Chicago Public Library

A Case Study

Building the Library of the Future…

Chicago Public Library

Project: The project was executed over a 2-week period, my group and I gravitated towards a more agile design process due to the accelerated timeline.

Process: End-to-end user experience design which includes strategic planning, research, design, testing, and user interface design

Tools: Sketch, Invision


Chicago Public Library

Goal: Inform, Educate, Inspire and Surprise visitors.

Vision: Transform the library into a cultural destination for all and ensure the library stays relevant in the 21st century.

Execution: Continual rollout of smaller, digital initiatives.

But why does this problem exist?!

Discovery — Research & Strategy

Domain Research: The CPL consists of the main library (Harold Washington) and 80 smaller branches throughout Chicago. Throughout our research, we found that the library is starting to transform the physical space (starting with the Children’s library) and has plans to redesign and update the website.

These findings led us to focus on the mobile application, since attention is already being given to the website and physical space.

Then, we researched the library’s strategic plan which outlines their 3 main priorities:

Overview of CPL’s Vision (Page 13 of the Strategic Plan)

We also found some new branding (much more colorful) which we wanted to incorporate into our design, too!

CPL Branding Image

User Research: Survey, Yelp Reviews, and Approximately 20 interviews with both visitors & staff members.

“My reaction was, ‘what is in the world in that building?’ I looked at Google maps and I would have never guessed it was a library though.” — Yelp Review

“People are very surprised when they come inside and see that we have music rooms and a makers lab” — HWL Staff Member

95% of survey responders associate libraries with books, quiet, or describe them as “outdated”


  • Chicagoans and tourists alike are not aware of the resources offered other than books therefore do not view Chicago Public Libraries as cultural institutions in Chicago.
  • There is a sense of uncertainty about how to navigate the libraries and all the resources available which leads to less productivity, frustration, and inconvenience among its visitors.
  • Each CPL branch offers different value to its diverse variety of visitors, and most people desire a connection to be made with people in their community at a local library.
  • People find that the mobile application is helpful with book navigation, but it does not meet their desire to connect with the community, educate, learn, and grow.
  • People are more likely to use the library and its resources when they have a tool that helps them learn, plan, and connect with what the library has to offer.

Competitive/Comparative Analysis: Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, New York Public Library, Lincoln Park Zoo

Initially, we did not conduct this analysis, but it was clear that this was an important step in understanding how other work spaces and cultural destinations attract visitors. We will revisit the competitive and comparative analysis when we come back to this project in the future.


Based on actual visitors we interviewed, we created 3 personas that represent real users. The first persona, Alice, was our primary user.

Primary User, Alice (Student)
Secondary User, Jen (Parent)
Special User, Roberto (Tourist)
Empathy Map for our primary user, Alice.

Empathy Map

Pain Points: Unproductive and inefficient because time is spent finding resources

Goals: Professional Growth and Education, Make Connections, Efficiency, Productivity

Design & Testing

Design Studio: We focused on our MVP (Community & Awareness) for the Design Studio Activity where we worked with our classmates to brainstorm design solutions.


Fostering Community Engagement → Application Connecting People, Profile similar to Facebook, Meetup Groups.

Awareness & Transparency of Resources → Events, Flyers, App Notifications, Kiosks, Booths.

Sketches, Wire-framing, Refine: We kept Alice in mind when sketching so we were sure to be creating a solution that would solve her problems. Every feature was developed for her, but we found that Jen would also benefit from using the app.

Final Prototype (Medium-Fidelity)

Screens of the CPL app

Homepage — displays 4 main categories: Events, Learn, Grow, and Connect

Complete Profile — allows users to select interests so events, books, etc. can be suggested

Profile — users can easily connect with others and plan their next visit to the library.

Click here to view our interactive prototype!

User Journey

User Journey for Alice

Future Iterations

We believe our mobile app solution increases COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, help users be more PRODUCTIVE, and promotes AWARENESS OF RESOURCES, SERVICES, AND EVENTS and SUPPORTS the library’s MISSION AND VISION. But we had to ask ourselves, was this a right way to solve the problem?

  • Did our solution solve for a large enough demographic?
  • Was our solution realistic and feasible?
  • Did we tackle the main things we were solving for (community and awareness)?
  • Was Alice the right person to solve for?

We would like to each go back individually and ask ourselves these questions to improve upon our design, or maybe go in a different direction completely.

Final Thoughts

This brief was broad, the problem BIG, and a huge challenge to solve for in just 2 weeks. We found ourselves struggling with the amount of data and insights from our observations and research. There were several design directions we could have taken, and ultimately tried to achieve too much. We were a little too ambitious with our final product, but are proud of the progress we made and look forward to revisiting the project and creating something that would be more feasible for our client.

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