Posts filed under ‘Design’

Using Inkscape to make a text based portrait

Hi, all. I got an email recently from an attendee of my GIMP and Inkscape workshop (which I’ve had the pleasure to give on behalf of a few of New Jersey’s finest Library Consortiums). This attendee  asked how I had performed a particular effect in Inkscape during the workshop in which I use a bit of text as a brush in order to render a portrait. An example follows:

text based portrait

Text based portrait

Instead of writing out the answer in text (I myself am a visio-audio/experiential learner, and tend towards those kinds of solutions), I decided to use the question as a starting point for an entry in a daily project I’ve been working on at http://365sketches.wordpress.com, in which I’m trying to make a quick sketch a day in 2010 using free software to demonstrate the power of those tools.

You may want to check it out from time to time (or subscribe to the feed, if you’re into that kind of thing) to get ideas for how you can use free software like Inkscape to create interesting designs for your library’s fliers, posters, and other advertising materials and platforms.

If you’ve seen me talk on the topic of Best Practices in Design, you also know that I feel strongly that design, and tools like Inkscape, can change your life, your attitude, and your view of the world.

At any rate, I made the following screencast to demonstrate how I make images like the one above. Enjoy, and if you have questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments!

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February 4, 2010 at 10:15 am 4 comments

5 great tools and techniques for developing presentations

Hi, everyone! One of my favorite librarians and open source advocates (Nicole Engard) just Tweet DMed me and asked if I ever shared officially the tools I mentioned in a discussion session on Presentation Tools and Techniques at Pres4Lib at Princeton Public Library. I replied no, with regrets. I figured if she’s wondering about it, maybe you are too!

By the way, if you like our articles, please share them on Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere else you like.

I use a pretty well structured, personally vetted workflow for developing presentations and blog posts that involves developing an outline, collecting images, preparing images, research and citations. Let me share some of the tools that I use to accomplish these tasks just about every time.

Google Docs
Image via Wikipedia

Google Docs Presentations

I stopped using Microsoft PowerPoint a few years ago and have not looked back. While I would consider using the open source alternative of OpenOffice.org’s presentation tool, by instead choosing a presentation tool in the cloud, I get the ability to edit and present anywhere where I’m connected, the ability to edit offline with Google Gears installed on Firefox, the common ability to add images, draw pictures, embed my slideshows (!), allow people to automatically see the latest greatest embedded versions of my presentations up to the second after I’ve updated them, allow for collaboration and co-viewing and if I absolutely must, export to a PDF for offline sharing and presentation disaster backup. I can even make a PPT for someone who insists on it.

I typically log in to Google Docs, create a title slide for my topic, and then immediately develop an agenda slide, which I then begin to outline with the topics (and slides) that I want to cover in my talk. My style emphasizes simple broad topics which I elaborate on in spontaneous ways. I try to keep the number of words on slides to an absolute minimum. I usually make a slide for each of my topics, and I then try to look for stories, photos, and illustrations that lead the people in the audience to start thinking about my topics before I introduce them verbally or textually.

Image representing Google Images as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Creative Commons vetting via Google Image Search

Google Image Search is far and away the best image search tool I’ve come across (with the ability to search for line art, faces, and by color, etc.), especially now, since the recent addition of the license search feature in the advanced image search tool, which allows me to search according to Creative Commons licenses applied by designers and photographers to their images all over the web. This is especially important for me because I don’t just want to just use other peoples’ images in my work without their consent. I want to respect the wishes of image creators. By using the license restrictions, I can quickly find images available for commercial use, images allowed to be modified, images that simply require attribution, and even images in the public domain.

When we respect the rights of creators and innovators, and celebrate others’ work properly, I believe we engage in modeling important aspects of information literacy, if not common humanity.

I’ll search for a topic keyword, often choosing CC-attribution licensing, which allows me the greatest flexibility with which to use the images, to modify them, use them in commercial situations, and promote creative commons licensing, while simply being required to include attributive references to the original image author. I will very often name the file locally with the name of the author of the image, in the format “by username.jpg” or “from nameofwebsitedotcom.jpg” so that I have a built in back-reference.

Image representing Picasa as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Picasa

Once I have the images I want to use in my presentation saved to my local hard drive in a project folder, I often need to tweak, categorize, combine, title, tag, and integrate the images. While I can do this in a myriad of different utilities, tools, and applications, none of them have quite the combination of speed, comprehensive toolset, ease of use, functions, smoothness, or slickness of Google’s Picasa. Once you have downloaded and installed this free tool, you can use a Google account to store images in free named online galleries and keep them synchronized for free. With the number and variety of images I work with in my design and presentation work, I am thrilled that I have Picasa to help me wrangle them all.

I use it to tag, group, move, geocode, describe, upload, tweak, collage, print, and watermark my images for presentations, design work, papers, and everything else. It is a free, versatile, and irreplaceable tool in my personal tool set.

An example of both Zotero and OpenURL referrer...

Image via Wikipedia

Zotero

Zotero is a Firefox extension that allows for the single click based collection, categorization, tagging, editing, and even full text storage of web based database entries, books, articles, presentations, images and other standard citable sources. The amazing thing it that it automatically recognizes and collects metadata when it is present in a form that Zotero understands. This might sound like a difficult thing for content providers to implement, but all I had to do to make my WordPress blogs compliant was to install a single metadata-providing plugin (COinS) that offers my name, the title of posts, the publication date and other automatically generated metadata in blogging to Zotero users. Other sources who provide the relevant metadata to Zotero include major scholarly databases like Ebsco, newspapers like the New York Times, online booksellers like Amazon, and blogs and wikis around the world.

If I haven’t hooked you in to using Zotero yet, did I mention that with two clicks, you get properly formatted bibliographies in APA, MLA, and other citation styles? After I’ve visited books on Amazon and collected their data, or after I’ve found articles on Google Scholar and collected their data, or after I’ve grabbed creative commons licensed images from Flickr and collected their data, I can simply select all of them in my Zotero database, right click, and choose “Make bibliography from selected sources” which I then choose to send to clipboard, then paste right into my final slide, reference area of my paper, or wherever else I need to respect copyright or usage license. It is also a phenomenal way to meet the requirements of CC Attribution.

QuoteURLText

Number 5, QuoteURLtext (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4292) is another Firefox Extension that does one thing, but does it exceptionally well. It copies the highlighted text on a page along with the date and time, URL, and page title to the clipboard so that you can easily paste some casual piece of information (such as a tasty tech tip, a quick statistic, a delicious quotation, or a little known fact) into a slide, paper, or post without having to go so far as to reference it in APA style. It’s like a casual little sister utility to the powerhouse that is Zotero.

Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

<Jeopardy Daily Double Music> Bonus Tool: Zemanta: </Jeopardy Daily Double Music>

Finally, Zemanta (a play on semantic) is another Firefox extension that shows up in a sidebar when you are using supporting applications, such as Gmail, Blogger, WordPress, and other applications (check out their site for more). I desperately wish it worked with Google Docs Presentations, but nothing hints at that yet. Here’s why I care: All of the photos, captions, tags, post story articles, and even some of the links to referential sources were all suggested, generated and placed with a single click each using Zemanta. As I type, Zemanta autoscans sources with CC licensed imagery, content, and resources related semantically to my content. Let me reiterate: As I type.  All I need to do to add it to my post is simply to click. Clickety-clickety.

A pleasure to speak with you as always, I hope you learn to love these great free tools for developing your presentations just as much as I do.

John LeMasney

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November 16, 2009 at 9:00 am 1 comment

How to solidify your visual brand and identity

Hello, friends.

My name is John LeMasney, and I love libraries. I’m the newest blogger on Library Garden, and I’m thrilled and honored to be here.

John LeMasney, Janie Hermann, Amy Kearns, Pete...
Image by nancydowd via Flickr

I’m a technologist,  father,  open source advocate, artist and designer, and I’ve been known to wax poetic about beer from time to time. I’ve been told by Ed Corrado, one of my favorite librarians, that I should start looking at an MLS. I told him I’d maybe think about it after I finish my Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership later this year.

I was invited to join Library Garden despite the fact that I have no MLS, I think, because I have a regular beat in the New Jersey library consortia, have many good friends who do have their MLS (many of them co-bloggers here) and I also tend to spend a lot of time in libraries.

As the newest blogger for Library Garden, I wanted to give a kind of gift to my fellow bloggers in the form of a new header for the blog. Peter Bromberg’s original header was simple, elegant, and straightforward, but he asked me if I wanted to take a shot at making a new one. I have given workshops on design for Peter, and others here, so I figured that it would be a good way to show some of what I know about design, as well as present a thank you gift to the group.

My process for design usually follows the procedure I’m about to record here, and it is how we came to our new header you see in our blog. You can click on any of the images in this post to see a full sized version of the image. I encourage it for the alternative headers, since it’s difficult to see the detail in the thumbnail.

Using the open source illustration application named Inkscape, I show the name of the organization in a list of fonts for the stakeholders that I think speak to the feel of their brand. I usually present a list of at least 5-10, but it’s not a set number. In this case, I shared the following image, which went a little further than simply listing fonts and had progressed to forming word-form relationships, which is typically a secondary process. Since I had access to the original header, I included it for comparison. No kerning or other fine tuning is done at this stage:

Possibilities

Possibilities

I got the feedback pretty quickly that people preferred the second and fourth design. They liked the boldness of Library in #2 and the finesse and softness of #4. People were positive, respectful, and kind and that always makes for a better design project. They said they liked the font used for garden in the 4th option, and might like to see it paired with other fonts.

I wanted to respect Peter’s previous work, celebrate the brand that is Library Garden, and above all respect the opinions and feelings of the stakeholders. I hope that I did that, and I am very happy with the work that we did to come up with this solution together.

In order to clarify what I was hearing, I sent out a revised picture of three options in which the less popular options were removed and a new option was generated making use of what was learned in the first round. That looked like this:

Possibilities refined

Possibilities refined

This set brought the garden font into focus as a definite, while showing that the great Gill Sans, one of my favorite fonts and shown in the first two options, as well as in the final result, had the versatility to provide the boldness that people were looking for in the third option.

Once we had our wordmark it was time to begin developing a background for the header on the blog. I decided to emphasize the garden aspect of Library Garden, relying on luscious foliage, summery greens, and deep layering.

I wanted to try to evoke the depth of information and directions and ideas available at your library. I wanted to show people the complexity and richness of their options when they walk in and sit down and talk with a reference librarian, for instance. I also wanted to try to celebrate the work, history, and richness of my fellow bloggers on this site.

So, if you feel that the work I’m about to show you is kind of busy, keep in mind that complexity, richness, layering, and depth were my goals. I didn’t want you to look at the header so much as dive into it.

With that said, let’s look at how the first header option came about. Note that at this point, I didn’t intend any longer to edit the text based information, and so I converted the text to paths in Inkscape. This makes it easier to nudge and relate letterforms and other elements. I tweaked the wordmark we collectively chose by fixing the kerning (space between letterforms) and exported it as a PNG in the exact size of Peter’s original header.

Wordmark Final

Wordmark Final

I opened up the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) and imported the wordmark, and then I added 3 transparent layers, named close, middle, and distant, so that I could add my visual elements in a layered way so as to build depth. I also duplicated the wordmark layer so that I could create a blur based glow effect to make the workmark pop up from the busy backgrounds. I saved it as a native GIMP XCF file to preserve the layer work and named it header template.xcf. Then I saved it as header option 1.xcf and began working on the first header possibility. I started with the template each time so I wouldn’t have to start from scratch each time. Templates are great, but I encourage you to roll your own, rather than relying on someone else’s.

Header Option 1

Header Option 1

In retrospect,  Option 1 is seen as the most tame, minimalist, straightforward, and quiet. None of these are bad things. It was early, easy play with greens and foliage brushes, and was intended really just to get my ideas out of my head and onto the screen. I worked back and forth between the layers, adding blocks of color in the deep layer, and thinner, more crisp elements in the foreground. Most of my objects and shapes are available to me as brushes I used from online brush sites such as those I bookmarked here. I thought of the process as though I was building a garden landscape scene, starting first with broad deep dark strokes, then building on top of that with thinner, more careful, contrasting details. My palette for this option was deep grass green, grayish midnight fields, moonlit patches, and a bright orange for contrast. People thought it was okay, but they liked the second option much more. So much more in fact, it almost got the nod.

Header Option 2

Header Option 2

This one brought in much more of a Chinese influence — It was very much like option 1 in that it was mostly greens and greys, but it allows the eye to focus on the bright beautiful sunny flower peeking out, and is balanced nicely with the red signature stamp, both of which are parts of free brush sets, as well as most of the tree and foliage shapes you see. I would say that this option was a favorite for many.  As I finished each option, I’d send out an email to the group asking for guidance and feedback, and they didn’t disappoint.

Header Option 3

Header Option 3

Options 3 and 4 were simultaneously my favorites and the group’s least favorites. They consistently ended up at the end of the list of one’s preferences. They are both quite busy, very technology imagery driven, go deeper into what I think is an modernist color theorist’s palette that’s I’d call sporty, and are energetic to the point of dizziness.

Header Option 4

Header Option 4

I love them both, but they were obviously (now)  not the best choice for representing this group. I think I like their painterly style, deep layering, and rich color, but they’re not especially garden-y.

Perhaps the most important thing in design is knowing how to listen to your stakeholders, and being receptive to the survey even when it forks with your own feelings. I’m glad I made these options in order to provide contrast, offer other options, expand expectations, and most of all, in order to go a little too far. It’s hard to know when something’s right unless you’ve seen it go wrong, or at least wrong in the eyes of your stakeholders.

After hearing feedback at each new option, I learned that these people wanted clarity, simplicity, legibility, some energy, some calm, garden-ness, lush vegetation, and that no matter what, these were all okay — they’d all do the job. That’s reassuring when your client says no matter what, they’ll be happy. With that, I tried to pull all of this together in a final option, which ended up being the one that took the prize.

Header Option 5 with Chinese character

Header Option 5 with Chinese character

The only concern was that no one, including me, knew what the block and character in the lower left translated to. As a result, I decided to remove and replace them instead of potentially upsetting someone with the interpretation of the character. I replaced it with a postmark from a set of very cool stamp related brushes, and soon after, the header was in place.

Header Option 5 with Postmark.

Header Option 5 with Postmark.

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to my fellow bloggers for their patience in the process, for the opportunity to collaborate and create together, and for the opportunity to have another great place such as Library Garden to share ideas. I feel very welcome here, and I’m looking forward to my our next post.

Submitted by: John LeMasney.

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October 2, 2009 at 10:00 am 12 comments

Blog-based library websites: An interview with David Lisa

I recently sat down with (ok, meebo‘d) David Lisa, Director of the West Long Branch (NJ) Public Library, to discuss how he recently converted his traditional library webpage to a blog-based webpage.

Pete: Thanks for joining me this afternoon.

Dave: Always a pleasure!

Pete: For starters, tell me a little about yourself and your library.

Dave: My name is David Lisa and I am the Director of the West Long Branch Public Library. We are a small municipal public library. West Long Branch has about 8700 residents. We have three full-time employees and 7 part-time, 3 pages (PT) and one volunteer. I’m the only professional on staff. Other than that, we are your normal small burg PL.

Pete: Thanks Dave. So tell us a bit about your decision to make your webpage blog-based.

Dave: I had worked on several different templates for the new version of our website and nothing was working. Then I attended the Web 2.0 seminar led by Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine and took what the speakers said to heart. It really seemed to me that if we started with a Blogger.com format and expanded upon that, we would be able to accomplish what we wanted to do. Namely to be able to give our users news about programming, spotlight our collection and keep them up to date on new additions to our collection. It also dawned upon me that we could utilize Blogger’s template structure to organize our website by listing the links to the various pages on our site in the right column and be able to provide an archive etc. It did everything we needed! So, I set to work setting it up, then “adapted” our extant pages to the Blogger template format.


Pete:
Yes, the built-in archive feature is wonderful. Are there any other specific benefits that you see with a blog-based website? Any drawbacks?

Dave: Well we are getting lots of great comments about how up to date our site is. People really like seeing the latest news on the front page in reverse chronological order. And, of course, one big benefit is being able to offer an RSS feed through Feedburner. We like to stress that we can bring the news about the library to you on your schedule rather than you having to come to us all the time. One drawback has been that we have found that not a lot of people are acquainted with RSS feeds and we have to explain how to subscribe a lot.

Pete: That leads into my next question (or series of questions): Do you find that your customers understand the RSS feed? Are they using it? Have you done anything to promote the feed and/or teach your customers how to use it?

Dave: As I mentioned, there is some confusion about RSS still. I see that as being general initial confusion amongst the public at large. We really wanted to get the feed through Feedburner since they do a good job explaining it. We are pleased to have the feed in place and are actually waiting to see how it works out…right now.

Pete: Well, I think you’re ahead of the curve. I believe the next release of IE will have built in RSS detection and reader. At that point, knowledge and use of RSS among the general population is likely to grow quickly and exponentially.

Dave: That’s a good example of the confusion…try setting up an RSS feed with Firefox and IE and it’s a different experience. We wanted the user to be able to click through the experience and know little about what they had to do to make it work. Feedburner does a great job enabling that.

Pete: And of course Feedburner gives you great stats and bunch of other nice benefits!

Dave: Feedburner has a nice page that you get after you click on our Subscribe link and it explains the variety of choices of RSS readers.

Pete: How much technical ability is needed to create a blog-based website? Is it something anyone can do or is a certain level of technical know-how necessary?

Dave: Good question. I believe that the approach we took to revamping our website takes little web publishing knowledge and could be mounted by people with little experience. And I think that is the direction web publishing is taking. Jenny [Levine] and Michael [Stephens] mentioned that web publishing software (Dreamweaver, FrontPage, etc.) will be outmoded by this approach soon… and I believe them.

Pete: Well, Blogger, Typepad, WordPress really make it easy!

Pete: I see you have multiple authors. Who gets to post, and what do they get to post about? Did you and your staff come up with a blogging policy?

Dave: Glad you asked that question. From the get -go, I wanted our library website/blog to be a collaborative effort. I met with my Administrative staff and indicated that since we were re-creating the website in this fashion, I wanted them all to be involved. I also involved key members of the part time staff too (Book Discussion group moderator, etc).

Pete: That’s great!

Dave: I also wanted staff members that are posting to be recognizable by name to library patrons that read the blog and could answer questions. We crave a fandom. [smile]. This is a truly collaborative experience.

Pete: I salute you! The research going on in virtual reference shows that customers really like to have a name associated with the librarian (as opposed to being served by ‘librarian34’). Using names is a great way to bring about more of a sense of personal connection.

Dave: I wouldn’t have it any other way…I want it to be a personal experience for the user. We want to hear this: “Wow, Janice recommended the new DVD Lucky # Slevin. I checked it out and I loved it. Thanks Janice!”

Pete: OK, since we’re on the topic of collaboration… It doesn’t look like you have comments enabled. Any plan to enable comments?

Dave: We purposefully disabled it for now. We do have plans to enable them at some point, but we want to plan for it so we can handle it correctly.

Pete: Well Dave, I think you’ve done a great job with the site, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with us. Is there anything you’d like to add before we conclude?

Dave: I’d just like to say that we actually stumbled upon this idea by accident, and it was all due to the seminar… so thanks for sponsoring it. We’re always looking for new and different ways to do things here at WLBPL and we are having lots of fun with the website/blog.

Pete: Credit for sponsoring the seminar goes to Princeton Public Library and CJRLC (although we also had Michael Stephens present for SJRLC members that same week.)

Dave: Thanks for interviewing me!

Pete: You’re welcome Dave. Thanks again for your time.

September 24, 2006 at 6:47 pm 5 comments

Dogmas Are Meant to be Broken: An Interview with Eric Reiss – Boxes and Arrows: The design behind the design

A little Friday lunchtime reading… If you like the Dogma, follow the link and read the interview with Reiss. I’m going to be re-evaluating mpow’s website with these 10 points in mind.
——————————————————————–
From: Dogmas Are Meant to be Broken: An Interview with Eric Reiss – Boxes and Arrows: The design behind the design:

“Web Dogma ‘06″

1. Anything that exists only to satisfy the internal politics of the site owner must be eliminated.
2. Anything that exists only to satisfy the ego of the designer must be eliminated.
3. Anything that is irrelevant within the context of the page must be eliminated.
4. Any feature or technique that reduces the visitor’s ability to navigate freely must be reworked or eliminated.
5. Any interactive object that forces the visitor to guess its meaning must be reworked or eliminated.
6. No software, apart from the browser itself, must be required to get the site to work correctly.
7. Content must be readable first, printable second, downloadable third.
8. Usability must never be sacrificed for the sake of a style guide.
9. No visitor must be forced to register or surrender personal data unless the site owner is unable to provide a service or complete a transaction without it.
10. Break any of these rules sooner than do anything outright barbarous. “

June 30, 2006 at 11:13 am 5 comments

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