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.

1 comment:

  1. My thanks to the American Library Association for their interest and linking of this blog entry to their blog at:


    (fifth from the bottom of the web page at the time of my viewing, 8.22.12)