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Client – Fictional

A new kind of library

My role – UX, Concept and prototype
Period – April 20
What – App

Today Swedish public libraries, or folkbibliotek, offer a number of different digital services to their borrowers: an app for audio- and e-books, several different web services for film, and apps for news articles and magazines. While more and more content is provided digitally, and in different, expanding formats, libraries need to stay relevant and accessible. Else they’ll die.

Most of the digital services used by libraries today are run by different companies and are sold separately to independent folkbibliotek all over the country. It’s no surprise that librarians find it hard to control and set demands for content, accessibility and cross functionality between the services. However, the services are at least united in one goal: knowledge, baby! We wanted to support the public libraries mission to provide information and knowledge and at the same time make it more accessible for the entire communities regardless of age, class, ability or background.

The plot thickens

Some of the various library services available

At the start of the project our original goal was to re-imagine just one out of the droves of services offered by folkbiblioteken: the film streaming service ‘Cineasterna.’ Cineasterna offers a fairly small but high quality film library where library borrowers can watch a set amount of films a month. While doing our research that included interviews with various library employees and end users about Cineasterna, we came to a few different discoveries:

  • Cineasterna is messy to access due to library cards and different integrations with different libraries
  • A large number of people asked had no knowledge of Cineasterna, despite their libraries offering the service
  • The contract between a folkbibliotek and Cineasterna is independent to each library. There’s no central contract for all folkbibliotek. This is true for most of folkbibliotekens digital services.
  • Cineasterna isn’t, and can’t be, well integrated with a library’s other services due to different providers and API’s
  • Folkbiblioteken have an explicit mission to meet the needs of so called prioritised groups: The disabled, national minorities and those who’s mother tongue isn’t Swedish.

Our conclusion was that it wasn’t enough to just redesign one of the not-so-great services to solve the problems at hand. So we decided to instead try to create one all encompassing platform for audio books, e-books and films. The service had to be accessible for everyone, offer a broad spectrum of content in different languages and encourage learning and deepen knowledge in various subjects. The nerds rejoiced!

Nerds vs. the filter bubbles

To meet the folkbibliotek mission to encourage learning we focused a lot of efforts on creating various ways to dive deeper into certain subjects, ideas, genres, writers or cultures. Our goal was to challenge people to broaden their perspective and to constantly explore new genres and subjects. We achieved that through curation (a word that I no longer can stand). You’re always offered a way to delve deeper into various subjects or related subjects. If you watch a movie about the American civil rights movement, you might be offered to read Rosa Park’s autobiography, or a documentary about the Irish struggle for civil rights. If you read Harry Potter you might be offered books about British castles or, of course, the movie adaptations. “Doesn’t every streaming service do that?” you ask. Well, sort of. While a lot of streaming services offer similar films or books, or maybe what’s popular right now, few of them actually has the intent to move you deeper into a subject. The most important bit is that Bibbla always tries to push you out of your comfort zone, while a lot of other services tend to trap you in a filter bubble out of which there is no escape and where you'll die a horrible death in a spike trap or from a falling rock. Or was that the temple in The Lost Ark?

Collections offer different ways to explore a subject
Extensive filters allow user to discover new subjects

To cater to the nerds, the geeks, the hipsters and the curious we also decided to put a lot of effort into filtering. It had to be extensive, but manageable. We made it simple at a glance, but through expanding and collapsing sections you can have a quite powerful filter tool. The smartness built into the filter constantly sorts and limit what you can filter for so you’re never stuck filtering for something that offers no results.

How to communicate

Original logo by Linda Högnäs. Animation by me.

The branding was made functional and simple. We didn’t delve into graphic material outside of the prototype concept, so focus was on creating a UI that was easy to read and simple to navigate. A library has some authority, but ultimately it’s supposed to be welcoming, encouraging, unpretentious and knowledgeable and that is what we aimed for. Because of the scope of the app, the target audience also became fairly wide. However, we did create a couple of personas which focused on fairly young, curious and knowledge thirsty people from one of folkbibliotekens prioritised groups.