Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

4 Dec 08

Consider pouring yourself a coffee or tea and taking a few minutes to walk around your library and look at the signs you see. Where do they fall on this graph?

perhaps replace “friendly/mean” with “helpful/unhelpful” too

How many of your signs fall into the desirable quadrant I?
Ready for the real test? Print out the graph and hand some copies to library users. Pour them a coffee or tea and have them rate your signs. Is there a difference?
Much of the discussion surrounding signs in libraries has been around the attitude of the signs and the policies from which they stem. While this is very important, let’s not forget that they don’t often conform to the rules of graphic design either (i.e. they’re not pretty). Chances are that your library doesn’t have a graphic design department, so this isn’t a surprise.
If you’d like to improve the looks of your signs but don’t know where to start, you could do worse than to thumb through the go-to The Non-Designer’s Design Book. It isn’t going to turn you into an expert sign designer over night, but it will introduce you to some basic principles that can improve the appeal of your signs.
A great example of what can be achieved after reading The Non-Designer’s Design Book is this sign that Anna Warns redesigned for the class I’m teaching for the UW’s iSchool.

She writes:
Old sign:
This one is ugly and friendly. The message of conserving paper is a good one and anyone who’s been near the public access computers printer knows that there is a lot of waste. The sign is just…old and sad. While it’s clear that someone put a little effort into this, it’s horribly out-dated and is too wordy. Another problem with sign is the location – it is on the printer table and not able to be seen until you pick up your print job.
New sign:
The new sign has much less wording. It is concise and much of the message is implied through the graphic. The font will hopefully relate a computer/techy feel next to the earthy image and create context for the sign. I intend to put this one up in the library and change its location so it is relevant.

Is this concern for aesthetics superficial? I don’t think so. Having thoughtfully designed signs and pamphlets around the library makes things easier for patrons, and illustrates that the library takes pride in what it does.


  1. Great book recommendation. The world would be a better designed place if more people read Robin Williams’ books.

  2. […] Schmidt at walking paper has a thoughtful post about signs in the library, in contrast to the usual blog posts from librarians which say […]

  3. I think Apple is a great example of where good design can get you. Part of the reason the iPod and iPhone are so successful is the slick design. They know how to make a product visually desirable.

    We need better design in libraries (online and print), sadly it seems to be an area most don’t want to spend time or money (ie to get professionals) on.

  4. Great post and a useful one. We often hear that we should enter the library through the front door and see it as our customers do, but having a tool to evaluate signs makes this practice efficient and effective. Love the idea of having customers go through with the same scale.

  5. […] i twittered my borked brain then i remembered i had starred it in my rss reader. I was remembering Aaron Schmidt’s “Beautiful > Ugly” post about signage design. Inspired, i sat down with paper and pencil and a few hours later had a […]

  6. […] 6. Library signage http://www.walkingpaper.org/960 7. Encyclopedia of life-page for each of the approximately 1.8 million known species on Earth […]

  7. The message is often lost when people strive for more design aesthetics so it’s important that the intended purpose is still served. The Print Wisely sign makes people stop and look at what it’s actually about so it seems to be more effective as well as aesthetically pleasing.

  8. […] a year ago Aaron over at Walking Paper blogged about the need for good print design in the library. Well, this inspired my to highlight some of the great design we have at the University of Michigan […]

  9. Great, practical post!

    Another great intro design book for non-designers is Graphic Design for Nondesigners: Essential Knowledge, Tips, and Tricks, Plus 20 Step-by-Step Projects for the Design Novice. This was recommended to me by a designer who works for public libraries. Bonus: it’s also really well designed, which The Non-Designer’s Design Book isn’t.

  10. Tara,

    You’re so right about _The Non-Designer’s Design Book_. It is hideous! I’ve seen the book you recommend on Amazon before. I’ll take a look at it.


  11. Great Blog. I add this Blog to my bookmarks.
    Afegeix un comentari

  12. I personally don’t see the signs 🙂 they simply go through me as if they were transaparent

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