GLAM professionals need UX skills. Here's why. (Guest Post from Snowden Becker)

I'm so pleased to share that Snowden Becker from UCLA's Department of Information Studies will be joining me to co-lead a special UX Night School Weekend Workshop July 22-23 here in Portland- the weekend before the Society of American Archivists' Annual Meeting.  

Snowden is fun, funny and brilliant, a terrific facilitator and a leader in the archives field. In her post at UCLA, she's also advised hundreds of new UX designers and GLAM professionals as they've launched their careers. We've put together a workshop adapting the Intro to UX Design/Research series focused on the challenges of UX for GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) professionals. 

So, in her words, here's why UX skills are crucial for GLAM professionals. Join us in July - we can't wait!

“I’m an archivist/librarian/curator/gallerist—why do I need to know anything about User Experience? Isn’t that for, like, web designers and stuff?” And what would be special about a UX workshop tailored for GLAM professionals, anyway?

Well, of course GLAMs need UX. As an industry sector that is defined in large part by its service orientation, institutions like galleries, libraries, archives and museums keep the needs of their users in mind just as much as retailers, software companies, and social media platforms do.

In fact, GLAM scholars have been discussing strategies for understanding and responding to their users’ needs for at least thirty years. That predates the mobile, ubiquitous, and social networking technologies that pushed the term “user experience” into wider application around the mid-1990s.  In the last decade or so, user-centered design approaches have been useful in navigating GLAMs’ expanding application of technology, and they’ve helped make GLAM spaces, interfaces, and collections more accessible, too . GLAM professionals are always talking about our users, so it makes a lot of sense for us to listen to them, observe them, and optimize their interactions with us and our institutions.

GLAMs also have considerable motivation to optimize. Chronically under-funded institutions can’t afford wasteful investments in new tech—whether that’s hardware, interactives, digitization initiatives, a strategic social media campaign, or web access. GLAMs can’t afford to waste staff time, endanger precious, unique, and useful collections, or antagonize visitors with processes that are harder than they have to be. UX techniques can help GLAMs operate on the basis of useful data rather than guesswork. 

Moreover, as agencies that often receive big chunks of funding from outside, GLAMs benefit from being able to evaluate their own performance. The interviewing, testing, and project management approaches common to user-centered design support precise measurements of success—and productive understanding of failure, too. Imagine being able to approach the “Evaluation and Outcomes” section of your next grant application with confidence! Nice, right?

How else might you apply your new UX knowledge in your GLAM workplace? Perhaps the demographics of your public library’s local service area are changing, and you want to attract and serve more multilingual users. Maybe you’ve noticed that archives and special collections researchers are still using your old fill-it-out-and-fax-it-in reference request forms, rather than the new web-based form you launched last year, and you want to know why. Or you’ve been appointed to the committee working on your gallery’s web site redesign, and you want to do more than just vote on a color scheme that harmonizes with your new logo. 

The featured speakers, hands-on exercises, and site visits for this workshop will all be related to GLAM institutions, so you’ll be able to see clearly just how UX principles and practices are applied in these settings. Workshop leaders have strong roots in the GLAM world, and balance theory with practice and personal experience.

If you’re coming to Portland for the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting, consider adding the UXNS GLAM Intensive to the beginning of your trip! The workshop size is limited, so you’ll be sure of personalized attention, focused learning time, and a venue where your questions and contributions can actually be heard. You’ll bring a new, user-focused perspective to the sessions and projects presented at the conference, and have interesting stuff to share when you get back to your home institution. If you’re a recent graduate, UX skills are great to have on your resume.  

Ready to make the case to your boss? Here's our Dear Boss letter you can use