Here’s a few drawings I made not too long ago. I like to slap a piece of paper on the wall, usually something pretty good sized at head/chest level so that I feel like I’m confronting it, and then draw a diagram of my thoughts. Its really sketchbook type stuff, but for whatever reason when I’m confronted face-to-face with paper it transitions from simple thought diagram to simplified information landscape. I find it strangely satisfying to make these things.
After a few months off, I have decided that its time to come back to the blog. It was easy to sit around and rant in February while the world outside was cold and dreary, but when spring sprung I found myself out in the park with a book or a frisbee or a beer at the times when I would have written. I hope I still have a reader or two.
Where to begin?
I’m going to start by humbly eating some of my words. Kind of. I got really irked by a presentation a while back at the PLA conference called “Why we Borrow”, an adaptation of Envirosell/Paco Underhill’s “Why we Buy” book about tracking customer patterns in the retail environment. The results of their study were undoubtedly pretty cool and totally useful (download the powerpoint here), but my gripe was that librarians really ought to be doing things like this themselves rather than hiring outside consultants. Having begun to take a shot at such a thing myself, I believe I now understand why we depend on consultants for services like this. First, it is difficult and time consuming and most libraries are understaffed. Second, many public library systems are structured in such a manner that all of IT functions as a support service, completely divorced from the programmatic/public service side of the house. Without departments devoted to user experience, digital services, or digital initiatives, public libraries will not really be able to build a staff that is empowered and expected to create tools and studies akin to Envirosell’s. UNLESS: through collaboration we can all help eachother.
A couple of months ago, colleagues and I started scheming out a plan to do a building usage study for the Central Library at Brooklyn Public Library. The general idea is to borrow a lot of the methodology used for website usability studies and apply it to the physical architecture and overall service ecology of this particular library building. By tracking library patrons’ paths and decisions through space and time, we figure we can establish metrics describing weaknesses and strengths in our various service interfaces. If you ask 100 people in a study to locate “The Catcher in the Rye” and they all make similar mistakes or struggled next to the same sign, kiosk, library employee, or screen, then you can draw certain conclusions and make corrections based on them. As of now the plan is to use Google SketchUp Pro to extrude a 3d model of the building from a CAD file and then to actually graph people’s “journeys” as they perform these tasks (I hope this is not overambitious). The whole thing is really no different than the Envirosell project, the only real difference is that it takes advantage of free software. My suggestion is to sort of “open-source” the project development through a wiki so that other libraries and librarians can modify and improve the methodology. No, there’s nothing really that groundbreaking about that approach but at least it helps to empower a larger group of librarians as tool builders.
Now for the fun stuff…
In the meantime, while I’ve been trying to determine what I wanted to measure at the library and while discussing how to actually accomplish any of these goals, a few interesting and undoubtedly expensive services appeared in the news. I look at these as potential upgrades or improvements upon the Envirosell videocamera heavy approach (they shot 350 hours of video in the San Jose libraries). First is Path Intelligence and their product “FootPath, the only automated measurement technology that can continuously monitor the path that your shoppers or passengers take”. These Orwellian guys monitor cellphone signals to do this same journey-tracking work in retail environments, and you have to figure they do it with incredible accuracy. Then, fairly recently, I became aware of CitySense, a mobile app for the BlackBerry. THIS RULES. “Citysense shows the overall activity level of the city, top activity hotspots, and places with unexpectedly high activity, all in real-time. Then it links to Yelp and Google to show what venues are operating at those locations.” CitySense is similar to Stamen’s streaming visualization project “Cabspotting” which tracks the volume of cabs in San Francisco in real time, only it is far more powerful because it is available on a mobile device. What if CitySense could be implemented on a smaller level, just in one public building? What if a teen is able to activate “LibrarySense” on his or her mobile phone and use it to determine where in the building other people with similar interests are congregating? Wouldn’t this effectively turn every other patron in the building into a blip that you opt to have displayed on your mobile based on preferences and settings? This would mean you can skip traditional “social networking” practices and infer characteristics of blips by observing their actual behaviors. Think about that- that’s deep! All of your Facebook and Myspace crap really is just a transition into a much richer social/digital/virtual world environment soon to come.
If any readers are actually interested in taking a crack at this building usage methodology, drop a comment and I’ll create a wiki for us to collaborate on. I’m winging this, but I think there’s potential to do something here. Thanks for reading, its good to be back, I’m gonna go watch some fireworks.
This is utter genius. Thanks to my pal Jess over at bananasarebeautiful for pointing me to it.
This just in: HOLY CRAP. Its not a joke.
“Just as fat has replaced starvation as (the US’s) number one dietary concern, information overload has replaced information scarcity as an important new emotional, social, and political problem.”
This totem pole-style monstrosity of a chart you are looking at represents the perpetual beta state of good service design. I’ve snagged and manipulated Jesse James Garrett’s beautiful chart, The Elements of User Experience. Download the original pdf here and marvel that this was done in the year 2000. Garrett was clear that his picture is incomplete, that it does not “account for secondary considerations” and that it “does not describe a development process”. Just for thrills and in the crudest of ways I tried to add that dimension to his chart; the iterative development process is illustrated with repetition. Enjoy.
Taking a brief break from writing because I’ve got like 847656483 things to read. If all I do is write and never read, I’ll become an awfully boring writer. Before I take this break (which could be 2 days or could be 12 days, you never know), I want to leave you with a sentiment from Michael Bierut of Design Observer. I picked up his book, 79 short essays on design (basically a best-of-the-blog), and in the first paragraph of the first essay he says:
Graphic Designers are lucky. As the people who structure much of the world’s communications, we get to vicariously partake of as many fields of interest as we have clients. In a single day, a designer talk about real estate with one client, cancer cures with another, and forklift trucks with a third.
Librarians get to enjoy this same privledge, whether they are librarians designing service interfaces and creating pathfinders or they are organizing programs and working at reference desks. It is our responsibility to be well-rounded. There’s nothing worse than when a profession or subject matter gets too self-absorbed, too introspective. I know that I’ve always been annoyed by art that is about art… the kind of stuff that you have to have a degree in art history and know the work of 4 other people just to relate to the piece. Libraries and librarians with libro-centric tunnel vision should look to this attitude that Beirut is putting out there. We’ll all be better at our jobs if we do this.
So, like I said, I’m going to read some other stuff for a while. I’ll be back.
One other thing:
Just became aware that John Maeda will be doing the AIGA NY Fresh Dialogue 24. That will be awesome. Go to it.
In the study of decorative arts, furniture is often referred to as microarchitecture. Perhaps one of the most literal examples of furniture emulating an architectural style is the “skyscraper furniture” of Paul T. Frankl. I had the good fortune of buying a Frankl-attributed piece some years back, and sadly the time just came to pass on this amazing bookshelf to a new owner. Below I’ve posted a picture of this exceptional piece of microarchitecture (in order to publicly immortalize it before it becomes a treasure in someone else’s private collection), a scan from the cover of Frankl’s 1928 classic book “New Diemnsions”, and links to a few resources about Frankl.
3) Search Abebooks for Frankl’s writing, New Dimensions (1928), Space for Living (1938), and Form and Reform (1930). Space for Living is a real treasure in terms of modernist graphic layout- this book is a piece of design history in and of itself.
This is going to be slightly in broken English since its a new idea… but I think its worth developing. My earlier post, “Lets build a prototype” received some worthwhile criticism. But I think I have a new and improved idea…
- phone > phone service
- ipod > itunes store
- kindle > amazon store
I was talking about library “cards” in this post, really just because of our familiarity with this object and its design mappings. But it should be clear that when you change the function of an object, you change the form of the object. If we add functionality to library “cards”, they no longer need to be card-shaped, right? The “card” takes on another form, maybe a keychain, a flash drive, a bluetooth device, or some other library-specific, branded device or service avatar.