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.