Alchemical Thoughts

Archive for February 25th, 2009

Steven Bell had an interesting post over at the DBL Blog asking "Does UX Still Matter in Tough Economic Times." He looks at Starbucks as an example. I have to wonder about that example because, if one looks at the company, at the end of the day Starbucks is simply the case of a company that got away from their user experience. They tried to be a lot of different things to different people, and they lost their way. That, at least based on studies and tests, their coffee gets beaten by the likes of McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts certainly sends the wrong message. Starbucks, as I understand it, grew on the basis of providing a unique exclusive coffee experience where baristas would actually make your luxurious coffee right then and there. Once the company started doing things like using a push button machine instead of a more traditional espresso machine, it was down hill from there. I mean, the kid at Mickey D's can push a button just as well as the guy at Starbucks. I mean, there is a reason why no Starbucks barista has ever won at the barista world competitions, as this story from the NYT points out.Then came the breakfast sandwiches to compete with Dunkin Donuts, sandwiches which were pretty much panned and then Starbucks got rid of them to stem the bleeding. The point is not to slam Starbucks. The point is that their woes, while partially due to the economy, are mostly due because they got away from their core user experience. Once their cheaper competition was able to offer something comparable, Starbucks lost what made them unique. Why would I pay $4-$6 for a decent cup of coffee when I can get it for less at the Dunkin Donuts or Mickey D's? In the interest of disclosure, I will say that I don't get my coffee at either Starbucks or the fast food joints. I prefer to make my own at home. If I buy coffee to drink then and there, I prefer to go to some local place where I know an actual barista will put some work on making a special drink.

The point eventually is to ask if UX (user experience, for those who may wonder) is relevant to libraries. I would say the answer is yes, and I would say we can very easily fall victim to the mistakes Starbucks has made that they are now paying for dearly. And given the tight economy, and the fact that funding for libraries is shrinking at abysmal rates at a time when we need libraries the most, a good service experience will probably make some difference. Notice I say some difference. You can have the greatest service experience, but if you still lack materials and resources inside your pretty building with the very helpful staff, you will end up on the losing end. Yes, you have to provide a good experience, but you also need to have a good product. For libraries, that is pretty much the dual need: good service and items people want. We can leave the "want or need" debate for another time. The reason I say that is because news are often filled with the feel-good stories about libraries providing free books, A/V, computers, etc. for their patrons, like this story out of the Boston Globe or this one from MSNBC (via Libraries and Life). That is all nice and dandy but you have to have the products (good books in good condition, A/V that people actually want to check out and watch, so on. This could be a separate rant, but I will restrain myself). So, is UX relevant? Yes, but being nice alone is not going to do it. Much like Starbucks now trying to sell instant coffee. Instant? Really? Maybe they need to get back to basics and concentrate on what they once did well: creating a good experience around a good cup of coffee. And maybe some libraries need to get back to basics as well instead of worrying over the frills. Just a thought.  

Read and post comments | Send to a friend


There is a lot of doomsaying going on about getting an advanced degree and being able to get a job. This is especially applicable to humanities degrees, but it could be applicable to even the MLS degree given the abysmal job market (which ALA pretty much choose to ignore in favor of promoting people going to library school job or no job).

Here are two sample articles, which I may use to expand into some kind of essay/post later:

  • From AlterNet, "Is a GED More Valuable Than a PhD?" From the article, this is pretty much common knowledge, or it should be common knowledge by now: "The demand for humanities PhDs has long been tight — for four decades, the number of jobs requiring them hasn’t kept pace with the number of people earning them. But by all indications, recent university hiring freezes and evaporating grant money have reduced the world’s most elite degree to junk-bond status." 
  • Inside Higher Ed featured a piece on the "Relative Advantages of Associate Degrees and Certificates."

I will tell folks this much: when I hear someone planning to go to graduate school for a humanities degree, I pretty much cringe. Unless they are willing to work outside of academia, and likely work outside their subject, their odds of getting a good job in their subject are next to none. In other words, pursue if it is your passion, and you know and accept you need to get a job that will actually pay the bills. And even then, you may be better off not doing it. I know things need to change, but I am not sure how at this point. Something to ponder.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

February 2009
« Jan   Mar »


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 178 other followers

%d bloggers like this: