User Experience Design

UX Project with Chapel Hill Public Library

Influx is working with the Chapel Hill Public Library on a 10-month-long UX assessment and improvement project. We’re stoked, and already feeling super energized by the smart and enthusiastic folks at CHPL.

Major areas of interest include the physical building’s layout and flow, and the library’s website; we’ll launch a new one in Spring 2016. We have a lot to learn about the library, and specific areas of work will bubble up as we dive in.

We’ll also work on updating the library’s mission statement, vision, and organizational values. This is a strong indication that they’re digging deep with user-centered thinking. We love it!

Another cool thing about this project: we’re designing out in the open. 

What’s designing in the open?

More learning and transparency! As the project develops, we’ll post artifacts and deliverables for everyone to see. This makes internal communications easier, but Influx and CHPL also want other libraries to be able to learn from the process.

If you want to follow along, start at the CHPL UX Project Site and don’t miss the Project Timeline.

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A new identity for Copenhagen children’s library

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The identity is based on a modular system of shapes that can form different characters and patterns. The idea is that the kids can have fun with this system – creating stories and characters of their own – and that the identity can continue to grow in many direction. [via HVASS&HANNIBAL]

Wow. The act of creation is built in to the identity of the library. Super cool.

“The result was very surprising – the children generally prefered the more simple designs, whereas the librarians prefered the more complex ones with lots of details. So in the end we decided on keeping the logo very simple with the possibilty of adding details when combining it with more of the identity’s shapes…” [via Creative Review]

Librarians preferring complexity? You don’t say!

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Focus on People, Not Tools

Librarianship has lost its focus – our professional concern for people has been eclipsed by a pre­occupation with collections and technology. This is understandable. Historically, libraries have been centered on bringing the world to our members through our collections. This problem of access was important to help solve, meeting a vital societal need. Likewise, our focus on information technologies and the web is natural, too. Throughout the years, these tools have presented some outstanding challenges, though generally they have aided tremendously in our mission to expand access to accumulated cultural knowledge and output. But our fixation on collections and technology is no longer serving us – nor our members.

REVEALING ROLES

Let’s take a closer look at our attention to the web. Web technologies are tools, but we’ve been concerned with them as ends in themselves. “We need a responsive library site!”excited web librarians might say. What they mean is that the library needs to deliver information in a convenient way. “The library would benefit from a vibrant Facebook profile,” another librarian might say. This is probably true but only because having a vibrant Facebook profile can create conversation and community connections.

Take a look at the debate on what to call the people who come into our institutions – patrons, customers, users, members, etc. I would argue that the rise of the ugly word user in our profession and others is, at least in part, tied to this shift in focus away from people and onto the tools they use, as if their tools define them.

Finally, our spotlight on tools can also be found in the titles of conference sessions and articles. Oftentimes, the technology functions as the subject, while the outcome – if it’s there at all – is the predicate. Our communities, again, if present at all, are unspoken direct objects. Here’s what I mean:

  • Augmented Reality & Next Gen Libraries
  • Top Technology Trends
  • Gamifying Your Library
  • 25 Mobile Apps for Librarians
  • Circulating iPads

This is a subtle but meaningful difference. Focusing on the technologies rather than the outcomes changes the way we talk about these topics and the way we learn about them. When we aim for the outcomes, we’re more likely to think deeply about the problems we’re trying to solve and consider multiple strategies that speed us to our goals.

Let me be clear: I’m not downplaying the importance of technology in libraries or setting up a false dichotomy. As a profession, librarianship has developed many mechanisms to learn about technology and the web. This is important, and we need to keep learning about the broader world of resources that can help us efficiently deliver our services. But let’s shift our collective eye to learning about people first, so everything we know about technology can be put in service of supporting meaningful goals.

SHIFT THE FOCUS

Our collective focus on technology also prevents technology from being as deeply integrated into our libraries as it should be. When we fetishize technology, we can only look at it shallowly. When we depend on emerging technology librarians to be the ambassadors for relevant technologies, we take the rest of the organization off the hook.

In fact, if we put the emphasis on people, library technology will become even more important. Currently, it is all too easy to implement tech solutions halfheartedly, check the box that the project is complete, and more or less be done with it. Think of our websites, catalogs, and self-check machines. There’s plenty of room to improve these things, but since we can check the box of “yes, we have those” we don’t strive to do better. In the future, when we emphasize peoples’ needs and their ideal use of libraries, we’ll spend a lot of time ensuring our technology is useful, usable, and desirable. “What sort of checkout experience are we providing members?” is a much bigger and important question than “Are our self-check machines working?”

Once we shift our focus the right way, we can encourage larger efforts. For instance, in addition to the Library Information Technology Association, we need the Library & Community Knowledge Association. In addition to the conference Computers in Libraries we need the conference People in Libraries. A complement to the American Library Association’s (ALA) TechSource? You guessed it: ALA PeopleSource. When we focus on people, we can acknowledge that technology is an important but subservient tool that helps libraries meet the needs of their communities.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Regulatory Sign at the Crocker Art Museum

This Spring I’ve been teaching a class on library UX for the San Jose State SLIS. In an assignment about analyzing library touchpoints one of my students, Stephanie Aurelio, included this nice sign from the Crocker Art Museum. I thought it was rather nice so she gave me permission to post it here. Thanks, Stephanie!

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Eight Color Views from Ramsey County Library

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Typography themed maze? Yes!

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I was assured that the kids’ section isn’t always dark and empty. Looked cool like this though. Note the kid sized self check machines.

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Am I going soft or have I just been running into good library signs recently? This library had a unified system of good looking signs. One of the best I’ve seen.

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Finally, some journey mapping that we did.

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Introducing Prefab: the Library Website Service

I’m super excited to announce a new project from Influx:
Prefab: the library website service.

Prefab is a ready to launch website designed for libraries. We’ve designed an amazing library website so you can concentrate on developing awesome content.

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How it works

Sign up, fill in your content, launch. All in the same day, if you’re motivated!

Prefab is designed for libraries:

  • Easy catalog search integration
  • Simple item promotion
  • Events advertising space
  • Responsive design – looks great on all devices
  • Powered by WordPress
  • Easy links to social media profiles

What you get with Prefab:

  • Hosting
  • A back end training session
  • Email and phone support
  • Information Architecture and navigation suggestions
  • Help arranging your domain

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Stop the madness

Libraries across the country are all working – with limited resources and skills – to solve the same, basic library website design problems. It makes no sense! So we did the design work and created a template that’s appropriate for many different libraries.

There’s a lot more information at the Prefab page on Influx’s site.

Many thanks to Running in the Halls for their assistance with the theme development.

Need an amazing library website fast? Check out Prefab now.

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Less Clutter, More Useful

Keeping libraries free from clutter shouldn’t solely be the purview of the fastidious. It’s something we all can achieve, and should! With less clutter, people will have an easier time of finding what they want, and they’ll have a more peaceful experience. Conversely, clutter in and around the library is a user experience issue we all must address.

Tidy up the following clutter hot spots, and your library will run leaner and cleaner.

Websites

This column has often advocated for smaller, more effective library websites, and we’ll start there once again. If you’re not convinced that your website is full of clutter, take a look at the site’s analytics (if you aren’t tracking analytics, start now).

How much of the site’s content is used on a regular basis? My guess? Way less than half. If something isn’t getting used, or is used only by library staff, remove it so you can highlight more prominently content that people are actually using. Also, remove any clip art or stock photographs. The resulting pages will be easier to read.

You can similarly declutter the writing on your site. Be concise. Remember, instead of telling folks that “the library is the cultural hub of the community and aims to provide excellent customer service,” it is far more effective just to demonstrate it.

Collections

Our collections are prime candidates for decluttering. Much like looking for unused content on your website, you need to pore over circulation statistics to find items that aren’t working hard enough to justify the shelf space they require. Keeping the classics is one thing, but holding on to Windows 3.1 for Dummies is another. Recycle anything that’s collecting dust.

Taking a wider view of your holdings, you might find that an entire segment is cluttering things up. Your print reference collection is probably already much smaller than it was five years ago. Can the rest of it disappear? Do you ever see all four of the microfilm readers in use at the same time? Here’s a specific suggestion: pay attention to your magazines. They get messy quickly.

Building entrances

The entrances to our buildings are often littered with free newspapers, public transit schedules, community events flyers, and library advertising. Yuck. Make sure you’re making a good first impression by keeping this area neat and focused on materials of value to your members.

Brochures, newsletters, etc

These displays often fall prey to the same mechanism of expansion as the above print materials in entrances: more items get piled on, rendering each one less likely to receive any attention. Be selective in your presentation of these items. Ultimately, aim to be selective in their development, producing fewer, more relevant items in the process.

Programs

While superfluous library ­programs might not be a major problem in your physical space, they can clutter a library’s mental space. Is your library continuing to host long-standing programs owing more to legacy than enthusiastic attendance? Perhaps it’s time for them to be put out to pasture. Freeing up time and financial resources can enable you to try something new.

Signs

Hanging a large number of signs can inadvertently create an unrestful environment, especially if the signs are not well designed. Take down every sign that you can. In the future, instead of putting up a sign, try to change the circumstances that are prompting you to do so. Your members will be better served, and your space will look better for the effort.

Your website, again!

Clutter is such an epidemic on library websites that it deserves a second mention. Have you already reduced the amount of stuff on your site? Consider cutting more. While you’re at it, consider setting up a regular schedule of decluttering to ensure that there’s a counter­balance to the regular process of adding new pages and sections.

All together now

Since clutter appears in so many different sectors of the library, it requires a whole-system approach toward great user experience in order to address it. Decluttering demands cross-­departmental collaboration and the willingness of all staff to be attentive and open to change.

The final goal of decluttering isn’t to create a stark or even minimalist aesthetic; the goal is to increase simplicity and devote more time and effort to the services that are most important.

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

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