There have been a recent spat of questions and job postings on the Code4Lib listserv around User Experience Design, and after all these years of user blaming, it is nice to see a growing appreciation for UX in the Libraries domain. While librarians ARE a subset of library users, they’ve had too much influence, and have unfortunately brought bias to the design process that has created obstacles for the broader user base.

People I talk to often confuse Usability with User Experience. The way I see it, Usability skills are a subset of User Experience. If you can hire two people, awesome. If I had to choose one, I would opt to fill a User Experience role. It is at least one full-time job, ideally of higher rank due to its “big picture” nature. I like the idea of a usability committee or working group, with the UX expert as a chair.

I made a list of a few skills and abilities my ideal User Experience Designer would have in their toolbox. It’s unlikely you will get them all in one candidate, but it may give you an idea of which niches you need to fill, given your current team:

Creativity and Audacity

Design is inherently mixed with organization and culture, and in order to solve design problems a UX designer has to be willing to rethink and change long-standing traditions and culture. A great UX designer must be able to question EVERYTHING without being abrasive.

Diplomacy and Influence

You can’t do the above without being good at building relationships, forming consensus, negotiating, etc. Ideally the position would have enough power in the org to be at the table for major decisions, but then again, influence does not always come from hierarchical rank.

Usability Interviewing, Testing, and Analytics

Understanding, empathizing with, and advocating for ALL the users of your systems is critical, and collecting data to form and back up your arguments is a prerequisite. UX people have to talk to users about their goals, test ideas with prototypes, and collect and interpret stats/analytics. Testing is not only about whether a feature could be improved, but whether it should be there at all. A great UX designer must identify and prioritize the right problems to solve.

Visual Thinking/Literacy

A great UX designer should have a good design sense, and be able to put the elements and principles of design to work in the idea pitch, information architecture, and design process.

Content Strategy

What is the overall vision of the org and how is that message delivered? What message is currently being delivered via neglect of an overall strategy? The lack of a content strategy is one reason why so many library websites are filled with pages that are piles of links.

Interaction Design

In libraries, where budgets can be an issue, this person should be able to put together wireframes, prototypes, and final HTML/CSS/JS designs, and most importantly be able to sketch ideas with a pencil. Of course, this could be an entirely different, more technical position, but it’s a great asset if you can find it.