What’s in a name? If it’s hard to define a library and information job title, it can be a challenge for information professionals to know what to call the people with whom they come into contact. It’s the same at Vable. To be innovative, effective and understand our audience, we need to know the difference between users and end-users - and all the variations.
“As a user, I want to _ so that I can _”
A recent tweet by a user experience expert inspired me to think about these various groups of people. She wrote, “If you ever show me a ‘user story’ in the form of ‘As a user, I want to _ so that I can _’, here are some of the questions I’m going to ask, so we might as well figure out the answers up front so we can skip to a set of much more interesting questions that will come later”.
User stories are short, simple descriptions of a feature as imagined by the person who wants the functionality, usually a user, customer or client of the system. Clearly, the format of the user story in the tweet is specific to UX professionals. The cross-over between the experiences of both UX designers and library/information professionals makes this a valid discussion. But first some definitions.
What is the difference between an end-user and a user?
The end-user is the person who will benefit directly from the product or service.
For example, Vable is a news aggregation platform. It enables end-users to be better informed and become their clients' trusted adviser.
A library and information professional tasked with setting up current awareness will be an expert or power user. They might not be the end-user but they engage extensively with Vable’s service and are trained to make the most of the platform’s functionality. There may be other members of the information team who will be more intermittent or occasional users of the platform.
People who are recipients of targeted current awareness newsletters are the end-users. There might even be an ultimate end-user. For example, an individual who is forwarded a Vable newsletter, a law firm client who has access to MyVable or even a member of the public using the Lex Mundi website.
So what about power users? Or ultimate end-users? Within the categories of end-users and users, there are also distinctions to be made - I address this below.
What sort of user are they?
I’ve already mentioned power users and intermittent users. This is where we can refer to the initial tweet and start asking questions about the needs of different types of users. Here are Laura’s questions to get you thinking:
- What sort of user are they? Power user? Occasional? New user? End-user? Ultimate end-user?
- What percentage of users does this type of user represent? How many other types are there?
- Is this the group of users whose needs we want to address right now? Why? Are we trying to improve a particular metric for that specific type of user? Are they particularly underserved by the product or important to our business or other goals?
- Why do these users want to do the thing you claim they want to do? Are they only doing it because we have trained them to do it? What is their actual intent or end goal?
- How do we know they want to do this? Is this based on research or optimism or “vibes”?
- Are the actions and goals actually the same? For example, is it “I want to log in so that I can see my logged in information?” If so, stop that. Also, nobody wants to log in. You don’t need to write that sort of requirement as a user story like this.
When designing a system like Vable, we need to frame user stories in an appropriate way. Power users expect sophisticated systems to create a simple seamless service. New users want to get started on the system without delay. Intermittent users want to return to the system and find a familiar workflow. As we work on the new Vable administrator platform, we aim to make it more intuitive for all our library and information users.
End-users and ultimate end-users are a different matter. They don’t want to think about the technology behind the link to their news alerts. They just want to know what is happening in the world as applicable to their clients and specialties. No paywalls, no obstacles, no problems! As legendary UX designer Don Norman said,
It’s a paradox. If you do it right, and allow the person to pleasantly achieve their goal, they don’t actually notice your design. That’s the real danger of doing great design – it’s invisible.
Your end-users need your power user experience
“As a user…” - now that we have the right person in mind, we can focus on finding out what they want. How do we know they want to do a particular thing? Is this based on research or optimism or vibes? Is it based on “what we’ve always done”? We need to ask and listen to them; after all, before creating solutions, you must identify the problem.
Take this familiar library example. Looseleaf publications continue to fail users of all types on many levels. A recent article emphasised how they frustrate library people (time, cost, and inability to archive) AND the end-user (lack of trust that the book is up-to-date).
Sometimes a library professional needs to take a fresh approach to users’ experience and start asking different questions. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t take decades to change a product that doesn’t work for anyone. I’m not saying that online books are perfect but that is a discussion for another day.
In terms of current awareness, our clients and your end-users want a seamless service. There should be a neatly packaged outcome and tailored analysis on issues of interest. You need the right solutions to provide such a service. You are well placed to consider:
- Which solution is right for your end-users.
- Which solution is right for you to ensure a positive ROI.
- Whether the strategies are in place to get everyone working towards the same goals and outcomes.
UX design is all about putting people’s needs first. It is also what library and information services people are trained to do. As vendors we can partner with you to achieve positive end-user outcomes. Technology facilitates information exchange, but effective understanding between information professionals, users, end-users and clients is essential.