacts with the library. Developing stories may help us overcome that challenge.

Late addition: another blog post on using storytelling as part of the design process

The Future Of The Library Is Not The Apple Store

I tuned in to a recorded archive of a program about the future of the academic library. One participant described as a “no brainer” the idea that the library of the future should be something modeled on the Apple Store. I can see the appeal because Apple Stores are really happening places. When you go there (at least on the weekend) the place is packed, and there’s a waiting list to talk to a “genius” at the genius bar. It is an engaging experience because the wares are right out there, not behind glass cases. The products are loaded with software and apps so you can feel them, interact with them, listen to them – it’s all part of a unique experience. And on top of all that, the geniuses and customer representatives are quite knowledgeable and appear to truly enjoy their work. It all adds up to a great user experience. Some would say that Google’s home page is a masterwork of simplicity and execution. But I don’t see much advocating for it to be the model for the future of the library home page – and a few libraries that have tried it have since given up on it.

What’s not to like about the idea of the library replicating the Apple Store? Why wouldn’t we want lots of loyal, passionate people milling about just waiting to ask a question or find out how to use a resource? Hands down the Apple Store is a much cooler and more fun place to spend some time because there are plenty of gadgets to explore. Libraries have computers and many are adding devices like kindles, iPads, GPS and digital cameras. So libraries have gadgets too, but we ask – in most cases – the user community members to check them out. We could, but do not put gadgets on display for play. But I’ve not heard of an Apple Store that lets you borrow the gadgets to take home – at no cost. Still, few folks would likely rate the library experience as highly as the Apple Store experience – even if the library does have experts who will answer any questions.

My main reason for arguing why we should avoid modeling future libraries on Apple Stores is that the whole point of designing a user experience is to create something unique and fun for your local user community – and which is based on the needs of the local community. Apple Stores have the luxury of being somewhat cookie cutter in how they are modeled. The Apple Store in Manhattan, while larger than the one in my own vicinity, is pretty much the same Apple Store that I would go to at the mega-mall. It has a brand identity to uphold across the globe. Your library may have a brand identity as well, but likely only within your own local community. Rather than working to re-invent our libraries in the mold of the Apple Store we should invest time and effort in understanding the community, and then designing a unique experience that delivers on and exceeds their library expectations. In designing that experience we may find an idea or two to borrow from the Apple Store and other retailers that deliver great user experiences. That’s why we need to pay attention to these retailers – and I think that is what the presenter probably intended. But whatever we borrow should be mixed and re-formulated as the library experience – not merely a copy of the Apple Store concept.

The Library Retreat Experience: Explaining What You Mean By Meaning

When you put the words “library” and “retreat” together that can be an off-putting combination for many library workers. It conjures images of boring presentations, a good day wasted, and lots of talk and no action. Fortunately, the public services retreat held recently at MPOW was none of those. It had its share of high and low moments, but overall it was a productive day that mixed interactive exercises with brief presentations from academic librarians via Skype. I was amazed at how quickly the hours passed. Not only was it a great opportunity for co-workers from different departments to work collaboratively, but we had a much anticipated (by me) conversation about user experience. The retreat planning team did an amazing job, and for the most part the designated retreat outcomes were accomplished.

The day began with a simple icebreaker. With everyone in a circle the first person threw a beach ball to any other staff member – but not someone in their own unit. That gave each person a chance to share a few insights about their job, and the help he or she provides to other staff and community members. Our first learning activity gave everyone an opportunity to share past experiences (the retail/service type), both good and bad, and that lead to a conversation about understanding how our user community might perceive the experience they get at our library. That was followed by viewing the bulk of Seth Godin’s “Why Things are Broken” video, followed by a discussion of what’s broken in our library. We finished up our morning focus on customer service and UX with the “seven questions” exercise. At each table participants found a single question they needed to answer (and add the answer to a running list left by other groups). Questions included the following: “Choose a value from our mission/values/vision statement – how can that value contribute to a positive user experience in the library?” and “What’s the one thing you would fix/change about the library’s user experience?”

The afternoon segment focused on new models for service delivery, and it offered some great activities as well. One fun and challenging exercise called “Bad Ideas” required us to take a bad idea – based on something that doesn’t work well in our library (e.g., a problematic procedure for computer printing) and then come up with outrageous ideas for how to make the bad idea even worse. It was a creative way to actually brainstorm potential solutions. Then we heard from librarians at four different institutions that had restructured their service delivery model (e.g., eliminating and merging service desks, creating a “genius bar”, etc.) Skype is a fine technology for inviting a remote speaker to attend a retreat for a quick interview. We ended the day with a fun, creative activity called the Library Future – Library Science Fair. Each table was tasked with coming up with a vision for a future public service environment, and then using a variety of arts and crafts materials, everything from pipe cleaners to legos, to build a prototype that illustrated their ideas. Some great ideas emerged from that activity that greatly help our organization as we plan for an anticipated new building.

At one point, during our seven questions activity, each group discussed ideas for how to improve the library experience for the user community. I shared some thoughts about meaning and users. How could we deliver meaning to them as part of the library experience? A colleague asked a good question. What did I mean by meaning? After all, conveying thoughts about meaning is a challenge of sorts. Just saying “we need to give people more meaning” is a somewhat nebulous proposition. What does it mean to give someone more meaning? At first I was a bit flustered, and then I started to explain different attributes of experience that can define meaning such as accomplishment. So how could we communicate or brand a library experience designed around helping students and faculty succeed with academic accomplishments? That is one way in which our library could deliver an experience with meaning.

Had I had it at my disposal at the time, I would have pointed to this article titled “Experiences Make us Happier Than Possessions” that I recently discovered. It discusses research about meaning and how individuals derive and experience it. A study involving 154 students averaging age 25 asked about a recent purchase made to make themselves feel better or happy. They were asked to compare a tangible material object such as a car or clothes with an experiential intangible purchase, such as a movie or vacation. While both types of purchases will create good feelings initially, it was the experiential purchase that had the longer lasting impact:

Psychological research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions. That’s in part because the initial joy of acquiring a new object, such as a new car, fades over time as people become accustomed to seeing it every day, experts said. Experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event occurred.

You can read the entire article to find out more about the specifics of the study and other things discovered about the difference between acquiring objects and experiences. From my perspective, the big difference is that people derive meaning from their experiences in a way they cannot from tangible possessions. So the next time I’m asked to explain what I mean by delivering meaning to the user community, a reference to this research may be helpful. Experiences, good and bad, are memorable. When we create better library experiences for our users we are, in a sense, giving them some happiness they’ll keep with them long after their physical or virtual library interaction comes to an end.

Want Magazine Will Help Us Learn How Designers Think

I had seen the advance announcements about Want Magazine, and was eagerly looking forward to the debut of issue one (a/k/a Release 001). Now we can all read Want Magazine. The first issue became available just recently. Want Magazine looks like it will be a valuable learning source for those of us who want to better understand how designers think and what drives their creativity and creation. It appears that the format – and who knows just exactly how Want will evolve – is recorded interviews with a rich mix of designers. Each interview is posted with text notes from the interviewer – which is helpful if you don’t have time to watch the interview and want to know the key takeaways. According to its mission statement here’s what we can expect:

What makes our magazine unique is that we are willing to take an apparently mundane occurrence, and celebrate it. We do not take experiences for granted. We trust them to instill change, to have the power to transform, to improve lives and the lives of others. First and foremost, we intend to celebrate the makers of experience –those who devote their full time, energy and passion to making memorable moments and positive feelings. Among these people, we highlight the professionals in the field of User Experience Design. Their discipline is purposely centered on the research, planning and execution of strategies, activities and results that bring purpose to users of products, interactions and places.

The chief problem of Want is that I’ll never find the time to view all the great interviews. I’ve taken a look at the ones with Peter Merholz, Don Norman and Cordell Ratzlaff – and all were well worth the time. I hope to get back to check out a few more of the interviews. I think Norman has some profound thoughts about why people become enthusiastic about complex systems and the process by which that happens. I also like Ratzlaff’s view of what user experience is:

I think it encompasses the entire relationship that a person has with the device or product or application that they’re using. That includes the functionality of the device. It includes the physical relationship between the person and the product. And it includes the emotional relationship. It also encompasses every touch point between the person and the product.

What both Norman and Ratzlaff have to say strikes me as directly related to the library experience – or rather what we need to do to design a better one. There needs to be an emotional attachment and an emotional relationship. I see this in the students who win our library research prize. They are incredibly passionate about their research, and they’ve formed strong attachments with our collection and librarians. I recommend that you sign up for updates from Want Magazine. If you want to learn more about user experience, or even just want to understand it a little better, then take a closer look.

Flip This Library

Editor’s Note: I recently discovered an interesting user experience project at Georgia Tech’s Library that involved the use of flip cameras. Flip cameras are fairly easy to use, and make it easy for almost anyone to capture an interview on digital video or make a short personalized video. I invited Ameet Doshi and Dottie Hunt, of the GT Library User Experience Department, to share their use of the flip video camera to learn about their library from the user’s perspective. Many thanks to Ameet and Dottie for sharing their project – something that many libraries could quite easily replicate.

A few months ago, we were brainstorming to find an engaging, productive activity for our upcoming library student advisory board meeting. At Georgia Tech, we’re fortunate to have a very talented and energetic advisory board and we wanted to maintain the momentum through the semester. Dottie came up with the idea of using “Flip” cameras (Flip cams are handheld digital cameras about the size of a cell phone) as an interactive tool for assessment. We thought it would be an interesting experiment to ask advisory board members to walk around the library filming the experience from their perspective.

We only had an hour to explain the instructions, divide everyone up, assign filming locations, and reconvene for the wrap-up. Unsure of how valuable this exercise might be we decided to try it and see what happens. The results were very illuminating!

We learned that one of the first things that users see when they walk into our building are the backs of the reference staff. This is because the information desk faces the desktop computing/commons area, with the idea that it should be easy for students working in the commons to look up, see a member of the reference staff, and easily ask reference questions. Since we spend most of our day actually inside the building, the fact that those entering the building don’t make a face-to-face connection with librarians or reference staff didn’t seem especially obvious to us until we saw it on video. Students also pointed out the difficulty in deciphering the analog directional sign with floors designated by call numbers (noting that this is incomprehensible to many students) and arrows pointing in various directions. Perhaps the most “actionable” video, however, was one that showed the sheer amount of graffiti that had accumulated on the walls next to the individual study carrels on the library’s upper floors. Not surprisingly, students discussed how distracting and disheartening it can be to see offensive or vulgar writing as you try to crank out a literature paper or study for a physics exam. And again, librarians rarely use these carrels, so this problem had fallen under our radar to some degree. Students also came back with suggestions about more intuitive signage, lighting, furniture, way-finding, and aesthetic possibilities. We have also had success doing some simple usability testing by recording students doing sample searches on our website and narrating their likes and dislikes with Flip cameras. Needless to say, we have been quite pleased with this “treasure-trove” of unique assessment data collected in just a few minutes, and the students enjoyed the productive, creative, interactive approach to helping the library improve the user experience.

By the next board meeting, we were able to remove all the graffiti and also have a mock-up ready for a new digital sign. We also discussed plans for a redesign and reorganization of our service desks to create a more inviting atmosphere for those seeking assistance, regardless of whether they approach that area from the entrance or from within the library. The students clearly appreciate when their work results in changes they and their peers can see.

Points to Consider

We’ve found that using Flip cameras has been most useful with small groups of 2 or 3 – with one person filming and another narrating what they see. In addition, when used as part of an advisory board activity, it is useful to have a wrap-up discussion after filming to talk about key areas of concern from the student perspective.

Although many areas of concern do require significant expenditures, much of what students filmed included manageable upgrades such as painting or signage. More importantly, we were able to make some of those changes (for example, working with our facilities staff to paint over graffiti) and reinforce to the advisory members that their involvement pays dividends.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to ask permission to use the captured comments or video. Different institutions handle the legal end on this different ways, so another best practice would be to make yourself familiar with recorded content practices on your campus.


Flip cameras are relatively inexpensive and are steadily decreasing in price. One huge advantage of using these cameras is that there is a built-in USB which makes for easy downloading. A drawback, however, is an omni-directional microphone that tends to pick up an excessive amount of ambient noise. On busy days, the background noise has made it difficult to hear what students are saying. Also, the zoom function on most Flip cams is not as robust as with a regular camcorder. Although the USB makes for easy downloading, the amount of time to edit and normalize the videos is not insignificant and does require some multimedia expertise.

Take away

Using Flip cameras is a quick and relatively inexpensive approach to assessment of library spaces and even web usability. There are some drawbacks but students clearly appreciate the interactive nature of this type of assessment.

User Experience Is More Than A Trend

While I was pleased to see that user experience was one of the topics discussed at the regular Top Tech Trends program that is conducted at each American Library Association conference and sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), I have to ask if this is the right sort of forum for a conversation about user experience. Now admittedly I was unable to attend this session, but I did obtain some information from a report that appeared in Library Journal. According to the news, in the segment in which UX was mentioned, Amanda Etches-Johnson:

urged the audience to consider the concept of “user experience” (UX) as new technology-driven services are designed. “In the library world, it’s still pretty fresh to our ears,” she said of UX design talk, but stressed the importance of considering the entirety of a user’s interactions with a library, whether online or in person.

I agree, that despite two years of discussing design thinking and user experience here at DBL, plus two articles in American Libraries covering each topic and multiple conference presentations, many librarians still equate design talk and UX with the external and internal physical design of the library facility. So it’s great whenever librarians are given an opportunity to expand their understanding of design and user experience concepts. All that said, my concern is that the librarians who are getting their first exposure to UX through the program or the LJ news item, will come away with the impression that UX is just a trend. Consider some of the other topics covered at the Top Tech Trends forum. Texting. That’s hot right now but like any technology it will likely be replaced by something better. Discovery systems. Yep. Hot right now but sure to be replaced by something more advanced. Apps. Even the speaker who spoke about it said this is the year that apps die. So much for that trend. But what about UX? Does it fall into the same category as texting, discovery technology and apps?

No, I don’t think so. I’d like to think that as more librarians learn about user experience and come to value what it has to offer they will add the importance of designing and delivering a great library UX to their set of core values – those statements that define what we believe and how we behave as an organization. Core values are or should be timeless; they are not trendy. None of this is to suggest that Etches-Johnson believes that user experience is just a trend. I’m sure she shares my belief that user experience should be at the foundation of what drives the library to deliver memorable and unique experiences, and that it must become a core guiding strategy for the present and future.

If you attended the top tech trends event or read about it, take a few minutes to think about user experience, how it was described, the context in which it was discussed and what that meant to you and your library. If you are new to the concept of UX, take some time to read past posts about it here at DBL; commit to learning more. If we want to design better libraries, user experience must be more than a trend.

Librarians Are Spreading The Word About User Experience

When a few colleagues and I launched Designing Better Libraries in February 2007, I was pleased to have the opportunity to introduce to the library profession a new blog dedicated to exploring and discussing two important concepts, design thinking and user experience. Since then DBL has regularly shared ideas and resources about how design thinking and user experience may be applied in libraries to create a better user experience. We hope this has inspired some of our readers to contemplate practicing these ideas in their own libraries, and I personally appreciate being invited by a variety of library groups to come and speak about design thinking and user experience. But back in 2007, as this blog was originally conceived to promote new ideas then virtually unknown to the profession, I was convinced they would resonate with others, and I anticipated that in time those librarians would pick up the torch and spread these ideas through their own writings. I believe that is now coming to fruition.

Just a few weeks ago my good colleague Pete Bromberg, familiar to some of you as a blogger for Library Garden (just named one of the 10 blogs to read in 2010) wrote an excellent post at ALA Learning about creating a great user experience for learners. I’ve had a draft post brewing about creating a user experience for library learners for some time now, and am still thinking this through. Bromberg was clearly inspired by the Jesse James Garrett video on the state of user experience, as he identified four ways to engage learners in giving them a great experience. I know that Pete is interested in UX, and has even organized some staff development programs related to the topic, so it was great to see him writing about it – and his mention of DBL is greatly appreciated. Then a few days later, Stephen Abram wrote a post on his blog about user experience that pointed to Bromberg’s post. Given the wide readership of Stephen’s Lighthouse I’m sure that helped to further spread the word about UX.

I expect that a new development will be more significant in spreading the word about UX to the library community, and I hope that my recent American Libraries article about user experience (“From Gatekeepers to Gateopeners“) has contributed to that process as well. Library Journal, one of our profession’s mainstream practitioner publications, has introduced a new column dedicated to user experience called “The User Experience” (you can’t get much more direct than that). I was also pleased to see that LJ has chosen Aaron Schmidt to write this column. I had the pleasure of working with Aaron a few years ago on a Soaring to Excellence program about web 2.0 for libraries. Aaron is well recognized in the library profession as one of our more innovative thinkers about how to better serve the library user community through improved usability and design. I’m sure he’ll do a great job with the column, and I’ll look forward to reading future entries – and I encourage you to read it as well. And it didn’t take long for another well-known blogger, Michael Stephens, to spread the word about Aaron’s new LJ column on UX via his widely read Tame the Web blog.

When you add up these recent events I think it points to a growing awareness and acceptance of the importance of user experience in creating better libraries. What I am not hearing in these conversations is a parallel recognition of design thinking, and how it is important in helping to design staged user experiences. As in so many other things, a great user experience is the outcome of a thoughtful design process that incorporates, among other things, totality, meaning and relationships. I hope that other librarians will be inspired by this growing cadre of library colleagues spreading the word about user experience – and that they will make Designing Better Libraries a part of their personal learning experience.