Even Overdue Fine Notices Should Show Some Personality: Branded Messages & The Little Cloud Concept

July 12, 2010, 4:03 pm

So we’re gearing up for the
next academic year. Time to get all the messaging together and figure out what
we want to say to our different audiences. I’ve been doing a bit of an
inventory on all of our touch points—all the unique spots in which we interact
with our users via various formats, and wondering if we are consistently on


Big picture… what I mean is,
we are working to build the brand identity of the library as a welcoming, productive
and scholarly entity… but does that transfer throughout the entire user
experience? And I’m thinking more globally here, not just at UCSB.


This brings me back to an
idea I had about two years ago involving email notifications regarding book
requests: The Little Cloud Concept. I tend to borrow a lot of books from other
libraries. It’s always cool to get that email letting you know that an item has


On one particular day I
received both an overdue notice and an item arrival message. As I looked at
them together, conceptually, there was very little difference. Both read like
form letters and offered very little personality.  Obviously that’s exactly what they are: form letters
generated automatically. But if we’re talking seriously about user experience
design then these notes need to be considered as a communications channel.
These are functional interaction points that can reveal a lot about our


I started thinking, what if these messages could be communicated in a
friendlier manner? How about something more casual or vernacular? When I get
these messages here is what I’m thinking:


  • The book your requested is
    available. Awesome!
  • The book you have out has
    been recalled. Damn!
  • The book you have out is now
    overdue. Lame!


Obviously we don’t want to
use my language, but that was the kernel of the idea. How could we make these
form letters more appealing and on target with the attitude and brand that
we’re trying to build?


Visualizing Personality

At the place I use to work,
overdue emails included the contact info of a person who worked at circ. And
while I had no beef personally with this individual, the fact that her name was
associated with potential fines left a lingering negative impact in my mind. I
connected her name with problems or issues related to my borrowing privileges.


I started thinking, what if
we could visualize the message? As a concept I imaged a little cloud, kind of
in the spirit of the
chumby octopus
. If you were getting good news, the cloud is happy with maybe
has some rays of sun. If it was bad news, then it looks rainy. And if it is
really bad then it’s very stormy. So along with more informal language, having
a graphic that changed depending on the circumstances could be kind of cool and
memorable. It would demonstrate that the library has some personality instead
of just sending dry impersonal form letters that they might expect. This seemed
like a chance to surprise them a bit.


Just putting it out there. This
isn’t really about having a cute cloud mascot, but rather, a reflection on
branding. As we put effort into expanding outreach initiatives, developing
better user experiences, and designing modern knowledge spaces,
we really need to be holistic and consider every point of interaction. Even emails
letting people know that their ILL is overdue is an important piece of our
communications strategy. We could all be missing out on a good way to present


Here is a good summer read
that talks all about this stuff! See Chapter 9.


If your library already does
something like this I’d love to see some examples of creative “you got fines”

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