Rethinking the 3rd Place

I had a conversation with my supervisor (Rob Banks, Deputy Director of Operations at the library) a couple days ago, and thought it was worth sharing with y’all.

We were talking about our impending website redesign (yes, we’re at it again). I had sent him a rough draft of my redesign plan, and we were talking through it. He had been reading my book on digital experiences, and that had fired off some really cool thoughts about the concept of 3rd place for him… here’s what he said that made us start thinking:

“It’s not 3rd place – it’s The Place:”

  • Typically, Rob has maybe 6 windows open on his computer while at work – email,   a couple of work documents he’s working on, TweetDeck (ok – does YOUR deputy director have TweetDeck open constantly? Just sayin), and a couple of websites – usually including Facebook.
  • He’s doing several things at the same time … but Facebook is always on, and he’s always connected to his Facebook friends.
  • When he’s not at work, Rob has a Blackberry with a Facebook app – so Facebook is always on there, too. He can connect to Facebook whenever he wants to, no matter where he is.
  • Rob can still be in his physical “3rd place” and (important point) STILL BE CONNECTED to Facebook and his friends.
  • And that’s the idea that needs to be translated over to our library’s digital branch.

Our library websites/digital branches will probably never be a real 3rd place to people – and that’s ok. Instead of working towards that, let’s work harder to make this now-old phrase, “be where the patrons are,” a bit more seamless.

good bookRob can be in his 3rd place – but he is also constantly connected to friends/colleagues/family in Facebook at the same time. Facebook, in a way, has transcended the 3rd place to be “The Place.” It’s always on, always available to him, when he wants to be there.

Our library websites/digital branches can be like this, too! So… still developing, but this is definitely going in the redesign plan.

Thoughts? How are you “always there, always on” when patrons want to reach you?

Photo by javaturtle

Connecting the Physical to the Digital

IMG_0516Recently, while on a family vacation, I noticed something in a couple of stores … and thought I’d share.

My kids wanted to venture into the Disney Store and Build-A-Bear, and I went along for the ride. While in both stores, I saw signs that directed customers to check out the stores’ websites. But not just for kicks – look at what the signs said:

Disney: “Visit DisneyStore.com for an Additional Selection of …”

Build-A-Bear: “have fun and give back at Buildabearville.com.”

This is cool. Why? In both cases, the stores didn’t just have a sign letting customers know they have websites. Nope. Instead, they directed customers to visit the store websites for specific reasons.

By providing those reasons, they helped extend the customer experience with the store onto the web (and into our homes), after the fact. This type of after-the-purchase experience is sometimes called a “post-show” experience. The actual “show” was buying the product or visiting the store.

We can go a bit further with this, too. Look at the specific instructions we are given: Disney directs us to “an additional selection” of stuff. Think about that for a sec – they’re saying the larger, more complete store isn’t the physical store – it’s the digital store – the website.

Build-A-Bear directs us to their virtual world, where we can “have fun and give back.” OK – I don’t get the “”give back” part. But the “have fun” part I do understand! They’re giving you a specific reason to visit their website, and are suggesting it will be a fun experience. I’m guessing they get a lot of first-time traffic with those signs!

When you leave our libraryGuess what? We can do this too!

Look at this pic of a sign in my library, for instance (bigger version here). For a while, we had this large banner sign up by the exit doors – everyone walking past saw this sign. Our goal was simply to remind people that although they were leaving our physical building, their library experience didn’t have to end there. They can visit our digital branch and still do lots of stuff!

We could also direct customers to our “larger store.” Think about this for a sec – which place gives you a larger selection of library materials: browsing the shelves at the physical library … or visiting the online library catalog and putting stuff on hold?

Your larger, more complete library is NOT the physical building. It’s the website – the digital branch.

I’m guessing there are other ways to connect customers to your digital branch, as well as other reasons to do so… what are they? I’d love to hear them!

Think Simple

apple keySimple is good. But that doesn’t mean your site has to BE simple.

Let’s use Apple as an example of this. Apple computers tend to have a “simple” experience attached to them. When you pick one out, there are relatively few choices – three models to choose from (as opposed to Dell, which has LOTS of models to choose from). Macs come with all the software a consumer needs to start out – basic writing, email, photo, video, and web apps – all conveniently installed. And even those apps are simple – iMovie is extremely easy to use, for example – it’s highly visual. Even the power button is simple – it’s the only button on my Mac, as opposed to my kid’s HP laptops – they have a good 5-6 buttons that do a variety of things (including hiding the power button for the uninitiated).

But is my Mac REALLY simple? Think about iMovie again. That scrolling, visual timeline of the video is anything BUT simple to create. It’s simple for the user, sure… but I’ll bet there’s some extremely complicated coding going on on the back end of that visual scroll bar!

good bookNo, it’s anything but simple. Apple has designed my MacBook experience to make sense simply, so I can focus on other things (like write this post).

We can do this with our websites, too. Our goal should be this – Think simple… always. Can we have detailed functionality? Yes – as long as it doesn’t get in the customer’s way. Our goal should be to keep the customer focused on the task at hand – and that task should NEVER be to figure out how your website works. Let’s keep our website innards out of the customer’s way!

Bathrooms and Lightswitches

When you walk into a dark room and want to see, what do you do? Simple – you just flip on the light switch. Do you think about how it works? Does it confuse you? Do you stop to marvel at the beauty of the light switch hardware?

How many people ponder the intricacies of electricity or the skills of the electrician?

Probably none of the above … you just want some light, so you flip the switch without even thinking about it. It “just works” – letting you get on with whatever it was you were going to do.

How about bathrooms? When you’re in a restaurant and need to visit the bathroom … ? Do you wonder at the amazing wayfinding expert who came up with the clever directional signage? Do you thank the plumbers, the engineers, and the architects who helped create the bathroom? Again, I’m guessing not.

In fact, if you DO have to stop and puzzle out the bathroom or the lightswitch, the designers failed. Those things should be so easy to use that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to figure them out. The goal is to keep you going (no pun intended), not stop you in your tracks.

Your website needs to be that simple – start designing digital experiences that don’t get in your customer’s way!

pics by Martin Cathrae & Olivander

Writing an Experience Brief

Designing the Digital Experience was reviewed!I just realized that I mentioned using an Experience Brief in my book and in some of my presentations, but haven’t explained much about actually writing one. Since it’s something I want to do for my library’s website, I decided to do some “how-to” research on writing experience briefs … here’s what I found.

First of all – what exactly is an Experience Brief? It’s related to the Creative Brief, from marketing land. A Creative Brief is used to succinctly describe all the stuff the creative group plans to do to promote a new product. An experience brief uses that same concept … but helps define the experiences a customer should experience while using your website.

An Experience Brief is summed up by 8sharp: “The Experience Brief goes beyond “look and feel” and asks, “What is the experience we want the user to have?””

37signals’ ebook, Getting Real, gives another brief taste of what an Experience Brief is all about. “So what should you do in place of a spec? Go with a briefer alternative that moves you toward something real. Write a one page story about what the app needs to do. Use plain language and make it quick. If it takes more than a page to explain it, then it’s too complex. This process shouldn’t take more than one day.” They don’t really mention writing an experience brief … but writing a one page story about what the app/website needs to do IS a way to focus completely on the experience of the site/app.

MJ Braide goes a bit further in Get More From Brand Strategy Part Two: The Experience Brief. Here are some relevant quotes from the article:

  • “The Experience Brief is designed to help focus on the experiences that have the greatest impact on those that matter most to you. It begins with an inventory of the major interactions with whomever you consider to be your most important audiences.”
  • “For each of the most important groups, target experiences are defined that are closely linked to the brand promise. Important: this is about THEM not about YOU. It is the impressions, feelings and beliefs that you want to occur in THEIR minds, through what you do.”
  • “As with the Creative Brief, the Experience Brief is then used by every division and department of the organization to inform service standards, interaction protocols and whatever else the playbook demands, based on your strategy and the economics of your relationships.”

Finally, some words of advice from Advertising Age – What Are You Packing Into Your (Creative) Briefs?

  • Think simple. The more sophisticated the brief, the simpler it should be. The more glissandi and grace notes the piece has, the harder it is to play.
  • More spaces to fill present a greater opportunity for bad poetry. Avoid theoretical definitions; keep the language at the 8th-grade level.
  • It’s been suggested that you’ll know you’re onto something big when you can pitch the story in under 30 seconds. Can you deliver an elevator speech for your product? Are you writing it to be read?

Hope this helps! ANyone have anything to add? Do you know what goes into writing either an experience brief or a creative brief? Ever written one? Please share!