Tag Archives: user_experience

Getting At What UX Is And Isn’t

Since November of 2008 I’ve done a few presentations in which user experience (UX) was featured in some way. I hope that some of those who attended them are now following this blog. In addition, I was pleased that Blake Carver included DBL in his “List of Blogs to Read in 2009” (thanks Blake!). The only downside to the potential for new readers is that I haven’t been posting much. Between other blogs, finishing up a scholarly-type article, starting my LIS course (online – and grading 26 assignments a week – now in week 5) and heading off to ALA midwinter, writing time has been at a premium.

Over the last few weeks while I haven’t been posting much here I did manage to catch up with a few articles/posts that I’ve been wanting to share or comment on. For those newer to DBL, we occasionally offer links to readings that can help all of us better understand design thinking and user experience – and how we can apply these ideas and practices in our libraries.

A good starting point is always a definition. In his post over at FatDUX, Eric Reiss offers a post titled “A Definition of “User Experience””. Reiss summarizes it as UX = the sum of a series of interactions. A more commonly found definition of UX is “the quality of experience a person has while interacting with a specific design”. I appreciate how Reiss expands on this with three types of interactions and three types of activities that add sophistication to the simple definition. People interact with either other people, devices or events, but the interactions can be “active” (taking some action like asking a reference question), “passive” (scanning the library building for signage) or “secondary” (the user finds it easy to get to the right database because of good design but it’s secondary to the ultimate experience). Designing a user experience requires the act of combining the three types of activities. The first type are controllable and the must be “coordinated” (deciding who works at reference and making sure they have the right skills and training), the second type are the thing beyond our control so we acknowledge the interactions (inclement weather brings so many extra students into the library that finding a computer is difficult) and reducing negative interactions (having backup laptops to loan when desktops are all taken). According to Reiss a good UX designer takes into account both the interaction and activities in creating a user experience that works.

A post that got a good amount of attention focuses more on UX design, but helps us better understand what it is by telling us what it isn’t. In her post at Mashable.com Whitney Hess writes about the “10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design”. For example, user experience design isn’t user interface design. Interface design is important, but it just one piece of a larger user experience. UX design is doesn’t end when a product rolls out; it an evolving process shaped by learning more about users. User experience isn’t about technology either. It can be about any part of a user’s interaction with a product, process or service. No computer technology is needed. User experience design isn’t easy. It is even harder in a library environment. The experience just doesn’t happen; it has to be designed. And good design doesn’t come easy. User experience isn’t the role of one person or department. This is especially true in libraries when there is often an expectation that one person will create change. Shifting to a UX culture will require an idea champion, but every staff member must help design and implement a successful experience. Hess has other “what it’s not” points to make, and each one includes good insights from industry experts.

The final reading I commend to you is by an author you probably recognize, Peter Morvill. In his post about “User Experience Deliverables” he covers 20 different deliverables that can be used to build good user experiences. This one resonated with me because Morville states that he is influenced by two books, Made to Stick and Back of the Napkin. I have also been influenced by both of these books, and have been working to incorporate their messages into my communication (for example, see my latest presentation). This is an easy post to read, and it is perhaps more valuable for the links to good resources than the actual content. For example, Morvill includes in his list such items as storyboards, prototypes, concept maps, analytics and stories. For each he provides links to top sites. Does it all hold together? Not every deliverable will be of value to each reader, but it offers a good starting point for exploring different types of ways in which a user experience could be delivered.

That seems to be enough for now. I hope new readers will also read some earlier posts and a few in between then and this one. I still have an interesting set of articles to share about fidelity. What does it have to do with UX? More on that later.

What Librarians Can Learn From Starbucks’ Fall

The announcement that Starbucks would close 600 stores and layoff approximately 1,200 employees has a fair number of analysts asking what happened. How is it the once infallible Starbucks, a company that seemed to have limitless growth, has run into serious trouble? According to John Quelch, a blogger for Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, Starbucks simply couldn’t sustain its growth. But more importantly Starbucks was failing to sustain what made them so popular in the first place – the experience.  Quelch eloquently sums up the problem in his blog post:

Starbucks is a mass brand attempting to command a premium price for an experience that is no longer special. Either you have to cut price (and that implies a commensurate cut in the cost structure) or you have to cut distribution to restore the exclusivity of the brand.

While it’s too early in the game to find many libraries, academic or otherwise, that currently deliver a unique user experience, it still makes sense to take away some valuable lessons from Starbucks current situation. We can use that knowlege to help us in establishing a more sustainable library user experience. You could point out one big difference between Starbucks and a library. The company has thousands of stores across several continents. The typical library may have a few branches, and isn’t likely to open many more. But that big difference aside, what we can learn is how to better manage the delivery of the user experience.

First, Starbucks grew too big to deliver its unique experience of treating customers personally and having them recognized by the baristas. Libraries need to develop a better public service experience, one that leverages personal recognition and specialization. If the reference desk is too busy for that let’s get those who want more attention into the hands of a librarian who has time to provide more personalized assistance. And let’s remember those folks and greet them every time we see them. As Quelch points out, once loyal Starbucks customers have migrated to newer, more specialized cafes. What we can learn from Starbucks is that people want a unique experience in which they are recognized and treated with a personal touch. Foget that and you lose the experience.

Second, try to identify a few core services and make sure they are delivered extremely well by caring library workers. According to Quelch Starbucks expanded its food and beverage menu to the point where the drinks got so complicated that it meant baristas spent more time making the drinks and less time interacting with customers. The lesson here is that libraries need to keep their services basic and to the point, so that librarians can spend more time creating relationships with the user community. That will provide far more meaning in the long run than an extensive menu of databases and technology options. As Starbucks is finding out, McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts can deliver a premium cup of coffee at a far cheaper price. If there’s no difference in the experience at those other places, why would anyone go to a Starbucks. Does that sound familiar to librarians? What kind of experience do your users get at your library or using your website to get to the databases? If getting information at your library is no different than using a search engine to pull information off Wikipedia or YouTube, why be surprised at the lack of interest from the bulk of your community.

Quelch finishes by pointing to Starbucks’ rapid expansion as its main source of trouble. In seeking profits it just grew too big too fast. But in doing so the chain sacrificed its brand and unique experience. No library will face this exact problem, but we should keep in mind Quelch’s point about the need for controlled growth at a steady pace. Whatever efforts we make to design a better library user experience we must remind ourselves that the best experiences are the ones that are the end product of a thoughtful design process. 

It’s All About The Experience

For this post’s title I’ve gone with the headline from a BusinessWeek article. I usually take pride in coming up with my own post titles but this borrowed is a good fit. I wanted to share summaries of several articles I’ve read recently. If asked what common theme they share it would be “it is all about the experience”. This flurry of content provides some useful reading that can help in shaping ideas for better understanding and studying user experience.

Sohrab Vossoughi authors the article from which this post takes its title. This one-page read reminds us that manufacturing and technology innovations provide an advantage for only a short while until they are replicated elsewhere. He states that the remaining frontier in innovation is “experience innovation”. Done right, born of the specific needs and desires of a set of unique customers, the experience cannot be imitated. Vossoughi says that the meaning people look for isn’t found in the latest technology; it is found in emotional engagement. Though geared more to the manufacturing than service sector there are some good insights here, especially about designing for the “complete experience”. That’s the experience that’s fully integrated into the organization; it’s a total experience. He calls it the “360-degree experience” and he goes on to cover the four components of it.

There are certainly a number of different types of “experience” being discussed in the literature of design. Dirk Knemeyer does a good job of bringing clarity to the jargon of experience. In his article titled “Defining Experience: Clarity Amidst the Jargon” he identifies three core variants: brand experience; experience design; and user experience. I won’t go into all the details here as you can read the article for yourself. But his discussion of user experience warrants some additional mention. He says that UX “refers to the quality of experience a person has while interacting with with a specific design.” As librarians we must recognize the value of our environment in designing the experience. It’s not possible to design the quality of the experience, says Knemeyer. Instead the design must be created in the context of the users and their individual paradigm. That sounds a bit fuzzy, but the botton line is that experiences need to be designed; they simply just don’t happen on the fly.

As I read more of these articles I find deeper discussions of the value of relationships as emotion connectors.  Well-know designer, Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path, writes about the importance of these emotional connections in creating loyalty in an article in the Winter 2006 issue of Design Management Review. It this article, titled “Customer Loyalty and the Elements of User Experience“, Garrett says “the experience the customer ultimately has with the business…create the emotional bond that leads to customer loyalty.” His focus is on creating loyal customers. But getting back to the theme of creating emotion and connections, can such things really be designed into a product or service? Garrett seems to think so. He says “Every product creates an experience for its users. The experience can be the result of planning and conscious intent – or it can be the unplanned consequence of the product designer’s choices. Which strategy would you prefer?” The bulk of the article describes five planes on which user experience design occurs, and together they build a strategy for a user experience. Garrett says something of interest for librarians. He states that “for customers to feel they have a good relationship with [you], they must first feel they have a good relationship with the product – and that begins with the user experience.” While we have more products than the OPAC or databases, those are high exposure products for libraries; users frequently come in contact with them. If our users’ experiences with those interfaces and the results they get shapes their relationship with us, we could be in real trouble. All the more reason for librarians to work harder at developing personal relationships with community members. Knowing our technology is good; knowing who we are and how we can use our technology to create relationships with our users is even better.

A less conceptual article explains the difference between usability and user experience. Tom Stewart, in a post titled “Usability or User Experience: What’s the Difference” attempts to explain in as plain language as possible how user experience is unique. In brief, usability is a more narrow concept. It focuses on giving users designed problems with which to test their ability to navigate or manage interfaces or products. User experience goes beyond usability to include issues such as usefulness, desirability, credibility and accessibility. Taking more of a standards approach, UX relates to “all aspects of the user’s experience when interfacing with the product, service, environment or facility”. It is Stewart’s hope that businesses make the user experience “part of the human centered design process.”

I’ll wrap this up with one more article I came across recently that is somewhat unrelated but which has implications for librarians who want to think about the design of their future user experience. In an article published in the May-June 2008 issue of Interactions, Allison Druin examines the online environment of contemporary children. The article, “Designing Online Interactions: What Kids Want and Waht Designers Know“  points to the value of understanding today what our future library users like to do and how they behave in online spaces. It got me thinking about this web 2.0 chart and what it would look like in 10 or 15 years when today’s five and six year olds are college students. What will their online experiences be like and how will that impact on their expectations for library services. Looking at the chart we can see today’s under-35 library users are much involved in creating content and socially connecting with others to create, edit or comment. Druin says that today’s kids want stories, a relationship with the characters, to be creators and not just consumers, to control and to collect. So when today’s six-year olds are tomorrow’s eighteen-year olds, imagine an updated chart. There are some commonalities, such as creating content and collecting. But there could be more emphasis on relationship building and control over online content. To design the right experiences for our next generation of library users we might be wise to begin now to study and understand them – and not wait – as we did with millennials – to understand them after so much about our relationships with these users changed.

Afterall, it is all about the library experience…and how well we design it.

Customer Service vs User Experience

When talking to other librarians about user experience, the question/observation that invariably comes up is “but isn’t that just another way of saying we all need to give great customer service”. I admit it’s a good question. I don’t doubt that organizations that have mastered the user experience all incorporate great customer service into the process. A talk I attended recently got me thinking about the difference between great customer service and great library user experiences. I would say there is a difference and that it can be explained.

Good customer service is important to any service organization, and that includes libraries. To my way of thinking, good customer service must be a given. It’s not added value. We might even describe good customer service, for library organizations, as a core value service. Without it we fail to fulfill our mission. But if every library provided great customer service there is nothing about great customer service that differentiates an individual library. Most library users would then (and I would argue should) have the expectation to get good customer service in any library they visit.

User experience, on the other hand, is all about creating a difference. As was explained in the talk I attended, so many competitors can now offer exactly the same products, at exactly the same price, with exactly the same customer service. Differentiation is a critical strategy in any highly competitive environment. For many businesses and services the only way to now achieve differentiation is to create a unique experience for their customers. And that experience can’t be random. It should be the result of a carefully constructed design.

I’m not saying that consistently delivering good customer experience is easy. But I do think our staff working in those areas of the library operation that are expected to offer good customer service know what they need to do and some basic ways in which it can be accomplished. Designing a good library user experience, on the other hand, is going to take a more strategic effort to determine how and in what ways the library can differentiate itself through a variety of customer interactions. It’s not going to necessarily be the same for every library. At one library the experience might be designed around total simplicity – making the library and its systems as easy to use at every possible touch point. At another library it might designed around academic success – always communicating the message that the library helps students and faculty achieve success on their terms – and delivering on it at every touch point. Why will those library experiences be different? Because, as our speaker told us, all user experience design eminates from an organization’s core value system. Each library, as it develops its design for the user experience, must first grasp and be able to articulate what its core value propositions are.

Fortunately, quite a few of my library colleagues attended this talk. I’m glad they heard these messages about designing a user experience for a library, why it’s important in our competitive information landscape, and why it’s about more than good customer service. Together I think we can begin to discuss what our core values are, and then use that knowledge to design our library user experience.


Overcoming The Rules Culture In Our Libraries

Two things are on my mind lately. I’ve written previously about what would constitute a good user experience for a library user, and I continue to explore how we could make this happen for our local library user community. But to do accomplish that I’ve also been thinking about what holds us back from reaching our great experience goals. One barrier that emerges again and again is our traditional library rules culture. We have so many rules and policies that we have to search our own web sites to find them when a rule check is required. How does this contrast with the rules environment our users experience in the retail environment?

Have it your way! No rules, just fun! But when you get to the library – “You want that book for another loan period. Sorry, the rules say you can only renew it twice.” I just finished reading The Starbucks Experience, and while the book is by no means one of the best I’ve read on user experience, a librarian reading the book would immediately sense the significant difference between a Starbucks and a library – even the libraries selling coffee. When it comes to their customers, Starbucks doesn’t have rules.  I’ve gone in Starbucks and asked for a small coffee in the medium cup, so I can add milk. Guess what? There’s no cup size rule. I’m sure Starbucks, like all service organizations, has policies that dictate the delivery of customer service. But the difference is that Starbucks employees are empowered to bend, break or shatter the rules if that’s what it takes to deliver a great experience to the consumer.

There are good reasons to institute some rules in our libraries. If study rooms are in significant demand during the exam study period, imposing a time limit can create equitable access to the rooms. That’s a case when a rule makes sense because it does try to allow a good experience to be shared among the community. Where rules break down the experience is when they are used to frustrate users and inhibit their ability to use the library. For example, a student group has already signed up for and used a study room earlier in the day. Now they want to use a study group again in the afternoon. The library rules clearly state only one room per day per group. So they don’t get the room. But there are three study rooms that aren’t being used, so they want to know why they can’t use one. What happens now? Will the library staff member stick to the rule for fear of being disciplined for breaking one or put a commitment to giving those users a great library experience ahead of the rule book?

I suppose the outcome depends on how much effort is made at that library to empower all staff members to  adjust the rules and policies as needed to accommodate and satisfy the library user. That seems to be the conversation we need to begin having in our libraries if we are to change our rules culture. To my way of thinking the first step is to shift the library culture from one that’s designed around the needs of the library administrators and staff to maintain control over the collections and facility, to a culture that is designed around a focus on delivering great library experiences to the user community. Until we take that first step collectively as a library staff, we will have little success in changing our rules culture. 

Another Example Submitted For Your Reaction

I have no intention of turning my DBL posts into some version of the user experience police, but I might on occasion point to what could be a bogus use of the UX concept. Whether it might be because the use in case is an example of pointless bandwagon jumping, total misuse of the concept or just some shameless effort to get attention with the concept, you could be reading about it here. But since I’m not always entirely certain myself as to what great library user experiences might be – that’s a practice still in evolution – perhaps critically analyzing some different ways in which UX is being applied in library settings can help to further define just what is a great library user experience – be it using the library facility, a library instructional product or some other library-related resource.

Seeing the spread of ideas about design thinking and user experience in the library profession is something I generally look forward to as a positive development. But I just had my first encounter with a library product vendor (in the role of an article author) applying the term “user experience” as a way to describe what the product delivers. I’m not so sure I’m feeling positive about this use of UX. It reminds me of the Ziggy cartoon where the diner menu says “chili – $2.50…”the chili experience – $4.00”.

 I would first question the title “User Experience in the Library: A Case Study” as potentially misleading. The discussion hardly deals with a library user experience at all, but instead focuses rather narrowly on OPAC overlay products, in particular the one produced by the author’s firm. The author, Tamar Sedeh works for Ex Libris, and the article is largely about Primo, Ex Libris’ OPAC overlay. For example, Sedeh writes: “The Primo system includes metasearching as an integral part of the user experience.” I haven’t asked them, but I wonder if most end-users’ idea of a user experience would match the author’s.

What concerns me about an article like this, though I suspect it won’t reach a large audience, is its potential to mislead library professionals about user experience and what it is. Again, I’m just learning about this myself, but I don’t think UX is what happens when library users search OPACs, even those with more user friendly designed overlays. However, searching library systems, if they are simple and give good results consistently, could be one part of the totality of a great library user experience. After all, what if the library OPAC does provide a great experience, and then the user goes to the stacks and can’t understand how to find the book by its call number, or the stacks are in terrible condition – and there’s no way to get on-the-spot help. At that point the user probably won’t be having such a great experience at the library.

 But I believe this author makes the error of confusing usability – which is largely discussed in this article - and user experience. They are not the same. Think of it like this. The iPod, most of us would agree, is a highly usable electronic device – intuitive, simple, reliable – and I don’t think most of us would confuse an iPod with a library OPAC.  The iPod is a good example of a device for the age of the user experience. But the iPod, by itself, is only a part of the overall user experience. The experience is all that Apple offers as part of being an iPod owner – iTunes, shopping at the iTunes store, the coolness of showing off your iPod, or more recently your iTouch. It is, in some ways, about the totality of the experience. Think back to what Dr. Gribbons had to say about this:

Usability is often isolated in development units, whereas companies who are getting UX right these days are talking about the user experience at the very top levels within the organization – not just in the tech and development shops. This leads to a more complete integration of the user experience with UX as a foundation as opposed to an afterthought. 

While the DBL blog team certainly is doing what it can to expand the library community’s knowledge about design thinking and great library user experiences, I have my apprehensions about those who will simply slap the phrase “user experience” on library-related job descriptions, services or products the same way that corporations will slap the word “organic” or “homemade” on products that are manufactured by mahines in assembly lines. Just putting the label on something doesn’t make it the real thing.

We certainly can’t eliminate innappropriate or misleading applications of user experience in librarianship, but we can continue to point them out as potentially bad examples that are worthy of our analysis. We might even use them to further our own understanding and appreciation of the meaning of a great library user experience. If you think I’m displaying some arrogance here, let me know. I may not know as much as I think about user experience, and perhaps I’m not qualified to be critical of other librarians or product vendors who co-opt the phrase for their own purposes. Read the article and see what you think – and then share your thoughts.