As I travel around the world leading UX training and fieldwork in libraries – most recently at institutions in Australia, the Netherlands and Norway – I have had the opportunity to assess just how embedded UX has become. As one might expect, the global picture is mixed, within countries as much as between them. Some institutions are just starting out, feeling their way towards the adoption of User Experience research methods for their spaces and services, while others are further down the road, having recognised that in order for UX to really work for them then it needs to be part of everything they do. At some institutions I am thrilled to see regularly timetabled observation and behavioural mapping of spaces, and usability testing of the website embraced as a continuous iterative process. Elsewhere UX is part of discreet project work and far too often I hear that UX will help staff to ‘finish’ the website, or help them to deliver a future-proofed space. Then there’s the tension between the employment of UX librarians and specialists, some of whom are having to ‘do all the things’ versus the recognition that UX is too important to be part of just one or two people’s jobs. Are we nearly there yet? We’re getting closer, but for most there’s a long road ahead.
There are a variety of models available to help us to understand and explore institutional UX maturity. Tomer Sharon’s model focuses on two factors: the existence of both UX staff and buy-in to UX principles, and dependent on this, whether maturity or immaturity is being approached. This matrix serves as a helpful decision-making barometer as to whether one should fight for UX or flee an institution, however, it’s a rather binary proposition that makes it a fitting model for our age, if not for a deeper understanding of the barriers.
Coral Sheldon-Hess’s UX consideration model describes different levels of engagement with UX and how this affects the way staff treat each other. It describes 5 levels in all, from ‘Level 1’ institutions where UX is absent and decisions are made based on staff’s preferences and management’s pet projects, all the way up to the nirvana scenario of ‘Level 5’ in which UX is so ingrained that usability of all things is considered and all staff are actively considerate of their users and each other. Sheldon-Hess’s model puts more ‘meat on the bones’ and usefully details what these different levels look like, but it does not set out to examine in detail what prompts institutions to fail to mature.
I decided to become a full-time freelancer and consultant due to significant opposition to UX adoption and deployment while in a part-time UX role at Cambridge University Library. I was leaving behind what was at best a Level 2 institution by Sheldon-Hess’s scale (some effort being made to improving user experience but decisions still being made on gut feelings). In the main UX was not properly understood nor indeed welcomed. Reflecting on this experience and the existing models of maturity it was no great leap to conceive of a new model of UX adoption which I first unveiled at the third UX in Libraries (UXLibs) conference in Glasgow last week.
My model focuses on successful or unsuccessful adoption of UX rather than maturity, but the elements it details are also arguably building blocks of maturity. The model consists of 4 continuums along which one can plot where an institution sits in respect of 4 factors:
- Culture of Tradition > Culture of Innovation: Does your institution care more about heritage, tradition and the way things have always been done or about the opportunity and possibilities that a culture of continuous innovation offers?
- Infrastructure immobility > Infrastructure Agility: How fast can your institution move? Is it strangled by committees and hierarchy or free to move quickly in response to emerging needs and important new directions?
- Fear of Failure > Acceptance of Failure: Does your institution see the value in failure? Does it accept that in order to move forwards we need to make mistakes and learn from them? Or does it do all things possible to avoid it and consider it the greatest risk of all?
- Library Staff Focus > Library User Focus: Finally, does your institution serve its staff or its users? How much are its efforts focused on the best possible user experience rather than the convenience and satisfaction of its staff?
Below these 4 continuums (or spectrums) is an Unsuccessful > Successful UX adoption line. Essentially, the further your institution is into the green the greater the likelihood that UX methods will survive and thrive there and the better the experience of your users.
I plotted my experience of Cambridge University Library (rather generously as it happens) on to my model below and I urge you to do the same for your institution. How near to the middle is your institution? Is it more on one side than the other? What chance has UX adoption at your place of work? And crucially, stop and ask yourself whether you should be beating yourself up quite so much for not achieving as much with UX as you want. Maybe the opportunity for UX success simply does not exist at this time? As the wonderful Shelley Gullikson (@shelleygee) suggested at UXLibs3 – perhaps you need to bide your time and keep on UX-ing ‘on the down low’ until the time is right?
I was very happy with the reaction to the model at UXLibs 3. It was a model that delegates seemed to instantly understand and I had a number of excellent conversations with delegates who identified with the same constraints and recognised the same continuums.
I was most pleased though with a tweet (above) from my former colleague Ange Fitzpatrick (@angefitzpatrick – now head librarian at Cambridge University’s business school) which heralded the model as a useful scale for critiquing a library generally as much as for successful UX adoption.
Andy Priestner is a freelance trainer and consultant in UX, leadership and teambuilding. He created and chairs the International UX in Libraries conference and in 2015 co-edited a book of the same name.
UX in Libraries: http://uxlib.org
Tomer Sharon’s UX Maturity Model: https://blog.prototypr.io/ux-research-maturity-model-9e9c6c0edb83
Coral Sheldon-Hess’s UX Consideration Model: http://www.sheldon-hess.org/coral/2013/07/ux-consideration-cmmi/