The hidden meaning of “a great degree of flexibility and customization”

Code4Lib mailing list has an interesting discussion about a discovery layer for Primo. This particular discussion piqued my interest not because of the technical content, but for what’s not actually being discussed. Here’s the sentence that intrigued me (italic part is mine):

We use Alma/Primo here at California State University  Sacramento and are finding a great degree of flexibility and customization of the local collections.

Flexibility and customization! I do like this. However, something else nagged me as well. Admit it, most of us are tinkerer. We like the idea that we can customize anything to make sure the relevant information will be displayed properly, with additional bells and whistles if needed. We cherish the idea of “freedom” in this area, where we can basically create a “perfect” user interface without being constrained by the vendor’s product. After all, each library is different and cookie-cutter templates could never satisfy us.

Here lies the hidden meaning of the freedom that we are so wanted: we better know what we’re doing. There will be a time we have to devote a lot of our time for the panning and designing, and making careful considerations we have to work on to make the product work effectively.  Anybody whose work deals with information architecture and/or user experience knows this. Design decision should be based on usability study, data analysis, and users research –understanding how our users would interact with our web presence. Most of us already have data from our web logs; our face-to-face or virtual interactions with users who are attempting to use our web presence gave us indications the pain points of our website; and, if we’re lucky, we already did one or two usability studies of our web presence.

However, when it comes to working on a totally new service with new web presence, do those data and the analysis we did apply to this new design? How do we exactly go about designing a totally new user interface? There is no easy answer to that. It is always a good thing to involve our user from the beginning, getting their input and and trust their opinion. Or create stories of personas (stake holders) and use them at least as a starting point. And this is probably where the paradox are happening. We know our services and collections, and we know our systems. So we design how we present our collections and services based on our previous understandings about our past users, who might or might not still relevant.

[lost my thought here. it might come back later. someday.]