Speaker Deck

Pupils, Pop-Ups and Prototyping: applying human-centred design to library environments

by Paul-Jervis Heath

Published August 2, 2017 in Design

This presentation was first given at the 12th International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries.

The abstract from the conference site described it like this…

This session shared the methods of two Futurelib projects at Cambridge University Library: Protolib 1 and Protolib 2. The objective of both was to explore the needs of library users and create prototype library environments that satisfied those needs. These were documented through a set of patterns that could be applied across Cambridge Libraries. These design patterns enable librarians to rollout productive and inspiring library environments. The projects challenge assumptions about what a library can be by applying commercial human-centred design methods drawn from a variety of design disciplines to:
* understand user needs from observational design research;
* create pop-up prototypes of new environments;
* evaluate them using innovative methods like eyetracking (more often utilised in retail store design).

Both projects used a mixed-method approach more commonly used on commercial projects.

Protolib 1 explored the needs, attitudes, behaviour and values of library users using three discovery activities: a diary study, codesign workshops with undergraduates and postgraduates, baseline assessment of candidate prototype spaces. We then created 5 pop-up library environments, evaluated them quantitatively and qualitatively, then defined a set of design patterns.

Protolib 2 focused much more on the usability of physical spaces. Eyetracking was used in conjunction with shadowing to witness how people navigate the physical library space and find library resources. Wayfinding prototypes were deployed into representative libraries and evaluated by repeating the eyetracking and shadowing. This showed that our design interventions reduced the time taken to find a resource by 40%-60%. Results were documented as a set of design patterns for wayfinding.

The key findings relate to how people work, select a working environment, use that environment and how libraries can be better designed to meet those needs. In addition, the findings provide a number of easy steps that can be taken to make libraries easier to use.

Our design research indicates that there are five factors which dictate an individual’s working behaviour. their location, their daily routine, their attitude to work-life balance, their attitude to habit and their approach to planning. This workshop explores how these factors influence their working behaviour and their needs for work spaces.

People in our design research chose their working environment based on 3 factors: their intended length of stay, their activity and their own sense of wellbeing. We will explore the implication this has for the design of library spaces. Although the specific tasks and behaviours are different for each person, most academic work involves a hierarchy of primary, secondary and tertiary activities and these affect where and how people choose to work. We will define primary, secondary and tertiary activities and describe the requirements for each. We will describe how we saw people switching between these categories of task to extend their own focus and productivity and the correlation with a change of physical environment.

Our design research found that environments were defined by their level of intensity. We will define intensity and the characteristics of high, medium and low intensity spaces. We will describe how the intensity of a space influenced how people use the space and how we designed spaces with particular intensity profiles.

In addition to our findings that relate to working behaviour, the projects also uncovered some lower level findings directly related to the design of working environments. These included:

Small elements of personal control over their working environment creates a disproportionate sense of satisfaction with an environment (even if those features are not used).

Location and context are important indicators as to how spaces will be used.

More chairs does not mean a higher level of occupancy for a given space.

The purpose of a space should be clearly defined.

Boundary delineation increases the popularity of workstations.

There are two models for how students navigate a library space depending on their previous experience and mental model of a library.

We believe that the findings of our design research and the design patterns that we have created are applicable beyond Cambridge. Our findings provide a deep understanding of how people select library spaces in which to work based on observation design research. They have the potential to inform how we think of designing library spaces. The methods used provide an approach for assessing the usability of any physical library spaces. The design methods used for prototyping physical library spaces provide a cost-effective and rapid approach to developing library spaces that better meet the needs of students and researchers.

The result of these projects was a set of design patterns for library environments that document the different types of space that all libraries include. A design pattern is a re-usable solution to a design problem. An organised collection of design patterns that relate to a particular field is called a pattern language. These patterns describe how library spaces can be designed to meet library user’s needs and make a library more usable, more comfortable, more productive and more inspiring.

Protolib 2, specifically, also created a detailed package of macro- and micro-level signage patterns, the thinking behind which could easily be applied to any library environment.

The session will…

…describe the innovative methods of design research, prototyping and evaluation used. The methods will be applied to measuring the usability of physical library spaces and improving them qualitatively and quantitatively. The methods could also be applied to cost-effectively and rapidly prototyping new types of library spaces.
share the findings of design research which describe users’ space needs and patterns of use. These are likely to be common to researchers and students at other institutions.

…share the resultant design patterns which describe the important factors to consider when designing particular types of library environment. These design patterns have been tested using pop-up prototypes and shown to increase the usage of spaces and satisfaction with them. The session will explore how they can be applied to many academic library environments.

Participants will be given the opportunity to explore this project in an interactive workshop format through a mixture of presentation and practical exercises.