Design challenge 101

So, it’s late October, which means I have to brush up on my design skills in preparation for all things Book Fair.

Looking back at my history with design, I think it started when I was in middle school as a group of friends and I put together a literary magazine called Wet Ink. In high school, I took a photojournalism course, where the instructor introduced me to merging graphics with photography on old school MacBooks. He then suggested, because of my enthusiasm, that I consider joining the yearbook staff, which I did. I was one of those eager beavers, on the staff for both yearbook and newspaper. The whole writing, layout and technology combination had me hooked.

I’m convinced kids who take part in journalism and any media arts course are so much better equipped for the world. If you need proof, look into JEA and their annual journalism conventions. I’ve been to two of their conferences, and the students who I saw were all seriously passionate and ready to take on the world.


Volsung yearbook staff ready to take on the world.

Having “done design” for so many years, I’ve come to find it’s a challenge, not just to meet the deadline, or to effectively communicate a message, but more so a challenge to myself. There’s the puzzle of trying to get all pieces of the message out to the audience, and still have something that looks good, while also generating interest and buy in. It’s not unlike library work, where you find yourself juggling multiple tasks and each day brings something new.

This year will be an interesting one in terms of design, largely because our annual Book Fair starts for a day, and then stops. It resumes for an abbreviated 4 days thereafter, but a lot of our key dates, which our families have grown accustomed to, have changed.

When I first sat down to begin the work of putting together our booklet of materials, I realized that these changes needed to be addressed. At the same time, I also realized that a bunch of the information on events that are forthcoming was missing.

One of the challenges in working with a group of people to put on an event that runs for a week is that communication doesn’t flow in a linear fashion. You have one group of individuals working on event A, another on event B or C. And then there’s me, working to make sure all this information on all these inter-related events is collected and written about in a way that parents can quickly make sense of everything given their busy and hectic lives. (And on whichever is their preferred device).

Challenge, right?

It becomes more of a challenge when you consider that I have to put together a 16 page booklet on top of my usual library work. This includes scheduled classes yes, and also drop ins for book talks or research on specific topics, and coincidentally this year, working with a group of students for their speech and debate tournament.

Needless to say, October through November are pretty stressful months.

On Thursday, I sat down to carefully look over what was known, and what was unknown in terms of Book Fair events. I started with the Parent Author Brunch and whittled down key components. Dates. Times. Individuals involved. Graphics/photos. Copy/Text.

I usually refer to what I created the prior year and here’s how last year’s print document looked:


2015 print version – what works?

After comparing events, I realized that this year’s content would be a whole lot more sparse (fewer individuals and books involved). I played with the components and wrote out what key pieces of information needed to be relayed:

A: Vitals: Date, time, location
B: Event timeline
C: Individuals/books (with high resolution graphics)
D: Info on how/were to register and $25 fee
E: Required logo
F: Copy and text “blurb” describing the event.

What needs to be mentioned?

What needs to be mentioned?

Our Book Fair chair had kindly created a flyer that worked as a rough first pass. Unfortunately, it was heavily edited as my boss attempted to figure out where to move images and where to place content.

Yikes! Lots of edits!

Yikes! Lots of edits!

From my sketches and notes, I had a rough idea of what was required, but I needed a little design inspiration. A quick browse on Pinterest resulted in this lovely graphic, and I loved how the three words were stacked on top of each other, with the dates clearly visible.

Gorgeous layout!

Our event was also a title with 3 words, plus the date had changed and making it stand out at the top would mean it’d be easy to see. A little more doodling followed after I saw the image and I opted for a two column design. (Note how I wrote in GUI interface in the upper right hand corner. It was jotted down as a possible search term on Pinterest. There’s some amazing stuff being designed there which highlighted the things I wanted to emphasize; mainly the date and time.)

Reworking the design.

Reworking the design.

With the design framework a little more fleshed out, I hopped onto the computer and launched InDesign. Work on the layout could begin! It went through a series of changes, and still may undergo some more changes as we finalize the book, but here’s how this year’s info for the Parent Author Event looks:


First pass at layout. A-F components plugged in.


2nd round of layout.

Notice the second layout is more text heavy. In the first, I had thought there’d be two different areas of copy. After writing out the copy, I realized it didn’t make sense to create a split on the info, so kept it all in one chunk. There was extra white space, which was filled with a combination of other images tied to the visiting author’s book. Then, directly underneath, would be the the required credit for author photo and website photos.

So that was what I worked on this Thursday. On Friday, I repeated the process for the FAQ and Book Club amongst other things. It was a LOT of work spent sitting in front of the computer for over 6 hours. I’d try to focus on one thing, but then would have to backtrack to make a minor edit on another item. Or I’d make a change and new info would come in via email, requiring that I edit on the fly.

I’m fortunate to be working with someone else this year, which is a nice change. We talk shop, or laugh when my tiredness gets the better of me. (I was running on about 6 hours of sleep between Thursday and Friday).

My old yearbook jokes from the 7th Guest games we played kicks in here. I kept saying over and over on Friday, “that’s not it” whenever I need to edit, undo. (Thanks for the voice, Mike Lopez!)  I’m finding that working with another person keeps me on my toes, makes me want to improve my work, makes me stay obsessively organized in terms of file saving/storage as we need to swap files back and forth.

An email went a while ago at work, asking how we balance work life, stress and personal life. After a two day push, I’m not sure how I feel about the crazy amount of time and effort put into the booklet. A good part of my enthusiasm over the years has dwindled whenever I had to start work on it, precisely because of how time consuming and draining it can be. Now that I’m working with a design partner, I don’t know if I want to introduce her to the same crazy work ethic, where we push and push to meet a deadline (and at what cost?)

There’s still a lot more work to be done. I’ve tackled the design challenge, but have some thinking to do on my efforts put into making the booklet happen.