Tag Archives: user_experience

UX And Sketching – Two Videos Worth Your Time

One thing you can say about the design community is that do produce a good number of instructional videos. I don’t mean instructional in the sense that they were created to teach new skills. Many of the videos are conference presentations or interviews with the experts. I’ve learned a good deal about design topics and user experience ideas just from having watched the videos that are freely available. I wanted to share two I think are worth watching.

I’ve actually taken in a few videos featuring Jesse James Garrett, and there’s usually something useful to be learned from his presentations (although some are a bit too techy for me) and his writings. In this video he speaks about the “current state of user experience”, and by that he offers his interpretation of what it means when we speak about user experience and where he sees things headed. It’s a good investment of time for those both new to and familiar with user experience.

Jesse James Garrett | UX Week 2009 | Adaptive Path from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

One of the things I’ve learned about designers is that they use visual communication techniques much more frequently than those of us in the library profession. But I think there is much to be said for strengthening our ability to communicate visually. I got more interested in this after reading Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin – and it was one of the most popular business books last year so you may have read it as well. Roam does an excellent job of breaking down the basics of visual communication, and provides encouragement – if not practical tips – for using drawings or sketches to communicate ideas. I’ve been trying to do more of this in meetings or for presentations by using Roam’s principles and examples. It can be difficult to practice visual communication when you just don’t feel that you have much drawing ability. But Roam offer the possibility that if you can draw a square, circle and triangle you can communicate visually. The guy in the UPS commercials certainly does make it look easy (Is he really drawing or is it computer graphics? At first I think it was drawing but now it seems they are doing more with computer graphics and on a recent commercial the UPS guy even jokingly said something about the “perfect circles” he draws).

But short of taking some kind of drawing class how do you learn to get better at sketching. You can get some books on that, and there are videos that can help you with drawing stick figures, but I recommend you view a video that features Mark Baskinger, associate professor at the School of Design of the Carnegie Mellon University. In this video he explains and shows the differences between the drawing styles of an industrial designer and an interaction designer. The latter uses more of a stick figure approach while the former has a slightly more sophisticated style. By watching Baskinger and then practicing (yes, it takes practice to get better) some of his methods you might be able to improve your own sketching skills.

Mark Baskinger on Drawing Ideas and Communicating Interaction from Johnny Holland on Vimeo.

So it’s not easy if you don’t have any art training or drawing talent, but it’s certainly not impossible to become a better, more proficient visual communicator. If you’ve discovered a good resource that’s helped you to improve your visual communication skills, whether its by hand or computer, please share it here.

Debating An Authentic Experience

Starbucks recently tried something new, which they often do, and you wouldn’t think that would generate a controversial discussion about the nature of the user experience but it did. As one of the original poster children of the user experience, Starbucks has of late lost some degree of its UX mojo. Certainly the recession has played some role in driving customers to competitors such as McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts or in eliminating coffee purchases altogether. But Starbucks has itself made some moves that have contributed to the diminishing of their special user experience. Some analysts point to the addition of breakfast sandwiches. Others ask if Starbucks has diluted its experience by introducing innovations to speed up transactions.

A number of these questions were directed to Howard Schultz, founder and current CEO of Starbucks, in an interview with BusinessWeek. It is clear that Schultz is determined to somehow take a corporate behemoth that has had to introduce efficiency measures to remain competitive, and get back to the original vision of a coffee house based on delivering a unique user experience. So Schultz did something interesting. He asked Starbucks employees to share their vision of a coffeeshop that would compete with Starbucks. Schultz was looking for ideas that move Starbucks in a new direction. “You want to be there,” he says. “To me that store reinforces all the things I believe in. It’s not marketing, research, consultants, it’s just the experience.” [Schultz said this in the interview when he described a new ice cream store he visited that reminded him of what Starbucks was when it began]

Schultz’s search for a more authentic coffeehouse experience lead Starbucks to open a new outlet in Seattle called 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. The idea is to provide a new coffeeshop experience that gets back to the original Starbucks vision. Things became interesting when Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path wrote a blog post in which he responded to this whole concept of a corporate-designed “authenic” coffeeshop experience. Merholz questioned whether such a thing is even possible, and concluded that it is not. He basically said it is “doomed to fail”. Merholz raises a good question. Can you set out, as a large entity, to design an experience that should seemingly only be possible if there’s real passion and originality to the concept? The experience has to emerge from a unique set of circumstances that one can’t simply program the way a film set is designed to simulate a time or place. Can Home Depot design a small Main Street hardware store experience into its big-box store setting anymore than Starbucks can design a local, independent coffeeshop vibe into its new store?

Merholz makes some good points when he claims you can’t fake an experience and that it’s dishonest for Starbucks to call itself another name when it’s still Starbucks at the core. Take a look at Merholz’s post and a follow-up in which he responds to some of the many comments he received, and shares some new perspectives on this issue of delivering an authentic experience. The lesson I’d like to take away from all of this is how can we librarians be savvy about designing an authentic library experience.

My thinking is that the authentic library experience is designed around the practices of totality, relationship building and delivering meaning. The latter two are things that should come naturally to library workers, and we need to become more systematic in making them happen. Totality is harder to achieve and something we need to do better. Where a library might run into danger with authenticity is trying to replicate the experience of a service or retailer known for designing great user experiences. But that particular experience may prove to be a poor fit for the library. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the size of the library is; a larger research university can be just of capable of creating a unique experience as is the small-town public library. But each must work at designing an experience that is authentic – driven by the passion of the library workers. Know the users. Be clear about core values. Any number of DBL posts have communicated that message. This one reinforces it.

Join A UX Book Club

Here at DBL we make a regular effort to bring books or videos of value to your attention. Most of us are not likely to enter a graduate program on user experience or design, so our best mechanism for becoming more learned about UX and design thinking is to read more books, articles or watch video presentations about these topics. If it can be hard for you to get started on a book, then a book club may be just the thing you need.

I had no idea there was such a thing as a UX book club, and it turns out that these clubs are sprouting up all across the country. I found one in Philadelphia in minutes. I first learned about UX book clubs in a post at Boxes and Arrows. Following the author’s advice I went to the home page of the UX Book Club. There I learned more about the UX Book Club concept, and that there are UX Book Clubs all over the world – including my own city.

So I followed the instructions and found my way to the Facebook Group for my local chapter of the book club. The group has over 60 members. It appears I just missed a recent meeting at which the book Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton was discussed. We have this book at my library and I’ve looked it over previously, but it could have been interesting to discussed it with others. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to read the next book the group selects – or attend their meetings – but I think there will still be value in being part of the UX Book Club. Take a look to see if there is a UX Book Club in your city.

UX: Strategy, Flow & Affordance

Were you aware that visitors to your library web site formulate their impressions of your site in the first 50 milliseconds of their visit. For those of us less familiar with the metric system that’s 0.05 seconds. In other words – very, very fast. Chances are it doesn’t take them much longer to react to your library or its services the first time. That first impression creates a halo effect, a cognitive bias where one’s thoughts are fueled by past impressions. That is why creating a good user experience is critical for your web site and library.

The role design plays in the user experience is the subject of a new article titled “Is Design the Preeminent Protagonist in User Experience?” Authored by Phillip Tobias and Daniel Spiegel, both of Kutztown University, in the online journal Ubiquity this article begins by exploring different definitions of user experience. The authors conclude that UX does not have a universally accepted definition. But defining UX is not the focus of their article; connecting design to UX is. They write:

There can be no doubt that one factor contributing to UX is design. By leveraging design an experience can become more engaging, invoking a much grander experience and positively influencing the user’s mental model.

The bulk of the article is devoted to three components of UX; strategy, flow and affordance. Strategy is mostly what you’d expect – devising plans and methods for achieving the desired outcome. The goal of a strategic redesign should be to capture the user’s attention, and begin to shape their conceptual model of the site or library.

For me the two new concepts in this article are flow and affordance. I can’t recall encountering them previously. Flow relates to how effectively the design takes the user through the system or experience. The authors liken it to reading a good book; if it’s well written you become completely engrossed and don’t even notice time passing. A design with good flow creates an experience that is painless even when it involves complexity. That sounds like the type of experience that would make a library better, but it’s elusive. They write “to get this experience, or flow, there needs to be some form of design, where the position of the elements constructs the optimal user experience.”

Affordance relates to the elements of an object’s design that contribute to a user’s interaction with it. On a web site affordance suggests the functionality of a button or feature in a way that meshes with a users expectations for that element. In the article a keyless remote device is offered as an example of design that effortlessly conveys what its purpose is. If you encounter a new car, perhaps a rental vehicle, you need no instructions for the keyless remote. The placement of buttons and symbols are the affordances that make it all clear.

In speaking to library colleagues about user experience I try to make the point that good UX is the result of a design process. That requires us to think carefully and purposefully about the UX we create for our community. Tobias and Spiegel reinforce this in their article when they emphasize that design directly affects user experience. If we want to make a good first impression on our users and influence their mental model we need to let design drive the user experience.

Differentiation Is At The Core Of The Library Experience

I hadn’t thought much about the the differentiation factor being an important component of a library user experience until I attended a presentation by Bill Gribbons, a user experience consultant to industry. He made a good point. In any industry where it has become difficult to compete on price, quality, speed of delivery or any other factor where all the competitors are perceived as relatively equal, establishing differentiation is a competitive strategy. Think about it. If people searching for information perceive all sources the same in terms of the quality of the information, why should anyone bother to make use of the library’s information resources. If there’s no difference between the information I can get from a Google search, a Wikipedia article, a request for help from my Twitter followers or any other web-based service – and all of them require less work and effort than a trip to the library – what’s the compelling reason to use a library at all?

Identifying how the library can differentiate itself from all the other services that provide access to information is a critical challenge in designing a library user experience – and if we can create that differentiation it may help us attract a new generation of library users. But a recent study reports that the ability of companies to differentiate their services and products is on the decline. Consumers find less differentiation in the marketplace and more mediocrity. What exactly is differentiation? You probably know it when you see it or experience it, but what is the quality of being different? According to a post on differentiation at the Branding Strategy Insider blog it “exists on the basis of a product or service owning values – real or perceived, rational or emotional – that occupy a place in the consumers’ minds beyond the consumers just being aware of them”. I like that definition because it is based on having some core values that the consumer recognizes on some level and that in their mind sets that product or service apart from similar products or services. As Gribbons stated in that presentation, building a user experience starts with having a clear set of core values and understanding what your business is.

The BSI post then comments on the Brand Keys analysis of nearly 2,000 products and services in 75 categories in which consumers were asked for their response or reaction to them. What this created was a continuum on which the products and services were placed based on their degree of differentiation. The study found that only 21% of all the products and services examined had any points of differentiation that were meaningful to consumers. Gribbons made a good point. There is far less differentiation between products and services (there was a 10% drop in this benchmark since 2003), and those who can really differentiate their product or service are likely to attract more consumers with a unique experience. You can read this blog post to learn more details about the study and the four categories of differentiation (commodity, category placeholder, 21st century differentiated brand, human brand). One important detail is that the differentiation factor can really vary between industries. Among bar soaps of all things there is 100% brand differentiation. But in banking and 20 other categories there are no differentiated brands. People may know the name but they find nothing particularly different about that company, product or service.

I have to wonder if the study included the information industry and companies that are search engines or information portals. Perhaps not, but it would certainly be interesting to learn more about whether there is any perceived difference in these services as sources of information. In a future post I’ll focus more specifically on the three things I think our libraries can do to differentiate themselves from other information providers.

Managing The Higher Ed User Experience

A better library experience in an academic institution would hopefully be part of a more holistic and superior experience designed to provide students with an overall learning experience. That experience would be memorable, different and would encourage students, if asked, to indicate they had received a superior educational experience. But if the experts at Bain and Company are right “80% of organizations believe they deliver a superior customer experience but only 8% of their customers agree.” Not good.

So we all need to do a better job of creating an environment in which our community members – many more than just 8% – believed they had a great experience at our institutions. According to Robert Sevier, writing in University Business, great experiences don’t just happen. There has to be intent. A superior customer experience has to be designed or managed as Sevier likes to put it. In his article “Managing the Experience” Sevier shares ideas on how organizations can move from just letting experiences happen to actively designing them.

Right at the start Sevier makes an important point that we’ve also made here at DBL: user experience is not the same thing as customer service. He says “experience management is much more strategic and begins with the big question: Are we offering the right experience?” But it’s more complex than that because the student college experience includes “the academic experience, the campus life experience, the resident life experience, the athletic experience, and myriad others.” That list would also include the library experience. In fact, in research conducted by Sevier’s firm they discovered 13 sub-elements of the academic experience. The library is on that list.

You could also think of the library experience in the same way. It is made up of sub-elements: circulation; reference; study space; media services; and more. Each sub-element is a touchpoint in the total user experience, and according to Sevier improving the touchpoints most essential to the community can dramatically enhance the overall experience. As you might expect with a design process, identifying what the “right” experience is depends on understanding the community member. Sevier recommends focus groups and individual interviews. Once the touchpoints are identified Sevier offers tips for how to create the right experience.

* Pay special attention to the boundaries between touchpoints; that is where the “broken” stuff happens when no one knows who is responsible. A student gets confused going from the reference desk to the book stacks. Who helps, the desk or stack attendents? We should know if advance how to fix that.

* Best practices are there to borrow from, but from time to time remember to invent.

* Remember that if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed. What are the metrics for determining the quality of the experience?

* Assign responsibility and authority for each touchpoint to a single person.

Sevier makes a good point though. It’s important to have the right experience well defined and to know all the touchpoints involved. He also points to the importance of engaging, equipping and empowering the people who provide the experience. It’s critical for organizations to acknowledge or reward the individuals who make the experience happen. Put it all together and you’ve taken a step away from letting an experience (probably a bad one) just happen and moved towards designing the right experience for your library and academic institution.

Fish Toss Fun In Seattle

If you want to get across the message that differentiation is an important concept in designing a user experience, then it would make sense to have a conference presentation about UX that is well differentiated from the rest. I think my fellow presentation panelists, Valeda Dent and Brian Mathews, and I did a good job of that at the recent 14th Annual ACRL Conference in Seattle. Rather than starting out by wading right into the basics of user experience we decided to start off with a fun – and relevant - activity for the crowd. If you attend the ACRL Conference, well, starting off a program with something fun and interactive would definitely be different.

Our program was titled “If Fish Markets Can Do It So Can Academic Libraries: Designing Memorable Library Experiences for Faculty and Students“, and we presented on a Sunday morning at 9:00 am. So we definitely wanted to kick things off with something different to get the audience engaged. After a quick start-off story about George Eastman’s Kodak camera and a “the experience is the product” message we jumped right into a 30-second video of the action at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

We used the metaphor of the fish market experience throughout our session, and tried to get our audience to think about how they could create experiences at their libraries.  At the end of the video we jumped right into the first ever ACRL Fish Toss Competition. We invited four of our audience members to the front of the room to try their hand at throwing fish. Of course our fish were just stuffed bean bags, but everyone got the connection with the fish market. We were a little worried about getting volunteers, but loads of hands went up. I guess it didn’t hurt that we were offering some t-shirts and Starbucks cards to the participants.  You can read more about the fish toss and the session here.

Obviously a good deal of behind the scenes planning went into the conceptualization and implementation of the program, right down to the timing of each activity and each panelist’s presenting time. But the time spent in advance paid off. I’d like to think that we delivered a unique and memorable conference experience for our attendees. At least one of them plans to make it a discussion topic in his library. Perhaps you will too.

Fidelity = The Totality Of The Experience

When I first read Kevin Maney’s discussion of “the Fidelity Swap” I have to admit I was puzzled by his use of the word “fidelity” as a way to describe a user experience. I thought perhaps there was a certain meaning of fidelity that I somehow overlooked. But the closest I can come is the use of fidelity to describe the accuracy or overall effect of audio or images. High fidelity is superior to low fidelity. So a high fidelity experience would be superior to a low fidelity experience. Maney takes it beyond that though. He describes fidelity as the “the total experience of something.” Confused yet? Perhaps the simplest way to express it is that high fidelity represents a complete and all encompassing experience. This idea of fidelity resonated with me because I have previously observed that while WOW experiences are valuable, UX needs to involve a totality of experience. It needs to encompass all that happens in the library.

Somewhat opposite or contrasting to fidelity is convenience. Think of convenience as things that are simple, easily available and at a cheap price (which makes it accessible). According to Manley the most successful products and services are at either end of the spectrum. They are super high fidelity (iPhones, Cirque du Soleil) or super high convenience (text messaging, convenience stores). His advice is that you should never try to be both high fidelity and high convenience.

Take Starbucks for example. Their coffee experience was high fidelity but when they tried to add high convenience by adding many additional outlets (well ridiculed here). That strategy was a serious setback for the company. He also observes that advances in technology and innovation push the boundaries of  fidelity and convenience further out over time. For example, music CDs  and players surpassed the fidelity of cassettes and their players. CDs were then surpassed by digital music.

Not that libraries were ever sterling examples of high fidelity, but they were certainly surpassed by the fidelity and convenience combination offered by Internet search engines. I would not describe search engines as high fidelity owing to their lower quality and inconsistent results. But for most people they are high on the convenience spectrum.

Maney suggests that we can chart the most successful products in any industry with something he calls the Fidelity Swap. Those top products are either super high fidelity or super convenient. Keep in mind that fidelity is a mix of both tangible and perceived quality. I played around with the Fidelity Swap in an attempt to chart libraries and search engines – two players in the information retrieval industry.


A fidelity swap chart for different products and their UX
A fidelity swap chart for different products and their UX

Because of actual convenience and perceived quality I believe that a search engine like Google could very well defy Maney’s caution against being both high fidelity and high convenience. For college students Wikipedia could be an even better example of high fidelity and high convenience.  According to a recent paper from Project Information Literacy students overwhelmingly visit Wikipedia to start their research. So how do libraries fare? I’d put libraries high up on the fidelity scale but given what we hear from users it’s difficult to justify a high score on the convenience scale. The library could have a convenient location. The library could offer everything for free. It could make access to resources convenient. But what ultimately drags the library down are the databases and the challenges associated with using them to find information. Search engines have permanently altered the end user’s perception of perceived quality. 

Whether you think about it as the totality of experience or fidelity, our libraries need to keep in mind the Fidelity Swap. It should remind us that users judge the experience we deliver on multiple levels. If we can’t be as convenient (free, easy to get, easy to use) as search engines perhaps we should take Maney’s advice and aim for high fidelity and not worry about convenience. It all comes down to thinking strategically about how and where we position ourselves in the information industry.

Try To Get To This UX Presentation

If you want to learn more about user experience and design for UX and you live or work anywhere near the NYC area I strongly recommend that you get yourself to this program:

From Transaction to Interaction: Transforming the User Experience
Friday, April 24, 2009, 9 am to 3 pm
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Library
Rockefeller Research Laboratories (RRL) Building (Auditorium)
430 East 67th Street NY NY 10065

This program features a presentation by Dr. William Gribbons. Gribbons is a well-known UX expert and Director, Master of Science in Human Factors Information Design Program, Bentley College, MA. He will engage the attendees in a dialogue about user experience and its relevance within the information profession. I attended a presentation by Gribbons last year and it really enhanced my understanding of UX and the importance of differentiation. If you have the opportunity, by all means attend this program. Hear what Gribbons has to share and meet other librarians who are learning more about UX design.

For more information about the program and how to register contact Donna Gibson(gibsonD@mskcc.org), Brian Lym (blym@hunter.cuny.edu) or Valeda Dent Goodman (vdent@rutgers.edu)

A User Experience Is Like A First Date

My last post focused on understanding what UX is and isn’t, and offered several resources for further reading. This post follows up on that with a link to another resource worth exploring if you would like to expand your understanding of UX and in particular the importance of design in creating a great user experience. Jesse James Garrett, president and co-founder of the design firm Adaptive Path, recorded an interview about UX that is available at the blog Tea With Teresa. The podcast lasts about 20 minutes and is well worth listening to. Garrett is one of the leading experts in the field of UX design.

He describes himself as an information architect, and he shares how he became interested in user experience design. We all engage in experiences throughout our lives – every day. An experience occurs when we interact with a product, technology or service. It’s all around us. But do the products, technologies and services work for us in a way the improves the quality of the experience? That’s what most interests Garrett. He says that UX is about designing products and services in a way that takes into account the psychological and behavioral needs of the end-user. If we aren’t paying attention to this the experience we offer can be a dismal one. We need to, Garrett tells us, put the human elements first in the design process.

I certainly enjoyed his use of the first date analogy. It’s something we need to pay attention to in our libraries, and perhaps we should ask ourselves if our students and community members would have a second date with our libraries. On the first date individuals have a set of expectations for what they want to get out of the date and the experience. They expect someone will treat them well, take an interest in what they have to say and treat them respectfully. If these expectations are not met the chances for a second date are slim or non-existant. Our users have a similar relationship with our services, and building a good one requires a design that incorporates an understanding of the person with who we want to have that second date.

Garrett is entertaining and easy to listen to, so even if you usually avoid podcasts I think you’ll find this one of value. What I take away from it is the importance of constantly working and reminding myself that I need to get out of my own paradigm for how the world operates and the way things should work, and that I need to pay attention to my user community so that I can comprehend their expectations and perspectives on the library experience we must offer. Thanks to Garrett and his insights I just might get that second date.