I’ve spent the last week in the company of the many talented individuals who make up the management and senior staff team of Libraries Tasmania. Our venue was the main public library, which also serves as the State Library of Tasmania, in the state capital Hobart, a wonderful city in an awesome part of Australia.
I’ve been moved to blog about the experience because rarely have I seen such enthusiasm and understanding from a library team as to how UX research and design might be adopted and embedded across an entire service as a fundamental component of their strategy and mindset going forward.
Following a day of techniques we enjoyed a day of fieldwork with real library users and thereafter mapping of all the data we gathered, effectively wall-papering almost an entire room with sticky notes. Crucially each note represented either a user comment or behaviour or an idea generated in response. In just two short hours I saw the scales fall from the eyes of these library staff as they witnessed first-hand the power of these simple methods that offered them a new, and often surprising, window on their users. All of them realised that they were not as user-centric as they had previously imagined, even stating that they felt rather embarrassed of previous initiatives and projects that had largely been driven by staff assumptions and educated guesswork as to both what users needed and what they were doing in their spaces.
Once the power of UX research was revealed to this team they were convinced that they could no longer contemplate library service development or policy changes without conducting UX and the design mindset that comes along with that: testing and iterating new service pilots and prototypes. Coupled to this, there was the dawning realisation that UX research is not about gathering mounds of data as statistical proof but instead the gathering of actionable insights for testing. There was also a stated commitment to accepting failure more readily through the testing of pilot services that might not work, thereby eliminating a blame culture from within their walls.
There were several reasons I think my message gelled so well with this team. Firstly, we got lucky, it just happened that this week fell at the right time for Libraries Tasmania, who were at something of a crossroads and ready to take a new direction with enthusiasm and, in my opinion, the right leadership.. Secondly, I had the luxury of 4 whole days of training and consulting. This gave me time to explore the wider UX design process and how this might integrate with all that this library service currently is and does. This in turn allowed the building of trust as I came to better understand the internal processes and social make-up of my client: including THEIR needs and behaviours. Thirdly it was the right time for me too. I am now entirely confident that I have the requisite knowledge and experience to offer valuable advice and expertise based on several years of experience of application of these methods and principles, and relevant examples from all around the world.
It was fantastic to mix roundtable discussion with client idea generation, agile drawing with other creative and divergent tasks, alternating between participants sitting and standing and doing, ensuring that they were using more of their brains throughout, and most importantly moving from group conversation to silent independent activity, thereby offering a more inclusive structure that met the needs and preference of the different personalities that were present. My internal recognition that I needed to move between different elements during the week was stronger than ever, although I’m afraid I’m still no better at remembering to give people breaks, something that is now on my mental to-do list. I’m also trying to train myself out of calling all participants ‘guys’ something I’ve always done and I’m really trying to stop (with little success so far)!
I’m very excited to see what happens across Libraries Tasmania next because I read a genuine appetite to quickly make UX-based changes to policy, service development, and roles and responsibilities, in order that the momentum this week had given them was not lost, and in turn that the library services they run were truly centred around their users and the improvement of their experience going forward. For one of the very first times in my professional career I believe this change will be enacted and embedded at this institution , not least because we discussed and debated next steps in some detail: collation and dissemination of all the data we gathered and the techniques learned beyond the participants in the room; specific changes to staff roles to encourage UX activity; and ‘quick win’ initiatives that would demonstrate the value of UX research and design approaches: a ‘show don’t tell’ approach, one of my very favourite adages.
It was with some emotion that I bid farewell to my Tasmanian colleagues (I really felt that I had briefly become one of the team) and to Hobart. if you ever get the chance to visit Tasmania, grab it with both hands! I write this post in the airport ahead of a flight to new UX adventures elsewhere, reflecting that very few of my working days will be as rewarding as those of the past week, but here’s hoping…