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Thinking about Design, Committees, and Libraries

October 23, 2015

Happy Friday, dear readers. I hope your week has gone well and you have some fun planned for the weekend. Today I wanted to take a little time to share some thoughts on design and libraries. Or, more specifically design by committees, potential pitfalls, and a way forward.

I think about library design a lot. I can’t help it. One of my great loves is for good design, specifically good graphic design. I have an incorrigible habit of volunteering to design or re-design things for my library, even when I really have enough to do because I can’t stand having something get printed up or posted online that doesn’t reflect well on our library. Plus, I love design. I love the challenges and constraints and being able to communicate well visually.

I also think about library design a lot because I research graphic design and librarians. In an upcoming paper, I share information about best practices and processes already in place at libraries (article will be published soon, I hope, since it was accepted). One of the takeaways from my research thus far is the variation of how design processes are handled at libraries and the costs & benefits of design committees. Like all committees, design committees at a library can either be a blessing or a curse and either way, there is sometimes no way around a committee. But I wanted to talk a bit about how we can make the most of design committees.

First, try to get people on your design committee that actually know something about design. That always helps. If the people making the decisions don’t know about design, how can you expect to have great, or even good design, come out of the committee? Common sense, but sometimes committees are filled more by seniority or crystal ball than by actual experience or knowledge. So if you have control over a design committee, get people who know something about design.

Second, make sure your mandate and authority are clear. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do or how much authority/control you have over the design work in your library, you are being set up for failure. Don’t allow it and get as clear of an answer as possible from whoever implemented the committee and has final approval over the designs you’ll produce.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that you aren’t going to please everyone with your design work and that’s okay. As Seth Godin wrote about the 2% who misunderstand you, they aren’t the ones you are designing for. You are never going to please everyone. If you try to, your designs will become so watered down and boring that it would have been better just to stick with the clip art and default typefaces you were using all along; at least then you would have saved time. Design is about function and form, but also about beauty and aesthetics. Not everyone agrees on those last two. Make your peace with that and, if you can’t, doing design work for your library is probably not for you.

Just like we shouldn’t create library policies based on one or two squeaky wheels, we shouldn’t make design decisions based on the squeaky wheels. Be bold, be daring, make a mark with your library’s designs whether online or in print, on a huge banner, in the remodel of a study room, or the sign-up form for your programs. Merge utility and beauty to create amazing functionality and fabulous form. Solve problems and present improvements, do user testing and read the research, and then get your committee moving. Don’t wait; don’t fuss; just make.

I wish you all the best in your design work at your library. I’ll be back with more thoughts and research updates. Until then, I wanted to share a couple more things that may interest you as a librarian designer. One, planner subscription services, who knew? Not me, but they look fabulous and fun. I’ve actually been ruling a personalized planner in a Rhodia journal my husband bought me. I couldn’t find a planner I liked at our indie bookstore and thought, why not make my own? So far so good. Also, another lovely freebie from Smashing Magazine: Office and Business Icon Set. Love these icon sets. Great, classy alternatives to the dreaded clip arts. Reward yourself and your designs and download this set!

Have a wonderful day and weekend. Allons-y!

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