I was thrilled to be a part of the LITA Top Tech Trends discussion at the ALA Midwinter Meeting a few days ago. Tech Trends veterans in attendance (or following along online) might have noticed a slightly different format to the session — each of the five panelists presented a single trend, turned it over to the group for discussion and comment, then we moved on to the next panelist/trend. The second half of the session was devoted to e-Books. As a complete novice (my only experience with an ALA conference prior to Midwinter was the joint CLA/ALA conference held in Toronto in 2003, and even then, as a newly-minted, extremely overwhelmed librarian, all I could manage to take in was the exhibits), I thought the format worked quite nicely. Jason Griffey, Lauren Pressley, Joe Murphy, David Walker and Gregg Silvis made it fun.
No prizes for guessing that my contribution to the discussion (my “trend”, although I hesitate to call it that) was user experience. I definitely think “user experience” was one of the buzzwords (phrases?) in libraryland in 2009, so I considered it worth talking about. Here are my notes from the session.
One of the biggest problems with UX is that no one can really agree on what it means. The information architecture and related design world has been talking about UX for number of years, but in the library world, it’s still pretty fresh to our ears. Literally, user experience design is about designing everything from environments and buildings, to services and products, to technology: hardware, software, and of course, websites and other digital environments.
It’s that last one I’m mostly interested in for the purposes of this discussion. I think it’s the slice of UX that is really trending in terms of technology and the web environment. And user experience in a digital environment is about visual design coupled with interaction design, and how the combination of both visual and interaction design make our users feel.
Right now, the trend we’re seeing in the UX world is a focus on emotional design (how the visual design + interactions make our users feel). It’s not just about what our users can do on our sites or whether or not they can get what they want when they go to a website, but what the holistic experience of that process is like. In the library world, on the other hand, we’re not quite there yet. We’re still figuring out the interface design and interaction part of things.
This is not a bad thing. I actually think it’s a good thing. Because, realistically, if our users can’t find what they are looking for on our websites and in our catalogues and on our various web applications, i think we can take a pretty accurate guess at how that makes them feel!
The trend-y bits
The emerging importance of mobile platforms is a great jumping off point for talking about interaction design and libraries. Mobile interfaces are necessarily stripped of design elements because those elements are too resource intensive. When you’re dealing with mobile browsing on small-format screens, you don’t have the real estate, bandwidth, or time to deal with anything but the essentials.
Personally, when it comes to mobile browsing, if I visit a site on my phone that does not have a mobile version, I will spend maybe 5 seconds looking for what I want. If I don’t see it on the home page, I won’t go any further. And if I don’t find it at all, I leave (usually cursing).
There’s evidence in the usability literature that users are starting to seek out mobile versions of websites even when they are not using mobile devices. This is definitely behaviour I see in myself — I have a pretty awesome screen on my laptop, with plenty of real estate, where I can (and do) happily appreciate a well designed website. But, more and more I find myself seeking out mobile versions of sites even on my laptop because those sites provide just the essential functionality with none of the clutter. Goodreads mobile and Amazon mobile are two examples.
What does this mean? Well, I think it means that the mobile experience and changing user expectations will force us to reverse engineer the user experience of our websites and other online applications. It’s already happening in the broader design world, and I think the more experience libraries have with designing interactions and interfaces for our mobile users, the more we’re going to take our cues from those stripped down interfaces and get back to basics with our regular websites and search apps.
2 bonus UX-related trends for libraries
- The conversation about UX analytics is happening. Measuring the user experience isn’t easy, but it’s a conversation we need to have so that we can come up with some metrics together.
- Automated usability testing services continue to grow and provide functionality we should be taking advantage of. Services like Crazy Egg, Usabilla, and userfly are paid services that do some good work tracking clicks, providing heatmaps, and such. NYPL Labs’ Infomaki, while not quite as automated as those other services, can probably fit into this category too (we’ve got it working at my library and I’ll be setting up some tests… any day now).
Update: Check out Lauren’s and Jason’s write-ups of the trends they talked about at the session, too.