15 August 2012

The Evolution of a Library Welcome Brochure

Three generations of welcome brochures for the Alachua County Library District.

Oldest Welcome Brochure version.
In mid-2011 our library district began running low on of our long-used Welcome Brochure. Since we had used it for so long, we wanted to take the opportunity to update some of the language regarding basic services and information. But before that happened, content writers (administration, public services, and public relations/marketing) wanted to get a sense of what kind of space there would be for the text. 

Before I could begin designing it, however, I needed to know what their presentation and content expectations were for it, so I asked for a design brief to detail what should be removed and included. This way I would be working with at least some idea of what they wanted, rather than working in a total fantasy world and producing a solution that would have to be completely revamped later. The essentials they wanted included: redesign of a two-colour, 14x8.5 inch, quad-paneled brochure with no bleeds and a new selection of existing photos, preferably with unrecognizable people; inclusion of the library logo prominently displayed; use of the brand slogan ...thinking outside of the book; the website address; a listing of all the branch libraries, their locations, phone numbers and hours; text large enough for easy reading. And oh, by the way, they were in a big hurry for it too. 

Duotone 2011 redesign of original Welcome Brochure.
I referred to the current brochure (cover seen at top left image) and used the information it had in it to create a new design mock-up for their reference and use in determining the amount of space remaining for language content. The design utilized new selections of black/white photography on the inside and duotones I created from a set of familiar full colour watercolour renderings of each branch building on the cover. It was ugly, but it answered their brief the way they wanted it to.

After some weeks, new language was vetted, approved, and submitted for placing into the brochure. After design tweaks were applied, it was submitted for approval and accepted. Once the final English language version was approved, a second Spanish language version was to be created by having a staff member translate all the language into Spanish. Another month or so went by before we received the Spanish translation, after which I used a copy of the English language brochure to flow in the Spanish language. Spanish language typically reads longer than English, so adjustments were made to the layout to accommodate the text, then it too was submitted for approval.

New Welcome Brochure 2012 exterior design.
Bottom panel folds upward, away from viewer.
About that time, there was some discussion about how a change in the language regarding a safety procedure might be needed to be reviewed and updated in order to be correct, but that required library board vetting and approval before it could be confirmed. So the Spanish language version was put on hold. Weeks turned into months, and by the time five months rolled around when the board finally got to the safety issue and resolved the language, the library district was completely out of welcome brochures. Hmmm....

Finally, in a model demonstration of speed and efficiency, the brochure design file (cover seen at top center image) flew from my desk to the printer lickity-split for a press run of 5,000 copies once the new safety text was set into the brochure and approved for release.

When I received the redesigned duotone brochure, I instantly hated it. The cover elements were off-centersomething you couldn't detect from the printer's .pdf proof; the contrast in the duotone watercolours was flat and dull; the text a boring series of bulleted, itemized lists; and the photography boring and uninspiring. Nothing was "warm and fuzzy" about this brochure. And worst of all, in an effort to keep costs as low as possible, the paper stock was about the lowest possible grammage available at a flimsy 60lb text stock. In short, from a design (and what I consider a branding/pr/marketing) standpoint, I considered the brochure horrible...seriously horrible.

New Welcome Brochure 2012 interior design.
Bottom half folds upward, toward viewer, allowing
three mission statement words to remain visible.
By July of 2012, when the library district was running low on copies of the new duotone brochure and wanted another round of reprints, I simply couldn't contain myself. I had to let requesting parties know my feelings about how tragic I regarded the welcome brochure design to be. I couldn't stand the idea of that it would continue to be used to promote our library. In my opinion, the message it sent was "we are a cheap and unsophisticated library, and that's how we regard you too." If that was what they wanted to put out there, fine. But I had to at least put my point of view out there for a little reality check. 

I designed a new welcome brochure over the course of a couple of days. I took the necessary text, regrouped it into new sections based on the library's mission statement, and highlighted them in bright, cheerful colours. I wrote an introductory welcome paragraph, added a branch location map, removed the dreary photography, and organized it all into a more interesting folding layout. I even modified the standard logo so it would finally reproduce better when seen at smaller sizes and reversed it out of the background. It was a tri-panel brochure with an additional uneven vertical fold measuring roughly 10.5x15.5 inches when open. It was simple yet modestly sophisticated, with neatly organized essential information and some actual welcoming text. It also avoided the pitfalls of tacky clip art and poor quality photography as a result of being too cost-conscious to consider hiring a professional photographer with proper equipment to take good quality shots.

Top: printed brochure exterior unfolded. 
Bottom: flip side of the unfolded exterior shows
interior side with long panel folded upward.
I then asked for an audience with the senior staff who were responsible for putting together content and approving funding for the brochure. Before I showed them my redesign, I set out on a table one at a time a selection of brochures from other local similar level organizations to show the level of presentation and sophistication they offered. They all looked acceptably decent for what they were. I then showed the duotone version of our welcome brochure and sat back for a moment to let them take it all in. I already knew what the impact would be.

I asked which organizations caught their interest and appealed to them based on how their brochures looked. I told them: "if we are going to welcome people to the library, why don't we do it like we mean it? Why don't we show them how much we care about them by showing how much we care about how we appear to them in our branding effort by using a nice looking brochure? It will be one of the first items given to them when they become a visitor or patron. It will represent the quality of our library. Because of that, it shouldn't be some flimsy, cheap looking piece of bond paper printed off an office copier." I had to say these things because it was true, and because I was embarrassed for us whenever I saw that brochure. It was terrible. They agreed; we looked cheap, uninspiring, and barely even sincerely welcoming. 

Top: printed unfolded exterior. 
Bottom: flip side of the exterior
 shows interior fully opened.
Once it was agreed that a new direction was needed, I was ready to pull out my more colourful redesigned welcome brochure. I went over how it addressed and improved upon all the deficient points of the previous brochure. I even went over how printing it on a heavier weight paper and/or textured paper could enhance the presentation of the brochure. The way the brochure folded even allowed for it to wrap around and package a patron's new library card when it was issued. The design direction and talking points were all well received and it was agreed that we would pursue the new redesign instead of a reprint of the previous duotone "ASAP" brochure. Believe me, I was very relieved.

I contacted the printer to ask for a selection of papers from their stock that interested me. Once received, we selected a couple of papers that appeared to have a suitable weight that was within our budget. I then asked the printer to send new unprinted samples of the selected paper cut to the correct dimension and machine folded so that I could assess the folds for any splitting along the seams. It took a couple of weeks before I received a selection of blank, poorly hand-folded papers. I could see that the preferred heavier weight paper would crack far too much along the folds, so I went back to the paper samples to find lighter weight versions and asked to receive new samples of lighter weight stocks along with estimates for printing. 

Another couple weeks passed before the next set of folded papers arrived. Fortunately, one of the selections appeared to be suitable in weight and price. After it was approved by the library client, I sent my design file to the printer for the next step in the process: having them create a digital print of the brochure and mailing a physical proof to me for a final review. Once received, I could assess it to make certain it was folded and trimmed properly, that the colour panels were the correct dimensions and didn't bleed into the panel space of other colours, and that fine lines in the art elements didn't fill in or wash out. I didn't want to leave any stone unturned for quality control checks. With a print run of 10,000 copies, I didn't want to spend another year feeling as badly about this welcome brochure as I did the last one. After this version was printed, we'd move on to creating its companion Spanish language version. That is, if we'd commit ourselves and the funds to it. If not, well, there's always the flimsy, two-colour duotone version to fall back on. But we all know what that says about us and how important you are to us too.

09 August 2012

Too Much Language, Too Little Space? What You Can Do.

8.5x11 inch promotional sign
It should come as no surprise that writers love words, illustrators and photographers love images, and designers love organizing. It is when those interests intersect with each other that designers play the part of visual communication mediators. There is no mistaking that a written message is important, but when language is excessive, it leaves little room left for making a visual promotional piece eye catching to the casual observer whose attention you want to capture. As those sayings go: "when everything is important, nothing is important." And "when everything shouts, the message is lost in the noise." (I just made up that second one, but it sounds good, right?).

Sometimes when language crowds out all the space and there is simply no room left for images, the only solution left is to make the words speak for themselves...by giving them the personality and design features required to sell the piece. If they want all the glory, make 'em work for it! A good example of this idea is an 8.5x11 inch sign and a quarter page handbill used to advertise a library event that celebrated both the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

The handbill replicated the 8.5x11 inch sign--4 handbills per page.
Because there was so much text, I knew right off the bat that I would want a condensed ("squeezed") typeface because it was going to need about as much "squeezing" as it could in order to fit it all in. I also wanted the text to have a little more character than a simple condensed or compressed font, so I chose something that had a distressed or "roughened" appearance (to give it a more casual appearance, not to impart that returning to school creates distress!). 

I also wanted the collective text to create a solid visual block that conformed to the dimension of the promotional piece, so I altered the point size of various word combinations until I could get them to work in justified right/left arrangements. Alternating the text colours helped to provide visual diversity within the message and to call out more important aspects of it as well. 

Finally, after all the type styling, I slipped a photo of a bright sun with its rays bursting through the leaves of a shadowed Florida palm tree behind the text to give it one last brilliant punch of colour. A word of caution: you don't want your text to become illegible due to the choice of your background image. Whether it be a photo, illustration, or other graphic image, be sure that your background does not make your text difficult to read. Generally, the simpler the image is, and a colouration different from your text helps to reduce difficulty reading. Knowing what your reader's distance will be from the image is also comes into play. For instance if you look at my handbills at the size they are on screen, you may have difficulty reading the white text and anything smaller than it to. This can emulate what seeing a sign would be like from a distance. 

Since the handbill is intended to be read at less than arm's length, this shouldn't become an issue for most people. And the 8.5x11 inch sign is intended to be seen from a relatively short distance as well. The key things work at varying sizes to draw you in a little at a time: the colour catches your eye, the event name instantly tells you what it is about, and the text gets smaller from there in order to its importance in the reading hierarchy.

So in the end, all the elements came together to create an eye-catching presentation. Its natural: sometimes the yin speaks louder, sometimes the yan. Just squeeze and massage your content, and as long as all elements get their day in the sun, everyone will be happy. =)

Crazy, Brave, Employer/Designer ROI

45x45 inch large format display poster.
I am behind the times to show some promotional work I did to promote the guest appearance of author Joy Harjo at our library last week. She spoke about her publishing work which included her book Crazy Brave. For her author talk event, I produced the following publicity items:

200x quarter page handbills
1x 3.25x5.25 inch publication print ad
1x 45x45 inch large format display poster
1x 11x14 inch author display bio sheet
1x web page banner

Harjo provided access to photos from her website. Unfortunately only about two were usable from her book publicity. I selected one of her and added her book cover to my options. On her personal photo, I noted she was displaying a henna marking on her hand which reminded me that I had a few henna images I had collected from other sources, so I looked to see if I could make something happen out of a combination between our collective sources.

Web page banner
I found and settled on a small illustration of a henna patterned hand and used that as a background pattern for Harjo's event publicity. I also picked up on the dashed lines she used on her book cover. To me, they brought to mind the feathered ends of arrows. Using that reference, I added a few more design elements such as the red bar above her photos and the angled triangle at the bottom right that helped to anchor the photo to the base of the collateral items. Overlapping elements took advantage of empty space and allowed elements to interact more dynamically as well. To work towards a unified typographic styling, I sourced for a display font that shared the characteristics of what was used on her book cover and used that, then pulled colour from the two photos to highlight the key points in the language.

Publication print ad
So how can I be behind on my post, you ask? Well, as I'm wrapping up my second year as designer for the Alachua County Library District, I have been busy not only with the daily flow projects, but also reviewing my department performance over the past 12 months. 

And the tally is in. In the roughly 249 working days of 2011-12, I produced 679 unique projects, up 295 projects from the 2010-11 count of 384. So if I figure there are 1992 hours of annual work time, that figures out to me completing a new project every 2.93 hours every work day for a full year. 

11x14 inch author bio page
That doesn't even factor in all the other things that take place. Things like  administrative duties, meetings, phone calls, countless emails, webinars, printer and vendor coordination, asset management, ordering of supplies, evaluating and advising other people's creative projects, time stuck on surgically removing melted lamination film off heated rollers (oh how I love spending my time on that). There's plenty of behind-the-scenes work that never appears on a visual project itself. Factor all that in—and a week of vacation time I didn't account for above—and I'm sure I'm well below that 2.93 hour mark per project. If you're beginning to see Lucille Ball working on that chocolate factory conveyor belt as it continues to speed up, then you've got the general idea of what my typical day is like. Even when I'm sitting motionless staring at my computer monitor, things are still speeding along "upstairs." I'm either planning a strategy, having a "zen moment"...or in the process of developing a decent brain aneurysm. Whichever it is, don't interfere; just let it happen.

Hey employers, hows that for ROI? Both a little crazy, and a little brave—but on whose part? On the upside, there's something I like about reviews. It gives me time to assess what my ROI is too.

The large format display poster installed on site.