Planning for Humans: User-Based Design

Understanding Impact of Environment on User Success

Lets explore user based design and how the environment can impact user success.  We will also talk more about the communal nature of your changing space.  While bearing in mind, we may no longer be talking about a single, traditional space.  

Create a team either within your individual schools or role play this exercise within this class.  Decide who needs to be on the planning team, why they are significant, and develop a plan to engage this key group of stakeholders to engage in the process of planning a new school library concept.  The team must be composed of individuals willing to share and learn from each other.  People who understand your school culture, know how to work within it and want to improve student performance.  

The goal is to discover and prototype an alternative school library.  The library may be a single space, multiple spaces, virtual, some combination or a totally different information resource unique to your school. 

In approaching user based design there are three elements to consider: Desirability, Feasibility and Viability.  Desirability is simply what the user desires, what they need and why it is important.  Feasibility looks at the technical and organizational requirements to provide what the user has requested.  In a school library that would include space, infrastructure, skilled staffing and leadership to oversee the program.  Inadequate availability of any of these factors can marginalize the program and under serve the user’s needs. This aspect of the design process can not be underscored enough.  And the last issue is always Viability or is the undertaking financially viable.  When considering costs it is key to both understand the immediate cost and the sustainability costs both for moving ahead and delaying.  Costs rarely become cheaper over time and today many school districts are forced to compete for students against neighboring, charter and private schools.  Providing a well thought out, engaging learning environment is now a tool for student retention and recruitment.

IDEO and the Design School at Sanford has developed a toolkit to guide teams through creative, user-based change.  They use a formula they chunk into three areas: Hear, Create, Deliver.  

IDEO uses the terminology “deep dive” to begin your Hear phase.  You use your observation tools and ask questions of a representational group of users.  That should include people who frequent the library and who rarely or never come.  You want to hear a diverse group of stories from potential users as well as heavy users.  You are defining the needs; use the AEIOU tools from earlier in the course.  It is extremely important in this phase not to superimpose any bias into the process.  Don't explain away comments.  Ask for clarification and examples whenever possible.  You want to develop empathy for the users, listen to their learning goals, and how they want to demonstrate knowledge. 

The team’s work is to compile a plan through observation, questioning, and listening.  From their research, themes for the library will be developed along with what opportunities this solution provides the users.  The group must develop a strong empathy for the students, their learning challenges and how the library can address their needs.  In the process of prototyping your unique, new concept include a loose zone plan based on your research and ideas.   

Start with open-ended questions which should challenge the group to think about current pedagogy and future possibilities.  The library should both complement and lead the pedagogy; it can be a year or so ahead of the rest of the school but being too far ahead is not practical. Then the library will not be universally leveraged by active users.  You are going to interview users, listen to their stories and observe how they work either alone or together.   

You should incorporate any existing knowledge or data about the library into the collage of information you are gathering.  For example, research done on the impact on environment of learning like lighting, sensory stimulation or educational theory supporting the pedagogy. 

Generally, academic research on the impact of the physical environment is limited in K-12 schools.  Studies done confirm noise, air and water quality, and room temperature have a significant effect on learning.  There is more research coming around the study of natural light and its positive impact on learning along with research on blue light from electronic devices.  There is an assumption that ergonomic, improved access to technology, and sustainability improvements enhance learning but most research is taking place outside the K-12 area.  

There are signs that student and teacher self-worth improve when any renovations occur which should have a positive impact on engagement.  Environmental psychology suggests color, texture, room layout, and access to nature should also be positive forces on students engagement.  There are studies which suggest the design of a classroom with interactive furnishing can noticeably improve engagement.  All these factors should translate into greater opportunity for student learning. 

In the Create stage brainstorm as many ideas for your unique library solution as possible.  It is important to note that no idea is bad.  No one should be given time to explain why some idea will not work or criticize what has been tried before and failed.  Every idea is valid.  After you have exhausted all the ideas, rest and come back to them later.  In a day or so decide if there are other ideas and if not stop.  Now start to develop a strategic direction and ferret out tangible solutions.  Now you can determine which solutions seem weak.  

Once the team has compiled their desired space components based on user needs, start drawing appropriate sized circles around each component in relationship to its user significance and time of usage.  Try to come to an agreement on how much space is needed for each concept.  This does not need to be exact as once you apply an immersive mentality to the circles the zones will blur, overlap and merge.  You are only looking for independent circles and how those circles will enrich student learning.  This step will also help determine the infrastructure of the space.  An IT person is key to this discussion. 

The third step is to apply immersive planning to the circles based on what areas could work well together or be transformed quickly from one function to another as the students’ needs change during the day.  Be able to articulate how students can transform it as their activities change during the school day and year. 

How can the spaces by improvisational?  Do they invite multiplicity of functions?  Is it fluid enough to encourage students to creatively alter the space as tools and ideas emerge?  Are there ways to add Dimensional elements that will engage students and heighten their sensory engagement?   

What ideas fit with your users, your research, your pedagogy?  Are there ways to merge ideas to create a better solution?  Can you prototype your ideas or graphically represent them?  Once you have a visual or have documented key concepts, get feedback.  Are there ways to improve the idea, simplify it?  Feedback can also ground the planning team, force you to be objective about the idea or see it from a different perspective. 

In the final Deliver stage you going to need to pull of your research, diagrams, and favorite solution into a zone plan with supporting documentation.  Remember the zone plan is a map to a destination.  It documents all the pieces, how the pieces relate to each other and to the users.  You are going to superimpose all your other tools over the plan to arrive at an alternative library solution.

The next step is a reality check of the project.  Almost any change, renovation, or step into the future will entail a cost.  School budgets are tight, referendums can be difficult to pass, and voters have to be educated on why it is important.  Remember they will have their own biases about the role of the library and that bias will be equally difficult to change.  Having community members in the group can be helpful along with developing a communication strategy as the group plans. Don’t wait to develop a communication plan until the end.  Also try and decide early who is in the best positioned to communicate out from the group to decision-makers.

The plan you are creating is for your library today, however you should make suggests on how it can evolve into an alternative concept in the future.  The scope of the project should include a summary presentation for the school board, an interior designer and architect.  Anticipate that an architect/interior designer would evidentially take this finished presentation, with blurred zone plan, your research documents, and return with layouts, infrastructure requirements, furniture options and a cost estimate so be thorough. 

This project is designed to suggest alternative concepts for your library today and in the future.  Think of the space you are creating as an exciting space to help students succeed today while realizing they may need a different space in the near future to continue that success.