Walking into Will Evans‘ Design Studio workshop yesterday morning, many of us — myself included — had no idea what to expect.
We knew we’d be exploring new options for TLC Kids, which is one of TLC’s most popular library software products. But we had no idea how we’d go about doing this.
Sitting down in front of dozens of Sharpies, piles of Post-It notes and stacks of paper, Will started out with a quick ice-breaker. He asked each of us to jot a little robot representing our ‘inner selves,’ then asked random members of the group to explain what they had drawn.
|A few of the robots we came up with.|
Next, Will explained our objective for the morning: Conceptualize a new interface for the TLC Kids interface — one meant for the iPads that libraries are buying en masse, and that kids love to use.
The current Kids software works great with desktop computers. In fact, it’s some of the most popular library software TLC offers today.
But that’s changing. For the first time, kids are toddling into libraries not knowing how to use a mouse. They are so acclimated to laptops, iPhones and iPads that many of them find basic mouse activities, like scrolling and clicking, unwieldy and unintuitive. By contrast, children today grow up with iPads and iPhones in their households and (often) in their hands. That means that it’s crucial to get an iPad and iPhone-compatible form of the Kids library software into the hands of librarians sooner rather than later.
Right now, TLC Kids looks like this:
|A screenshot of the current TLC Kids homepage|
As you can see, only a handful of the 80+ categories in a library’s system are surfaced at a time. That means that an important category — like math, for instance — won’t get surfaced again until a child has cycled through all of the other options. ‘Scout’ the dog is a cute graphic, but he doesn’t actually do anything to help locate a book. Optimizing Kids for an iPad means getting rid of point-and-click functionality, as well as either providing a hierarchy of categories or providing quicker navigation through each category.
Will had us start off by separating into groups of four. He handed out 8-up sketchboards to each of us.
Giving us five minutes, he asked us to come up with 6-8 ideas for the iPad-friendly TLC Kids.
|An 8-up sketchboard.|
When the time was up, we were given three minutes of presentation time for our ideas, followed immediately by three minutes of critique time. My initial idea — to create an interface with categories that mimic the intuitive app grid found on every iPad’s home screen — was praised for its simplicity, but also critiqued as perhaps not playful enough for our targeted demographic of 4 to 10-year-old kids. I loved one of developer Brian Crosen’s ideas, though; he used several balloons ascending, with each category represented in one balloon. The user could swipe faster or slower up the iPad to hasten or pause the ascent of the balloons.
Next, Will had us mix and form entirely new groups, encouraging us to “borrow liberally” from the ideas we saw and liked in the first group critique.
Borrowing — and building — on Brian’s idea, I created a carnival-themed concept, complete with a Ferris Wheel on the left side to denote major categories, balloons ascending on the right hand side to denote a second-tier hierarchy, and a cluster of balloons in the lower right-hand side to serve as a navigation.
Next, Will told us to separate and reconfigure into an entirely new group once more. Later, he explained that one reason for constantly mixing up the groups was to encourage cross-fertilization, minimize groupthink, and upset potential power dynamics that may arise inside of groups.
This time, instead of a one-up sketchboards, he handed out big pieces of easel paper. Asking us to combine the best of our ideas, Will asked us to come up with one final idea. Then, he instructed us to select one member of the group to present to the rest of the groups – product owners and sales folks were not allowed to to act as spokespersons for their respective teams.
Each group had five minutes to present their concept. When everyone finished, we each voted via Post-It note on the idea we thought was strongest.
In the end, the concept with the most votes was actually quite similar to the desktop version of TLC Kids — partially because the design was quite intuitive, and also because keeping the theme cohesive means not having to build a new desktop version to match the new mobile product. The “winning” theme featured a quarter-wheel which responded interactively to a downward swipe to see new categories, as well as a voice-enabled version of “Scout” the dog and a right rail for popular kids’ series.
|One popular iteration looked very similar to the current product.|
Interestingly, another concept which garnered a good deal of attention also resembled the intuitive interface of the iPad’s home screen, with categories presented in an app-like grid scheme. However, this iteration added visual interest with interactive graphics of each of the categories, as well as a highly-customizable background that could theoretically change with the weather, time of day, location of the library, etc.
|The iPad interface-inspired design presented by Adam Kirschner|
There’s no saying whether the final Kids mobile product will draw directly from any of the ideas we came up with in Design Studio.
But according to Will, that’s not the point anyway.
“One of the biggest benefits of Design Studio isn’t necessarily coming up with good designs, but surfacing tacit requirements that no one typically vocalizes early on,” Will explained.
|Will, in his natural habitat.|
“These needs get surfaced in the pitch process. For example, someone who wouldn’t typically have a voice in the design — someone in sales or customer support — adds a certain functionality to their product. You ask them why, and they say, ‘I hear this feedback from our customers quite a bit.’”
A more robust understanding of design needs is one of the main takeaways from Design Studio. But for employees at TLC, several who said they found the entire process invigorating and enjoyable, the workshop served a more immediate purpose as well.
“With Design Studio, you get some notion of a shared mission — developers, product owners support team members, sales, management, marketing — all of the sudden, we have a shared mission” Will explained.
“There’s this understanding that we’ve all been through design studio, and everybody’s contributed a voice in it, so if we fail, we fail together. And if we succeed, we do that together too.”
Want to learn more about the Design Studio methodology? Get started here: