Friday Design: Colors, Fun, and Tips

Happy Friday, dear readers! I can hardly believe we are coming to the end of another month. Was it a good month for you? Did you get a chance to do complete some projects, design something fun, and read some good books? I feel like I need a week to sleep so I can process everything and get some new projects underway. Today, I want to share a few links to design inspiration and a few tips that I’ve been thinking about as I’ve started a new research project on librarians and graphic design.

First, I wanted to share this article from Smashing Magazine, Underestimated power of color in mobile app design. Thoughtful use of color is so important and often an afterthought, at least in some of the recent designs I’ve been seeing. This article is a great overview (or review) of color theory and things to think about to ensure when you use color it isn’t just beautiful, but it is accessible, too. While you may not be designing an app for your library (although that sounds like fun!), lots of our patrons access your library’s website and resources through their phones. This means thinking about how color works in a mobile world makes sense for all of us. Let’s make great color choices for our libraries, okay?

Second, another article, this time on Understanding stacked bar charts. As more and more libraries look to present their statistics and evidence in visually pleasing ways, data visualization is becoming incredibly important skill for librarians. This is a great overview of the why and how to create stacked bar charts. I found this especially timely as we are working on reports in the library now and discussing how to best present our data.

Finally, in terms of design, I had to share a thought from one of the interviews I’ve done recently with librarians about design. It is something that every librarian who is a de facto graphic designer for their library should paste to their wall: “There’s no excuse for ugly.” I completely agree with this statement. In graphic design, no matter what we are creating, there is no excuse for ugly. Whatever we design, there is no excuse to create something ugly. While tastes differ in terms of design, to me, ugly means non-accessible, difficult to understand, and completely without thought to composition, color, type, or theme.

Whatever we create, we owe it to our library patrons and ourselves to create something that is beautiful and communicates our library’s mission, services, and resources clearly and effectively. With graphic design so often being seen as an afterthought in libraries, let’s not give anyone the excuse that it isn’t worth the time because the results are bad. Go out and create something wonderful. It is worth the time and the effort.

And, simply because I love Santa Cruz and it feels like we should all be taking off on vacation soon: One day, one place: Santa Cruz. Enjoy!

I hope you have a lovely weekend full of good friends, good food, and good reads. I’ll be back soon with more. Allons-y!

Friday Design Inspiration and Tips

Happy Friday, dear readers! Can you believe we are over a quarter of the way through another year? I can’t. Time is speeding up, I think, which is worrisome. What isn’t worrisome though is the new batch of inspiration we have since it is now April. I hope that the beginnings of spring or fall, depending on where in the world you are currently, have inspired you in your work and in your creating.

One of the things I most look forward to is seeing the new batch of desktop wallpapers on Smashing Magazine each moth and the April desktop wallpapers are absolutely delightful. I’d love to change out the desktops each month on the library’s computers, but I’m sure the campus would be annoyed we weren’t using official branding. Ah, well. At least we can be inspired when looking at our office and home monitors.

Smashing Magazine has also posted their monthly inspiration column: April inspiration. So many lovely photographs and illustrations and the color combinations make me want to create so many new things. Right now, though, I’m working on mock-ups in black & white that can be classy, but springtime makes me crave color.

Any season change is inspiring, but some are more than others. Do you find yourself getting into a rut creatively? Not sure what to do to make your next handout more effective? Reaching for the same typefaces and color palettes for every project? Everyone gets there sometimes. What is important then is what you do to get out of a creative rut. Some people go to the museum, others walking, others reviewing their inspiration file. Me? I was feeling in a bit of a rut, especially as I don’t get to apply much of my love of graphic design in my work on a daily basis, which is a shame. So I decided to stretch myself creatively and take an introduction to artists’ books workshop.

It was just the thing I needed to start looking at the world in a slightly different angle and seeing how I could integrate different forms of art with bookbinding and maybe even a future exhibit at the library. So I want to leave with sharing a couple of photos from what I started to make at the workshop. The words are from the end of a quote from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, “It means you must still take long walks at night around your city or town, or walks in the country by day. And long walks, at any time, through bookstores and libraries.”

photograph of three booklets made in a workshop

Selection of small books made to demonstrate different formats

photograph of open book with the words "through bookstores and libraries" written on the pages

Last pages of book using Bradbury’s quote


I hope you have a wonderful weekend full of time to refill your creative tanks and relax. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes. Allons-y!



Friday Design Fun

Happy Friday and Happy St. Patrick’s Day, dear readers! I hope you’ve had a lovely week and have a wonderful weekend planned. It has been a busy week here with final exams and the always too-short turnaround time to get ready for the spring quarter. So today I just have a few, fun design things to share and will hopefully be back next week with some more library design examples.

First, if you are at all interested in fountain pens and ink testing, you’ll love that Col-o-rings are coming soon. Ink testing books on a metal o-ring for easy reordering and the paper looks fantastic. Just what one would expect from The Well-Appointed Desk.

Second, more free icons! These sparkly icon set, Ballicon 3, looks like it could be just the thing to make spring materials shine. So fun and happy!

Finally, because it will soon be officially spring, a springtime salad recipe from Joy the Baker: spring strawberry salad with cucumber and feta.

Have a wonderful day filled with good reads, good design, and good eats. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes. Allons-y!

Friday Design: Quiet and Typography

Happy Friday, dear readers! I hope that your week has gone well and that you have gotten done what you needed & wanted to before diving into the weekend. I’m amazed we are more than one week into March already and the spring quarter at my university will begin soon, which means a lot more teaching and a lot less time for design for me in the upcoming months. But I can’t complain. There’s always pockets of time for designing, even in the busiest of quarters. Today I want to share some examples and inspiration, mostly to do with type and how quiet inspires so much of what I design and do. I hope it will inspire you, too.

So first, the case for quiet or why you need less noise for work and your health. A short read that has a lot of links to other studies and reports and contains lots of good information. I’m not someone who needs to be sold on the value of quiet and silence, but maybe you know someone at your library who does. Share this with them. Your creativity and productivity will thank you.

I’ve always been one for working in silence. I can’t handle music playing when I write or even really when I’m drawing, binding books, or laying out a new project on the screen. If I try to listen to anything else, I become distracted and I’m not nearly as productive or creative as I am in silence.

photograph of Japanese tea garden pathAnd, while it is almost impossible to come by silence in an urban environment, we can get quiet and one of the best ways of achieving quiet and inspiration is to get outside for a walk. In my neighborhood, the Japanese tea garden is always one of the places I find inspiring and peaceful.

Getting outside and enjoying some fresh air & sunshine always inspires some new work, usually with a nature theme.

But perhaps you are more inspired when you are surrounded by books. If that’s the case, then The Well-Appointed Desk’s Fashionable Friday: Bibliophile Edition has you covered.

So many lovely things. But what does this have to do with typography? Quiet isn’t just about audio noise, but visual noise, too. Too much clutter visually makes it harder for us to pay attention to the signal as we have to parse through so much noise. Thinking about quiet in design can create more thoughtful, restful, and powerful graphic design for our libraries than simply throwing everything we can think of on the page.

This is brought home with two very different examples of marketing and typography that I’ve seen on my recent walks around campus and the city.

The first example is of what un-quiet typography looks like and is found all over the campus right now as we prepare for going to semesters, which is an entirely different design challenge.

vertical sign advertising advising for the change from quarters to semesters on campusThis person who designed this sign had such good intentions, but went astray when it came to the typography.

As noted in a previous post on setting type to run vertically, don’t set it so people read from bottom to top. This is unnatural. I have no idea why this keeps happening on signs around campus, but I really, really wish it would stop.

While the colors used are our official colors, the typeface isn’t. It’s not even close and the university just put out a new branding book with explicit typefaces that should be used. The largest text looks like it was set with Tekton Pro, or something similar. While very friendly, it is not in the brand book.

Also, there is nothing quiet or restful about this sign. I know it is made to grab attention, but where do you start reading? What’s most important? Why is it this shape? Why can’t I read the URL easily? There’s so many questions about how this was designed (and how it got approved when it is in conflict with the branding guidelines). But this does show what not to do with your library signs.

Bright, warm colors, like red, are great at capturing attention, but you need to make sure that your signs are always easy to read. So don’t set type reading the wrong direction and make sure whatever form your sign will take that it is appropriate for the venue and context.

Unlike the signs on campus, I saw this sign while waiting for the SF Center for the Book to open last weekend for a workshop.

San Francisco Center for the Book billboard saying, Teching people to make books by hand since 1996.It is the opposite of the other sign. It is eye-catching, in a good way, while still managing to be quiet and restful visually. The orange text stands out, is easy-to-read and bold. Nothing is aligned to center just because someone couldn’t think of anything else to do.

The images are clear, aligned beautiful and provide the context and historical connections between SF Center for the Book and their mission: teaching the art of the book through their many workshops, classes, and exhibits. This is great sign design. Strive for this in your library’s signs and visual communications.

Quiet doesn’t mean boring design. It means deliberate and thoughtful. It means taking your time to determine what is essential to convey rather than yelling everything you can think of to get attention. How can you use the concept of quiet in your next design project at your library?

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, full of time to create and to relax. I’ll be back next week with more news and notes. Allons-y!


Friday Design Inspiration: Almost Spring Edition

Happy Friday, dear readers! Well, here we are at the start of another month and it is almost spring. Where is the time going? It is just flying by, but with the days getting longer (and a little bit warmer) it seems to me that spring is a great time to jump start our design work with some new inspiration. So I have a round-up of articles and inspiration to share with you today that will hopefully help with whatever you happen to be working on.

First, it’s a new month and that means another gorgeous batch of wallpaper to refresh your desktop from Smashing Magazine. Check out the March desktop wallpapers and get inspired even when you are stuck in front of your computer for the seventh hour straight.

There is more March inspiration from Smashing Magazine in the form of the round-up of great photographs and illustrations. I love this monthly post as it always gives me great ideas for color patterns, and often places to add to my travel bucket list, too!

I recently got a new laptop and had to move over a number of files, including my all-important font files so this article on how to cut back on digital clutter seemed like very timely advice to me. Whether you are trying to organize and simplify your digital filing structure (or create a structure) or trying to limit the amount of time you’re spending on social networks and checking notifications, spring is a great time to clean up digitally as well as around the house.

And, after you clean, you might find you have more headspace for designing. If so, check out this Elements from Earth to Space Icon Set. You know me, I love icon sets and I hope I get a design that I can use this one with soon.

With the rain finally letting up around here, it’s a great time to get outside and take some photos for my next projects. Are you ever disappointed with how your photos come out, especially if you compare them to those you see online? Most photos could benefit with some retouching and this article shares 10 Photoshop tips to fix your photographs.

And, if all this digital talk makes you crave a break away from the screen, check out this long and useful article on getting started with calligraphy. As a fan of calligraphy and other forms of lettering, I can attest to its benefits for relaxing and inspiring new work. Besides, who doesn’t want beautiful writing? It will definitely set you apart in this age of decline in hand-written notes and letters.

I hope you have a great weekend. I’ll be back soon with some more news, notes, and examples of design. Allons-y!

Friday Design: Maintaining Inspiration & Action

Happy Friday, dear readers! My goodness we are almost to the end of another month. Has it been a good month for you? Have you created and shared something new with the world? I hope your month is going well and you are maintaining your inspiration for your work and your play. I hope you are also using your voice as a librarian to make people welcome in your library, your design work can help with this, too. Today, I want to share some things that have helped me in the last few weeks get inspired and get moved to action. Hopefully they help you, too.

Let’s face it, it’s been a hard year, a chaotic year in many ways already. And, sometimes you really do need to decompress in order to continue to engage. I highly recommend this article on 10 ways to escape reality and relax. I’m so thankful we are getting some sunshine here in California that I can walk outside and listen to the birds. They remind me it’s almost spring and that nature can be so inspiring.

I finally got two Chuck Wendig books from my local public library and can’t wait to dive into them, but I’ve been enjoying his blog for quite sometime. His advice for writers can go for anyone who needs some motivation for continuing to work in times of trial. Check out his post, Why Persist as a Writer (NSFW, if you have someone reading over your shoulder).

For design work, we can always use inspiration. I think of my brain as a Rolodex a lot of the time, filing a way bits of inspiration to use at some later date. And one of the things that always inspires me is great typography. So check out this set of gorgeous free fonts, courtesy of Smashing Magazine. Who knows? You might find just the one for your next project.

And, because it is still winter, check out Colorful Inspiration for Gray Days, also from Smashing Magazine. We could use all the help we can get and this is a great dose of inspiration for projects both inside and outside the library.

Finally, check out these color and culture quizzes from HOW Magazine to dip your toe into vast ocean of interesting associations we have with colors depending on our culture. Gives you something to think about the next time you are creating a design and picking out a color palette.

I hope you have a lovely weekend filled with joy and time to relax, to create, and to do something wonderful. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes. Allons-y!

Friday Design: Sign-Making Quick Tip for Vertical Text

Happy Friday, dear readers! Another day, more things to do. It sometimes seems like the to-do list grows faster than we can get things done and if you’ave added sign-making to your list of things to do, today’s design tips are for you. I want to just take a bit of time to talk about signs, but specifically signs that run their type vertically.

You’ve probably seen a banner or sign like the one below before. Either attached to a lamppost or held up at a march or rally. Tall, slender signs sometimes call for running type vertically. You shouldn’t stack type vertically–you know, one letter on top of another without rotating the letters–but sometimes it does make sense to run type vertically given space constraints. But is the sign below easy to read?

banner attached to a lamppost showing text running from bottom to top for reading

I’d argue that it isn’t. We won’t get into issues of typeface choices, but just focus on how to properly run text vertically on a sign. When do you ever read from the bottom to the top on a sign? Rarely, if ever, I’d guess. It goes against just about every natural reading instinct we have when reading and every design idea about information hierarchy. When reading English, it is most natural to read from left to right and top to bottom. If you are going to run text vertically, so we have to tilt our heads to read it, you need to make your text so we read it from top to bottom.

Where do you see this done correctly? On bookspines, of course. The photo below is of part of a bookshelf in my office. Notice that every spine that runs the text vertically does it so the viewer reads from top to bottom.

photograph of book spines showing that text runs from top to bottom of spine for easy reading

This is the logical way of placing text to make it easy to read and gives it more impact. Don’t work against your readers natural reading habits for creating signs. Use them to reinforce your message.

So, whether you are making a sign or banner for your library or one for yourself, run your text properly from top to bottom if you need to rotate your text. Don’t stack the letters without rotation and don’t make us, your readers, read from bottom to top. And that’s your quick design tip on sign-making today. I’ll be back with more design tips soon.

Until then, enjoy some lovely February graphics in the form of Valentine’s Day Icons and February desktop wallpapers, both from Smashing Magazine.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, full of creativity, productivity, and meaningful interactions. Remember, graphic design can seem a bit frivolous, but that’s only if you don’t harness its power for communication and for action and for resistance. As Neil Gaiman reminds us, “Make Good Art.” Allons-y!

All are Welcome: Library Poster

Hello, dear readers! I know I haven’t been posting as regularly and I’m sorry if you haven’t been able to get your usual graphic design and library fix from this blog. But, as others much more eloquent and wise than me have already written and said, it is hard sometimes to see the point in writing about such things as writing or design or art when it seems like everyday brings a new crisis for civil liberties and human decency and the list goes on and on. But we all also know that art can build community and can help with the resistance. So to that end, in addition to the protesting, and donating, and activism that I know is taking up a lot more of my time than it did a couple of weeks ago, I made a poster–just a simple poster, but I hope it can help.

Here it is:

All are welcome. You belong here. This is a library.


It’s simple and straightforward. HT to the other artists and libraries, like Olin Library at Cornell University, who have already created and posted signs and statements of welcome. This one is mine and it can be yours, too.

Click the image and get the link to the PDF. Feel free to download, print, and post at your library. It prints on regular letter-size paper in black and white (because we all know that printing in color can be a no-go for budgetary reasons). Share it with others.

I’m going to be working on a hand lettered one, too, but that will take longer to finish and we don’t really have the luxury of time right now.

It’s a small act of resistance. It’s a small thing to design. But welcoming others is big. Reminding people that the library is for them is big. Being stronger together is big.

Libraries and librarians are amazing and we need to remind everyone we are here for them. We need to remind ourselves, too, that we are not alone.

Design matters. Communication matters. Reaching out matters. I’m going to keep reminding myself these truths and make my creative acts matter.

I hope your day goes well, you find community and purpose in your work, and you use whatever talents you have to help others feel welcome and that they belong. Allons-y!

Friday Design Inspiration & Typeface Considerations for Branding

Happy Friday, dear readers! Can you believe we are to the end of another week? I can’t. This month is going by too quickly, in a deluge of rain here in the Bay Area. But at least there is always good (and bad) design to talk about in the libraries. Today I want to share some inspiration and a few considerations about typeface choice when deciding on branding guidelines–applicable to libraries and just about any organization.

First the fun. As always, Smashing Magazine has provided a heap of inspiration in their, Breaking out of the box: January 2017 edition of design eye-candy. Love all the illustrations and color palette ideas from these gorgeous images. Makes me want to throw out all the editing work I have to do today and just start sketching.

The new year brings with it a breath of fresh air and kick in the pants to start movement on new projects, doesn’t it? Something that I see a lot of libraries and other organizations doing is thinking and working towards refreshing their visual brands. This isn’t inherently either a good or bad thing, and often it is necessary. You don’t want a website that looks like it is stuck in the 20th century any more than you want to be wearing the same clothes you did in high school. Times and fashions change. And yet, when trying to brand something we need to think of the future, the past, and how we can create timeless brands that whether the trends but aren’t defined by them.

All of this gets me to choosing typefaces for any branding activity–and really any graphic design activity though it is especially important for branding. If you are creating a branding and style guide that you actually want people to adhere to in your library, for goodness sake pick typefaces that people actually have access to! This seems simple right? Of course. If you want someone to actually use your guidelines, you’ve got to make it easy for them–seamless experience and all that. And yet, too many times I see organizations pick a typeface–or two!–that no one can use unless they pay hundreds of dollars. That is quite a large barrier, especially for a library or a department with a small budget.

However, if you choose typefaces that come pre-loaded with the design software your organization uses or even pre-loaded in office productivity suites, then no one has the excuse not to use the defined typefaces and you might get more compliance. Does this limit you some in your typographical design choices? Yes, but it is a better way of ensuring consistency than specifying a typeface no one has and then getting mad that no one is following your guidelines.

But wait, you may say, I’ll just design everything then it will all adhere to the guidelines no matter what typeface I choose. Really? You’re going to design absolutely everything for your library or organization? This may happen in a large org, with lots of design staff, but even at my university we don’t have a large enough design staff to produce absolutely everything that is every made on campus. I’m not talking about every promotional brochure that goes out to potential donors–I’m talking about everything. Every handout, flyer, button, mug, brochure, change in hours sign, everything. Do you have time to do that for your library? Probably not unless you were solely hired as the library’s graphic designer. I know I don’t have time to do all of that and library graphic design is my passion–but I was hired to teach and do reference and buy books, etc.

Also, is it really sustainable to say that you’ll hoard all control over the graphic design at your library through using a typeface that no one else can use? Maybe you bought a great typeface on a flash sale–goodness knows I have–and you want to use it. That’s great, but don’t make it the standard for your branding. Think long term. You won’t be at your library forever and you need to share guidelines if they are to work–the whole point is to have some standards for designs. And typefaces are so important to branding that it behooves you and benefits your library to create guidelines that people can follow.

So, all I’m asking is that when you are working on your redesigns in the new year, pick typefaces that are available and accessible to everyone who will be designing at your library. Your colleagues and your inner graphic designer will thank you.

I hope you have a lovely weekend–I’m hoping for a break in the rain to do some walking–and have time to create something lovely. I’ll be back soon with some more news and notes. Allons-y!

Library Graphic Design Inspiration in the New Year

Happy Friday, dear readers! We’ve made it to the end of the first workweek of the year. Hard to believe we’re almost a week into 2017 already. Time really does go by too quickly no matter what it seems like is happening or we’re doing. For this first post of the new year, I want to share a few things that I hope will get you excited about your library graphic design work in the new year, perhaps even think of some new goals you want to achieve.

As for me, I’m not much of a new year’s resolution kind of person. I have enough stress without piling on more pressure with a bunch of lofty resolutions. However, I am all about goals and setting goals allows me to plan what I want to do in the new year, both professionally and personally. On the professional, design-oriented side, I want to increase my skills in hand lettering–it’s gotten so big over the last few years. It will be a nice complement to my continuing practice of calligraphy and hopefully expand the scope and feel of what I design in the new year. I’m not sure yet what I’ll get a chance to design for my library, but I’m hoping I get lots of opportunities (or I just might have to make my own).

Speaking of getting inspiration for new designs, it’s a new month and you know what that means–awesome new desktop wallpapers from Smashing Magazine. I’m particularly enamored of the tea pot and tea bag one, so calming for the new year. Also, the wonderful illustrated wallpapers reminds me that another goal is to continue to improve my ability to use Illustrator (a librarian graphic designer can never stop learning).

An older post, but still wonderful, is this photo-heavy post of a pin-sized book of Life’s Lil Pleasures. Miniature books are wonderful and this one is quite miniature. Plus, it would be a great challenge for bookbinding, which I think is another area where librarian graphic designers can learn to stretch their creative wings and use to improve their design work. There is something incredibly satisfying about creating a book by hand. It is a nice change from all the work we do in front of a computer when we are designing flyers and brochures for the library.

And, finally, because sometimes you just need a peaceful scene to look at when all seems too overwhelming, I give you Pickles at the Green Dragon. You can’t help but smile looking at that photo. So peaceful.

I’ll be back soon with a post reflecting on last year’s design work and where I see this year going. Along with more tips and hints for creating some great library graphic design projects. Until then, I hope you are inspired to break out your pencils and start sketching something new.

I hope you have a lovely first weekend of the month and a wonderful year full of opportunities and time to create awesome things for your library and your life. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes. Allons-y!