I think it was the quiet concentration that made the first impression on me. Going into a room where a group of library staff were busy carrying out a cognitive mapping exercise. Everyone was engrossed in the activity, heads down, trying out a technique that was new to most of them.
This was part of a different type of staff meeting – with @ and @d_r_jenkins running a great session on UX and ethnography and intoducing people to three different UX techniques: cognitive mapping, directed storytelling and love-letters/break-up letters. With only an hour to run the introduction and try out the techniques it was quite a short time, but enough to give people a flavour of the power of these approaches.
It’s been a bit of a journey to get to this point. About eighteen months ago we identified ethnographic techniques as being potentially immensely valuable and something we needed to know more about, experiment with and use as part of our UX practice. The UXLibs conferences and the presentations and blogs about the topic got us up to speed enough to see the potential and to start to talk to people here about it. Primarily we’ve been looking at the approaches from the perspective of how they can be used in our digital service development work around websites but the wider potential is clear. The Futurelib initiative at Cambridge has been really useful to demonstrate the potential of the techniques. So when the chance came to send some people to a UX day organised by a neighbouring institution with Andy Priestner (@andytraining) that was a great opportunity to spread knowledge about the techniques across the library.
We’re already using these techniques in online sessions with students looking at the future direction of our library websites as part of our digital services work. Our Research Support team are using them with research students in face-to-face sessions. And the session with library staff quickly brought up some other examples where people soon started to see other work where they could be used, in work with tutors maybe.
It was great to see such engagement and enthusiasm with the approach and really interesting to see the different maps that people drew in the cognitive mapping exercise. Given that we are a group of staff using a standard set of equipment (PCs, ipads for example) and tools it was remarkable how much variation there was in the maps. That gives a lot of food for thought for the digital capabilities project that is just getting started.