Opening Keynote: Aaron Schmidt

Opening Keynote Presentation—Useful, Usable and Desirable: Library User Experience Design

presenter: Aaron Schmidt

Submitted by Allison Smith

23 July 2014

Aaron Schmidt, from Influx Library User Experience, delivered the opening keynote address at the 82nd ABQLA Annual Conference: Libraries by Design. The presentation, entitled “Useful, Usable and Desirable: Library User Experience Design,” was a perfect start to the conference, inspiring us with ideas for designing not only our physical and virtual spaces, but also library interactions and the purpose of libraries.

Libraries are much more than their circulation stats, and a strategy that relies simply on books is not a solid foundation for success.  Schmidt stressed innovation, urging libraries to move away from a transactional “grocery store model of librarianship” which is leading to a 24-hour automated kiosk paradigm at the expense of richer experience. A focus on tools is blinding us from thinking about people’s motivations (as he put it, “No one wakes up and says ‘Hey, I really want to use my measuring cups today;’ ” rather, they want to make something to cheer a friend).

Reminding us that we are not designing for ourselves and that we are not our patrons, Schmidt outlined a far-reaching platform for library design. He argued that empathy is an important part of the design process, helping libraries to connect with people and anticipate problems. Amongst other things, Schmidt recommends:

Do a signage audit to look out for signs that are unclear, ugly, or unfriendly; re-evaluate signs—and policies—that discourage behaviours that could enhance user experience, like cellphone use.

Consider simplifying the catalogue records and terminology to deliver what users need.

Observe and take note of behaviour in the library and online (through usability testing), and prototype solutions to make users’ experiences more pleasant and efficient.

Schmidt also suggested going on service safaris to systematically think about service you experience elsewhere, and to bring ideas home.

Schmidt said, “we must close the gap between how we understand the library and how our users perceive the library.” He gave some innovative examples from around the world that are redesigning the purpose of libraries, which is to empower and solve problems for their community. Examples included different collections (e.g. tools, bakeware, light therapy lamps), new content experience (like a cookbook book club, where patrons share food and discuss recipes), community partnering both inside the library and establishing library presence elsewhere, creation spaces (e.g musical instruments and recording spaces), community-inspired services (e.g. a nurse or social worker on staff, vegetable basket pick-up, cafe employing local homeless), and community publishing to capture local enthusiasm and expertise.

Schmidt’s presentation was well received, and the ideas discussed set the tone for a successful 2014 conference. When thinking of design in our libraries, remember that, as Schmidt noted, “Every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements.”

For more, please see Aaron Schmidt’s slides at .


Robin Canuel (L) and Aaron Schmidt (R)

Robin Canuel (L) and Aaron Schmidt (R)