The Ottawa Tool Library is a non-profit tool library offering tool lending, workspace rental and expertise. They operate on a subscription model with additional revenue from events. During COVID, the OTL was forced to move out because their landlord was evicted, leading them to store their tools with local community partners. Since their operations are run entirely in-person, they were forced to close operations until they could find a new home. Not only is this financially unsustainable, but it is also problematic for users as they cannot access the services during COVID.
How might the Ottawa Tool Library adapt its services, while providing a seamless tool use experience, in order to remain operational and profitable during COVID?
To help the OTL, adapt its services to be more accessible and supportive for its users, I proposed 4 possible improvements:
- A diffused library partner network: Utilize the fact that the tool library's inventory is spread across its community partners to create a decentralized library network that allows tools to be rented out from multiple locations throughout the city.
- A mobile library van: Have a mobile tool library van that can deliver and pick up tool rentals to/ from users, as well as hold mobile pop-up workshop events.
- Digital touchpoint revamp: Transferring the library inventory from pen and paper to a digital inventory management system, connected with a redesigned website and new mobile app that allows for online bookings, event registrations and access to resources.
- Resources and Consultations: Offering a resource library and digital consultations with tool ninjas to help library members learn about tools and receive help with their projects.
Understanding the service context
I started with research collection, consisting of both secondary and primary research. For secondary research, I conducted online research on the OTL service and context. Areas that I explored included collaborative consumption, the maker movement, and libraries of things. I also researched how COVID-19 has impacted the DIY and maker movements. Based on my secondary research, I created a context map that summarized the trends, competitors and other contextual factors regarding the OTL service.
Conducting user research
Once I had a better understanding of the service context, I started my primary research. I began with stakeholder interviews to understand the internal operations, pain points and opportunities from the service provider’s perspective. I conducted four semi-structured online interviews, talking with one of the OTL’s co-founders, the Tool Ninja Coordinator, a Tool Librarian and the Volunteer Coordinator. The four different roles interviewed provided both a managerial level and ground-level perspective of the service. From these interviews, I highlighted and saved my insights for comparison later in the process.
I then conducted an online survey designed to provide disaggregated data based on respondents who were non-users of tool libraries, users of tool libraries other than the OTL, and OTL Members. After collecting 65 responses to the online survey, I synthesized my findings based on the three user groups and summarized them.
Based on the survey results, I crafted specific questions for the interview discussion guide, targeting both prospective members and current or past members. I interviewed a total of five users, conducting semi-structured, recorded interviews online via zoom. After compiling the user interview results, I created an affinity diagram to cluster common feedback and insights from users and staff. From these categorizations, I identified the themes that were highlighted by the interviewees and used those insights to craft my “how might we” questions.
Insights on the tool library service
After synthesizing my research from stakeholder interviews, user surveys and user interviews, I identified 3 main insights that guided me throughout the rest of the project:
- A new market of quarantine DIYers has emerged during the pandemic.
- The current tool lending service relies on manual operations and uses disjointed touchpoints.
- Members of all skill levels require more tool and project support.
Facilitating an online co-design session
After finishing the research collection and synthesis, I started to plan the ideation session. I designed a one and a half-hour online ideation session on Miro, consisting of two brainstorming activities with six participants. I recruited both users, designers and marketing participants, each coming from a different country, to ensure a diverse ideation team. After the ideation session, I analyzed and synthesized the results in an affinity diagram. I clustered similar ideas into themes and drew relations between complementary ideas.
User Survey Questions
Other (please specify)
Rethinking the tool library system
To design and develop my service proposal, I started by roughly outlining the touchpoints and actors involved. Following this step, I sketched a system map to visualize how the OTL and its partners could collaborate to provide the proposed service improvements. By mapping out the flow of inputs and outputs, I could understand the value exchanges taking place within the system and how this value is delivered to the user.
With the COVID-19 restrictions and no permanent location at the moment, the OTL has to adapt to continue to provide its services. Realizing how strong the community support and partner networks are for the library, I realized that they could leverage this network to provide a diffused version of the library. By having different tools stored with different partners, the library’s overall geographical footprint is larger, making it potentially more accessible to more of the Ottawa community. In this way, users can book a tool online, see which partner site is storing the tool and arrange for curbside pickup or delivery. In exchange for their help, the community partners would be able to use the OTL tools for free. Additionally, OTL members would be provided discounts to these community partners, driving traffic to these partner businesses.
This partner network could be made more accessible through a mobile library in the form of a tool van. For smaller, commonly rented tools such as hand tools and small power tools, the OTL can host them in a van and easily drive to deliver them directly to users. The van can also drive between partner sites to pick up larger tools to deliver directly to users’ homes. The van could also be a site to host smaller outdoor workshops, demos and tinkering school classes. Furthermore, tool ninjas can use it to teach members how to use tools when they go to deliver them to their house. It can also be used for in-person consultations while the tool library is looking for a new space. Post-COVID, the van can continue to offer delivery services and work as an additional workspace.
Blueprinting the new service
After the system map, I mapped out the new service blueprint to articulate the service operations in more detail.
To tackle and address the insights mentioned in the previous section, I am proposing a new omnichannel approach to the OTL’s services that will allow it to remain operational during COVID-19 while also setting up the service for future scaling. The proposal is to offer the OTL tool lending services through a community partner network, creating a diffused library connected through a new consolidated website, a digital inventory management system, a mobile app, and van delivery. OTL can continue working with the community partners who are storing their tools to offer limited tool lending services to users until they can find a permanent home. Members can go in-person to pick up tools at the different partner sites or they can have the tools delivered to them through the OTL Mobile Library Van.
To help manage the inventory, the OTL can leverage the myTools digital SKU system. By creating scannable QR codes that can be applied to each tool, the check-in and check-out process will be much more efficient. Staff can simply scan themember’s QR code and the QR code of the tool with their phone to check a tool in or out. This reduces the workload of the volunteers and reduces the friction of the check-in and check-out experience.
Users can also use the new OTL app and website to access to their membership and tool borrowing information. They can reserve tools; schedule pickups or deliveries with the van or one of the library partner sites, and also access online learning and consultation resources all through the app or website. The app can send reminders to members of upcoming rental expiries so that they do not forget to renew bookings. Members can also renew tools through the app with instant confirmation, saving them from having to drive to the library or call and wait.
Redesigning the digital touchpoints
The OTL website was in need of a redesign both in terms of function and aesthetics.To begin, I started with laying out the information architecture to understand the hierarchy of the features to be included.
I then used this information architecture and the new service blueprint as the basis for my user flow. After developing the user flow, I sketched paper wireframes to visualize the layout of the different features.
A consolidated website
The new website would be hosted on Shopify and include a myTools inventory integration. This allows them to provide their main information pages and online shop through one platform, reducing the need for multiple logins. This will provide a more consistent user experience and will simplify the backend management of the inventory, online store and website.
To help new and beginner tool users feel less intimidated, the OTL can provide learning resources and reference material for different tools and projects. For each tool, there are tags for which categories they belong in and what type of tool they are. This helps with filtering the tools and makes searching for tools easier. Also, alternative names for tools will be included on the tool’s page, helping make the search more comprehensive.
For each tool page, users have a description of the tool and its use, the make and model if they want to search up manufacturer’s information, plus tool videos, project tutorials, similar tools and OTL projects made with the tool. The tool video can be an OTL video of a tool ninja demoing the tool, or it can be a link to an alternative reputable sourced video. The project tutorials show possible projects users can make with the tool. This not only helps them better understand the context of use for the tool, but it can also act as inspiration for new possible projects. The similar tools section allows users to browse tools with similar functions. At the bottom is a mini gallery of what other OTL members have made with that tool. This helps to provide a sense of community while also reducing the intimidation of tool use by showing other members using the tools.
A new OTL app
The app allows users to reserve tools, check membership information and browse and buy tickets to upcoming OTL programming. Tickets and tool bookings are all given unique QR codes connected to the myTurn and Shopify systems, allowing purchases and rentals to be tracked by the OTL staff. The app is also synced with Apple Wallet and Apple Calendar, allowing users to add event tickets directly to their wallets and save events into their calendars. They can also easily checkout using Apple Pay.
Furthermore, users can access additional tools such as the tool scan and the tool picker through the app. For the tool matcher, users who need help picking tools can answer a series of simple questions regarding the task and project they are looking to complete and the app will suggest tools that could fit the job. This helps beginner users better select tools and also reduces the workload of the tool ninjas. If a member requires extra assistance, they can always open a chat or book a one-on-one consultation session with one of the tool ninjas or repair cafe fixers. With tool scan, users can scan a tool’s QR code to access a page with all the information and resources available for that tool. On the tool page, they can access how-to videos, possible projects, tutorials and projects other tool members have done with that tool. This not only helps users learn about the tools but also helps connect them to other OTL members and their projects.
Check out the app prototype below:
Steel Oil Drum
1" Round Steel Tubing (54" long)
Nuts and Bolts (x2)
Final Service Proposal
Check out the full project report or watch this short video describing the redesigned Ottawa Tool Library service: