Design Thinking

Applying design thinking to solve a library service design problem.


This project was part of an IMLS grant funded research fellowship at the University of Michigan Hatcher Graduate Library. I was accepted as a research fellow to join the LIbrary as Research Lab: Design Thinking for Library Services team for the 2018-2019 academic year. The team was comprised of Laurie Alexander, AUL, Meghan Sitar, Director of Connected Scholarship, Justin Schell, Director Shapiro Design Lab, Caroline Wack, MSI, Sophia McFadden-Keesling, MSI, and myself. Our design lab collaborated with the Library Lifecycle team to create a piece of a service design toolkit for librarians.


Over the summer of 2018 the Library Lifecycle team at the University of Michigan conducted interviews with a range of people from the University of Michigan community (students, grad students, PhD candidates, professors, etc.). The goal of the project was to look at designing beyond personas, to truly design for the actual varied and messy community that exists on the Ann Arbor campus. Before starting with the Library Lifecycle team, I was tasked with learning about design thinking. I was given the book The Design innovation Handbook by Lori Mitchell and tasked with reading its contents to familiarize myself with the design thinking process. I was hooked. We were then introduced to the project (as laid out in the above section) and sent off running. To go beyond personas the Library Lifecycle team created a game of sorts. This is the point where my team entered the project.

A lo-fi prototype of the "game board"


The first thing we did was play through the game that the Library Lifecycle team had created. It was an interesting game. Each player was handed six identity cards (Financial, Previous Schooling, Health, Family, Why I Came to UM, and Study Style) and given a short amount of time to create a character around those identity cards on a lo-fi worksheet. The identity cards were created from compiling and coding the interview data that the Lifecycle team had curated over the summer. After everyone was finished writing down their backstory for their character we shared out. The next step was to select a "group event card" that a campus-wide impact event on it. We flipped a graffiti card, someone had spray painted something offensive on campus. Players were then invited to react to the event or pass on reacting. The next step was to select a "personal event" card. Each person took a turn selecting a card and reacting to it out loud. Then we ran out of time. We dispersed and each grad student was tasked with iterating upon the initial prototype separately.

I decided that the game needed to be formalized, so I created a structured worksheet. I also thought that the game needed some sort of place in the design process. In its current state the game stood by itself and did not make a whole lot of sense, there needed to be some kind of connection to thinking about design. I added a set of questions at the beginning of the exercise and again at the end of the exercise as an attempt to bridge those gaps.

After the first session, the other research fellows and I worked together to create a second prototype. We all agreed that the game needed to sit in a design toolkit for designing services and that it needed pieces added to it that would facilitate that bridging. We decided that overall the game needed to be less formalized. It was also at this point that we decided this artifact should not be called a game, but an exercise. Gamifying portions of peoples identities felt wrong and trivial, by calling this an exercise it felt like it would sit better with potential users. We added a facilitation guide, typed up all of the different exercise pieces (identity cards, group event cards, personal event cards, worksheets), and thought that the exercise needed some element of journey mapping. We also felt strongly that we needed to add more categories of identity cards. We struggled with the boundaries of where to stop when trying to pin down elements of identities but we eventually staled on three additional categories: gender, race, and sexuality.

We went through usability testing with the Library Diversity Council (LDC). From that testing we learned that the exercise played like a game, we should emphasize that players are creating individuals and their responses to situations are not representative of identity groups. We also learned that we needed a unifying element to the game to bring the characters into more conversation.

After we made the necessary changes to the prototype we performed three more rounds of usability testing. Each group of usbaility testing had between five and six librarians present to interact with the prototype. We tested different forms of the game/exercise and made changes based on the feedback we received.

The final product


It was clear through the usability testing that what we created and set out to accomplish worked. At every point during the usability testing at least two librarians said something along the lines of "I don't really know x about this group of potential users, I guess I need to do more research." What we created is sort of the opposite of personas. Personas get you to think about what buckets your potential users fit into, this gamercize gets you to think about the groups that you might be forgetting, and to do some research into those groups before making the decision to include or exclude them from the design process.

What a user will receive when they arrive to play the gamercise
Up close look at the eight identity cards

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