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Tag Archives: design

  A few days ago I was looking at my friend Jess’s blog and I ran into this:   

 

 That got me thinking.  What kind of color schemes do different public libraries use in their web designs, and what sort of “vibe” are they conveying by using the particular color palette they use?

 

There’s certainly a lot of literature out there about the psychology of colors in marketing and advertising.  I was reminded of a really fun old book on my shelf, one that I purchased mostly for the color palettes in the centerfold.  The book is “New Horizons in Color” from 1951.  They break down colors into two categories: “Decorative” and “Functional”.

 

 The scans below show those palettes, and I then sampled the colors used in the websites of a number of major public libraries.  I thought the results were pretty interesting, and they are perhaps somewhat telling of the way these libraries and library systems choose to articulate their mission and vision.

 

 Palettes that fell in the “decorative” category were Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Public Library, and Chicago Public Library.

 

 Palettes that fell in the “functional” category were New York Public Library, District of Columbia Public Library, Cuyahoga County Public Library, and the Ann Arbor District Library.

 

The images below are thumbnails, click on them for a better look.

 

 

 

Taking a brief break from writing because I’ve got like 847656483 things to read.  If all I do is write and never read, I’ll become an awfully boring writer.  Before I take this break (which could be 2 days or could be 12 days, you never know), I want to leave you with a sentiment from Michael Bierut of Design Observer.  I picked up his book, 79 short essays on design (basically a best-of-the-blog), and in the first paragraph of the first essay he says:

Graphic Designers are lucky.  As the people who structure much of the world’s communications, we get to vicariously partake of as many fields of interest as we have clients.  In a single day, a designer talk about real estate with one client, cancer cures with another, and forklift trucks with a third. 

Librarians get to enjoy this same privledge, whether they are librarians designing service interfaces and creating pathfinders or they are organizing programs and working at reference desks.  It is our responsibility to be well-rounded.  There’s nothing worse than when a profession or subject matter gets too self-absorbed, too introspective.  I know that I’ve always been annoyed by art that is about art… the kind of stuff that you have to have a degree in art history and know the work of 4 other people just to relate to the piece.  Libraries and librarians with libro-centric tunnel vision should look to this attitude that Beirut is putting out there.  We’ll all be better at our jobs if we do this.

So, like I said, I’m going to read some other stuff for a while.  I’ll be back.

One other thing:

Just became aware that John Maeda will be doing the AIGA NY Fresh Dialogue 24.  That will be awesome.  Go to it.

In the study of decorative arts, furniture is often referred to as microarchitecture. Perhaps one of the most literal examples of furniture emulating an architectural style is the “skyscraper furniture” of Paul T. Frankl. I had the good fortune of buying a Frankl-attributed piece some years back, and sadly the time just came to pass on this amazing bookshelf to a new owner. Below I’ve posted a picture of this exceptional piece of microarchitecture (in order to publicly immortalize it before it becomes a treasure in someone else’s private collection), a scan from the cover of Frankl’s 1928 classic book “New Diemnsions”, and links to a few resources about Frankl.

1) Christopher Long’s book about Frankl from Yale University Press

2) A collection of images of Frankl’s work from Architonic

3) Search Abebooks for Frankl’s writing, New Dimensions (1928), Space for Living (1938), and Form and Reform (1930). Space for Living is a real treasure in terms of modernist graphic layout- this book is a piece of design history in and of itself.

Imagine that your library has a group of non-users that you’d like to reach out to. Take for example a population of individuals ages 20-35, a typically underserved group at public libraries. How would you identify this group’s needs and serve them? Below is a simplified diagram that visually explains that the results and recommendations produced by a well-designed survey of your non-users overlapping with the results and recommendations of a survey of the “exceptions” (who actually use the library) will offer you a worthwhile course of action. Perhaps this is obvious, but when it is proposed visually rather than verbally I think the premise is revealing and perhaps a little provocative.

Of course the key is designing a good survey.

Enjoy the diagram.

nonuser.gif

Design and the Elastic Mind, currently on display at the MOMA is without question the best design show I’ve actually been to in person. There was a review in the NY Times which had one sentence I’d like to expand upon a little bit:

“As revolutionary in its own way as MoMA’s “Machine Art” exhibition of 1934, which introduced Modern design to a generation of Americans, the exhibition is packed with individual works of sublime beauty.”

I really believe that we are now entering this “information age” where technology, art and design are cooperating and informing each other in much the same way that they were in 1934. We are on the verge of a technosocial shift, a pivotal moment when the way that human/object and human/human interactions are redefined by the technologies we have created. Curator Paola Antonelli cites the Eames film “Powers of Ten”as an influence in this exhibit, and I would take that a step further to suggest that “Powers of Ten” is the lens through which we have gone from a macro-investigation of natural geometry in design (1934 Machine Art exhibition) to our new micro-investigation of natural geometry in design (2008 Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition). Computing power has magnified scientists, engineers, designers, and artists ability to harness the power of natural organization for constructive uses. The excellent essays in the catalog expand upon this, but to better illustrate the comparison of these two shows,

Here’s an excerpt from the 1934 Machine Art catalog:

“Machines are, visually speaking, a practical application of geometry. Forces which act in straight lines are changed in direction and degree by machines which themselves are formed of straight lines and curves. The lever is geometrically a straight line resting on a point. The wheel and axle is composed of concentric circles and radiating straight lines. The watch spring is a spiral. Sphericity and circularity are the geometrical characteristics of a ball bearing. Screws, bearing springs, and propellers are various- and variously beautiful- applications of the helix and helicoid.”

Here’s an image from the 1934 Machine Art catalog:

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Here’s an excerpt from the 2008 Design and the Elastic Mind catalog:

“Biomimicry is the strategy that designers and engineers use to observe and learn from nature’s sophisticated designs and implement these lessons in artificial objects. The lilly impeller is a mixer ‘designed using the elegant and effective geometries found in natural fluid flow,’ explains the designer. Its shape, based on the logarithmic curve known as the Fibonacci spiral and found in such objects as the nautilus shell and whirlpools, allows liquids to flow centripetally through it with little friction. As a result the device is capable of circulating millions of gallons of water with a minimal amount of energy. Used in municipal reservoir tanks, the mixer prevents drinking water from stagnating, reducing the need for disinfectant additives.”

Here’s picture from the 2008 Design and the Elastic Mind show:

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Go see this show. I’ve been twice and I’m not done yet. Better yet, get the catalog, read it, then go look at what is there- there is a LOT to digest in this exhibition.

I had a crazy busy week and I wasn’t able to blog all of the fun stuff that’s been going on.  Here is an attempt at catching up.

Recap Pt. 1

1)

On the User Experience tip, I’ve been rereading Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things”.  He might be talking about objects and products, but it is not too much of a leap to apply the concepts to entire service ecologies like the public library offers.  I haven’t yet read his book “Emotional Design”, which I believe will have a good bit of insight into how we can create “empathic-driven” services (a snazzy way of expressing our need to really identify our user’s feelings that I picked up on here).  I have also been thinking more about the guys Live|Work in the UK and their service design practice. Theirs appears to be the only comprehensive, forward thinking service ecology analysis practice out there and I think libraries could learn a lot from what they are doing.  Further, on the emotional design end of things, I’ve revisited the work of Christian Nold after I was introduced to it at Rhizome’s NextCity event.  Nold is engaging in bio-mapping, in which he attaches a sensor to a human and as they walk around the human generates datasets that correspond to their mood at any given time.  The data can then be mapped geo-spatially and you can determine where along their journey an individual was having positive and negative experiences.  Imagine how this could be used to reconsider service points or an entire architectural program.  Sounds like sci-fi now but I suspect it’ll be commonplace in the next 10 years.

 

2)

Had coffee w/ Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware and Prof. of Urban Computing @ NYU ITP.  Great conversation that really dealt with a lot of the usability issues I just mentioned, but we spoke more specifically about technologies in the library and how we use them.  We walked through the Williamsburgh Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and talked a good bit about the library catalog and different ways we could make it more fun to interact with.  Imagine a giant, projected catalog interface that used some of the tactile computing technologies that exist now, like the multi-touch screen?  Adam showed me a Youtube video of the Bloomberg Ice in Tokyo, as well as some interesting interface possibilities.  It also reminded me of something the Playful Librarian showed me:  the National Institute for Play.  He and I agreed that we’d like to see public libraries embrace some of the ideas that the NIP defines as their core mission.  Check out their shtick:
 

The National Institute for Play believes that as play is woven into the fabric of social practices, we will dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide our children and the capacity of our corporations to innovateWe see play as an un-realized power that can transform our social and economic lives.

Adam and I also talked at length about the idea of creating an electronic device made specifically as a service point for libraries.  According to the Pew Internet/American Life study, 2/3 of public library patrons come to use the computers.  How can we ignore that?  I’ve already ranted about how foolish it is for libraries to try to use the Amazon Kindle as one of their service points.  I don’t think we need to create an ebook reader for library patrons.  I do think that if we could provide patrons with internet access, or a device that simulated connectivity by updating firmware and caching viewed pages every time you were within a library wifi zone, we would essentially have created a municipal wifi work-around and THAT is useful to everyone.  More on this topic soon I hope- I know I didn’t really spell it out completely here. 

3)

On Thursday I went to Cooper Union and hear Steven Holl give a lecture.  The guy is building some absolutely phenomenal stuff in China, I really suggest taking a look.  He is living the architect’s dream: he’s got clients who believe that everything he does is right on, and they have an unlimited budget.  I hesitate to criticize the guy, I imagine that if I had unlimited resources to make public libraries super-wicked-awesome-enormous I’d have an awful lot of fun doing it and I wouldn’t apologize for a thing.  At the end of the lecture there was a Q&A and Holl was asked if he thought that any of the poetry was lost in his work, since it has become so massive and since much of what he does now comes off more as a feat of engineering than as thoughtfully considered, beautiful architectural, um, “poems”.  I was disappointed that Holl kind of defended himself instead of just saying straight out “I am building big, awesome buildings and having fun doing it.”  It seems pretty clear that’s what it is all about, I wish he would have just said so.

I’m not going to go too deep with it or anything, but that did give me a chance to think for a little while about how a tight budget forces innovation and creativity.  It is sort of a glass-half-full way of looking at things in public libraries as we move into this trend of “design thinking” and “user-centered-design”.  Desperate times drive us to innovate, create new service models, re-think our tired ways. 

Recap pt. 2

The other things worth mentioning from this week:

1)

On Friday I served as part of an alumni panel at Pratt.  Students from the School of Library and Information Science had the opportunity to question two public librarians, an academic librarian, a corporate librarian, and an art librarian about how we got our jobs, what we do, and anything else that came to mind.  It was a remarkably well attended event considering it took place at 5:30 on a snowy Friday.  The question that I found the most interesting and the one I’d like to expound upon a bit now came from Judy Nylen of Pratt’s Career Services.  She asked each of us to describe what part of our skillset gave us the most opportunity to innovate and have creative influence in our fields.  As an advocate of this design-thinking movement in libraries, I take that question seriously, and I believe that the most important skillset for anyone interested in implementing change is to build their communications skills. 

NOBODY is going to care how good your ideas are if you cannot convey them in a concrete, legible manner, using the mode of communication that the audience is most comfortable with.  Sometimes, despite the fact that Powerpoint sucks, you will have an audience who is used to receiving information that way and so you will have to use Powerpoint.  Sometimes you’ll send an important email to an individual 5 times, never get a response, and then realize that the only way you can communicate with that person is by phone.  Don’t talk about XML and APIs with people who don’t understand them.  Don’t bother to use a wiki to organize a project if 3 out of the 20 people on your team actually know how to communicate and collaborate that way.   Think of communication skills as internal user-centered design if that helps, similar to the way large companies have internal customer service practices between their departments.  Always know your audience, always know the best way to address them so that they feel comfortable, listen a lot, and shut up when you don’t know what you are talking about. 

Admittedly, I don’t always shut up when I don’t know what I’m talking about.

2)

Another question came up on Friday at the same panel that needs to be addressed. Toward the end, a gentleman stood up and asked: “What do you think of John Berry’s controversial Library Journal article, in which he wrote about the deskilling of librarians, and what do you think of the reaction and fuss surrounding this article?”

The briefest possible answer: I thought the article was off base (but not ENTIRELY), and rather than add to the already three page long list of comments I wrote John directly and told him a little bit about why I was “disturbed” by the whole thing.  First off, I am an advocate of the “new” service models we are seeing pop up all over the country and world.  I’m not sure that I look at the circulation desk as the service point at which the core competencies of librarianship are being or should be practiced, and because of that I really have no problem with self check machines augmenting and *not replacing* that part of library operations.  Further, I think it is important to recognize that the “classic” public library is based on an archaic definition of literacy.  Literacy is no longer about just reading text in books. We live in the “information age”, a time defined by complex cultural and media literacies.  We need new buildings and new service models to address the new literacy needs of our patronage and our potential, unrealized patronage.

Look for a full blog entry in response to this LJ article soon.  It may be late to compete with all the hype and hubbub surrounding the article now, but the issues will remain important even once the noise dies down.  Thanks to John for writing me back and being willing to engage in further argument.

3)

There was an article this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Aaron Swartz’s project, Open Library.  Open Library is basically a wiki-style, WorldCat / LibraryThing hybrid, so “while librarians maintain WorldCat, the public would maintain Open Library”.  Pretty sweet. 

Obviously OCLC is sweating this:

“Should all those connections (Wikipedia, Internet Archive, LibraryThing, and anyone else who donates their records to the project) help increase Open Library’s holdings close to the 72 million unique book records in WorldCat, Mr. Swartz’s enterprise could upend the way libraries maintain records. Librarians could choose to bypass WorldCat and contribute catalog data to Open Library, jeopardizing OCLC’s membership of more than 60,000 libraries and threatening a big chunk of its $235-million annual revenue.

It would be an amazing feat, especially since, at the moment, Open Library is struggling to get libraries to contribute.”

My thoughts?  Go Open Library!  Information wants to be free, right?  I’d love to see public libraries all over start contributing to this.  I’d love to see more of our records and material visible on the web, for free.  Again, libraries need to start recognizing and promoting their roles as educators and facilitators of knowledge in a new era of media literacies rather than the definition of literacy associated with Ye Old-Tyme Book Shoppe. 

I haven’t written much in the past few days because I’ve been slammed with work. Readers can expect a flurry of activity now that I’m emerging from my pile of projects.

Last night I attended a panel discussion at the Pratt Institute called “Tipping Points: Art, Politics, and Civic Engagement”. I really expected a packed house for this discussion, but I think the democratic debate had many people otherwise engaged. The program was moderated by Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine. Some of the speakers really had excellent things to say. Check out the panel:

• Letitia James = City Councilwoman; Brooklyn, District 35
• Wendy Feuer – Asst. Commissioner for Urban Art and Planning; DOT
• Laurie Kerr – Mayor’s Office for Long Term Planning and Sustainability
• Blaise Backer – Director, Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project
• Sean Meenan – Habana Outpost
• Deborah Marton – The Design Trust for Public Space
• Eva Hanhardt – professor/coordinator EMS planning

Letitia James was the first one to bring up the carbon belt and the health problems associated with living by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I felt that one: I live by the BQE, only further north in Brooklyn. She spoke about the city’s aging infrastructure and the need to update it. She also brought up the fact that we can’t really go with congestion pricing

I was interested in Blaise Backer’s commentary. As the director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, he has to encourage business owners to think about sustainability in their practices while he supports them in their quest for profits and success. Sometimes it is not easy to do this. For example, there was an initiative to plant new trees all along Myrtle Avenue. You would think that everyone would immediately support something like that, but to a business owner the tree represents a potential liability to passers-by. It also obscures the awning of a ground level store, making it harder to bring in foot traffic.

I was exceptionally impressed with Deborah Marton and the work of The Design Trust for Public Space. If I understood correctly, Marton’s work involved taking the design innovations and breakthroughs from the private investment and development, where money often abounds, translating this information into a format that the Department of Design and Construction can use for public agencies with building projects, and then serving as something of a link between the DDC and the public agency to ensure that the job gets done efficiently. I’ll have to read more about this, but what a great mission: to act as a non-profit that brings private innovations to public agencies.

Finally, Sean Meenan of Habana Outpost was great. That restaurant is awesome, and he brought a real down-to-earth, lets stop talking about all of this, do it, and have fun the whole time attitude to everything. Habana Outpost is solar powered, and only uses corn plastics for their cups and silverware. They have worked with architecture and design students from Pratt so they reclaim all of their water. Sean was exactly the kind of guy you would want to bring in to talk to a bunch of teenagers or kids about these issues, because he was the kind of guy they’d respect. He even drives a car the that will run on the used fry oil from his restaurant. I’ll be looking into getting him to a do a program at the Brooklyn Public Library some time.

Finally Chris Jordan showed us his “Portraits of American Mass Consumption” which demonstrate just how much  junk we go through every day. Cell phones discarded, stack and stacks of computer paper, disposable beverage cups… Great stuff.

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