Tuesday, 24 March 2015

It's a conference, Jim, but not as we know it. UXLibs, Cambridge 2015

Conferences are great. You get to meet people you don’t know (or more likely see people you do know and sit next to them) while you watch some presentations and drink lots of coffee. But UXLibs was a conference like no other. Rather than sit there and hope that the ideas people were talking about would somehow become embedded in your mind, waiting to be drawn upon at a later date, at UXLibs you had to learn something. Then do it. In real life. With real people. In a matter of hours. Scary! 

St Catherine's College Cambridge, the beautiful venue for the conference.
Photo: St Catherine's College by Abraham Chacko.
Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

For the conference, all delegates were divided into separate teams and given the following mission:

Create a product, concept, or service that you could implement which increases awareness and use of library resources and services. Your proposal could solve a specific problem, offer an alternative approach, meet an unmet need, or completely re-imagine an existing service.

But this product or concept couldn't be something teams just dreamt up. Oh no. This was a user experience conference (if you were wondering what the UX stood for), we needed to employ ethnographic research methods to collect our data, go through a process of ideation driven by the outcomes of the fieldwork to determine our idea and then pitch it Dragon's Den style in a competition against other teams. All in three days. Yes, everyone was exhausted.

Librarian as explorer

On the first morning we attended workshops designed to equip us with the knowledge and skills needed to go out into the wilds of Cambridge and conduct our fieldwork. We learned a range of ethnographic techniques, from cognitive mapping, retrospective process interviews, the AEIOU framework for observation, touchstone tours and love-breakup-letters. The aim? To fully understand the experiences, views and feelings of library users.

After a quick lunch we were off to put our money (or Amazon vouchers) where our mouths were and conduct our studies. There was some initial fear - what are we doing, where are we going, we have to conduct three interviews now!? quickly followed by a feeling of elation that yes, this was achievable and wow, we've gained some fantastic insights!

Librarian as designer 

Team Green Eggs and Ham's ideations
Day two brought with it the concept of ideation (idea creation), with workshops focussing on how we could synthesise the data we’d collected the previous day and techniques for formulating ideas based on it. These included empathy maps, affinity maps and the 6-8-5 technique.

Warning: do not attempt the process of ideation without an ample supply of post-its.

Librarian as sales person

Day three was pitch day! Paul-Jervis Heath delivered an immensely useful session on selling ideas in the morning and afterwards we were off to finesse our idea and craft a persuasive presentation.

In the afternoon all the teams pitched their concepts. It was amazing to see the depth of research and the variety of ideas that could be created in such a short period of time - an absolute testament to the effectiveness of the methods used and everyone's hard work.

The team I was in didn't win, but it honestly didn't seem to matter, there was a palpable sense of achievement among all delegates at the end of the conference. And, having actually put what was taught into practice there, I felt equipped and confident to do so again when I got back to work. A great outcome!

Jessica Stephens, Communications and Marketing Officer 

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