It's Not About Us: Un-Sucky Design and the 21st Century Library

My User Interface and Web Site Design class this past semester allowed me to get reacquainted with an old web design site I'd lost touch with: Web Pages That Suck. And then when the updated, "Biggest Mistakes in Web Design 1995-2015" article came out, I had a minor epiphany. Take a look at mistake number one:

These ladies are laughing at you. Why? You designed your web site for your needs, not their needs. It gets worse. After they stop laughing, they’re going to one of your competitors’ sites and buy something. ...

  1. The only reason my web site exists is to solve my customers’ problems.
  2. What problems does the page I’m looking at solve?

Too many organizations believe that a web site is about opening a new marketing channel or getting donations or to promote a brand or to increase company sales by 15%. No. It’s about solving your customers’ problems. Have I said that phrase enough?

Now, this is definitely something that's important to keep in mind when you're designing the web page or online catalog for your library, but how about expanding the idea just a bit and applying it to the library as a whole?

  1. The only reason my library exists is to solve my customers’ problems.
  2. What problems does the library service I’m looking at solve?

How many library services and/or programs exist to solve library customer's problems, and how many of them exist to solve the librarian's problems? And how many of those services that we think exist only to solve our customer's problems are designed in a way to make the service easier for the customer to use (not easier for the librarian, easier for the customer)?

  • Is your signage written in library jargon, or is it written in language the average human is able to understand?
  • Is your self-service holds pick-up section arranged by something your average customer is likely to instantly understand, like the customer's last name, or have you just used your library's standard classification system? (I'm looking at you, University of Arizona Library)
  • Is your self-checkout system easy enough for the average person to figure out, or does it require some not-readily apparent "magic gesture"? (I'm looking at you, Pima County Public Library)
  • Is your nifty new WiFi service public, or is it only available to library card holders (and then only after they've entered their 15-digit, impossible to remember library card number)?
  • Are your online databases directly available to folks who are logged into your WiFi network, or do they still have to enter their 15-digit impossible to remember library card number (again)? (Even if they wouldn't have to do this if they were using one of the library computers.)

I could go on, but I think those examples make my point.

Oh, and for the folks who dispute that the library exists solely to solve our customer's problems, and say that it also exists to preserve the information, knowledge, and wisdom of the world, I will say this:

Why is it so important to preserve all this information, knowledge, and wisdom?

Oh, that's right. It's because somebody will need to use that information, knowledge, and wisdom someday....