Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

7 Oct 13

Putting the “You” in UX

Even simple library tasks can require library members to use multiple aspects of the library. For instance, take discovering an item, reserving it, and picking it up at the library. Here’s a typical customer journey to accomplish this task:

  • See book recommendation in library newsletter
  • Place hold on book through library website
  • Receive notification email
  • Travel to library
  • Park in lot
  • Enter building
  • Take child to youth services department
  • Locate reserve shelf
  • Locate item on shelf
  • Reclaim child from children’s room
  • Walk to self-check machine
  • Interact with library worker
  • Exit building

This member’s overall experience will be formed by each touchpoint used to accomplish the task. Each interaction enhances or detracts from the experience. Steve Krug, in his seminal book Don’t Make Me Think (2d ed. New Riders, 2005), talks about the “reservoir of goodwill” users have with websites. Each time users are confused, a bit of goodwill is depleted and the experience sours. Conversely, each time they find what they need or easily accomplish a task, the reservoir is filled.

FILL THE WELL

The “reservoir of goodwill” applies to physical services, too. In the above example, the overall experience is a calculus of how each touchpoint impacts the reservoir. If every touchpoint is giving a good experience, but in step nine the item is very difficult to find on the reserve shelf, the overall experience will be tainted. This calculus is complicated because experiences are subjective and individuals have different needs. For instance, a library location convenient to one person might be a hindrance to another.

Orchestrating these touchpoints to work in harmony takes a lot of effort and a lot of cross-departmental collaboration. Think of all the departments that are involved with the above task:

  • Readers’ Advisory librarians: Selecting items to recommend, writing reviews
  • Marketing: Designing the newsletter
  • IT: Sending email notifications, ensuring the self-check machine works
  • Administration: Deciding the library’s location, designing services, hiring all staff involved
  • Facilities: Parking lot maintenance, building cleanliness
  • Youth services: Customer service, child’s experience
  • Technical services: Processing items
  • Library workers: Shelving items, customer service

All of these areas must work in sync to create, in this case, a great item reserving/picking up experience. Extrapolate from here all of the different things libraries do, and we have a bunch of cooks creating a lot of different dishes.

AWARE OF THE USER

A good user experience doesn’t happen by accident; everyone needs to be aware that they’re having an impact—positive or negative. Start with the above list and document how all of the departments impact people’s experiences. If your library is small and doesn’t have many distinct departments, don’t fret, you can still do this exercise. Chances are that people in your library play many roles. Make these roles explicit in the process of mapping out the experiences influencing decisions people make. Knowing exactly who makes particular decisions can lead to better decision-making. It can even expose those mysterious “we have no idea how this came to be” decisions.

Even better, take a member-focused approach and create journey maps for common library tasks. Illustrations representing a user’s flow though a library service can be helpful, but your maps don’t need to be fancy to be effective. Even a simple list like the one at the beginning of this column can be a valuable way to analyze and improve experiences. After you’ve created journey maps for important library services, think critically about each touchpoint. What is this touchpoint accomplishing? How did it get to be this way? Is it necessary? Is there a better way to do it?

Having a cross-departmental UX team is a potent way to do projects like this. It not only gives the UX team broad organizational knowledge, but involving staff from all departments is a great way to create librarywide buy-in and prevent territorial disputes.

OWNING UP

Leading by example is perhaps the most important thing we can do to improve experiences. If everyone considered how their work impacts the user experience, our libraries would be much improved. So, take up the mantle! And if your coworkers aren’t following your lead, start introducing UX on the sly by steering conversations in this direction. Keep asking, “Will this be good for our members?”

This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.

30 Sep 13

Influx Library User Experience Newsletter

Sign up now and get in on the ground floor! Newsletter 001 is about to make its way into inboxes, and there’s a little reward for everyone signed up before it is sent.

What to expect from this newsletter

We will send you UX related links that we find interesting. Maybe a little bit of original content will sneak in on occasion. Whatever the case, we’re aiming quality over quantity. (Yes, just like we advocate for libraries – not only only their websites but also programs and services too). This is an experiment and we’ll adjust it as we go along.

Putting it together felt different than preparing content for this site, so it’ll be different but I can’t quite put my finger on how it will be different. If you like this site, you’ll like the newsletter. Or your money back!

Whatever the case, it will be 100% non-spammy and we’ll give it our 100% to make it interesting and informative!

You should sign up now.

30 Sep 13

Is your Library a Sundial?

In order for a product or service to provide an excellent user experience it has to be useful, usable, and desirable. Libraries are no exception to this rule. In fact, these three characteristics provide a great way for us to analyze the user experience we’re providing. Let’s unpack these terms:

USEFUL:The best products and services aren’t superfluous; they actually help people do something. Accordingly, libraries should solve a problem or satisfy a need. If a library isn’t useful, it won’t be important to its community, and use will be lackluster. It’s as simple as that.

USABLE: A good user experience is free of pain points. It’s a no-brainer that people are happier with and more likely to take advantage of libraries when they’re easy to use. When something is difficult to use, people feel frustrated, or, even worse, stupid. No one likes to feel this way. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how useful your library is if it isn’t easy enough for people actually to use.

DESIRABLE: This is all about making people want to use your library. Factors that influence desirability include the level of convenience, social implications, and emotional connections. Also, expectations play an important role in desirability. Pleasantly surprising people in the process of delivering a service is a great way to up the wow factor and increase their ­loyalty.

Unfortunately, this triad are not mutually inclusive. Just because something is useful doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. What’s more, levels of usefulness, usability, or desirability can be context-­dependent.

Think of a rotary telephone. Is it useful? Somewhat. It can allow you to make a phone call, though that’s the only thing it can do. Is it usable? Yeah, it isn’t difficult to use, though it isn’t as convenient as a touch-tone phone. Is it desirable? Probably not, unless you’re purposefully going for a vintage aesthetic. What about a sundial? It can tell the time, it’s useful! Is it usable? No! You need the sun and, more important, specific knowledge of how to operate it.

This trinity of good UX can serve as a valuable assessment tool. If you employ them to analyze enough individual services, you’ll start to get an idea where your library’s overall strengths and weaknesses lay. You can then concentrate on making the most relevant and effective improvements.

BECOMING MORE USEFUL

Making your library more useful will require that you examine your library services—but don’t start there. Since your goal is to create services that are useful to your community, you must make this your focus first; demographic studies and user interviews are a great way to begin. Only once you’ve learned more about the needs of your community should you circle back to your library services. The scope of your brainstorming will depend on how progressive your library is when thinking about its mission. Is it a place where people come to check out books, or is it a place where people come to improve their lives? This is your chance to augment your library services radically.

INCREASING USABILITY

Finding and eliminating pain points aren’t always complicated. Usability testing is the classic method for improving websites. Watch people carry out tasks, see what’s tripping them up, and change accordingly. The same can be applied to our buildings as well by conducting contextual inquiries. Making the library easier to use can involve revising policy, so it’s best to have an organizatio nwide understanding of how usability impacts library services. No matter your method, the goal is to shed your librarian perspective and see your library in use through the eyes of a community member.

INCREASING DESIRABILITY

What products and services do you enjoy using? Your sleek and lightweight laptop? A restaurant that not only has delicious food but also a friendly staff? A car that conveys status? Use your personal experience as a guide, and adapt the elements that distinguish the products you enjoy.

Increasing desirability might be a tough sell since it in part deals with aesthetics, something often applied as mere window dressing. Still, ensuring that your library has a good visual design sense—in addition to being useful and usable—shows that you want people to enjoy it. Can a library position itself as the hip place in town? Probably, though it might take a major brand restructuring. Think of ways to get people excited about using the library.

All the decisions made in your library every day contribute to or diminish its usefulness, usability, and desirability. Keeping this in mind will help everyone make the right choices.

This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.

25 Sep 13

Hand Painted Library Signage

Look what I found while riding through Wallowa, a small town in Eastern Oregon.

wpl

So many good things about this. “Our library is your friend.” Yes!

Don’t miss that prospector looking guy reading while riding his horse.

24 Sep 13

Catalog by Design

Aside from paying very little attention to visual design and not caring about the impact of horrible typography, the big problem with library catalogs is that they are not designed to help people accomplish library tasks. Instead, they’re designed to expose catalog records.

I’m not even talking about lofty library tasks like learning, creating, and connecting. I’m not referring to semi-interesting library tasks like discovering exciting content. I’m talking about very basic library tasks: finding items in a specific location, reserving items, and renewing items. Of course, people can do these tasks with our catalogs but only because the functionality has been clumsily bolted onto catalog ­records.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is totally backward—prioritizing the collection, not people, results in a user-hostile interaction design and a poor user experience. Imagine the reverse: a tool that prioritizes helping people accomplish their tasks, whereby bibliographic data exists quietly in the background and is exposed only when useful.

Starting from Design

I wondered what this would look like, so I sketched out some examples. I’m certainly not the first to complain about OPAC functionality, but taking this as an explicit design challenge rather than as a software architecture or cataloging challenge led me to emphasize readability and ease of use.

Beyond that, there isn’t too much to explain about these designs. Here’s a very plain bibliographic record and illustrates how simplifying them would make them easier to use.

plainville_detail

The following hints at eliminating the need for a dedicated view of a single bibliographic record; in this mock-up, nearly everything a member needs to do with an item is available without it.

plainville_results

The ability to link directly to a single record is missing from this example, but that would be easy enough to sort out. This one is similar but uses a swipe-friendly layout that could be effective on mobile devices.

plainville_coverflow

An effective catalog design would obviate the need for how-to screencasts and handouts. Designs like this would not only make our libraries easier to use, but, by freeing up the time we spend helping people with our catalogs, they would make librarians’ lives easier, too.

While these examples aren’t fully featured, they illustrate how focusing on people and tasks would change our catalog. When bibliographic data plays second fiddle, the page calms down and is easier to understand and use. What’s more, by employing some basic principles of graphic design, these creations instill more confidence in library services than our current ­catalogs.

Members in Mind

This is just one example of how focusing on our members’ motivations and goals can transform what we do. Members will be better served if all of our services are designed as responses to their motivations and goals. With regard to catalogs, this focal point leads to improvements in usability. For library services, this emphasis makes libraries more worthwhile.

The deeper libraries dive into the lives of their members and explore opportunities for improving their lives, the more impact we can make and the more valuable libraries will become. This sort of listening, not shouting, is the best form of library advocacy.

This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.

30 May 13

YOUmedia Name-dropped by Chance the Rapper

I recently downloaded the second mixtape – Acid Rap – from Chicago’s up and coming Chance the Rapper.

Listening to the track “Acid Rain,” a line made my ears perk up: “And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia.” Whaaa? Rap Genius confirms: And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia. Sure enough, Chicago Public’s YOUmedia was one of the places Chance the Rapper started performing.

He’s spoken at length about the role YOUmedia played in his music’s development:

“It was a really ill thing because it was smack in the center of downtown, so anybody from any school could come there because every train comes to the loop [downtown]. I met damn near all the producers on #10Day through this library. It was the spot.”

Consider this a complement to the “I graduated from the library” Bradbury quote we like to trot out. Clearly, a lot of creative output is the result of some sort of library use. But in most cases libraries have been neutral in that they don’t care if they’re for enjoyment, learning, inspiration, etc… or any combination. So what makes this example so great is that YOUmedia isn’t neutral in this way; it has the goal of helping kids create content. This example illustrates that creation focused libraries can have a significant impact.

7 May 13

Richland Library Website

I learned about the Richland Library website in a good presentation by Kelly Coulter, the library’s Virtual Services Librarian.

Richland Library

Solid site with a lot of things going for it. Kelly knows her stuff so I think this site will only get better.

Neither here nor there: note their .com TLD. Don’t see many libraries with those. Maybe it actually is relevant since .com is arguably the most common and usable TLD.

23 Apr 13

The Usable Library

Have you seen The Usable Library? I gave it a refresh last week.

The Usable Library: Straight talk from Influx Library User Experience

All sorts of straight talk about library usability, and a redesigned postcard that you can print and hang up!

ULPoster

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