Georgia Institute of Technology

‘Using Design Thinking to develop a collaborative networked academic environment capable of supporting the entire spectrum of scholarship and maximising users’ access to library resources and staff’

Methods Used
This case study makes use of the following methods, which are described in more detail in the linked resources:

MethodUsed?Also relevant
A - What? - Function Palette
B - What? – Shared Services Spectrum
C - What – Profiles, Scenarios & User StoriesYes
D - Who? - Business Ownership Map
E - Where? - Service Location Map
F - How? – Requirement v. Resource Matrix
G - Why? – Business Benefits Ranking
H - Difficulty - Dependencies Matrix
I - Difficulty – Potential Risk Register

Helen Harrop from the LMS Change project visited Sam Peck on 12 February 2013 to discuss his work with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in the United States.

This case study shares the methods used by Sam Peck in his work on a project for the Education Technology team, in collaboration with the library, at Georgia Tech.

Section 1 – The Problem

The Setting
Georgia Tech’s project team issued a brief that highlighted a need to support students and researchers at all levels make the best use of its staff and resources at the point of need. Their initial brief contained the following goals:

  • “Raise the level of learning at Georgia Tech by realizing the integral role library people and resources should play in both teaching and scholarship.”
  • “Bridge unhelpful gaps between students and researchers through an understanding that both are on a spectrum of scholarship, however separated by seniority.”
  • “Bridge unhelpful gaps between siloed library services and those for learning and research collaboration. Provide ready access to library content (and/or the right helpful person) within online task flows people already engage in within learning and research contexts.”

The brief also contained:

  • User scenarios developed by the stakeholders, which were re-worked in the course of the workshops.

The Challenge

  • Enable library staff to become an integral part of learning and teaching process by capitalising on their expertise in the process of research and their knowledge of the resources available.
  • Timely provision of user-appropriate expertise and resources at the point of need
  • Clarify the relevant library processes in order to enable the library and education services to embed those processes into an Open Academic Environment
  • The overriding theme was ‘identifying how to best help people become better researchers’.
  • The project was also designed to prove a process where a cross-disciplined, collaborative team could work together in solving hard institutional challenges. The project trialed a ‘Lean User Experience (UX)’ approach, incorporating on-the-fly learning from user research, rather than being driven by heavy, top-down requirements, and which results in iterative prototypical output.

Section 2 – Findings and recommendations

  • A two-day workshop is the recommended minimum amount of time that needs to be invested at the start of a project in order for all stakeholders to come to a shared understanding of the user profiles and user scenarios. Investing this time at the start of a project builds a strong foundation for confident decision making when moving onto the software build phase. This two-day workshop process is a tool for ensuring that the right questions are being asked
  • The ‘design thinking’ approach is about ensuring meaningful engagement of staff from other departments and brings them into the process, which enables them to have better conversations when procuring technology. Essentially it is a tool for improving communication between, often disparate, departments and ensuring that everyone has a shared, galvanized, understanding of the wider vision, goals and needs.
  • Ideally, the design thinking methodologies used should also filter through to learning materials for the computer science courses taught at the institution
  • Involving the right people in the workshops is key and ideally all stakeholders should be represented. Georgia Tech had invited a student to take part but unfortunately they were not able to make it on the day so the staff present proactively sought student feedback via short informal interviews after the first day’s workshop and then brought that feedback into the second day’s workshop. Students were also involved throughout the project through interviews and usability studies, which members of the stakeholder team conducted.
  • Spending time upfront explaining ‘design thinking’ / ‘user experience design’ and ‘user scenarios’ ensured that the team all had a shared understanding of the tools they would be using.
  • Focusing on identifying concrete ‘user goals’ enabled the team to achieve solid insights into user requirements and stopped them from creating over-fictionalised user profiles which might not reflect the needs and wants of real users. These ‘user goals’ can then be developed into realistic ‘user journeys’.
  • The process of developing the user profiles provided the software designer with insights into the needs of all the various end-users. The whole team (including stakeholders, staff, faculty) was essentially making design decisions so the software designer’s role was more out in the open and collaborative. This approach gave the stakeholders greater clarity and confidence around the software design, enabling them to judge the resulting software by how well it allows users to reach the functional goals that were collectively identified and agreed by the whole team. The iterative methodology was an invaluable tool that allowed key learnings from the user research sessions to repeatedly improve on the initial functional design of the software.
  • The stakeholders found the process of drawing up user personas to be a very valuable exercise, which generated new ideas, particularly around how a librarian could play a more active part in the learning experience of students and allow their subject-specific expertise in the research process to become an integral part of the learning resources.
  • The workshops allowed non-functional requirements to be identified, such as job satisfaction and a feeling that the librarian is contributing to Georgia Tech’s educational missions. These were often realised as ‘unbounded’ requirements that represented important human needs and problems.
  • The introduction of Service Design principles was a very simple and effective way of shaping the project team’s later conversations around user scenarios and user flows.
  • The second day of the workshop resulted in very useful scenario conceptualisations built around the wants and needs of their primary users: ‘the hovering librarian’, ‘ask a research expert’ and ‘responding to a research request’. Through the process of developing scenarios the participants refined the role of a librarian to become ‘an expert in the process of research’.

Section 3 – Methods Used


The project kicked off with a 2-day workshop that brought together people from the library, instructors and stakeholders from the Education Technology department. The overall aim of the workshop was to teach the process of ‘design thinking’ and arrive at solid user scenarios that would inform the initial software design.

Day One: The aim of the first day was to explore the scenarios laid out in Georgia Tech’s briefing document and draw up user profiles in a way that would help the whole project team understand who their users are and what challenges those users face in effectively accessing their services:

  • Sam provided participants with the context of ‘developing a new system of service based around the idea of a collaborative network where research could happen.’
  • Participants were given an overview of User Experience Design as a process that moves away from the traditional approach, which prioritises stakeholder requirements at the expense of empathy with end-user requirements.
  • They were also introduced to a broader understanding of user scenarios, profiles and personas.
  • By the end of the day the participants had developed primary user profiles that included a first year undergraduate and an instructor. Participants were able to identify the users’ pain (and ease) points in using the service, end goals, experience goals and started to build stories from their understanding of the profiles.

Day Two:

  • Involved taking the user profiles drawn up on day one and turning them into scenarios.
  • Sam started the day by giving the participants an introduction to Service Design and how the principles behind it (e.g. ‘orientation’, ‘incorporation’, ‘streamlining’ and ‘personalisation’) could be incorporated into the software design process.
  • By the end of day two the participants had drawn up three main user flows for the primary users they identified the day before.


Sam took the scenarios and functionality wish list that resulted from the workshop phase and translated them into very rough interface sketches, which gave the project team an idea of how the scenarios could be integrated into a final solution. Those initial sketches could then be presented to students for their feedback and enabled a rapidly iterating software design process.

The refined sketches were then turned into ‘wireframes’ that could be assessed, and then rapidly reiterated, as part of a usability study.

Usability Studies
Feedback on initial ‘wireframes’ was gained from conducting unmoderated usability tests with around fifty students and twenty faculty staff members, which enabled the team to test the entire process contained within the identified scenarios.

Sam provided the stakeholder team with the knowledge they needed to conducting the usability studies themselves.

Visual Design Stage
After the wireframes had been tested and reiterated the project moved into the ‘visual design’ stage, which involved creating screens that usability study participants could interact with as if they were using a live interface within their web browser. This stage essentially involved building on top of the ‘product first’ methodology rather than requirements first, this enabled the collaborative project team to operate with speed and accuracy as each cycle of feedback from research highlighted new learning that could be iterated upon.

Section 4 – Observation on Methods
Having the project stakeholders intrinsically involved with applying the methods and tools used (for example, it was the stakeholders who carried out the usability tests with students and staff) meant that they were learning the process of design as the project progressed. In this way the design process is opened up and the stakeholders have a sense of ownership of every part of the process, from issuing the initial brief to deciding on the final requirements. The stakeholders become evangelists of the process in a way that engages other people much more effectively than them simply evangelising the solution at the end.

Benefits of Using Design Thinking Tools:

  • Using design thinking as part of a procurement process enables institutions to make much larger leaps forward based on decisions that everyone is on board with
  • Design thinking is a good tool for increasing the number of options identified as possible and this, in turn, allows greater innovation to take place.
  • Design thinking methodology empowers participants to focus on the people-centred solutions, rather than limit their ideas to modifications of currently available solutions and technological functionality.
  • The stakeholder conversations that are facilitated as part of using design thinking methodologies enables additional value to be added to the ‘needs’ as documented in the initial design brief.

Further information about this project, including video walkthroughs of each user scenario, can be found on Sam Peck’s website: