Category Archives: design

Design: The Apollos

Early this fall, I was asked to design a logo for The Apollos, a news outlet for campus. We no longer have a campus newspaper, which is not so surprising when you consider we do not have a journalism degree or even humanities degrees. Last winter, a sort of community newsletter was developed to fill this void and to give voice to student opinions and experiences. The Apollos is named for Paul Smith, whose given name was Apollos Austin Smith and went by “Pol” in his family. Pol became Paul when business took off.

Anyway, The Apollos, being new, had been really bootstrapped together in the beginning, but its popularity meant that it underwent changes pretty much immediately. When I was brought on the project, they had already had two different logos, and as you can see they were, well, not so much to my taste. The one below is the older version, while the newer version featured curly script and a background the color of dried blood.


In collaboration with the Chief Marketing Officer, we agreed on a more modern design aesthetic, still featuring an image of Paul, but with a cleaner look. I liked the idea of playing with Apollo, the Greek god, in the imagery as well, and the CMO thought that keeping it “natural” but not too “Adirondacky” was appropriate. These are the first two designs I submitted to test the waters.

header 1

header 2

I liked the idea of using laurel to reference the Greek god. Originally I was thinking to use pine or something more Adirondack but it ended up looking like a guy with his head in a Christmas wreath. For the second, I played with the idea of Apollo as the god of the sun. I liked the second one better than the first, but didn’t love the way that Apollos’s shoulder was cut off, a side effect of the original image I was altering.

header 3


header 4

After some feedback, we agreed that we liked the second likeness of Paul better than the first, but the sun felt like a halo. Could I make it more Adirondacky? I tried versions with pine needles and birch branches. I preferred the birch branches, but we agreed that it felt too busy for a logo.

header 6

That’s better, but still not loving the chunky shoulders. Clever placement of other design elements obscured this in other versions. Ultimately, the Apollos staff decided to go with the cleanest, least involved design with the chunkiest shoulders:


header 5

Paul has the feel of a visionary, or at least the bust of as visionary, and the font is much cleaner and easier to read while containing more information about the purpose of The Apollos. You can see the logo in action on the webpage.

How did I do it? In my presentation on graphic design this spring, I talked specifically about how designing beautiful things is much more about vision than it is about software. People make designs, not software. As usual, I hacked this together in a perfectly filthy manner, but it worked because I had a vision that I was working to accomplish. Here’s the original photo I started with, courtesy of the archives:

AA (4)

Using Photoshop’s magic extractor tool, I separated Paul from his background and strategically cropped out the caption at the bottom. I have access to Photoshop Elements at work, and I used their “artistic effects” to play around with the resulting image. I think I settled on “posterize,” and then I played with the sliders on the setting until I got a contrast I liked. There were a few chunks missing from edges of the image here and there where the contrast was too great, so I used the paint color picker and the paint bucket to fill them in.

I imported the file into an appropriately sized Photoshop file, sourced a font, painstakingly aligned everything, and bam! Done. Ok, in reality, it was much longer process because I went through so many versions and sourced so many images (not all of which made the cut into a design version) which needed to be edited and altered. Sourcing the images was by far the most involved part of this project.

I used one design program, built-in effects, and a specially selected font (super easy to install) in order to achieve the end result. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Could a pro do better? Absolutely for sure. But the difference between what I did and what a pro could do is not necessarily software but a vision. Well, a vision and money. I fully expect that The Apollos will have a new logo in the next year or two, and I’m fine with that. I learned a lot as a result of this collaboration. Firstly, design by committee in the mix with a deadline and a full time job is a fairly stressful combination. Although I’m proud of the work I did, this is one of those things I probably should have declined for my mental health. Second, creating a logo with a person at its center, especially of a previously living person and not a character, is actually pretty hard. Evocative imagery is really tricky to get right. When it goes wrong, it looks a lot like a dude with his head in a Christmas wreath.


Happy first day of class! Here’s your syllabus.

I realize I didn’t have to make my syllabus pretty. I did it anyway. I’m a big believer in creating materials that engage and invite exploration. While I don’t always have the time to dedicate to making the prettiest possible materials, I put the effort in for this instance. I was heavily inspired by work that others have done on their syllabi, particularly Tona Hangen’s highlighted in this article from ProfHacker.

syllabus 2014

syllabus 20142

syllabus 20143

I used my beloved InDesign as per usual. The images are all ones that Col. Chris Hadfield (whose book we will be reading in class) took from space. The first is of a former-island-now-peninsula in Italy and the second is the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in winter.  The colors look slightly different on screen but you get the idea. Have a great start to your school year!

3 Design Tips (plus miscellaneous advice)

Image credit: Austin Kleon

Image credit: Austin Kleon

I’ve received a few questions lately about how I go about designing things for my library. There’s some good info in past posts if you follow the “design” category, but I thought I’d put together some tips and strategies in a more formalized post.

I use InDesign almost exclusively for my design work, but you don’t have to. I like it because I like control. Haha. InDesign is an Adobe product that you can access through a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. I happen to have a desktop version from before Creative Cloud existed. If you’re not in the market for the whole Adobe suite, you can pay subscription access to just one or two products. You can, however, do similar work in other programs like Publisher and Powerpoint. I learned InDesign through a combination of help from slightly more informed friends, Google, and Lynda, which I have access to through the Northern New York Library Network. I can’t say that I use it “correctly” but I get the job done. I’ve heard good things about this book, and I’ll be adding it to my office soon.

There are two, no three, things that will help your poster level up, no matter what software program you’re using: fonts, color, and layout.

  1. Free fonts are great. I never pay for them. My two favorite free font sites are Dafont and 1001 Fonts. Browsing is helpful if you have a specific idea of what you’re looking for (see below on inspiration). I often use Pinterest to help track down free fonts and font combinations. I even keep a board for fonts specifically. Another thing to keep in mind about fonts is dingbats. You don’t have to figure out a way to make artful frames, curls, and tiny robots on a computer screen. There’s a dingbat for that. Save yourself the headache.
  2. Limiting your color palette and using color wisely are the difference between chocolate chip cookie dough and superman ice cream. Colorzilla, a browser add-on, is a good place to start and help you pick up exact colors that you like from the web. Pinterest is another good place to look for color palettes. They’re mostly for home decor, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use them elsewhere. Sometimes I really care about getting an exact color, like the colors used on my school website, and sometimes I just use a standard color picker in the software to slide around until I find something I like.
  3. Layout is the most fundamental piece of poster design. What is the hierarchy? How much info is necessary? Does the flow make sense? Is it clear? I like to block out rough shapes on a piece of paper before going to the computer, and then I constantly check the layout on screen and also in print. Printing out a rough copy on a standard sized piece of paper helps you make the little tweaks in color, gradient, size, and shape that make a difference. I can’t emphasize how powerful seeing your design in print can be.

When looking for inspiration, I often do an image search in Google, especially for an event poster. I take advantage of the fact that other places have art school students who help with graphic design for events. I don’t copy directly, but I do use the images for text layout, fonts, color combinations, and other assorted pretties. I have a board on Pinterest to collect poster ideas because I’m already on Pinterest, but you could just as easily use Evernote Web Clipper or something else to save the images for future reference. For instance, for the Student Speaker Series poster this year, I started with the top image, which inspired the following pieces of advertising:

Inspiration image

final poster

I also teach a class on poster design for culinary capstone students who present their capstone in poster format rather than as a formal presentation or paper. You can see the subject guide here. I’d like to present the workshop to campus in general this year, since it is one of my favorite workshops to teach. I’m happy to share my materials for this workshop. Just send me an email.

Happy designing!

Feature on Librarian Design Share

design share image

Librarian Design Share is one of my favorite practical librarian websites. There are all kinds of good, reusable ideas there. I’ve definitely run with a few of them myself. Today I’m featured with  my approach to the book talk poster – an easy, eye-catching template that works both large-scale and small-scale. Head on over to check it out, and don’t forget to follow Librarian Design Share while you’re there!

Design without tears


I heard about Canva in two places in the last week. As I am currently doing the Sunday Librarian thing, I decided to spend some time playing around with it. Above you see a minimally altered example of the kind of thing you can do with Canva. You sign up for a free account and then have the ability to work a number of different options for specific, pre-made sizes or you can customize your own. For each size, there are different templates you can use and alter or you can disregard the templates entirely and put together one of your own using backgrounds and images from Canva. It’s a freemium service. You can access lots of great stuff without paying, but for more involved layouts and images you must pay $1.00 per element for each time you use it. Then you can download or link to the images and they are also saved with your account. There’s the option to share with Twitter and Facebook, bien sur.

I think the strengths in Canva for librarians are probably for infographic-type posters, flyers, and images for presentations. Although I don’t put loads of effort into my everyday Powerpoint presentations, I can see myself leaning heavily on Canva for professional presentations to pull together an eye-catching, memorable talk. Canva could also be great for other non-library things: blog icons, invitations, Christmas cards, and other design-y things that you may want to look great but not have to pay someone else to do for you.

Another great service similar to Canva but for photo editing is PicMonkey. You can do a lot of basic photo editing with it, and it also has options for adding some fun to photos. Behold, the fun I had last Halloween editing myself into a Cherry Pie Vampire:


While I do love me some old school design fun, I’m not one to turn up my nose at these great, fun services to take some of the learning curve out of getting me what I want. I’ll definitely be making use of Canva and PicMonkey in the future.

New Year Clean-up

new header

I’ve done a little clean up here around the old blog. The Skillshare class I took before I left for the holidays really got me started thinking about how I’m presenting myself as a professional on the internet, and I wasn’t, really. Presenting myself as a professional, I mean. This little space read much more like an I’ve-just-graduated-oh-God-give-me-a-job website. I’ve got a job, and I’m happy with it, thank you very much. Hence, new menu, updated header, etc. I got rid of the clutter and I have a new, stripped down About page and an updated CV to go with it. It never hurts to have an updated CV on hand, especially since that’s one thing I won’t have to worry about come SME review time. Considering how long it took me to make the changes I wanted to it, I would encourage you to do the same in this between-semesters quiet. The formatting, oh, the formatting.

Typography workshop

I stumbled on Skillshare recently and promptly signed up for emails, which is how I found myself in a free class called Typography That Works. Each lesson has a few videos that provide a bit of background and another video that generally walks you through the assignment. The project itself is broken down into small steps and you can check them off as you go with the option to share your progress and ask for feedback from your classmates. The big project is to design a business card. I am provided with business cards by the college and I’m not a freelance designer, so I’m designing it more as a calling card.

business card final

Since all these classes are designed by different people, I can’t speak to how Skillshare runs in general. This class was taught by Ellen Lupton of Thinking with Type. I can say that this particular class is very much focused on typography and assumes some background in design and associated software. This class seems to be directed towards the freelance designer and not to the ” beginner who wants to unlock the power of type” as the class was billed. It will not hold your hand and tell you the mechanics of how to make things happen. I’ve been using my beloved InDesign with side trips to Photoshop to blur out personal information and create collages of options before posting my project publicly. The last class in the series of three mentions specifically that the assignment works best with access to Adobe Illustrator, which I don’t have, so I was unable to fully explore the assignment as directed. I’ve also had some trouble because I haven’t been able to try out most of the fonts suggested. I’m wondering if it’s a Mac vs. PC thing, because I know for sure that have used some of the suggested fonts before. Anyway, I don’t suppose it matters that much because there’s always a substitute available. It would just be nice to be able to play around a bit more.

I’m pretty pleased with my final result, although the signature green color I used is much less electric in print. It’s interesting to really think about type and typefaces. I know that I’m sensitive to type as it relates to my name and how it is presented. M’s and G’s tend to be pretty distinctive letters, and I’ve been know to choose a typeface for professional documents like my CV based on how the G’s are designed. I’ve added Thinking with Type to my wishlist. If you are interested in a fairly quick, three-session workshop in the super slow January season, I recommend it.

Student Art Show

In the fall we have a used book sale in the library. We consistently reduce prices for a few weeks until it becomes clear that no one is interested in the dregs even if we are giving them away for free. At that point, we typically recycle what’s left. This year, the day before the books were slated for the recycling center, an art professor phoned me up and asked if she could bring her mixed media class by and take some books. One of their projects was to be altered books. “Absolutely,” I said, “and would you like a space to display them when they’re finished?” And that’s how we ended up having three different art classes show their work in the library last night.

Obviously, there needed to be a poster of some kind, and it needed to be “arty.” First things first. I googled “student art opening poster” and started looking for inspiration. I found a few I liked:




I really like the oversized hands on the first one. At some point, I’d love to mess around with the font-play necessary to make the second. Time was tight, however, so I settled on the third one as my main inspiration and came up with this:

art opening fall 2013

I really liked the blocky font used on the inspiration poster, but I couldn’t find anything like it in the standard software font list (although I swear that I’ve seen something like it in the standard roster). I found something I like even better, though. I just love how the font I used looks like it came half dressed from the art studio. I like Dafont and 1001 Fonts for free fonts. I used 3 theHard way RMX and A Love of Thunder from 1001 Fonts for the two main fonts. I have used Dafont a lot, but for this particular search process I found the 1001 Fonts interface really helped me drill down to a font that worked for me. I like that it remembers the sample text between pages. This allows you to enter your sample text on the first screen and see it displayed down the whole series of search results, which is really helpful for visualizing how the font will work with the text. I also like that it allows you to refine your initial search.

I designed the poster in InDesign, as I am wont to do in order to keep my skillz up to date, but I made the medallion in Photoshop Elements and imported it. InDesign is really great for some things, but drawing objects is not one of them. I have had good luck copy-and-pasting objects from other applications like Powerpoint and Word, too. Just keep in mind that you can’t alter the colors in InDesign (or maybe you can but I don’t know how to do it yet.) For some reason, the medallion looks purple on my screen as a jpg, but in real life it’s hot pink.

The student art opening was a huge success. The Dean of the school and the Provost of the college even came! The students felt very special, and we have some beautiful altered books in our front display case to enjoy. I could have just made up a poster really fast in Publisher or Word, but I enjoy taking posters like this to the next level. It allows me to fly my flag as a creative person in my job.

The other day, as we were leaving a library meeting that featured a handout and debrief on the procedure for our reference assessment, a colleague told me that my handouts were so nice that they made him want to read them. All blushing aside, this is the reason that design matters. A well designed, albeit informational, document engages the viewer and makes them want to participate, even if the document is essentially a list of instructions. I’m going to keep flying my creative flag, especially as we (eep!) resdesign our webpage!

Librarian Design Share Feature

Do you know Librarian Design Share? It’s a great project started by April Aultman Becker and Veronica Arellano Douglas which allows librarians to share designs, get feedback, and generally help each other out with the increasingly important design responsibilities in a modern library. I’m so excited that a project like this exists. Design matters, and Librarian Design Share provides a place where we can gain inspiration and have conversations about what’s working and what isn’t.

I’m even more excited that I’m featured on Librarian Design Share today! The design is a poster that I made to publicize our LibQUAL results and findings this fall. I talked briefly about my efforts to become a better designer here, and I’m very pleased with how this poster turned out. Find out more about the poster and give Librarian Design Share some love!


face plant

This is me on a self-imposed crash course in Photoshop. Oh, the possibilities! Oh, the fun! Oh, the faceplants. Ctrl Z is my friend.

I’ve been teaching myself InDesign and Photoshop for no good reason except my own personal curiosity and standards. I’ve been fascinated for a long time with form and function, effectiveness of design, and elegant solutions to problems. Also, I can be particular about stuff, and learning these programs allows me express my particularness in very particular ways.

It started last winter with poster design. For example, this poster was created for a conference based on my work with the University Musical Society. When I started this job, one of my goals was to publicize our LibQual results from this year. Based on my experience, and as a way to model poster design for our students who must create one as part of their Capstone projects, I chose to create a big, conference-sized poster at the front of the library. When I sat down to make the poster in September, it turned out that I remembered almost nothing about InDesign. This was probably a good thing, as I knew that I was using it in the most amateur-ish, ugly, inexperienced way possible. Better I forgot everything.  So I decided to learn how to use it for real, and let me tell you, it’s quite the process.

LibQual poster

Luckily, I’ve been taking advantage of the subscription to Lynda that is available to me through the Northern New York Library Network. The tutorials are great and useful, but they’re more focused on the traditional uses of InDesign for books, magazines, order forms, etc. What I’m looking to do is a bit more free form. I’m finding it nearly as effective to work until I come up against a specific problem and then just Google the problem. It’s a cumbersome method, sifting through search results and cobbling together pieces and parts from tutorials to accomplish what I want to do, but it is effective in a sledgehammer-y way.

I do enjoy a challenge, even when it occasionally leaves me faceplanted in my desk at the end of the day.