Planning for Smart Cities Starts with User Experience
User Experience student Christina Turner has worked in libraries for over 18 years, starting out as a shelver in high school, going on to get her bachelor’s degree in art school, and continuing to work at the library where she brought her passion for art to the stacks. But something was missing.
“I would kind of end up doing a lot of art programming,” Christina said recently. “They would need a prop for story time, or a bulletin board, and then it became art installations, make and take crafts, and leading public craft programs. It slowly kind of reached the point where they let me do stuff because I just kind of keep bugging them until they’re like ‘Yeah.’”
With information and communication becoming more visual, Christina found a path towards marrying her art background and her love of information organization in the School of Information’s User Experience program. “What I love about user experience,” Christina shared, “is it is visual design, and it tickles enough of my art side, and I really enjoy that. But it's also functional and information organization related, really using visual communication principles to aid discovery around information.”
And while many have touted the information revolution of the internet as bad news for libraries, Christina’s experience has been just the opposite. “I remember the conversation was pretty much ‘Once people figure out how to Google for themselves, we're done for!’ And actually, it has gone the other way. I mean it. We have to help people use computers way more now than we did 10 years ago. Everything's gotten so complicated online, and now for all your important things your only option is online. And then those important things have all of these weird layers pieced together software and third-party security features, and it just becomes really, really hard to navigate.
“My user experience coursework has been really helpful with patron interactions. To realize how much stress patrons feel because they’re insecure about what they don’t know. Everyone feels bad if they don't know how to do something on a computer. They really feel like they’ve dropped the ball. So I just do a lot more comforting people. Like, ‘you're not bad at this. This software is terrible. You're doing great.’”
That insight has driven Christina’s work in user experience: “I’m doing a ton of essentially user interviews to try to figure out ways that we can better connect people to regional resources. People know where to find national information, but local information, that's a word-of-mouth thing still.” And this research and experience has informed Christina’s work with Kendra Albright, Goodyear Endowed Professor in Knowledge Management on a National Science Foundation funded training program to learn the information needs of low-income households in Cleveland.
While she was engaged on this research, Kent State Graduate College held their FlashPitch Competition, and Christina submitted her proposal for this project.
And the judges recognized the value of this work, as Christina won first place in late Spring 2023. Hear her talk about her FlashPitch here.
Christina describes the project this way, “I'm working on a project to develop an information portal that could serve as the foundation of an equitable Smart Cities Initiative. The city isn't its buildings, its roads, its water or electricity. Those things are there for the city. Because the city is its people. A smart city is one where its people are connected to information to resources and to each other. The city belongs to all of us, and our information should be accessible to everyone.”