This is the first edition of Design4Impact, a monthly column on library design that was conceived in conversation with library architect Margaret Sullivan to explore the innovation taking place in the creation of library spaces and programs.
How would you reenvision a wallet to do what you really need it to, not just what you’re used to it doing? How about a wristwatch wallet, powered by body temperature and jammed with digital utility, plus a secret compartment for real money? The idea, articulated in this pipe cleaner and Post-its model (pictured) by Salt Lake County’s Jim Cooper and TLC Labs’ Will Evans, is the result of a Design Thinking exercise conducted at LJ’s Directors Summit, held November 19-20, 2013, in Chicago, in partnership with Chicago Public Library (CPL).
Last year, CPL garnered national attention and a million-dollar grant, via CPL’s foundation, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to partner with Denmark’s Aarhus Library. Both institutions would collaborate on innovation work with design firm IDEO, a specialist in the application of the Design Think strategy. Design Think applies the design process to all sorts of organizational problems, including but not limited to laying out physical spaces.
As part of the summit, representatives from IDEO and CPL walked participants through an example of the preliminary stages of the design process, using the creation of a better wallet as the focus.
A critical aspect of the scheme, it turns out, is mining for information about what a user wants the object to be like and why, accomplished through ever-deepening interviews about perceptions, needs, actual uses, and grand desires. The resulting discoveries spark ideas for solutions—some tweaks, some radical rethinks. The application to libraries is limitless, and CPL had some examples to share.
Coworking on coworking
Mark Kaplan, branch manager of CPL’s Bezazian Branch and lead of the Co-Working Team, used Design Thinking to create a coworking space.
With IDEO staff members Michelle Ha and Julka Almquist providing guidance and training, the team followed IDEO’s steps, first visiting several existing “and widely varying” coworking spaces, Kaplan told LJ. The team interviewed experts and users of those spaces, as well as library patrons. Kaplan explained, “Users don’t always know, or… express, exactly what their needs are…. The process requires thorough ‘downloading’ and ‘synthesis,’ ” postinterview communication techniques to help discern users’ true needs.
The team designed a Co-Lab prototype and observed patrons working in the space. What didn’t function was eliminated and replaced; the results will be applied “to a next-level prototype in another location.”
The team also turned its Design Thinking eye on the process itself. After “reviewing the process, again with the aid of the IDEO team, we realized that we needed to focus more narrowly on a specific group,” Kaplan said. Homing in on a need for better services for job seekers, the team “went deeper” into interviews, discovering that while those looking for job and life skills were being better served elsewhere, career seekers and career changers needed more attention. CPL is developing prototype services to connect with this group.
Planning for play
John Glynn, a children’s and young adult services librarian and lead of CPL’s Play Team, was challenged to integrate learning through play into the library’s spaces and services.
The team again applied IDEO’s Design Thinking process, developing a brief and questions to ask, as well as brainstorming how the team could experiment and prototype within CPL. Team members reviewed the literature, visited organizations, and spoke with experts to gather inspiration and best practices, then interviewed library staff and users. They employed the results to create a prototype storytelling/dramatic play space at CPL’s Chinatown Branch.
The team then observed and talked to users of the space and discovered that younger children enjoyed dramatic play but did not create stories, while many older children were either too self-conscious for or not interested in the space. Accordingly, the next iteration was designed to engage older elementary school students. The windows of the branch were “framed as if they were comic book panels,” Glynn said, and children were encouraged to design and write their own comics in the windows. This “was a huge success,” Glynn said. CPL plans to place the comic prototype in three more branches, with varying sizes and space constraints, develop a facilitator’s guide, and gather feedback from librarians and users.
No doubt, CPL will advance more Design Think implementations over the course of the grant and present them at the international Next Library conference, to be held in Chicago in June. But for those who can’t wait, an excellent, results-focused orientation can be found in Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett (Columbia Business Sch.). Are you using Design Thinking to reimagine your library? We’d love to share your story!