The Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library is resource-rich and architecturally stunning; however, finding resources in its physical space is difficult and confusing. Through a comprehensive process of research and need-finding, ideation, prototyping, and user testing, we designed an app that helps the patrons of the Seattle Public Library easily explore and navigate to resources in the library space.
One of the core goals of libraries is providing access to a wide range of information and services to the general public. However, the visitors of the Seattle Public Library Central Branch face a major barrier in accessing its abundance of resources: not being able to locate what they need in the library space. There is a lack of connection between the information and the architectural space of the library; as a result, library staff are often answering basic questions about how to access information.
Our app helps the patrons of the Seattle Public Library Central Branch easily navigate through the physical space of the library in relation to its resources, helping visitors create a mental map to easily find what they are looking for, thereby freeing up library staff from basic questions in order to engage in more outreach programs.
Through a comprehensive process of research and need-finding, problem definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing with users, we designed our app and final demo video.
My contribution spanned across the entire design process, including planning and conducting primary and secondary research, synthesizing research insights, creating sitemaps and task flows, ideation, creating mockups, and user testing.
We began our need-finding process by conducting primary research in the form of librarian and patron interviews and observation. We learned about the main challenges that librarians and patrons have with the library, and by exploring and studying the space ourselves, experienced them first-hand. We also visited other branches of the library to understand their own experiences and relationship to the Central Branch.
To supplement our primary research, we audited the existing official library website, researched the architectural design of the building, and compared analogous indoor wayfinding experiences.
As the user story started to unfold around difficulties navigating the library, we wanted to dig deeper into the user's digital experience. We created sitemaps of the official library website to get a better understanding of the existing resources, how they're organized, and how they might be accessed in different ways, helping us understand how the library's navigational issues existed online as well.
There's an abundance of valuable resources in the library, but they're scattered and difficult to locate resources in the physical space.
Navigating within the library is confusing, resulting in patrons getting lost and librarians constantly answering navigational questions.
The Central Branch library is a hub for other libraries, leaving other branches also unclear about how to navigate the Central Branch.
After defining our scope, we began thinking about how to define our user experience using task flows. Each task flow represented three different use cases we identified to be critical to the app's experience: searching for a specific book, exploring main areas and tourist areas, and connecting patrons to librarians.
During ideation, a few specific things we riffed on included different ways to organize content such as resources and architectural information, what a map view could look like and how to interact with it, and ways we could use visual cues during navigation in order to make moving through the space easier and more intuitive.
Next, we created high-fidelity mockups that were closer to what the real experience would be like. I helped our team move forward by ideating and working together to see what designs could best respond to our identified user needs, and iterating based on feedback to improve the designs.
The visual style of the app honors the original branding of the Seattle Public Library, reflecting its elegant and classic, yet open and modern persona.
We conducted user testing to see what was working well and how we could improve our design with Central Branch patrons and librarians. We gained validation that the general app experience was intuitive and valuable, and mainly received constructive feedback around visual design, including polishing the home page design, smoothing out animations to reflect the peaceful nature of the library, and clarifying the visual cues used in the map and navigation in order to improve the wayfinding experience.
View our final demo video below for a more detailed walkthrough of the final prototype!
Our proposed solution of an indoor navigation system may introduce additional technological costs for the library. To consider feasibility, we looked into what implementation looked like and found that there is existing, affordable Bluetooth beacon technology for indoor navigation.
During this project, I experienced how research methods, when combined, can paint a comprehensive picture of the user story. By conducting primary research and layering it with supplementary secondary research, we were able to unfold interesting insights and draw the connecting thread between them to better understand the problem.
When thinking about how to elevate the user experience, I was reminded to always think about the app being used in context. By considering the way patrons would actually use the app while in the library, we were led to ideate around more innovative patterns, such as contextual and visual keywords to guide patrons as they navigate (e.g. "Walk toward the computer counters" with a linked image of the counters) and incorporating a transitory stage while you're on the escalator to communicate the system's status to the patron.
This project also opened my eyes to the societal benefit of libraries. Libraries are more than just book-keeping institutions; they're community centers with an astonishing amount of program and resources for underserved populations, where everyone is welcome and learning is accessible to all.
This project is no longer in progress, but here's what our next steps would have been if we had more time:
• Additional user testing and improvement
• Scalability of implementation in other branches
• Improve accuracy, readability, and visual style of maps
• Closer consideration of language accessibility for ESL patrons