How we designed a mobile app to promote digital inclusion in public library communities
Janice Kim | Hannah Pearson | Cody Ziler
Time frame
6 weeks
Sketch | InVision | Axure
UX Designer
Key Deliverables
Research Plan | User personas | Journey Map | Wireframes | Interactive prototype | Usability Test Report

Our challenge

Libraries have traditionally brought together diverse populations. As technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, people expect digital engagement in all services. To stay relevant libraries must meet the dynamic needs of the community they serve. One of those needs is for digital engagement. This need for digital engagement combined with an increasing number of library patrons provides an opportunity for libraries to create and develop a digitally inclusive community. My team was tasked with a design challenge:

To create a digital library product that served the needs of library patrons and the community as a whole. 

Determining Project Scope

We did some research to discover needs in the library community, and to find out whether these needs were being met - by conducting Subject Matter Expert interviews, user interviews, and actually going out into the field and visiting libraries for contextual inquiries.

For our SME interviews, we talked to four public librarians to gain some general insight into how libraries worked, as well as define some community needs. After synthesizing our interview data, we came up with the following key takeaways:
Because we found that introducing children to libraries helps foster lifelong patronage, we decided the best and most holistic way to create an inclusive digital community of library lifers was to focus our efforts on getting young children to the library. So, our key user group became parents of young children.

Understanding the users

We conducted user interviews with 8 parents of young children who were also patrons of their local public libraries. Our main research objectives were to find out when and why they went to the library, learn how they used library resources, and find out more about their technological and social habits.
After talking with users and digitally affinity mapping our findings, we came out with these top-level insights:
I intentionally try not to have technology play any role in my parenting philosophy … I would never just sit them in front of the tv or give them an iPad and walk away.
We created a persona who represented our users - their demographics, goals and frustrations. Laurel helped us to keep a tangible user in mind as we designed our library app.

Defining the problem

Our app needed to be a digital means to a real-world end. Because most of our users were satisfied with the basic library functions (book reservations, check out, etc) but had trouble finding out library events to bring their children to, we decided to focus our app specifically on library events - a way for parents to discover and locate library events, leading to an in-person experience.

This led to our problem statement:

Busy parents of young children need an online community which allows them to find library events that foster real world relationships amongst parents, librarians, and other community members.

To keep our users in mind at every step of our process, we created four design principles to guide the design:
Users should be able to intuitively navigate the product with one hand, freeing up the other hand for parenting. The design should foster meaningful interactions, and create a community that extends into the real world. It should be welcoming and accessible to users and provide friendly customer service - users could go up to this product on the street and ask for assistance. And users want to engage with this product; the design should be fun and light.

Bleeo is born

Keeping our underlying problem and design principles in mind, as a team we brainstormed and sketched what the app would look actually look like. We came to some consensus:

Early iterations

At this point of ideation, we did a lot of rapid paper prototyping and guerilla-tested these iterations with users so we could determine the best way to lay the app out digitally moving forward.

We led a card sort using OptimalSort, which was really helpful in confirming some of our hypotheses, and getting rid of some other ideas that weren’t gelling with participants. It helped define the structure of our app and what would go in our bottom navigation.

Our final design

Home screen pivot

After some user feedback, we decided to modify our original home screen design to make it more functional and better address users' needs. We really liked the first screen visually - it leaned into our principle of 'playful.'

However, the app's primary function is event-finding, and so users should be able to find events as quickly as possible. The original home screen also linked to many basic library functions, but since these were aspects of the digital community that libraries were already doing well on their own websites, we decided to focus our efforts on the underlying function of this app: events.

Final Design Flows

After focusing our design a little bit, we decided to build out the event flow (these are the wireframes I specifically owned), an onboarding flow, and the flow to find a library branch. We initially included a flow to get help from a librarian, but during our pivot we decided to consolidate that into the 'find a branch' flow.

Final design: Onboarding flow

During onboarding, users can choose libraries to follow specific library branches as well as activities their family is particularly interested in - to curate a personal experienced tailored to each user.

This helps in creation of the user's profile, which tracks their personal events & classes and libraries they follow.

Final design: Find a branch flow

We built out a search for users to find library branches. They have the ability to search for a particular branch or enable geo-location to search for nearby branches.

Users can then see comprehensive information about each library including featured events. From here, they can can chat with a librarian at that branch for more info, or follow the branch so that events at that location appear in their home page feed.

Final design: Event flow

The real heart of this app is the event flow, where users can search for events - at libraries they follow, library branches that are nearest to them, or based on specific days. Users can filter their results for a more refined experience.

Users can then add an event to their personal list, and even add event reminders to their personal calendars. Within my team, I took the lead on designing the screens and interactions for the event flow.

Our outcomes

We performed usability tests with this final design using an interactive Axure prototype. We tested specifically to find how users rated the app in ease of navigation, keeping in mind our underlying goal of creating a digitally inclusive library community that fostered real-world relationships. We found the following:
This app would be really helpful for me to find events to go to at both the Brooklyn and Manhattan branches. I would use it, and probably go to more events!
We delivered a final design that solved for our problem statement - the Bleeo app design is a digital means to a real-world end: in being able to more easily locate and track events at their library local branches, parents would be more likely to attend these events in person.

Moving forward

Because we had such a tight time frame for this product, we weren't able to iterate and improve the app as much as we would have liked. Based on our user testing, we have a few recommendations for Bleeo’s next steps.

We want to add helpful, clear language that contextualizes all of the app’s features and eliminates any ambiguity as to the reasons for performing the app’s primary tasks. We also recommend research around scaling the app to support all library systems and branches (not just Manhattan and Brooklyn) and to figure out what parsing and filtering this would look like.