Human-centered design, a highly creative approach to problem solving, is gaining popularity in libraries as they plan for what lies ahead. Also known as design thinking, it focuses on defining and then resolving concerns by paying attention to the needs, aspirations, and wishes of people—in the case of libraries, not only a library’s patrons but its staff, administration, and members of the community who may not be library customers…yet.
Community engagement is at the heart of Dokk1, the main branch of the Aarhus Public Libraries, Denmark. The system received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries division to “pioneer an innovative library model” with the help of IDEO, a global design company. Its efforts were rewarded with IFLA’s 2016 Public Library of the Year award.
Two library service prototyping spaces, in two very different places, have a remarkable amount in common. Nate Hill runs and operates the 4th Floor in Chattanooga, a large public library loft space operating as a flexible community makerspace and event space. Jeff Goldenson co-ran and operated Labrary, a 37-day design experiment occupying a vacant storefront in Cambridge.
Right now, the biggest trend in website design is responsive web design (RWD). In a responsive design, a website elegantly displays on any size device. The popularity of RWD is, in part, a response to the proliferation of mobile devices. In hopes of increasing usability, organizations want to ensure that people can use their sites no matter how they’re accessing the web. But RWD isn’t itself a solution to library website woes. As I see it, there are two problems: RWD can only accomplish so much, and it doesn’t address the root issue of providing library services in a mobile context.
Every patron’s overall experience will be formed by each touchpoint used at the library–each interaction enhances or detracts from the experience. Each time users are confused, a bit of goodwill is depleted and the user’s experience sours. Conversely, each time they find what they need or easily accomplish a task, the reservoir is filled.
Libraries are showcasing interactive, data-driven digital art that brings what’s typically behind the scenes into the light. This January, hundreds of people attended the grand opening of an addition to the Teton County Library in Jackson Hole, WY. The big draw was “Filament Mind,” a stunning digital art installation utilizing more than five miles of fiber-optic cables, cut into 1,000 pieces, and 44 LED illuminators.
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.
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.
With the monthly report due, a budget to balance, or a program to book, thinking about your library’s logo might not be high on your to-do list. After all, logos can seem like pieces of visual fluff that marketing folks just tack on to an organization. It’s unfortunate that logos often get this sort of treatment, because we should take them more seriously.
When a new public library is planned, it is not only the design that must be considered. The placement of the building in its setting (its landscape) and the design of the landscape together with the building are fundamental parts of the planning process. Unfortunately, architectural endeavors sometimes focus almost exclusively on the building itself. How the building might relate to its setting is often an afterthought. As a result, important opportunities to enhance both the building and its site are overlooked.
Keeping libraries free from clutter shouldn’t be solely the purview of the fastidious. It’s something we all can and should be able to achieve. 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.