Much of the work librarians do involves creating flyers, displays, handouts, websites and other designs that look good and convey helpful information. Very few librarians have any kind of formal design training and often rely on personal aesthetic preferences along with the opinions and ideas of colleagues. The goal of this program is to empower librarians with basic principles, tools, and processes to begin to improve designs in their own libraries.
I’m not a designer. I have no formal training in art or design and I have not worked in the design space professionally. Yet, I have designed. I have designed posters, presentations, promotional materials, handouts, business cards, spreadsheets, flowcharts, blog posts, and more.Poll: what do you most frequently design in your own library? In our pre-reading, Lisa Kurt said, “Librarians are good at organizing things and within design lies organization. Designing is simply organization and choices about elements such as typography, composition, contrast, and color to name a few.”Whether you realize it or not, you're designing every day too. In a sense, we are all amateur designers. In a perfect world, we could have professional design resources on hand when producing something important. In practice, that’s often not possible. So it behooves us to learn a bit more about how to design well because design decisions can have a significant impact that makes your work more compelling, or they can make it boring and lifeless. Creating bad design or making poor design choices, may cause your library to look unprofessional to your audience. Good design will build trust and credibility with your users. Your design has an impact on your users and their overall library experience.We’re going to examine four basic principles of designs: contrast, proximity, alignment, and repetition, and we’ll look at examples from your pre-assignments that illustrate these principles.
Contrast simply means difference. We are not conscious of it, but we are scanning and looking for similarities and differences all the time. Contrast is what we notice, and it’s what gives a design its energy. So if two items are not exactly the same, then make them distinctly different This is one of the most effective ways to add visual interest to the page through size, color, shape, or font. You can achieve contrast in many ways—for example, through the manipulation of space (Widely spaced lines with closely packed lines), through color choices (dark and light), by text selection (Graceful old style font with a bold sans serif font or large type with small type), by positioning of elements (top and bottom, isolated and grouped), and so on. Making use of contrast can help you create a design in which one item is clearly dominant. This helps the viewer “get” the point of your design quickly. Every good design has a strong and clear focal point and having a clear contrast among elements (with one being clearly dominant) helps. If all items in a design are of equal or similar weight with weak contrast and with nothing being clearly dominant, it is difficult for the viewer to know where to begin. Designs with strong contrast attract interest, and help the viewer make sense of the visual. Weak contrast is not only boring, but it can be confusing.
Ask Audience (respond in chat): What are the contrasting elements here?If two items are not exactly the same, then make them distinctly different—that’s contrast.
Show an example from pre-assignment of good usage of contrastAsk Audience (respond in chat): What are the contrasting elements here?
The principle of proximity is about moving things closer or farther apart to achieve a more organized look. This can be used with text or images. The principle says that related items should be placed into close physical proximity so that they will be viewed as a cohesive group. Our eyes and brains assume that items that are not near each other in a design are not closely related, so move them apart in design. Audiences will naturally tend to group similar items that are near to each other into a single unit. People should never have to “work” at trying to figure out which caption goes with which graphic or whether or not a line of text is a subtitle or a line of text unrelated to the title. A good way to test Proximity is to step back and look at your design and notice where your eyes go.
Here are two examples of the same flyer. Ask Audience (and respond in chat): what’s different that makes the one on the right better?
Show an example from pre-assignment of good usage of proximityAsk Audience (respond in chat): What principles of proximity are used here?
Alignment is quite simply the arrangement of elements in such a way so that the natural lines (borders) created by them match up as closely as possible. The point of the alignment principle is that nothing should look as if it were placed there randomly, which gives a sense of order and intent to a design. Failing to make an effort to apply the alignment principle often results in elements being almost aligned but not quite. This may not seem like a big deal, but these kinds of slides look less sophisticated and overall less professional. Every item on the page should have a visual connection with something else on the page via an invisible line or grid. Many Microsoft programs have a margin or dotted line that appear and help you align elements now. Imagine them as puzzle pieces or building blocks. Most people won't consciously notice that everything is lined up neatly but they will feel it when things are out of alignment. Often in design you’ll see a strong left alignment where several elements begin at the same starting point on a page; this is fairly conventional and a good choice. Left alignment is certainly not the only successful way to create a composition, but it rarely fails.
Ask Audience (respond in chat): what’s different here?
Show an example from pre-assignment of good usage of alignmentAsk Audience (respond in chat): what principles of alignment are used in this?
The principle of repetition simply means the reusing or repeating of the same or similar elements throughout your design. Repetition of certain design elements (colors, shapes, textures, spatial relationships, line thicknesses, fonts, sizes, graphic concepts) in a design will bring a clear sense of unity, consistency, and cohesiveness and it gives the mind a pattern to follow. We tend to notice inconsistencies from things we expect to look similar. If all your headings are 24pt font except one, it’s confusing. Use consistent colors, fonts, language, element styles unless you are specifically trying to emphasize a difference (contrast).Where contrast is about showing differences, and alignment is about obtaining unity among the placement of elements, repetition is about subtly using elements to make sure the design is viewed as being part of a larger whole.
Ask Audience (respond in chat): what principles of repetition are used here?
Show an example from pre-assignment of good usage of repetitionAsk Audience (respond in chat): what principles of repetition are used here?
Poll: what design principles have I used in the presentation?Contrast (color, size)Proximity (stars, text)Alignment (text to right on main slide and dividers, left on headers)Repetition (color, font, image, dotted lines)
Now that you have a foundation of basic design principles, we’re going to get into the meat of the presentation: the processes used to create designs. A lot of this is from personal experience, and I want to give you all a chance to weigh in too, so there will be lots of opportunities in chat and in polls.
I am the co-creator of the website, Library Design Share, which is a spot for librarians, library staff and library students to submit and share their flyers, signs, handouts, Powerpoints, posters, displays, web designs, whatever, and gain inspiration from one another. My colleague, Veronica Arellano Douglas and I created this site because after one too many design-related exchanges on Gmail and Google Chat, we decided that people who work in libraries really need a space to share their design work and gain inspiration from the work of others. We wanted to create an open online repository of interesting library-related design, and I encourage you to visit the site and submit your own designs.
When I tell people about our website, they often ask where we get the inspiration to keep making designs. Where I find design inspiration: magazines, blogs, book covers, displays in stores, packaging design, product advertisements...Ask audience: where do you find inspiration for designs? And respond to the chat.Design is partly about preference, so I recommend exploring what designs out there speak to you. Develop a collection of designs you like; whether they are websites, flyers, posters, etc., if there is something you like about the design then study it. Use Pinterest and pin things, or use a bulletin board or your fridge at home (I do!).Look more deeply into what elements the designer has employed to make the design successful and ask yourself some questions: what colors did they use? what is the balance between the different colors used? is there whitespace? how is the composition set up? can you identify alignments? how did the designer break apart size?Equally important is to know when you don’t like a design. If there is a design you don’t like it is worth exploring why you don’t like it. What makes it fail to you? Figure out what it is that makes you react strongly, and learn to work around this.
Design is partly about preference, so I recommend exploring what designs out there speak to you. Develop a collection of designs you like; whether they are websites, flyers, posters, etc., if there is something you like about the design then study it. Use Pinterest and pin things, or use a bulletin board or your fridge at home (I do!).
Look more deeply into what elements the designer has employed to make the design successful and ask yourself some questions: what colors did they use? what is the balance between the different colors used? is there whitespace? how is the composition set up? can you identify alignments? how did the designer break apart size?
Equally important is to know when you don’t like a design. If there is a design you don’t like it is worth exploring why you don’t like it. What makes it fail to you? Figure out what it is that makes you react strongly, and learn to work around this.
Here’s an example of a design I bookmarked and saved a few years ago…it may feel familiar to you. I liked the modern feel of the New Year’s card and planned to recreate it for my own use someday. After struggling to come up with a template for the PPT presentation, it hit me that I could employ the design to this to emphasize the title: Making Your Library Promotions Pop!This just shows that ideas usually are derived elsewhere. I didn’t copy their exact style, but I relied on it for a color scheme and basic shape. I made my own shapes with the graphics in PowerPoint and found my own fonts.
To begin a design, you need to decide what medium best suits the message you want to send...is it a wall or a handout or a website? Will this be printed on a copier or sent out? Will it look different in color or black and white? Is there folding or cutting involved? Your design will likely be different for each approach. There are two things to consider when designing: your purpose and your audience.You are usually trying to convey some kind of message or fact when creating a design, so it’s important to consider how to best visually represent ideas. Maybe it’s a graph that tells your ILL stats or a photo of your students to illustrate facility usage. It’s important to relate to your users with the visuals, fonts, and colors. I wouldn’t use a photo of adults to advertise something in a junior high library, and I wouldn’t use Comic Sans to promote something in an academic library. We’ll discuss all of this shortly.
Expect to make many variations of your design. I usually come up with three favorites after many prototypes.After I have a good idea of where my design is headed, I usually get feedback from co-workers, supervisors, like-minded design friends, and users. I call this democratizing design. I want others to support what I create, so I ask. However, if you ask others for opinions, you have to be ready when they don’t love everything you are doing. A great way to receive unbiased opinions is to submit to Librarian Design share for a wider audience. It’s also important to be firm about your design. Take the suggestions of other seriously, as they are looking at things differently than you are, but if you know your design is on the right track, or if their suggestions and improvements aren’t quite right, trust in yourself.
You aren’t alone…there are lots of design tools out there to help you.
Most of the design work that I do is on my computer, but I realize that for some librarians, their design tools are paints, scissors, paper or markers. Poll: what’s your go-to design program?Often I start in Word because it’s a better “word processor,” so I can get the basic text there. I think starting in Word is natural, since it’s the software we all probably know best. Word, Publisher (usually), PowerPoint: all have similar design features that allow you to insert shapes, help you align elements, and manipulate images, but each one is better at something than the other, so I tend to work Cross-Platform—it’s actually possible to copy and paste between programs.When I want to add colors or shapes, I copy my text to Publisher because it’s better with colors and shapes and it has design features, like guidelines that you can insert to help you align things, and it allows you to crop and manipulate images better. Publisher allows you to save your design as a JPG. Plus, if you like templates, there are many.PowerPoint is usually just for presentations, but the newest version has a few interesting features like Smart Art, that’s great for making process charts. The newer version also has picture tools that lets you add artistic effects and color changes to images. Learning curve: Some programs are easier to use than others. Most of us know Microsoft, but there are differences in each new edition that comes out. There are more real design tools out there like Photoshop and In Design, but those are sometimes expensive to buy or difficult to get a site license, and the learning curve is high. However, if you do wish to take these on there are places to learn: attend workshops on campus, MOOCs, tutorials online
I usually try to incorporate an image when making promotional materials because it’s eye-catching. You want to keep your audience in mind, of course, and choose an image that illustrates the concept and speaks to them. I like to start with a great image and then work from the image out, matching the colors, fonts, and design style to the image.Whether it’s PowerPoint, a sign, or a web slide that you’re making, it’s important to minimize text (not everything needs to be on that handout/sign). Use the visuals to illustrate the text you are eliminating. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use words, but you should be aware that many people aren’t going to read your words, especially when there are too many or when they are in all caps or an unfriendly font.Resizing images—usually as easy as dragging a corner (NOT pushing or pulling the top/bottom). A hint is to hold “shift” while dragging the corners to keep everything in size. Notice that images come in different sizes and that if you resize some too large, they pixelate. If you have an image like this, consider layering it with color blocks or using another one. Pixilation, unless intentional, is never OK. You can also crop an image to focus on a certain part. With images, we have to discuss something that isn’t fun at all…copyright. Many of these images are copyrighted and illegal to use despite what the website they are hosted on may claim. Better safe than sorry, stay away from that stuff OR give credit if you use someone’s artwork with the person’s name or a link to the site you found the image on. Poll: Is modeling a design after a photograph or using software to manipulate another person’s image considered copyright infringement?Yes, photographs are protected as copyrighted works and cannot be freely copied. Translating a copied image into a different medium may still be considered copyright infringement. Is modeling a design that only your library patrons will see an infringement? Fair Use should cover nonprofit, educational, scholarly or research use; repurposing, re-contextualizing, creating a new purpose or meaning aid in justifying Fair Use.
Don’t Mix Photos and Clipart, pick one for your design.The pros and cons of using clipart:File size is generally smaller than photosA lot of royalty free clip art available onlineCan be very generic Sometimes look cartoon-y and unprofessionalIt’s generally pretty easy to change colors in clip artThe pros and cons of using photos:File size for photos is generally largerPhotos can be more expensive, need to purchase rights to use the photoPhotos look more professionalPhotos are better at conveying a strong messageI recommend less cartoon-y clipart and more high quality artwork and silhouettes. Silhouettes are great because they look professional, yet are very generic, so it’s easy to find what you need.Choose photos that are of similar style, size and quality throughout to ensure consistency. Don’t mix and match black & white photos and color photos. I often choose photos that have a white background. It makes the screen look less busy and it make the image really pop.Where to find imagesFlickr (CC Licensed images) MorguefileMicrosoft images online and within MS programsWikimedia Commons Unsplash (photos, tagged and searchable)Noun Project (flat icons)Ask audience (and respond in chat): what’s your favorite image source?
Using color sparingly, use contrast or complimentary coloringTry to stick to 1-2 colorsIt’s a choice to include color in your design- plenty of successful designs are black and white or have minimal color and it’s part of the aesthetic and the message they want to convey. Some people have a natural feel for colors, but the rest of us are often clueless or only know a good color scheme when we see it.Where to find inspirationColourLoversColorzillaAdobe KulerAsk audience (and respond in chat): do you have a favorite site for colors?
The choice really comes down to what you're trying to accomplish, and that involves an understanding what colors tend to mean to people.Discuss feel of colors: Black: feelings of power. It's the darkest you can get, and on a white sheet of paper it offers the highest amount of contrast with the page.Red: intense color and can provide a lot of visual stimulation. It tends to be considered a more emotional and aggressive color that is associated with intense feeling and action, so keep that in mind if you decide to use it. It also contrasts nicely with dark textBlue: calming feeling. It won't get in your face like a bright shade of red, but it has a significant impact all the sameColor on Color: colored or black type on a white page isn't your only option. Under the right circumstances, such as creating a poster, you can make a bigger impact by placing white or colored text on a colored background. Be sure to reserve heavy uses of color for times when it coincides with the goals of your designs.
It seems that just about everyone is using the word “font” when they are referring to a typeface. “Fonts” and “typefaces” are different things. Graphic designers choose typefaces for their projects but use fonts to create the finished art.Typefaces are designs like Baskerville, Gill Sans or Papyrus. Type designers create typefaces. Fonts are the things that enable the printing of typefaces. Type foundries produce fonts. Use only one or two fonts: As a general rule, you don't want to pair more than two typefaces in a design. This is a rule you can break for the right effect. Pairing two typefaces isn't necessarily a matter of finding two that are similar. In fact, often times when you pair two typefaces that look a lot alike you end up with a pairing that looks kind of odd because they appear so similar that viewers won't be able to tell the difference yet still know something is off. Remember your contrast.Speaking of contrast, vary the size of fonts, but make sure it can remain legible and attractive at every size you plan to employ. The size of your type can be used to imply its importance. When using larger type as a header, it gives context to where you are on the pageWhere to find fonts for freedafont.comopen font libraryFont SquirrelAsk audience (and respond in chat): do you have a favorite place for font downloads?Discuss logistics of downloading a font, issues you may have if you present somewhere and the font is not present there
Sometimes typefaces with a lot of personality are a little too impactful. Typefaces have a lot of personality and clearly communicate their subtext because of how they look. Even if you want to imply something silly and childlike, using a typeface in excess can overstate your point.When you're choosing a typeface, ask yourself: What is the type you are using saying? Does it fit with the message you want to send? Are you going for a modern and sleek look? Do you want it to be an homage to a specific period in design history? How does the typeface fit in with the rest of your design? Really two types of fonts:SerIF: more conservative, proper style and most people find them easier to read. More modern styles are Slab Serifs.Sans Serif: more modern, minimalistic, and clean appearance. Some find them harder to read, but also more attractive to look at. If you want your design to appear more contemporary, sans-serif typefaces will almost always be the type that you choose.
We talked about design processes and tools, so now we’re going to put this into practice with a sign that actually exists in one of our libraries.Display original handoutask audience for reactions: what works, what doesn’t
Consistency is important so that your users recognize your brand—how you want to present yourselfFrom the pre-reading on the ACRL Tech Connect blog, Lisa Kurt likened the library user’s experience to when you walk in a store or restaurant. The user has expectations for service, layout, and professionalism.
Consider pouring yourself a coffee or tea and taking a few minutes to walk around your library and look at the signs you see. Where do they fall on this graph? Ask this: what does this sign communicate to our user? How does it look and feel to you? What if this sign were in a store where you were making a purchase, how would it communicate in that scenario? What about your online presence? Use the same graph to examine.Ask users what they think of your signs as well.
Round up old flyers and standardizeStart easy with headersMake sure fonts and colors and overall design begin to matchOne person could do this, or make templates and encourage others to use them
Social media message match your lookMake your profile picture match your publicationsKeep the message in tone with your other designsCanned messages make this easierWhat about your online presence? Use the same graph to examine.
Ask Audience (and respond in chat): What do you imagine this library’s common branding is?
Is this concern for aesthetics superficial? I don’t think so. Having thoughtfully designed signs and pamphlets around the library makes things easier for patrons, and illustrates that the library takes pride in what it does.
Making your library promotion pop
April Aultman Becker
Education Coordinator, Senior Librarian
Research Medical Library
UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
• Learn about and view examples of basic design
• Identify processes used to create designs
• Explore practical design tools
• Demonstrate examples of successful design
• Practice revising a handout using the information
provided in the webinar
• Discuss the importance of consistency in design across
• Recommend favorite design resources
• Creates dominance
by Vivienne Houghton, Web Services Librarian, Health Sciences Library, University of Colorado Denver
• Group like items together
• Creates unity
• White space
Open Font Library
The Noun Project
Librarian Design Share
Dachis, Adam. “A Non-Designer’s Guide to Typefaces and Layout.” Lifehacker. Accessed August 12.
Kurt, Lisa. 2013. “Design 101: Design Elements, Part 1.” ACRL Tech Connect. Accessed March
Kurt, Lisa. 2013. “Design 101: Design Elements, Part 2, Typography.” ACRL Tech Connect. Accessed March
Kurt, Lisa. 2013. “What Is a Graphic Design Development Process?” ACRL Tech Connect. Accessed March
Reynolds, Garr. 2007. Presentation Zen. New York: New Riders.
Reese, Filip. 2012. “That Little C: a quick guide to copyright.” 99 Designs. Accessed September 12.
Shen, Jason. 2013. “Design for Non-Designers.” The Art of Ass-Kicking. Accessed August 12.
Widrich, Leo. “Why Facebook is Blue: The science of colors in marketing.” Buffer. Accessed August 12.
Williams, Robin. 2008. The Non-Designer’s Design Book (3rd Edition). San Francisco: Peach Pit.