Design Thinking at Eindhoven Library

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Design Thinking at Eindhoven Library

When one thinks of design thinking and innovation, a library might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, in this realm, Eindhoven Library is a frontrunner in the city, if not the entire country. This shift is partly out of necessity. Libraries have always been more than spaces filled with books, but to remain appealing and relevant in the digital information society, they must continue to innovate. It's a challenge the library has embraced organization-wide. Director Albert Kivits shares his insights into design-driven organizational changes and innovation within the library.

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Why did Eindhoven Library choose design thinking as a methodology?

"Almost every organization understands the importance of innovation, and we were no exception. Our staff could see a decline in membership, knew our subsidies were under pressure, and witnessed the closure of our satellite branches. In essence, the understanding and necessity for change were clear. However, you can't just tell people to 'innovate.' They need guidance. That's how we discovered the 'Design Thinking for Libraries' methodology, developed by IDEO in collaboration with the Chicago Public Library and Aarhus Public Libraries."

‘‘Innovation is perspiration: it's hard work.’’
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Was the switch to design thinking an immediate success?

"No, it takes time. I often say, 'Innovation is perspiration.' Design thinking rarely leads to a spontaneous 'eureka moment' where you figure out how everything can be better. You have to question conventions, conduct research, and take a new path when the old one leads nowhere. It's hard work. Most people can't do it alongside their regular jobs, at least not without help. That's why we introduced an ‘outboard motor’ for innovation six years ago, driving innovation within the library. A design team dedicated to innovation, known as Expeditie Anton, named after Anton Philips, the entrepreneur from the Philips family. 'Expeditie’ means expedition, which reflects our adventurous spirit. Expeditie Anton's task is to develop new business models, products, and services for the library, collaborating with teams of employees and partners such as design studios or technological developers. Expeditie Anton currently consists of two members. A duo with significant impact!"

Understanding Design Thinking

Design thinking is a creative approach that teaches people to think like designers. Small teams tackle challenges using "How might we?" questions, following a set of steps similar to those of professional designers. In essence: inspiration and research, recognizing patterns and developing ideas, and testing prototypes with users. In design thinking processes, the focus is on experimenting and quickly trying things out with the target audience. The solution is not predetermined, and the process is adaptable, leading to human-centric solutions for complex problems.

Design agency IDEO, in collaboration with the Chicago Public Library and Aarhus Public Libraries, developed a design thinking methodology specifically for libraries. "Expeditie Anton," the innovation team at Eindhoven Library, translated this methodology into a Dutch version in collaboration with innovation agency De Inspiratiebrigade.

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How did employees react to the innovative plans?

"Everyone understands what we're doing and, more importantly, why. But in practice, it demands a lot from people. Or, more accurately, it requires certain competencies not everyone possesses. Some people find change challenging in itself. They think, 'The world is already so complex; I just want to do what I need to do and fill my week with that.' When that routine is disrupted by a call for innovation and the accompanying uncertainty, not everyone finds it pleasant. Embracing design thinking and engaging in innovation requires curiosity, proactivity, the courage to ask questions, and the ability to provide sharp feedback. But you also need to establish easy connections, especially with people very different from yourself. We design together with our target audiences, from low-literacy individuals to newcomers from all corners of the world. Not everyone possesses these competencies."

‘‘"Prove that you're working on the right things. And let employees experience this themselves."’’
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What did you do to get more resistant employees on board?

"Resistance to innovation often stems from loyalty. Employees know their existing customers and what works. They are hesitant to change something familiar. Innovation needs a business model. To achieve that, you must understand the need your idea fulfills, the value it adds, and who is willing to pay for it. This insight is crucial for your own people. Prove that you're working on the right things. And let employees experience this themselves.When we started, all employees received a design thinking course from Expeditie Anton. And I mean everyone. New employees also undergo this training, giving them a basic familiarity with the methodology. It's not a dull presentation; it's a workshop. Concrete projects emerge from it, which they work on with Expeditie Anton. Immediately getting hands-on. We have an innovation module on our intranet that allows Expeditie Anton to collaborate with colleagues on innovation projects. All projects are public, allowing employees to gain inspiration and contribute their own ideas for projects. It's going really well. I see a real growth in the number of ideas and, especially, creative solutions for both large and small challenges."

What kind of innovations has Expeditie Anton introduced?

"For example, 'What's Next,' a tool that provides people with book recommendations. It intelligently utilizes lending data from the databases of all Dutch libraries. You can compare it to Spotify's Discover Weekly or the 'customers also bought' suggestions on In the library, there are kiosks where members can use 'What's Next,' and soon we'll have an app.Another example is 'Brainy,' a tool that teaches primary school children information literacy. It helps them search for the right information, evaluate sources, filter essentials, and share their findings persuasively, such as in a presentation or email. Many schools are already using Brainy."

You've been using design thinking for six years now. How has it changed the organization?

"Entrepreneurship and innovation are now genuinely in our DNA. I can confidently say that, and I don't say such things lightly. Design thinking has become much more natural for employees, and I see surprisingly innovative proposals coming from unexpected places. The outside world has also noticed that we're doing great things. We reap the benefits of that. We are much more actively involved in developments in Eindhoven, such as Hotspot, the new city living room. With our multifunctional district libraries, we have more space to create even more impact. Overall, our new mindset has led to many interesting new collaborations, from the GGD (municipal health services) to educational institutions, and from design studios to technological partners."

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What have you learned from your organizational change?

"Let me refer to Brainy for a moment. It's doing well now, but things only started rolling when the education inspectorate made information literacy mandatory for the curriculum. That brings me to another lesson: the importance of perseverance. Realizing innovations takes much more time than I initially thought. And a fantastic product doesn't sell itself. We need sales talent for that: one of many examples of how implementing design thinking influences various aspects of an organization. Success hinges on a change management approach that looks at the organization comprehensively."

‘‘Employing designers is sort of the new corporate social responsibility.’’
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What tips do you have for companies and organizations looking to use design thinking or work with designers?

"Above all, use design thinking effectively, not just for appearances. Employing designers is somewhat like the new corporate social responsibility. Saying, 'We've asked a social designer to interview a few people' is today's equivalent of 'We invest in a few charities and use sustainable coffee cups.' It's good, but it won't change the world. Moreover, many excellent designs end up unused in a drawer with such an attitude. Don't just brainstorm; take action. Dare to experiment and make mistakes.

Don't make it too complicated for yourself. If you want to embark on innovation, you don't have to immediately hire or retrain twenty people. With the right skills, a smart approach, and an enthusiastic organization, you can achieve great things, even with a team of two. Lastly, innovation doesn't always have to be glamorous. Start small, addressing concrete problems or challenges. Ultimately, everything has already been invented. By drawing inspiration from other sectors, you can often bring about impactful innovations in your own industry. We are living proof of that!"

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Want to learn more about the vision of Eindhoven Library?

Eindhoven Library has embedded design thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship in a future vision: "The library as a developer of people." The library's mission to contribute to the city and its residents' development takes center stage. They developed this vision in 2019 in collaboration with Eindhoven design agency Edhv and various regional partners.

Read the vision