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IL2009: Experience Design Makeover

Speaker: David Lee King

The good experience designer plans and builds deliberate experiences into the website, not just hoping for the best.  No one wants to interact with “a website.”  People want to interact with each other.

The Topeka and Shanee County Public Library had a library website since 2004.  Stephen Abram spoke to the staff at a staff day, and they decided as a result to experiment with a blog.  They had a MySpace page but didn’t know what to do with it.  When David arrived, he did an inventory of the web presence.  They did not have a content management system – no real back-end governing the website.  It was a .ASP program that did their events, bookmobile schedule, and more.  David personally hates ASP.  They got a blog, but it was 2 or 3 clicks in.  The IM Ask a Librarian Meebo widget was added after David arrived.  As David puts it, they were tacking things on to an already bad website.  A lot of the space in the middle of the page was dedicated to advertising – they were using valuable real estate for that.  The catalog was hard to find – 2 or 3 clicks down.  David suggests doing a web search for “public library” and then your state’s name, to see a variety of library websites, which he says are generally not up to snuff (Sarah’s note: Abso-freaking-lutely.)

Their current website has a modern CMS.  They also offer comments on nearly every page on their website.  They offer lots of RSS feeds.  Staff writes content for news blogs, subject guides, and genre-specific recommended materials blogs.  That content is remixed.  David notes that the web is once again becoming decentralized.  They have a Facebook page for the library, one for their art gallery, and one for their teen customers.  They still have a MySpace account (David recommends killing all of the spam-friends like authors & other “questionable” friends).  David connected MySpace to their Twitter feed and they are now starting to get some converation on the MySpace page.  They are having conversations on the website proper in the comments section.  They are having conversations in Facebook–people fanning the page, likiing status updates, & commenting on the wall.  Their Flickr account is quite popular, especially the art gallery photographs.  They also have conversations going on in Twitter as well, and YouTube.  Most of the media organizations in town have subscribed to their Twitter account, and are using that instead as a press release source.

In building their new site, David asked the staff what types of content they wanted on the site . They also asked customers.  David also had items he wanted on the new site: basic 2.0 tools & types of content.  Part of our job is to know what’s new and cool out there, and match that up to what is relevant to our communities.  They switched from Meebo to Library H3lp, which David says was successful.  They made the front page look a little less “database-y looking.”  They created a style guide.  They wrote a social media commenting policy (what comments they can delete, and why, and who does it, who answers complaints, etc.).

And…they are at the point where they are starting to redesign again!  How do you start your own experience makeover?  David has 5 tips:

1) Write an Experience Brief: a one-page story about the experience you want people to have on your website, then build what you wrote.  David says you should refer to it constantly.  An example: they overlaid their patron database on their county resident database; they found that the largest 3 of their non-users were middle-class folks living outside of the city center.  Now they know that is who they need to focus on with their digital services.  David read us a story as an example, highlighting all of the library services and materials that should be on the website and how it should be easy to find.  The content of the site, the look of the site, and the wording of the site is all aimed at helping connect the customer to the information.  Keep the design simple and non-distracting; it is understated.  The site should be intuitively organized and labeled; you shouldn’t have to think about how to make the website work.

2) Take a Touch Point Journey: for example, try getting a library card.  Looking through David’s library’s web statistics, one of the most popular things is getting a library card.  Right now, they don’t have a “get a library card” link.  Under My Account, they have “get an account” but that wording is not intuitive.  The page they’re taken to next to sign up for a card is a boring page.  As David says, the page should show what are you going to be able to do when you get this page.  The page should be inspiring and motivate people to sign up for cards.

3) Conversation is Experience: Do visitors talk to each other when they come to a physical library?  Yes.  They also talk to the staff.  On our websites, customers still want to hold these conversations.  So, are we providing these conversation spaces.  It could be comments, status updates, etc.  David’s library has the R.E.A.D. Dogs, where kids can read to service dogs.  They posted about one of these programs and many members of the public replied to it.  A Facebook status update (most of which come from their Twitter account automatically) had 17 replies – they asked “More than 3000 visitors wlak through our doors every day.  We’ve seen a 19% increase compared to last.  Are you a library visitor?  If so, what brings you in?”  The library is asking people things, providing conversation spaces, and tempting them with a question…inviting them to participate.  17 replies on a Facebook status update is pretty good!

4) Answer the “Why?” Questions.  Why should I care?  Why should I attend that?  Why should I read that?  In their website’s research section, they have a link to “Databases A-Z.”  The word “databases” tells people nothing.  David makes the same point with the link title “Ask a Librarian.”

5) Focus on the Customer.  David uses the example of the email reference service saying they’ll get back to customers within 2 days.  That is staff-centric, not customer-centric.  We would never ask users to wait in-person for 2 days for an answer.  Why do we do that online?  Why not have people working at the reference desk keep email open and answer those questions right away too?

Finally, alwyas say yes.  Always enable instead of trying to control or direct.  Let your customers interact with you, and with each other.  David talked about the library’s Meebo widget project launch.  He came up with a plan, had a process for some of the reference librarians to work on the virtual desk.  Some of the reference librarians came and asked David to move from Trillian to Meebo instead.  David said “yes” and then they got that up and running super fast.  David noted that Meebo had some limits.  Meebo doesn’t let you pass questions around between staff, and has the problem of closing down if the patron moved off of the webpage.  Library H3lp now allows passing a customer to another staff member and since it opens in another window it doesn’t have the accidental closure problem. They still have presences in all of the major IM services.  But they found that it motivated them to improve their email reference service too.  So now they have a simple email address that the reference staff check, instead of having a form that goes to a manager who then distributed the questions out to different staff.

Our patrons are going online.  It’s convenient, but it’s not always easy.  Our goal is to improve their experiences and their bottom line.  David’s book, “Designing the Digital Experience,” is a great read that I recommend wholeheartedly.  In writing my own website project plan, and sub-plans, we used David’s book to help us remember what we should be focusing on (the customer!) instead of just on our technical processes and difficulties.

Questions & Answers:

Someone asked about accessibility.  David does look at issues of accessibility in his design work, absolutely.

Another question was about who works on the digital branch.  The writing of content & interactions with the customers on the digital branch are distributed and decentralized throughout the staff.  So, for Joe Reference Librarian, part of his job is to work on the digital branch.  His Director supports that approach, which is very helpful.  The example he gave was that you never let a public service librarian say “sure, I’ll do collections but I won’t work on the desk.”  Same goes for digital branch work – it’s not acceptable to say no.

Another question was about if the added staff.  They did not add staff to enhance their digital branch.  They dropped some of the less important services and inefficient processes to find time to do this work.

How did staff training work?  David did initial training for staff – writing for the web.  Their webmaster did training on how to post to the CMS.

What do you do when the staff say that users want one thing, but the users actually say they want something else.  David says “This website is not for the staff.  That type of content and organization is for the staff intranet.”

Someone asked about how new ideas for content or features get decided (web governance).  A lot of that is what David does for his job.  The mangers meet weekly, and some of those discussions happen there.  David encourages staff to come to him to chat if they have ideas.  Sometimes though staff have really bad ideas.  Other staff have great ideas, but it might not be the best use of time.  David launches projects as a pilot and then re-evaluates them after a test period.

How do they deal with spam?  They do allow unmoderated comments, and installed a “dirty word” blacklist.  That did create some problems, as they had to delete some of those entries to allow for books with “bitch” in the title, as an example.  Whenever anyone leaves a comment, the author of the original post sees an email with an alert to the new comment.  They do get negative comments, but that’s OK.  They respond to those customers to try to help them (example: their new policy reinstating late fines).


“IL2009: Experience Design Makeover”

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