on defaults, and design

Aaron Schmidt has a column in Library Journal about user experience. Here is his first column. The ideas of design and user experience seem sometimes orthogonal to what we do in libraries. We are concerned with content not containers, you know “judging a book by its cover” and all that. Aaron explains why design matters and how it pervades many aspects of what we do. Sarah got the best pullquote out of it already

Every time librarians create a bookmark, decide to house a collection in a new spot, or figure out how a new service might work, they’re making design decisions. This is what I like to call design by neglect or unintentional design. Whether library employees wear name tags is a design decision. The length of loan periods and whether or not you charge fines is a design decision. Anytime you choose how people will interact with your library, you’re making a design decision. All of these decisions add up to create an experience, good or bad, for your patrons.

This comes up in my technology-instruction world quite often. Many things about how a user interacts with a computer are pre-determined or at least have a default setting. So the talking paperclip? Someone made a choice that you would see that, instead of having it be a turn-onable option. The “your computer may be at risk!” messages? You can turn them off but the default is ON. These are all choices, actively or passively made. My feeling is that the more we explain to people that they can re-make some of these choices [get the talking dog away from the search box!] it empowers them to envision their computing experience the way they might want it to be, to know they have choices.

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