Looking and Listening: A Mixed-Methods Study of Space Use and User Satisfaction
Keywords:space, user satisfaction, user surveys, observation, redesign
Objective – This study was designed to assess users' reactions to two newly re-designed spaces – one intended for quiet study and the other for group study – in the busiest library branch of a large research university. The researchers sought to answer the following questions: For which activity (group work, quiet study, and lounging or relaxing) do the users feel the space is most effective? Which furniture pieces do users prefer and for which activities? How are these spaces being used?
Methods – Researchers used a mixed-methods approach for this study. Two methods – surveys and comment boards – were used to gather user feedback on preference for use of the space and users’ feelings about particular furniture types. A third method – observation – was used to determine which of the particular areas and furniture pieces occupants were using most, for which activities the furniture was most commonly used, and what types of possessions occupants most often carried with them.
Results – User opinion indicated that each of the spaces assessed was most effective for the type of activity for which it was designed. Of the 80% of respondents that indicated they would use the quiet study space for quiet study, 91% indicated that the space was either "very effective" or "effective" for that purpose. The survey results also indicated that 47% of the respondents would use the group study space for that purpose. The observation data confirmed that the quiet study space was being used primarily for individual study; however, the data for the group study space showed equal levels of use for individual and group study. Users expressed a preference for traditional furniture, such as tables and desk chairs, over comfortable pieces for group work and for quiet study. One exception was a cushioned reading chair that was the preferred item for quiet study in 23% of the responses. The white boards were chosen as a preferred item for group study by 27% of respondents. The observations showed similar results for group study, with the three table types and the desk chair being used most often. The lounge chairs and couch grouping was used most often for individual study, followed by the tables and desk chairs.
Conclusion – By combining user feedback gathered through surveys and comment boards with usage patterns determined via observation data, the researchers were able to answer the questions for which their assessment was designed. Results were analyzed to compare user-stated preferences with actual behaviour and were used to make future design decisions for other library spaces. Although the results of this study are institutionally specific, the methodology could be successfully applied in other library settings.
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