Aaron Schmidt writes a regular column “The User Experience” in Library Journal. He is principal of Influx Library User Experience, a consulting firm that helps libraries integrate UX design. And last year his book with Amanda Etches Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library was published by the American Library Association. Since the Charlotte School of Law Library is implementing a Library User Experience (LUX) concept, Schmidt and Etches’ book is a timely resource.
As the authors explain, user experience is simply how “someone feels when using a product or service.” The term comes from the importance of exceptional customer service for business success. For example, people interact with a company or its products in lots of different ways. You might get an email from a company or see the new product on the company’s website or see a store display or talk to a salesperson. All these interactions with the company and/or the product are considered touchpoints. The goal is for the customer to have a great experience. Thus the company has to manage all these touchpoints or interactions with the customer to ensure the customer has a positive experience.
Similarly in libraries, there are a lot of touchpoints to manage: website, catalog, signage, library workers, collection, databases, furniture, classes, email, telephone and so on.
As the book’s title suggests, there are three elements of good user experience: useful, usable and desirable. Useful. A product or service has to solve a problem or satisfy a need for the user to have a great experience. Usable. The library’s services and products must be easy to use or at least not a frustrating experience. Desirable. People must need or want the product or service provided. It does not matter if the service is useful and usable if it is not desired by the user. All three of these elements are linked together.
Eight Principles of Library User Experience
- You are not your user. When designing spaces, services, or interfaces, libraries have to keep the users in mind. Schmidt points out that making changes with the librarians’ point of view is bound to fail. The question to ask is: How will this change help our users?
- The user is not broken. In the past, librarians had to mediate or teach users to do any of the functions in a library. A good example was command line searching in a database like Dialog. Under the user experience principle, if the user has to be taught how to do something, it is the process that is broken, not the user.
- Good user experience requires research. Only by observing the library’s users to learn more about them and about how they use the library can librarians adjust current services and create better experiences.
- Building a good user experience requires empathy. Librarians need to walk a mile in our students’ shoes to really understand their feelings. In 2008 Brian Herzog started a “Work like a Patron Day” with the goal of encouraging library workers to experience the library the way users do, from working at public computers to using the bathrooms. This is the first step to empathy. The second step of caring about these experiences relies on careful hiring.
- A good user experience must be easy before it can be interesting. In the world of Information Technology, this translates to functionality first before the nice page layout. This idea translates to all the touchpoints in the library.
- Good user experience design is universal. Universal Design (UD) is the concept that environments should work well for people with disabilities as well as people without disabilities. The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University gives seven principles at their website: http://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_ud/udprinciplestext.htm
- Good user experience design is intentional. Everything in a library (physical and virtual) should be designed with the user in mind and for a specific reason. This includes everything from the trash receptacles to the circulation desk.
- Good user experience design is holistic. Good user experience design is more than just good customer service. It extends to all the touchpoints mentioned at the beginning of this blog piece. It also extends to how your users feel just being in the library and how the library is able to help them accomplish their goals.
With a lot of thought, the authors considered what to call the people who use the library. Details like this are important to user experience design. They considered the terms: patron, student, user, and customer but decided the best term to be member. Member is positive and evokes a sense of belonging and ownership. The Darien Public Library in Darien, Connecticut has had success using this term in their user experience conversion.
The rest of the book is based on these principles. There are sections on evaluating and improving the physical space, service points, policies and customer service, signage and wayfinding, online presence, and using the library. As a very practical guide, the book includes a scorecard system for self-evaluation.
More information on each of these areas will come in a series of future blog posts.