#UXLibs 3 | The Art of the Keynote: Donna Lanclos and Paul-Jervis Heath


After yesterday's post about Matthew Reidsma's Keynote on Day 3 of the User Experience in Libraries Conference, here's an account of Donna and Paul's keynotes from Days 1 and 2 respectively.

Donna Lanclos | Once Upon a Time: a story about ethnography and possibility in libraries

Donna is completely passionate about what she does, it's infectious, and she's a very powerful communicator. There were times listening to this when I felt like I was hearing a better informed and more articulate version of my own interior monologue about certain things I get frustrated about... I agreed the heck out of it.

But it challenged me too, which is part of the art of the keynote. Contrast is what makes a presentation engaging. We like the feeling of hearing what we know and agree with, and are made uncomfortable by hearing things which challenge us or that we don't agree with. This push and pull is what moves a great presentation forward. Too much of one and not enough of the other diminishes the potential impact of a presentation. If Donna had just come out and said a bunch of stuff I already knew and agreed with, I would have enjoyed it a lot but it wouldn't have stayed with me. A keynote must, on some level, provoke (but not for provocation's sake).

One of the particular things I was aware of Donna doing and aware that I don't do enough (or basically at all) is allowing us the audience to connect up the dots for ourselves, so we were learning rather than just being told. The use of stories, analogies, and flat-out asking questions, helped us to provide our own answers, which is much more powerful and long-lasting than just hearing people say the answer off the bat.

She also used something I mention in presentation skills sessions but have never done myself - The Black Screen! The idea of this is it focuses the attention on the speaker by, in contrasts to the normal picture-heavy slides around it, being completely blank. It's a device which says, okay, let's have a serious conversation now, for which I want your full attention. One person didn't understand this and actually called out 'Can we have the slides back please!' and when Donna said 'what?' they changed it to 'Is there anything on the slides..?' Donna said 'no'. She then stopped the poor guy feeling too awkward by saying 'you talkin' to me?' in mock indignance / aggression, which made the moment pass less painfully and more humorously than it might have done...

There were a few really key themes that emerged for me.

  • Simply asking people what they think, and what they want, is a pretty unreliable process. This has always troubled me. We KNOW it doesn't work (people often don't know what they want, and they often simply take the path of least resistance through surveys and focus groups) yet we do it anyway and base decisions and even policies off the back of it. This method of gathering feedback is not enough on its own. We need find out what our users understand, rather than what they say they want. 
  • So ask open ended questions. As soon as you say 'what resources do you use when you're writing your essay?' you're limiting what you can learn from the interaction. It's like asking someone to take you to a destination and then putting them on rails which only go one way. Ask them 'what does it look like when you write an essay? Talk me through the whole thing'. Then you learn where the library fits in with a larger process or life-cycle. You learn what the true user experience is. You (in a totally non-creepy way!) follow the user home.
  • Ethnography is messy and uncertain. You need institutional support for that uncertainty. You need to try things out, try and provide a better experience but it's ITERATIVE. Don't wait for all the answers, just go for it. Fail. Then do it again, more effectively.
  • If we have to show people how to use the resources - in Donna's words, spend time telling people how to click a link on our websites - then we're doing it all wrong. The User Experience has failed. I am painfully aware of how much time I spend doing this, in one form or another. I once made a VIDEO about how to use the catalogue. Aaaargh.
  • Donna asked us to 'dispense with the idea that all important things in education are measurable'. I don't think, sadly, we can do this and still be as accountable for our impact as we need to be in this day and age. My hope is that if we ethnographise the heck out of everything, we will actually, possibly for the first time, truly understand the student experience, our role in it, and how to make it better. As a result of what we do about it, all the countable measures (like the NSS scores and the LibQual Surveys etc) will go up anyhow. At the moment I feel like I spend a lot of time trying very specifically to address certain issues which will mean the things we measure are more favourably assessed. That's all wrong. The tail is wagging the dog. The results of the stuff we count should make our superiors happy as a BY-PRODUCT of us truly understanding our users.
  • You need to know enough to ask good questions, but be happy to admit you don't know much more than that. It's really the opposite of 'We're thinking of introducing X, Y and Z. Which would you prefer?'

Here's a subjective Storify of the tweets from Donna's talk.

Donna asks a lot of us. I hope we can take what we learned from her and start to deliver.

Paul-Jervis Heath | Transforming insights into services

I really, really enjoyed Paul's talk because it took something which I was aware of but which was ambiguous to me, and broke it down into smaller concepts I could understand. We all know roughly what 'design' is, but what are the structures that facilitate its success? Paul told us, so now we know.

So here are the rules of design, as I took them from Paul's talk:

  • Brainstorming is but one method of generating ideas, and not a particularly good one at that. In fact, people working alone come with twice as many ideas as groups doing brainstorming!
  • Using a 'yes and' method to build on group ideas - making things better rather than shooting them down - is the way to work together. 20% more ideas are generated when people constructively critique and discuss ideas
  • You need both divergent and convergent thinking. It's a process of widening out the scope of ideas, then focusing in on where the common ground lies and developing something from there
  • Implement by making. There's no eureka moment, so don't sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Go out there and DO stuff
  • You can get fixated too early on one idea, and if you put all your energies into pursuing it, you might be missing out on better ideas that never get a chance to come to fruition
  • People's goals are key. Mostly they will stay the same, even if the tasks they need to complete to accomplish them change
  • Students have a triangle between spaces they habitually use. Anything outside that triangle feels inconvenient and far away, even if technically it isn't...
  • If you can't draw your idea, it's not worth having (I personally didn't buy in to this one, but the rest I found really useful)

For a bit more info, here's the Storify I made of the tweets from Paul's talk: