You got "librarian" in my "design"

I was really excited by the challenge that Toby issued today with his “Librarian Design Challenge.” post. First off, hey it’s a blog post! As I’m working on getting my own site back in order to start blogging some more, here’s an actual blog post on someone’s blog.

As for the challenge, the issue of how we think about design and articulate it’s role and importance in a library has been on a my mind these days. Since starting at the Skokie Public Library, I’ve had many conversations about design in one context or another, even when the actual topic of conversation wasn’t design per se.

I’m not really a designer. I don’t have any real training. But I try to think like a designer when I’m weighing what’s important on a webpage, asking fundamental questions about the purpose that a button serves. Everyday, I’m trying to avoid making arbitrary decisions, but to weigh them against the principles and vision that guide my library and needs and impulses that drive our users.

For me (as a non-designer), design is about holding the general and the specific in my mind, keeping them in productive tension with each other. I think this is why design can be hard for libraries. We often rush to the specific, to the service, the feature, the flyer, the extra turn of phrase that we desparately hope will make someone understand what we do.

So for me, Toby’s design challenge is a chance to tackle a very specific design challenge, but to do it while asking the big, scary questions that we might suppress in any given situation–why do people need a library card? What value does the card offer? And so on. This kind of gets at the heart of what Toby points out as being one of the issues he sees as being worth tackling:

What I’m very interested Deep down in its painstakingly carved little heart, design is about knowing what to ask for, and spelling those desires in as specific a manner as possible.

Translating between desires into usable, well designed features is quite an undertaking and one I hope we can hold up as a worthy goal.