Design Without Designers

Psychology poster created in Canva

Psychology poster created in Canva

Librarians produce a surprising number of flyers, posters, handouts, signage, and other objects used to instruct or inform our users. While many of these items are utilitarian and just need to get the job done, ideally we’d also like them to look good. Some of us can take advantage of campus multimedia design centers with designers to help bring large projects to life, but the typical academic librarian probably has not taken a graphic design class and may or may not dabble in Photoshop. Although some design-daring librarians venture into Adobe Illustrator, more often that not we fall back to comfortable office applications like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, making projects look “good enough” in programs that were not built for design work.

Recently inspired by sites like Librarian Design Share, I have been trying to jazz up my usual library instruction handouts and collection promotion materials. While I know what I like when I see it and I have spent plenty of time fiddling with projects in Microsoft Publisher, I’ve never developed what you might call the “designer’s eye” necessary to create truly beautiful designs.


I signed up for Canva, currently in beta, a few months ago when I first read about it at Free Technology for Teachers, hoping it would push me to overcome some of my design stumbling blocks.  Thanks to our latest snow days here on the East Coast, I’ve finally found the opportunity to play around with the site. By providing both pre-fab design templates and customizable objects in one easy-to-use package, Canva is an online service that aims to help average Internet users create beautiful design projects.

Creating in Canva

After signing up for a free account, you can access design templates for pre-sized cards, social media graphics, presentations, posters, blog graphics, Facebook covers, photo collages, business cards, and invitations. You can also create your own design using custom dimensions.

Selecting a new design in Canva

Selecting a new design in Canva

After starting a new project, edit your design by choosing layouts, applying backgrounds, and adding text or images using the menu on the left-hand side of the design canvas. You can also search through over one million images, shapes, lines, banners, icons, stickers, buttons, text holders, and so on, or upload your own images to the project. Canva’s drag and drop interface makes it easy to select and drag items from the menu tray to the design canvas, then resize and arrange objects as necessary. You can also adjust the colors of each object on the design canvas, add text, and change fonts (choosing from the 100+ available, with no Comic Sans in sight).

Working in Canva

Working in Canva

Although Canva offers many free images and layouts, the site also includes a large amount of “premium” content (including images, backgrounds, etc.) that you can choose to purchase for your design. Premium objects are offered via a $1, one-time use license. While this means you need to purchase premium objects each time you use them in various projects, the final cost is still lower than purchasing other stock photo options.

Completed projects can be shared via social media (Twitter and Facebook). downloaded as an image (PNG file), or downloaded as a PDF. Canva also provides a direct link for the design project, which you can use to collaborate with others on your design. This can be useful for sharing your design with project team members or for sending design prototypes to other stakeholders for input before producing the final product.


Although Canva is easy to use, it doesn’t exactly take all of the guess work out of creating beautiful designs. Customizing the colors, arranging objects on the canvas, and selecting fonts still requires some what of a “designers eye” to be truly effective. Canva currently offers five quick, hands-on tutorials that guide you through improving design-related skills, including choosing fonts, using color palettes, and understanding layouts. Each step in the tutorials features a “Learn” section that discusses a design principle, and a “Do” section in which you practice the design skill. Each “Do” section also includes a “Need a hint” button, which links to an instructional video that demonstrates how to accomplish the task. Working through these tutorials didn’t make me a graphic designer, but they did help me understand the basics of what I need to do in order to create better looking projects.

Projects in Libraries

Given the large number of templates and pre-defined project types, Canva could be useful for a wide variety of projects in the average academic library. This could include designing library instruction or other workshop presentations, posters and signage, flyers, handouts, and other promotional materials. Additionally, as academic librarians become more active in promoting and encouraging visual literacy, Canva could be a tool for students to use during library instruction sessions that promote engaging with and creating visual media.

Although Canva does not promise to make everyone a designer, it could be a useful tool for taking the next step in stretching our design muscles. What are some projects you’re working on that could use a little design upgrade?

Creating Panoramas with Hugin

Upon returning from last month’s ACRL 2013 conference, I was excited to sit down and explore Hugin after more than one librarian mentioned using it to create panoramic and/or 360-degree images (for one example, see this PDF of Scott Rice and Margaret Gregor’s Presentation  “This Library Orientation is Fun! Building a Successful Virtual Experience for Students”).

Based on the Panorama Tools project, Hugin is a free, cross-platform photo stitcher that allows you to join overlapping images into a single panoramic image. Although Hugin’s advanced features can be initially overwhelming for the casual user, with seemingly endless image manipulation tools,  the “Assistant” tab can get you started creating panoramas in just three quick steps.

After downloading Hugin, the first step in the assistant is to load your images. I decided to test out Hugin using images of the Towson University campus I snapped with my phone’s camera. Hugin will attempt to automatically detect information about the lens used to take the images, and it easily recognized the information for my iPhone’s camera.

Hugin Assistant

Hugin Assistant

The next step is to “Align” the images. Hugin automatically attempts to create a single panoramic image from the images you upload – including selecting “control points” between images (significant overlapping points in each photo used to align the images). From there, you can also adjust a number of other settings, including layout, projection, and cropping.

Hugin Panorama Preview

Hugin Panorama Preview

Finally, you can “Create your panorama.” The Hugin processor will ask you to save your project (which means you can come back to work with it again later) and will produce your panoramic image. (Tip: It look me a while to find, but you can adjust the image file output to produce TIFF, JPEG, or PNG files in the “Sticher” tab in the upper right-hand portion of the Hugin screen).

Below you can see the before and after of the simple panorama I created using Hugin. Four individual photos are stitched together to create a single image, with the Hugin assistant automatically attempting to adjust the images’ exposure, orientation, and cropping. If you are not pleased with your panorama, you can go back and try adjusting any of the image settings as-needed.

Image series before....

Image series before….

Panorama after using Hugin

… and panorama after using Hugin.

Creating this simple panorama with the Hugin assistant took me less than five minutes from start to finish (maybe 10 minutes if you include install and picture taking time). You can also opt to by-pass the assistant, and follow these directions provided by Hugin to dig deeper into the program. The assistant feature seemed to work well with my smartphone snapshots in “ideal” photographic settings – outdoors, with plenty of natural light and subjects that are farther in the distance. More complicated projects would benefit from someone with an interest in digital photography and equipment that is much more sophisticated than a smartphone camera.

Although there are more settings than I could fully explore in one sitting, I can see how the advanced features in the tool would be useful for larger projects, particularly in the hands of users with a higher level of photography experience and knowledge (or time and interest to develop such knowledge). Libraries might be interested in further exploring Hugin if they are producing images of their library to use, for instance, in promotional materials or online tours.

Hugin also includes tutorials on its site that demonstrate several other techniques, including stitching multiple rows together and joining scanned images. And according to Hugin’s website, they will be unrolling a new interface sometime in 2013 (you can see a preview on the Hugin website), which promises to include Simple, Advanced, and Expert settings.

Why not take a few quick shots of your library and see what you can create!

Guest Post: Image Codr for CC images

I love the idea of Creative Commons works. The idea that a creator can set his or her own parameters on what is “fair” use is incredibly powerful. Policing image usage in a digital age can be quite hairy, however. Copy and paste, drag and drop, and “save image as” are all quick and easy ways to grab digital images from the web. Even those of us with the best of intentions for attributing our images often have a hard time keeping the proper documentation connected with the correct images. As an academic librarian, I really want to set a good example for my students by citing all of my images correctly, but I don’t want to have to juggle image files, CC licenses, and links to creators separately.
That’s where Image Codr comes in. As Image Codr says on its website, there are a number of steps involved in properly citing a CC image on a website.
  • Make sure you understood the license correctly
  • Get the correct HTML code for the IMG tag
  • Link the image back to the Flickr photo page
  • Give the author of the image proper credits (Attribution)
  • Link to the Flickr profile of the author
  • Link to the license the image is licensed under
 Image Codr works with CC images from Flickr to make sure that the CC license is understood, to link the image back to the Flickr page, and to give credit to the creator. All you have to do is find a CC image you like, such as this one:
Go to the Image Codr website and click on “Get code!” Enter the website URL, like this:
The result is a webpage that clearly tells you the parameters of the CC license and gives you a chunk of code to copy into your webpage with all the proper links and attributions.
And, voila! Here’s what the code looks like generated on this page:
As Summer into Autumn slips by Robert S. Donovan, on Flickr
I love this site because it takes the guess work out of citing CC images, which I feel is the one complicating factor of CC in general. This site gives a correct, consistent way to cite images on your website without having to do any hand coding. There is also the option to drag a bookmark from the “Get code” page into your browser’s toolbar, so you don’t even have to go to the Image Codr website once you’ve found an image you like.
As for finding CC images on Flickr, you can certainly use Flickr’s own interface by either browsing through their CC images or selecting to search in “The Commons” from the advanced search screen. Image Codr also has a simple search interface that redirects to Flickr. Another option, and the one that I use most frequently, is FlickrCC Blue Mountains. This is an external site that searches only Flickr CC images and redirects you to the Flickr page for grabbing the image. It’s a bare bones site, but I find it to be much easier to use for searching CC images than Flickr’s own site.

Meggan Frost is the Public Services Librarian at Paul Smith’s College in Paul Smiths, NY. As a librarian in a small school, her job requires her to be a jack-of-all-trades, although she spends most of her time trying to create great classes and workshops. A freelancing musician in a previous life, her interests in librarianship are centered on academic libraries with an emphasis on multimedia resources. You can read more at or follow her on Twitter @doubleG2718.

Flickr for Special Collections

Need to find a way to show off your special collections?  Want researchers from your institution as well as around the world to utilize your photos and artifacts?  Flickr is a great tool for doing this.  Flickr is a social image sharing website that allows you to show off photos and images to a much wider audience than simply putting your materials on your special collection website.

Flickr works like this:

  • Set up an account with a name related to the collection or institution.
  • Upload your images to that account
  • Organize your images in related collection sets
  • Tag your images with a variety of terms that help users locate your material.
  • Don’t forget about copyright!  Flickr allows you to attach a Creative Commons license to your work or to specify that all rights are reserved.
  • Watch your images’ tags and notes grow as people find and use your collection.

The Library of Congress is a great example of an institution that successful utilized Flickr for a special collection.  In January 2008, the Library of Congress started their Flickr debut with about 3,000 images.  After only 24 hours and a lot of publicity, their collection had a total of 1.1 million views! (See: For the Common Good: The Library of Congress Flickr Pilot Project) The Library of Congress encourages viewers to add tags and make notes on the images, therefore making their collection and its organization a social project.  Some other institutions utilizing Flickr for their special collections include: