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What if the Opposite is True?

Thursday, May 28, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Nathan Swartzendruber
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At Tuesday's Membership Meeting, Cindy Tripp had us practicing some of the moves of Design Thinking. An essential challenge of innovation is to understand the need of a problem as well as the fact of a problem. Blindness may be the fact, but if navigation is the need, it can lead to solutions like echolocation.

Where can I look that up?

When the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica was published in 1771, it combined short reference articles with longer treatises, which helped those who needed to define terms as well as those who needed in-depth information. Encyclopedias filled a need for stable, centralized reference materials that could gain broad acceptance and respect.

Wikipedia asked, What if the opposite is true? What if stability and centralization are less valuable than a broader expanse of topics with real-time changes available from all of its readers? Wikipedia prizes immediate updates (the FIFA page already reflects yesterday's indictments) at the cost of reliability. But since revisions are only shown if you log in and look for them (FIFA's page has been revised nearly 50 times in the last two days), Wikipedia offers an illusion of constancy.

Wikipedia's solution rightly draws strong criticism, since the reliability of its information is always in question. Are published updates the result of rigorous debate or simple pranks? Since citations for online sources break as external sites update or go offline, even strong evidence can fall into doubt.

What if the opposite is true?

Reframing the problem creates opportunities to discover new solutions, as you look from different points of view. Trying on different perspectives--a student looking for sources for a poster presentation, someone trying to remember the plot of a movie, or a cook who wants to know the safe minimum cooking temperature for chicken--can help you spot different needs, and different solutions.

Looking for opposites can be uncomfortable, but it can help you ask new questions and open new alternatives. For more information, try Stanford Design School's virtual crash course in design thinking (or Wikipedia if you really want to).

  • Nathan Swartzendruber, SWON Technology Educator

Why do people visit your website?

Before you answer, think about the different people who visit your library. Think about the different resources available. Paying attention to this diversity of needs and solutions can help you understand if your website is usable. To understand usability, we have to get past what it looks like to see what it does and how it works.

At SWON's Level-Up Lab on Website Usability Testing, we'll discuss and practice several usability tests that can help you discover if your website is a success for you and for your patrons. Join Nathan on June 10 for this free 2-hour session at SWON's office in Blue Ash. Register now!


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