Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

27 Dec 12

Very Clear Message from IFTTT


IFTTT has a no nonsense homepage that boldly displays a clear statement of what the site is all about.

IFTTT _ Join

It also features a very plain and easy to use signup form.

17 Dec 12

Design Writing for a Good UX

I rarely write expertly crafted sentences on the first try. It’s a little frustrating. But my writing often shapes up if I spend time rewriting and revising.

I feel liberated thinking about the first draft of a sentence as a prototype. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I just give it my best shot knowing that I can improve it later. My sentences – and the paragraphs they form – usually go through multiple iterations, improving bit by bit along the away.

This iterative process is an attempt to effectively design what I’m trying to communicate and I find myself asking the same sorts of questions I’d ask attempting to solve any design problem:

What is the purpose of this? What is it trying to do?
How can it be simpler?
Is it easy to understand / use?

Much like I can’t seem to turn off the parts of my brain that evaluates the graphic environment (uh oh, getting a bit jargony there), I find myself continually thinking about the effectiveness of sentences now.

Here are some sentences I’ve recently noticed in the wild, and my attempts at sprucing them up:

My knowledge base has greatly increased.

I’ve learned a lot.

…some of the usual things that people do in a library.

…some common library tasks.

In a few moments, flight attendants will be passing through the cabin to serve hot and cold berverages of your choice.

In a few moments, our flight attendants will offer you something to drink.

Place a hold on an item.

Reserve an item.

…all of the touchpoints in your library.

…all library touchpoints.

Service offerings


We hope you found value in the check you received.

You’re welcome.

Why be concerned about writing?
Good informational or persuasive writing is easy to read, easy to understand and can even be enjoyable. Bad writing is a chore to read and can be confusing and frustrating. Sounds like a user experience issue to me.

The connection to UX runs deeper. In order to effectively write something informtional or persuasive not only must you understand the subject, you have to understand your audience too. In this way, writing well demonstrates respect. It shows that you care enough about your ideas – and how people will ingest them – that you’ve taken the time to think it though. While this is a nice thing for individuals to do, if you’re concerend with creating a good experience in your library, it is a necessary thing to do.

If you’re at all stoked on writing or effective communication, check out Revising Prose by Richard Lanham. It reminds me of Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” not only because it is short and funny, but also because of the spirit of its message. It will teach you how to write engaging sentances using plain languge.

My interest in improving writing started with writing for websites. Letting Go of the Words is the classic text.

9 Dec 12

Contrast Makes Websites Easier to Read

Cecily Walker clued me in to the beta Multnomah County Library website and made an apt comparison to my Plainest Library Website Ever doodle.

Here’s the new MCL site:

They’ve whittled it down to some important basics. I’m impressed.

The layout is pretty good, but the page is difficult to read. Click through and you’ll see what I mean. The gradients and transparencies reduce contrast between element and the background image is distracting. The lack of contrast is really apparent when looking at the logo; it blends into the background and has no impact. The site reminds me of bing.com, but notice how the image Bing uses is more like texture than an image of a particular thing. This makes it less distracting. Also the search box is solid white, increasing contrast.

Removing gradients and the background image from the MCL beta renders the page very plain, but much more readable (and actually quite similar to my previous doodle).

But this revision is problematic too. While is is a lot easier to read – and calmer – it has very little visual interest and makes the library seem lifeless. Surely there’s a way to add some visual interest that isn’t distracting, doesn’t sacrifice legibility, and is more than decoration. Here’s a quick attempt:

With some overlaid text, the bottom third+ of the page could be an image carousel effectively advertising library news and events. It could also connect people to popular parts of the site, or it could set the tone for using the library:

Notice that a big image carousel removes the need for the small grey one. This helps because the search box and grey carousel are so similar in size that they compete for our attention. In this mockup there’s more contrast between the two.

This concept isn’t launch ready but it is headed in a good direction.

The site suffers from contrast problems on subpages too. The grey text on a barely transparent brown background is difficult to read.

Here’s the same page, black on white (and section headers emboldened).

I’m looking forward to seeing how MCL polishes up the site!

29 Nov 12

Participatory Design in Academic Libraries

Participatory design is an approach to building spaces, services, and tools where the people who will use them participate centrally in coming up with concepts and then designing the actual products.

The papers in this volume, written by librarians and IT professionals from 12 colleges and universities, report on user research and participatory design projects. All of the authors attended workshops and then dove fearlessly into projects with as little as two days of training.

The authors wanted to learn how their students or faculty members do their academic work. Their reports share new methods of approaching enduring questions and offer a number of useful and interesting findings. They make a good case for participatory design of academic libraries.

I know what I’m doing this weekend!

Get the report: Participatory Design in Academic Libraries from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

[via ethnographr]

24 Nov 12

Libraries, Typography and Reader Mood

Getting libraries to take typography seriously is a bit of a hard sell. I certainly understand that there are bigger picture issues for us to think about. And I get that fretting over the shapes of letters can seem a bit precious.

But the typography we use affects how our members perceive us. So it is worth thinking about.

A short paper titled The Aesthetics of Reading [pdf] confirms that good typography leads to better experiences. I found this bit about perceived elapsed time particularly interesting:

…we found that participants in the poor typography condition underestimated their reading time by 24 seconds on average, while participants in the good typography condition underestimated their reading time by 3 minutes and 18 seconds on average.

The study also reports that good typography can make people more creative and in a better mood!

With the candle task we found that 4 of 10 participants successfully correctly solved the task in the good typography condition while 0 of 9 participants correctly solved the task in the poor typography condition. This is a reliable difference, ?2 (1) = 2.47, p < .05. This indicates that participants in the good typography condition were in a better mood before starting the candle task then were the participants in the poor typography condition.

Having read this paper, I now feel more justified to blather on about typography. (Consider yourself warned.)

Dmitry Fadeyev at Usability Post has a nice summary of the paper: Effects of Typography on Reader Mood and Productivity

13 Nov 12

Excellent Writing on the SPD Blotter

Voters in Washington just passed Initiative 502, decriminalizing the possession of marijuana for adults. To help everyone understand the new law, the Seattle Police Department wrote Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle.

The post uses a great conversational format, is easy to understand, and avoids using a boring, corporate tone. I’m really impressed.

Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?
Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, doing so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home. Additionally, if smoking a cigarette isn’t allowed where you are (say, inside an apartment building or flammable chemical factory), smoking marijuana isn’t allowed there either.

What happens if I get pulled over and an officer thinks I’ve been smoking pot?
If an officer believes you’re driving under the influence of anything, they will conduct a field sobriety test and may consult with a drug recognition expert. If officers establish probable cause, they will bring you to a precinct and ask your permission to draw your blood for testing. If officers have reason to believe you’re under the influence of something, they can get a warrant for a blood draw from a judge. If you’re in a serious accident, then a blood draw will be mandatory.

What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?
Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.

SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?

Will SPD assist federal law enforcement in investigations of marijuana users or marijuana-related businesses, that are allowed under I-502?
No. Officers and detectives will not participate in an investigation of anything that’s not prohibited by state law.

Have anything complicated to explain on your library website? Take a lesson from the SPD and emulate this style. Remember: improving your content is one of the most effective ways to improve your website and no tech skills are required. Read Letting Go of the Words and Revising Prose for help.

11 Nov 12

Why Doesn’t Netflix Offer Advanced Search on Their Site?

Nothing is purely additive unless everyone uses it: If there’s an affordance to use a feature, the affordance is a distraction to everyone, while the positive value accrues only to the users and potential users. The net value of a feature is the value to the users of the feature, divided by the distraction of the affordance to everyone. Advanced search ends up being used by such a tiny fraction of users (sub 1%), that it can’t possibly pay for its cost. And yes, obviously we have thought of burying the affordance for people who don’t use it.

Netflix’s Chief Product Officer answers a question about search on Quora.

I’m not posting this to badmouth advanced search. I’m more interested the larger lesson.

The formula of Net Value = Value / Distraction is extremely useful, and we can use it to think not just about our library websites, but to our entire organizations.

What library services and programs offer the most value and least amount of distraction? What distractions can you eliminate to increase the overall value of your library?

8 Nov 12

Views from the DPLA Appfest at Chattanooga Public Library

As this library evolves I hope they find a place for this furniture. I’ve seen about 15 Bertoia Diamond chairs today!

Really great sightlines throughout the library. Each floor in the library is a wide open space. Big potential.

24 Oct 12

Walking Paper Audio Winter 2012

Download Walking Paper Audio Winter 2012

1. Alive – Eliot Lipp
2. You Need Me On My Own – Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
3. New France (feat. Zola Jesus) – Orbital
4. Think Feel (feat. Chelsey Scheffe) – Beat Connection
5. Hail Bop – Django Django
6. Past Lives – DIIV
7. After the Moment – Craft Spells
8. Know Me – Frankie Rosie
9. Into Black – Blouse
10. Floating in Blue – Young Prisms
11. Brains – Lower Dens
12. Believe – Gus Gus
13. Mirror – Burial / Four Tet / Thom Yorke
14. Feeling Lost Forever – The Sight Below


Walking Paper Audio Spring 2012
Walking Paper Audio Winter 2012
Walking Paper Audio Spring 2011
Walking Paper Audio Winter 2010

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