Unseen: Exploring Users’ Campus Experience through Design Thinking (Part 1)

Two columns, one labeled Seen and the other labeled Safe, with a gray scale gradient.

In this first of three blog posts, we describe the phases of a multi-year service design project, including our approach to our assessment work, the research methods, and the project results. Our project team, consisting of staff on the Library Lifecycle Team and the Design Thinking Research Fellows, sticky-noted, iterated, and prototyped our way to a resource we found useful and think could be used by other institutions. 

Article authors include: Jordan Gorzalski, Denise Leyton, Sophia McFadden-Keesling and Caroline Wack.

User-Centered Tool Creation

In the Summer of 2017, the U-M library launched an initiative to re-imagine and co-create Library spaces and services to meet the future needs of our campus community. Three guiding principles of this initiative that inspired our work included: 

  • Being user-focused: Evolving and developing user-centered services 

  • Being future-focused: Anticipating and acting toward what we will do and be, far into the future including changing our spaces so that they are less collections-centric and more services-centric

  • One Library: “Looking up” and “looking across” our organization, in order to connect and align our work

It’s one thing to state that the Library wants to be these three things, but it’s another story when making this a reality. In the library UX and assessment field, we know that an organization doesn’t just become user-focused by saying it wants to be. Staff need to not only use singular, anecdotal knowledge to understand what users need, but also must intentionally collect and employ aggregated data and tools, and then put those tools into practice regularly to make the Library “walk its talk.” 

To meet these three goals, the Library Lifecycle Project was launched to facilitate the Library’s adoption of user-centered practices. Through the creation of a toolkit, which contained a series of human-centered artifacts with associated instructions on use, and represented our diverse community of students, faculty and staff, the team hoped to support staff attempting to make positive service changes.

The Library Lifecycle Project 

How do you create an aligned perspective of your community that is understood and can be acted upon by all in your organization? Typically our UX strategy would be to make a set of personas that help align conversations on who our users are.* Yet, personas distill people and their needs down to a few characteristics and are typically based on assumptions, or sometimes research that captures what the library already knows about its users. Our service design teams felt that there was a need for a tool that embraced complexity rather than ordered it, and that looked at what is already known and asked: “what else?” Exploring the unknown needs of our users would help our Library design services that were more inclusive. 

The team also created guidelines and goals for our persona development, such as:

  • A precursor to user research
    Instead of an artifact that summarizes user research that then guides design, we wanted a tool that would show gaps in knowledge held by service design team members about users, and that would then guide how service design teams would conduct user research.
  • Experience beyond bulleted lists
    Instead of only showing the most important characteristics of our users according to our personal knowledge, and thereby leaving out more complicated personality traits among users, we wanted a tool that would show how experience is multi-layered and cumulative. We were inspired by work done at the Veterans Affairs Innovation Center which used different sets of cards, activities and a user journey map to explore identity and its influence on experience. 
  • Interaction for holistic understanding
    Instead of trying to imbue an amalgamation of summarized data into a person, we wanted a tool that would push service design team members to recognize that identity impacts experience and that identity is intersectional, with different parts of oneself impacting behavior and decision-making in different ways at different times.
  • Expanding the lens
    Instead of running the risk of aligning personas in predetermined, abstract buckets of generic bios, goals and frustrations, we wanted a way for service design team members to interact with and critically examine how users experience our institution.

With these stated design goals, we took a creative problem solving approach where each activity we did helped us define the information needed and the methodology next to apply. We drew on methods from service design, qualitative research and contextual inquiry. 

In our second post we will talk about our research process used to create this resource. 


(Submitted by Denise Leyton, Jordan Gorzalski, Sophia McFadden-Keesling, and Caroline Wack.)

* Zaugg, H. & Rackham, S. (2016). Identification and development of patron personas for an academic library. Performance Measurement and Metrics. Retrieved from https://www-emerald-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/insight/content/doi/10.1108/PMM-04-2016-0011/full/html