Monday, 18 July 2016

'UXLibs in a Day'

Earlier this month, I attended ‘UXLibs in a day’, facilitated by Andy Priestner. I was lucky enough to have been given a place sponsored by CILIP West Midlands Member Network.  It was held in the library at Aston University and there were 25 delegates. It was brilliant, by far the most enjoyable and interesting library session I’ve ever been to. I was completely new to the concept of UX and this day was the perfect introduction. We learnt so much – it is impossible to recount it all within the confines of a blog post, but below are a few of my ponderings from the event.

The concept of UX is that surveys don’t show the whole picture. They are limited – not everyone responds, people lie on them, people don’t answer the ‘any other comments’ sections etc. Instead, a number of different techniques can be used to gather qualitative information regarding usage of services. UX considers the use of ‘touchstones’. These are moments in time, specific instances, when people actively engage with a feature of a service (eg, use the catalogue, approach the helpdesk, use the printer etc).  The overall notion of UX is closely linked to ethnography, which is the study of immersing oneself in a group’s behaviour, cultures and habits. The day was split into two sessions. The morning session outlined Andy’s research in the Judge Business School Library at Cambridge University. The afternoon session outlined 12 UX techniques.

1. Observation
* A lot of UX techniques feature an element of observation. Must be performed for long periods to build up an accurate picture of how people act, interact with each other, use space.
* Must not bring in own bias, interpretations, culture, expectations etc.
* As an alternative to mass observation of a space, individuals can be observed undergoing ‘think-aloud protocol’. Users are shadowed during their library visit and speak their thoughts of why they are doing things as they actually do them.

2. Behavioural mapping
* This provides a visual representation of people’s routes. Varfious factors are recorded - occupancy figures, length of time individuals remain in the library, where they walked whilst in the library. This info can be interpreted into a floor diagram with arrows showing people’s routes.
* This demonstrates where people actually go, as opposed to which parts of the library they think/say they go to. It shows busy areas of the room.

3. Interviews
* Focus groups suffer from the same limitations as surveys, but on-the-spot guerrilla interviews could be utilised instead.
* These catch people when they haven’t had chance to think up stock replies. Short, sharp, brief exit interviews as people leave the library:
Did you find what you were looking for today?
What do you like best/worst about the library?
How long has your visit been today?

4. Usability testing
* This is another form of observation, this time as they use a digital application eg library catalogue, app or website.
* The point is to identify website touchpoints which cause frustration and can therefore be improved.

5. Cognitive mapping 

 * This is a clever yet simple technique which uncovers people’s subconscious priorities. We drew a cognitive map about our libraries and it’s true – my priorities were displayed in the diagram.
* Using different coloured pens, draw a visual interpretation of a situation.
* Change pens only at set times.
* Afterwards, you can see which elements people drew first, second or third, and thereby discover what is most important to them.
Left: My cognitive map exploring library opportunities. Right: The affinity diagram we created as a group.
6. Card sorting 

* Groups are asked to rank a number of cards in order of priority.
* Card sorting can take 2 formats:
Open – they write their own words (priorities) on cards.
Closed – the words are already written on the cards.
* This activity shows student priorities. It are often different to what we think they are. Can also highlight differences in opinion (for example, ask students to complete an affinity diagram about the most important things in a library and it’ll be different to a librarians’ affinity diagram on the same topic).
* This is very similar to affinity diagramming, which uses post it notes instead.

7. Cultural probes
* This is a wide reaching project which explores the culture of being a student. It provides a snapshot and helps map their individual learning landscapes. This is the closest staff can get to a true ethnography study of student behaviour.
* Participants receive a pack containing items such as pens, diary with preloaded (handwritten questions inside), a memory stick (to record photos), envelopes containing questions. The pack is taken home and used over a period of a few weeks.
* This is the closest staff can get to a true ethnography study of student behaviour.
* Cultural probes identify where students spend most of their time, which times of the day the most studying is done, which places they go to – Andy’s research identified the ‘student triangle’ consisting of home, lectures and supermarket. The further away from the triangle people venture, the more they are out of their comfort zone.

8. Shadowing
* This involves yet more observation, shadowing a person and to record their moods/reactions in relation to different situations. This can then be fed into software to produce a ‘journey map’ highlighting the high/low points of the day.
* This activity shows that often, people are happiest without realising it. It outlines what makes people comfortable or uncomfortable. Could be useful for highlighting failures in service.
9. Graffiti walls
* Put flipchart paper on a wall or noticeboard. Invite students to write questions/feedback on it. Staff can then write a reply.
* Should be a fun, anonymous activity, so the graffiti wall should not be near the library helpdesk.
* Helps to generate informal dialogue with library users in a non-threatening way.

10. Touchstone tours
* More observation. Shadow the student during their time in the library, asking them to describe what they do while they do it, every time they interact with a different touchstone.
* In effect, the student gives the librarian a tour of the library touchstones they use.
* This activity is designed to highlight the way students feel about the library space. When conducted several times, you should start to see similarities – one particularly hated area/feature of the library.

11. Photo studies
* Student given a disposable camera and asked to take a photo of 20 different things, for example:
items taken to lectures, personal communication devices, how you keep track of time etc.
* Participants later interviewed to explain photo choices.
* This activity demonstrates students have different needs and allows researchers a look at them.

12. Love and break up letters
* A fun and creative activity where people handwrite a love letter (or a break up letter) to a particular library service. I wrote a break up letter to the OPAC. I outlined why it didn’t meet my needs and why I had been cheating on it with Google.
* This helps avoid any such awkwardness when asking people to specific positive or negative comments. The activity adopts a format that is easily understood by people of all cultures. People are often more honest as the letter is aimed at a service, rather than a person.

This has turned into a longer post than I originally intended – it’s just such an interesting topic! It was a very intense day but delivered informally and because of that I found the time flew by. Some of the UX techniques discussed are best suited to large scale projects but others could easily be conducted in smaller libraries or during classroom activities. I particular like the idea of a graffiti wall and love/break-up letters and hope to incorporate them into my library at some point in the future. Lots of tweets were shared during the event via the hashtag #UXLibsBrum. I am a fan of using Twitter for event amplification and enjoyed taking part in the online conversation.

I’d like to give a big thanks to CILIP West Midlands Member Network for offering the sponsored place which facilitated my attendance at this event. I am very appreciative of how lucky as I was to receive this support - my attendance would have been impossible without it.

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