Finding examples of bad user experience (UX) is like shooting fish in a barrel. And while there can be value in pointing out flawed designs—“Hey, look at this example, and don’t do this!”—posting examples of good UX might be more valuable. Regardless, I was so struck with what I saw at the post office recently that I feel compelled to write about it.
The instructions taped to this credit card machine ask customers to “PLS WAIT FOR CLERKS COMMAND” (see image 1). This insensitivity to language and punctuation is so severe it’s nearly laughable. It also cuts a bit close to home; pay any attention to signs or instructions slapped up in libraries, and you’ll find similar transgressions.
After spending a bit of time mailing things this past holiday season, I realized that librarians can learn an even greater lesson from the post office. I’m not ashamed to say that I find the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) services impenetrable. While I understand that I can bring a letter or package there, present some money for postage, and the item will most likely end up where I want it to go, I don’t have a very solid understanding of the nuances.
For example, here are a few delivery options now available from the USPS: Priority, Priority Mail Express, Standard Post, First-Class, Priority Flat Rate, Prepaid Forever Priority Mail Flat Rate, Tracking, Insurance, Critical Mail, Business, Parcel, Package, Media Mail, Global Express Guaranteed, and Priority Mail Express International.
Does it have to be this complicated? Doubtful. All of this jargon is rather devoid of intuitive meaning, and it has a disempowering effect. Instead of enabling me to send something in the way that best suits my needs, the quixotic service design introduces friction and causes me to struggle.
Clarity and support
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. With just a bit of self-awareness we should realize that libraries often do the same thing. Things like using jargon, siloed service desks, clunky websites, and unsupportive facilities all burden members with cognitive overload. The options at the post office make sense to its employees because they’re exposed to it every day. The design of our services makes sense to us because we established them. But outsiders don’t always have the knowledge that develops with repeated exposure.
This problem requires a deep solution. A simple “designwashing” won’t help. Take, for instance, the redesigned visual identity launched last summer for the USPS flat-rate options (see image 2).
Looks fresh and modern, right? It certainly is a step in the right direction, but it is a bit shallow. The visual design is only one touchpoint among many, and if the design of the package isn’t backed up by services that are equally as nice, the overall UX won’t be outstanding.
Libraries need to do more
Libraries haven’t done a tremendous amount of “designwashing” to improve people’s experience and perception, but they do often take a somewhat shortsighted approach: customer service training. Let me be clear; libraries should strive to have outstanding customer service. The human interactions in our buildings are a vital touch point. But a customer service training workshop every few years will not help solve the larger problem of service design that is not user centered.
In addition to improving the visual design in our libraries while also improving customer service, we must take a deeper look at the programs and services we offer to ensure they’re aligned with what our communities want and need. This type of examination requires the use of techniques that help cut through our institutional knowledge and biases. Contextual inquiries, user interviews, persona development, storyboarding, use case creation, and participatory design are just a few of the valuable techniques we can employ.
The tools are there, we just need to shift our priorities and work with them. When we do, we’ll learn more about the people we serve and how we can change our services so that instead of struggling when using the library, they’ll be empowered to accomplish their goals. In the next installment of “The User Experience,” I’ll highlight some libraries that have done just that!