UX, or user experience, is a hot topic in the library world, but what does it mean in practical terms? This is the first post in a series of articles that will aim to demystify the concepts of user experience, design thinking, and human-centered design for public librarians. A common misperception is that you need a lot of time and money to embark on a program of integrating these ideas into your library—far from it. The key is to shift your thinking and consider every aspect of service from the user’s point of view. Everything from your voicemail message to your policy manual plays a part.
First, some jargon:
User experience design is the philosophy of considering spaces, services, and processes from the end-user’s point of view. The term originated in the digital world in the field of human/machine interaction, was picked up by product designers, and from there, has filtered into every aspect of life, including the library.
Human-centered design began in the fields of ergonomics and accessibility and is now nearly synonymous with UX design, at least in this context.
Design thinking means looking at a process or project with a fresh perspective, and that can change the outcome dramatically. If your process isn’t getting results, a simple design thinking exercise can get your creative juices flowing.
The concept at the core of the whole UX movement is empathy. Learning to look at a situation with a beginner’s mind—putting aside all your years of education and experience in librarianship and seeing your library from a new user’s point of view—is the key. Realistically, most people who walk into the building aren’t familiar with your procedures and policies, your cataloging and classification systems, the building layout, or the incredible range of services you offer. How can your physical space be changed, even slightly, to help them understand the library? Empathy is about meeting people where they are rather than where you think they should be.
The goal is to make the experience as intuitive and easy as possible. To give the user visual clues that help them navigate their way and accomplish their goals. Many librarians rail against old stereotypes, yet we continue to perpetuate them by building both physical and psychological barriers between staff and patrons.
You can put these ideas into practice incrementally, starting with small things like greeting people when they enter or taking down all the Scotch-taped hand-written signs telling people what not to do. In future posts, we’ll look at simple ways to make things better in all aspects of the library for patrons and staff alike.