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.

Canva

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.

Tutorials

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?

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“Year of the Infographic”

Lately, it seems like everyone on the internet is a graphic designer, with customized infographics hitting every news outlet, blog, and personal website. Some have even dubbed 2012 “The Year of the Infographic.” Now, thanks to an ever-growing group of online services, librarians without graphic design backgrounds can start creating their own infographics in just a matter of minutes.

WHAT ARE INFOGRAPHICS?

Loosely, infographics use pictures, words, graphs, and other visual elements to express information. Ideally, infographics are designed to uses these visual elements  to organize complex ideas and data into a more easily understood form. For a more detailed explanation, see “InfoGraphic Designs: Overview, Examples and Best Practices.” Or, check out the “What is an Infographic?” infographic.

BUT I’M NOT A DESIGNER

Infographics themselves, along with other data visualizations, are certainly not new. And here at LibraryTechTalk we have already discussed a few different tools for creating visualizations. But recently there are new online services that offer ready-made templates and themes users modify by adding their own data. This means slick, professional infographics can now be created by just about anyone in less time than it takes to learn more advanced graphic design software. While there has been some criticism of these types of tools and the products they create, they are potentially valuable options for the everyday user who is intimidated by more advanced applications.

Two examples I’ve recently explored:

Piktochart – Jumpstart your own infographics using one of their ready-made themes. Piktochart offers a free basic service, as well as two options to upgrade to a paid “Pro” account – Monthly or Yearly.  WIth the Free account, you can choose from 5 free infographic themes which allow for some limited color and font customization, as well as pre-loaded shapes and graphics. After you “load” a theme, you can add or change graphics, shapes, and text on the page. There is also a chart wizard where you can manually add data to make a simple chart, or you can import your own data in CSV files. You can also upload up to 5 of your own images. When you’re finished, completed iinfographics can be saved and downloaded as an image (.PNG), but with the free account all of your images will also include the Piktochart watermark.

Piktochart Screenshot

Creating an infographic with Piktochart.

Upgrading to a Pro account gives you access to over 70 additional themes, more options for customization, up to 100 slots for uploading images, downloading as raw data, and watermark-free images.

(Monthly Pro pricing is currently $14.99/mo and a Yearly Pro account is currently $129. Also, it looks like account prices will be increasing at the end of August.)

Easel.ly – Use visual themes (which they call, “vhemes”) to create and share your own infographics. Signing up for a free account gives you access to 15 vhemes. In the “creation tool,” drag and drop the vheme of choice onto the canvas, or choose to start with a blank canvas. Next, customize the infographic using Easel.ly’s pre-loaded objects, adding shapes or text, and uploading your own images. Unfortunately Easel.ly does not include any chart-making capabilities. Due to this lack of feature, Easel.ly does not necessarily stay true to the “infographic” ideals, but is an easily-accessible tool for an average user to begin exploring infographic creation.

Search Infographic

Infographic created using Easel.ly

When you are finished, Easel.ly allows  you to share your infographic in a number of ways, including downloading as a JPEG, generating a web link, or copying code to embed the image in a web page, blog, etc. You may also choose to save your infographic as “Private” (default) or “Public.”

Easel.ly is currently still in beta, which means there are likely additional tweaks and improvements ahead.

APPLICATION IN LIBRARIES

Marketing/Outreach

Librarians are thinking critically about how to translate data about our services into easily-digestible and meaningful messages. Iowa State University Library is using data visualizations (including infographics) to tell their library’s story. The American Library Association has also used an infographic to demonstrate nationwide cuts to library budgets.

Instruction

Infographics could be an additional tool in our instruction toolbox. Think about what kinds of skills might benefit from a more visual explanation. Students could create their own infographics to demonstrate what they learn in a library session. For example, Bizologie has created an infographic outlining how to research private companies.

Visual literacy

Even if we choose not to create our own infographics, we are concerned with visual literacy. As per the  ACRL’s Visual Literacy Competency Standards, “visual literacy” as “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.” As infographics continue to increase in popularity, librarians will play a role in helping users effectively interact with visual information.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you have a favorite infographic or tool for creating infographics? How is your library using infographics? Tired of seeing infographics everywhere?

More information:

A more extensive rundown of infographics tools is available at Daily Tekk’s “Over 100 Incredible Infographic Tools and Resources.”

iLibrarian – 9 Data Visualization Tools for Librarians and Educators

Daily Infographic – Anatomy of a Librarian Infographic

Kathy Schrock –  Infographics as Creative Assessment

Junk Charts – The coming commodization of infographics