Sometimes, Kansas makes the national news for the silliest things. This time, we made the news because of a poorly redesigned license plate (see the accompanying pic). The governor announced the change … and then 6 says later, announced that Kansas is re-thinking that!
The new license plate design has some issues. It’s ugly (I think so, anyway). It apparently looks a bit like a New York license plate; it uses the University of Missouri’s colors (Kansas arch-rivals in sports); and it also reminds people of … Texas (i.e., the stars).
It’s also a great example of how NOT to do something!
Reading into it a bit, here’s what I think happened. My guess is that this project was instigated internally. The state highway patrol wanted license plates that are easier to read, so they asked for a new design that’s easy to see from a distance, with highly contrasting colors. Also, apparently some of our older license plates have letters that are peeling off. About 5 years ago, Kansas switched to print-on-demand, and the newer plates don’t have letters that peel off.
So … they figured out what would work best for them … internally. And designed that. Then someone piped up and said “hey, we need to have some sort of Kansas connection.” So they translated part of the state motto (“Ad astra per aspera,” or “to the stars through difficulty”), and added the “to the stars” phrase, with two stars as a bonus in the design.
Then, after everyone internally was happy with it … they shared the new design with Kansans. And 6 days later they had to backpedal (because no one likes the new design). Now, we’ll probably get 4-6 potential designs to somehow vote on.
What should Kansas have done differently?
- Asked Kansans up front about the design. Maybe created a taskforce with graphic designers or something … and included some parameters, like “has to be easy to read, can’t peel, etc.”
- Perhaps stuck to the newer version of the current design, which doesn’t have problems with numbers peeling off, and just re-issue license plates to people who have the older version.
- Set up a way to vote from the beginning.
Any lessons for libraries here? Oh yes indeed.
- Don’t redesign unless you really need to! Maybe there’s a much smaller way to do things (i.e., just re-print the older license plates) that fixes the problem, rather than a complete re-do.
- Have a customer-facing plan. Yes, there are staff needs (i.e., clearly legible license plate numbers). Yes, planning with an internal focus fixes the internal issue. But fixing the internal issue sometimes makes a larger customer-facing issue. So … work on getting customer input. Which leads us to #3.
- Always put the customer first. For example, with the license plate thing … let Kansans have a say in what goes on their cars, and what represents Kansas – shoulda done that first! For a library … actually ask your customers/patrons about it. For example, if you are building a new Kids area, ask kids and parents what works and what doesn’t in the current space.
I’m glad our Kansas state government was able to pivot and go another way after they received input from Kansans. Guess what? You can do that too!