UXLibs V – Culture Eats the Design Process for Breakfast – 19 June 2019


I thought that this was a great opportunity to try out a few things that might add value to the presentation and I had a great idea. The idea was, that you have a mobile app to go along with the presentation.  The app will allow you to answer a number of questions as we go through,  provide a transcript of what I’m saying for those who find it hard to understand my accent and  it would also link up with the UXLibs hash tag on social media and allow you to tweet directly from the app.   But since I don’t have that ready yet, we are going to try out a some more low-fi alternatives to gather more data.   When I ask a question, to respond ‘yes’ just raise your hand, to respond ‘no’ don’t.  Instead of a transcript on the phone, you have and printed version on your seat, and as for social media, just follow along directly on twitter.

I also, didn’t have time to finish all the slides, but I think it’s better to get something out there that isn’t perfect, so I have included several draft slides in there.

Does everyone understand? (Q-YES and NO)

UXLibs Community

Over the past four years, the #UXLibs community has undertaken a cross section of UX research activities and we have gained and shared some useful insights into how our library users behave.   I have been to other intuitions to talk about the work I have been doing and I’ve had people come to Hull and talk about the work they have been doing.  UX has taken me around the UK and as far as the US and I’ve met some amazing people.  At the Brynmor Jones library in Hull we’ve made some very positive service improvements based on insights that we have gained from UX research.

Frustration and Disappointment

However, early on last year I found myself feeling really disappointed and frustrated by the lack in UX being embedded in our general work and processes, it was something that we did on the side and something that I thought many didn’t see the value off.  Has anyone else in the room has similar feelings? (Q-YES and NO)

Time to reflect

This made me reflect a lot, about the environment in which I work and about myself and how I conducted the work. So, why isn’t it being embedded more?

Maybe it has something to do with communication? I often wasn’t very good at communication where services changes had come from, certainly not to library staff. They had no idea that the location changes of printers in the building was a result of UX research, or that we moved lap-top loans out of the silent study area based on insights we gathered.  I wondered if staff weren’t seeing the direct value of the research because there was no connection there. General staff in the library certainly didn’t have access to the data and they didn’t know what library users were saying.  That certainly felt like a possibility.

Maybe some people find it hard to work with qualitative data, it’s too fuzzy, grey and they get unnerved but it. After all, we work in libraries,  we like order and numbers.

There were a multitude of reasons that could impact on embedding UX but I started to think, may it’s because in Hull, we don’t prototype! Hadley ever! And that opened a huge world of questions around why that might be.

The design process

If we think about the design process:

Schwartz, Y. & Davis, A. (2017) Think less do more: how design doing can impact organisational structure and help create a user-centred culture. In Priestner, A.(ed) User Experience in Libraries Yearbook 2017. Cambridge: UX In Libraries, 150-154.


Are people familiar with this process? (Q- YES & NO)

I am really good at the first part of this, I have teams,  I am really good at gathering data,  we have a lot of data in Hull,  I am even good at analysing and sorting that data, I really love that bit, and I’m really good at coming up with solutions.  Great!   But that’s when we often fail to follow the design process.

I think there are two possibilities at this point:

  1. you hit a wall, you don’t move on you don’t make changes and you just sit on what you know and find it difficult to get progress with your ideas.

Does that feel like anyone in this room (Q- YES & NO)

  1. what we often do is leap! I’ve called it ‘The Hull Leap’. (Absolutely nothing to do with my institution,  it’s just because I live there!),  maybe I should call it the ‘Fear Leap’ instead.   We get our idea and we move directly to implementation! We implement a full-on solution, a perfect solution.  we often miss out the prototype and test stages.

Making Leaps

I recommended that we have a coffee cart on our ground floor to cater for the grab and go market because queues were too long. What happened?  We build a huge ‘cart’ which was more like a café in its own right.  The reality is that we had to remove it a year later because it was not sustainable.  Because of other new outlets on campus, there just wasn’t the staff to manage it.  So, we raised expectations, delivered something perfect and then took it away!  I think probably worse than just doing anything in the first place. People really liked the coffee cart!

Prototype and test

The thing is ‘prototype’ and ‘test’ are in the design process for a good reason, for me they are the most important part of it. They ensure that you deliver the best possible final solution in the implementation stage, prototype and test allow you to learn, to gather more data.   But, they are stages where things are not perfect and there is a higher risk of failure,  and that’s the issue.

So why if I believe that, do I not do it!?

Anyone else feel like that? (Q- YES & NO)

Why do we make leaps and hit walls

Do I not feel empowered to try something new? Do I worry what might happen if I fail?  Do I worry that I won’t be supported through that failure?  Am I scared that I’ll be told off? Do I worry about being blamed for something? And who am I scared of!?  Has anyone here had those thoughts, or similar?    (Q- YES & NO)


So, perhaps this is really a cultural issue, maybe I work in a broken culture.

History, legacy and learnt behaviours

I think everyone has issues that are a legacy of events that happened at some point in the past, we might have been shouted at, we might have been treated badly,  we might have also been bullied.  Those behaviours become seen as acceptable, they become learnt over time. The feelings you have as a result last for a very long time.  It all becomes part of our working culture.

I have an incredibly supportive line manager and the director of our library is also incredibly supportive of the work I do. If I fail, I will be supported by them, I will not be judged and they will help me learn and put things right.  Yet I still don’t prototype.   So maybe, that’s not where the support needs to come from.  I think you need everyone to be supportive.  Maybe you need a fundamental change to your working culture to enable you to move through the design process, maybe if we feel supported by our colleagues, empowered to protype and brave enough to fail, we will start to embed UX in everything we do.

There is the dilemma!   You first must acknowledge as a library, as an institution that you have a problem.  I think that’s a very hard thing to do. BUT WE DID THAT!

Building better leaders teams and culture

Our Director initiated a project titled ‘Building better leaders, teams and culture’ which set out to address the issues I mentioned, along with others. This really excited me.

The project was split into 5 themes, these came about following workshops and interviews undertaken by external facilitators:

  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Leadership and Management
  • Behaviours
  • Being part of something

I was lucky enough to be asked to co-lead two themes. Communications and Trust.  This is where I saw an opportunity.  Gathering and working with qualitative data is something that I’ve become comfortable with and I ran a UX project looking at staff space and technology a while back so, I knew that UX methodologies had multiple applications, it’s not always just about those using our libraries.

UX also seemed to be a good fit for this type of work too. I really wanted to get some meaningful data, particularly around trust (which is where I’ll focus) and it would get a lot more people involved.

For the first time ever, the project wasn’t led by senior management, they sponsored the project, but I certainly made sure that my project team took ownership. Right at the start I was asked “We’ve seen all this before, nothing even changes, why will this time be different?” – A great question and probably the hardest I had though the whole project- and there were some very uncomfortable moments.  My response was simply, that I wasn’t responsible for ensuring the project was a success, that responsibility was down to everyone involved.  They had said that they wanted change, and it was everyone’s responsibility to deliver it.

The trust theme group consisted of seven staff members, all who volunteered to work on the project. Those seven people went out and conducted semi structured interviews with library staff in their teams.  We interviewed every member of library staff at all levels.  We wanted everyone’s stories and we wanted everyone to feel involved.  This to me was an important part of developing the culture.  The response was tremendous!  I’ve seen big amounts of data before; but this was something else.  The willingness to get on board and the willingness to tell those stories showed a real appetite for change, a real appetite to develop our culture, and for me a real possibility to start embedding, not just UX,  but the whole design process in everything we do.

Using UX to understand and transform culture

I went through my ‘go to’ process to get to our end point, which took far longer than anticipated due to the amount and quality of data we had:

  • Story telling
  • Data download
  • Affinity mapping (more affinity mapping within data themes)
  • Identified issues (and positives)
  • How Might We
  • 6-8-5
  • How, Now, WOW

Quick wins and longer term goals

We came out with several quick wins and longer-term goals. I’ll mention just four quick wins because this talk isn’t really about that project.

  • Changed the dress code so everyone felt trusted to ware suitable clothes to work
  • Changes to sickness reporting policy
  • All projects be managed in the same way as this project going forward
  • Working practice groups be set up in all team

So what about embedding the design process?

Things are changing and I think people have started to let go of those legacy learnt behaviours and fears. We have started to think a lot more about the whole design process in everything are a doing,  certainly in the way one of our teams has developed working practices,  they are actually prototyping different ways was working to understand how things might work better in the future,  all staff in the team have been responsible to making that work, not the manager.  They have been supported through the process.  This for me is huge.

Where does it leave me?

I have two pieces of UX work ongoing this year, the first is based around frontline services which is being undertaken by a group of five staff members and with a team leader taking the lead, supported by me.   This is a two-year plan of UX work has ethics approval and using multiple UX methodologies, it’s very exciting.

Live with the data

A key learning point I have taken is to make this visible! My office wall has been full of post-its all containing data from our students. I spoke earlier about how there was little connection in the past with UX research and changes made, this is allowing people to see the work and the feedback we are getting. I have even had staff in the office offering solutions to issues on the board.

Allowing staff at all levels to engage with the data and not fear it, has had significant impact on the perception of my work (I think/hope!).

Low-Fi prototypes

Another this that I have done is start to prototype, and Low-fi prototypes too. Andy Priester said that the four most important words are ‘It’s only a prototype’.  We put white board sheets on our windows and asked people to write their feedback on whether sunshades would work.  They didn’t look great, but they did the job and we got some great feedback. We are now looking at options for something more permanent.  It’s also something the staff can see happening and see the data we get back.

The second is very much representative of a project that York University Library ran which is looking at academic engagement and understanding how the library fit into the development of academic modules. I initiated the work and have co-led it along with two of our librarians.  This work also has ethics approval which I now think is good practice and important.

But back to me, I don’t think I work within the perfect culture, what is perfect after all? I do find myself working in a developing culture that has started to allow the design process to happen.  I feel more empowered to try thing and I feel that I’ll be supported though failure, not just by my line manager, but by my peers.  And for me, that’s the important bit, that’s where that support needs to come from.   I feel that I’m braver,  I feel like UX and the design process is being embedded more,  but more importantly, I feel like I am able to make the huge leap into the prototype phase, where things aren’t perfect there is a higher risk of failure.

Back to video games

To wrap up, I want to go back to where my first slide started and think about video games. Video games have come a long way over the years, from a simple game like pong to games where we can interact with each other in multi-player worlds even though we may be on different continents. Games like Fortnight.   But I don’t think that is all to do with technology.  If you provided the guys who created pong with all of today’s technology, I don’t think they we would have come up with much more than what they did. They certainly wouldn’t have developed Fortnite . That’s because, they need to get there. There have been some great games over the years, but there have also been some horrendous ones.  It takes a lot of learning, a lot of testing and many iterations to get to Fortnite or Sea of Thieves.  And that’s why we need to prototype, we need to learn from our mistakes to ultimately develop something better.

This session wasn’t perfect

This session wasn’t perfect, I didn’t have the app,   I used some draft slides.  But did it need to be,  did that really matter? Did you think any less of me?

Perfect isn’t always the best!   Prototyping, testing and learning is!

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