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Not Teaching Cynicism

May 12, 2017

Happy Friday, dear readers! I hope you’ve had another lovely week. It is hard to believe we are almost halfway through May. While I am looking forward to the summer, I’m not sure that I’m ready for so much of the year to be over. My list of things I want to do this year is long and it would be nice to have a pause button so I could make some more progress (and have time to nap!). Be that as it may, today I want to share something that is a bit different than my usual design inspiration (though there is some of that as well at the end), but something important and at the fore of my mind this term–not teaching cynicism.

So as many know, while I love graphic design and apply what I know to helping my library visually communicate whenever I have the chance, I wasn’t hired by my library as a graphic design librarian. I was hired, like my colleagues, as a liaison librarian who has responsibilities for teaching our required, freshmen, information literacy class (among many other duties). Because of this, I spend a lot of time thinking, creating, facilitating, helping, and reflecting on the teaching and learning of information literacy. This year, more than most, has been a struggle to model and teach skepticism versus cynicism. But it is more important than ever for my students and myself.

As I’ve been teaching now for almost nine years, I’ve of course changed a lot of how I teach as is natural. And two things that I focus on much more now than when I was so very new to teaching are: reflection and evaluation. Reflection comes easily for my students and, in contradiction to some colleagues who thought it would be otherwise, students are very–sometimes surprisingly–honest in their reflections. Their reflections on their learning, which I have them complete weekly, help them to review what they’ve learned and how they can apply it and help me figure out what needs review, refinement, and revision in our time together.

Reflection is too often overlooked, in our hurry-hurry world, but it helps in teaching & learning and graphic design. And it keeps me from falling into being cynical about the world. And cynicism helps neither teaching nor learning.

Another counter to cynicism is remaining skeptical and knowing how to evaluate claims, sources, and well, really anything. Evaluation of sources has been one of the most difficult concepts for my students over the years. It is a new way of thinking and interacting with information for them, but it is an empowering way of interacting with information. I challenge them to question and critique, but also to stay away from the pit of cynicism. This is hard because every day the news brings something that hits home for us: rising tuition, questions of employment, concerns about housing, whether their voice matters, and everything else that keeps a lot of us up at night or in the early hours of the morning wondering what happened to kindness and empathy and caring.

So we talk about how hard it is to stay positive and willing to engage with school and life. We read research on what we can do that has a positive impact on our lives as students and as engaged humans. And we support each other when it is difficult because I have to model skepticism for them if I expect them to live it, too. And that balance of skepticism and do something in the face of cynicism is a hard thing for any of us to do, but it’s important.

What does any of this have to do with graphic design? I don’t know about you, but trying to communicate from a place of cynicism doesn’t work for me. There is no joy there, no creativity, no ability to connect and communicate visually. So I walk back from that edge and continue creating and teaching because for me that is the only way through. By caring, I can create. And by creating, I can connect. And by connecting, I can overcome cynicism and remain skeptical, but engaged. I and my students can’t ignore the problems and challenges in the world, but we can come together and ensure we don’t add to the cynicism that does nothing to change it.

Whether at the reference desk, in the classroom, or in your designs, I ask you choose skepticism over cynicism. And I hope you find inspiration to connect and create because we all need you to.

Now, as promised, the design inspiration. New-ish month means new May Inspiration and May Desktop Wallpapers from Smashing Magazine. Hope they inspire some new work for you, too.

I’ll be back soon with some more news and notes. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Allons-y!


Friday Design: Colors, Fun, and Tips

April 28, 2017

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

April 7, 2017

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

March 17, 2017

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

March 10, 2017

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

March 3, 2017

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

February 24, 2017

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!

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