Good design doesn’t just happen

The evening that the death of Steve Jobs was announced, I was in a hotel finalizing my slides for a presentation ironically called “What Librarians Can Learn from Apple.”   As I watched some of the news coverage of his death, read the tributes online at sites like Wired, and saw comments scrolling through my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I felt inspired, like I’m sure many others were, by the single-minded passion with which he pursued his vision of design.

Today is officially Steve Jobs Day, so in honor of that, I decided to share one of my passions–library design.

We redesigned our library roughly three years ago now, and it was fully gutted and renovated, a process in which I had great partners in the Pfluger and Associates team.   And going through that process really spurred my interest in and attention to the design of spaces, particularly learning environments.

Good design doesn’t “just happen”- it really is a series of decisions and choices based on what you want a space to accomplish.  Steve Jobs knew that, from the fonts he designed, to the products he developed, to the stores he created.  It means keeping your eye on the vision and directing the design towards that, but that involves playtime, and creativity and “what ifs”.

It is vital to have goals for your design–it’s important to get a read on how your “users” use your space and how they learn and work in general.   It’s important to think of your own goals for the space’s functions.   And then every design decision can revolve around that.

It’s also important to observe– observe your patrons in your current space and in the school in general.  But also look around you at malls, coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, and any sort of spaces where people relax and/or learn.  Tear out photos from magazines, browse around on websites for images you like, look through catalogs, take photos everywhere you go and build a sense of what you like or environments that just seem to work.  Look at everything–the paint colors, the furnishings, the lighting–how does it all fit together?

We are already  in the process of redesigning a small section of our library to host our new Juice Bar, which is our iPad help desk area.   And I realize how going through this design process the first time really lit my passion for design.   In the past, I would have created a space and expected it to stay the same way for a long time.   But now I am more ready to embrace the idea that the space needs to be flexible and ever changing to match the needs of how we are using it.

While rethinking this small area, I’ve been poring through catalogs online and looking at other libraries for ideas and ultimately, it made me want to redo my library all over again with the things I’ve learned.  We have a beautiful and very functional space, but there are so many choices to make, and although I designed our space with flexibility in mind, I see how much more flexible it could have been.

So, to celebrate that passion for good design, (and because I can’t furnish my library in fifteen different styles),  I’m going to celebrate “things I like” in this post, so that perhaps it will provide inspiration for someone else down the road.

First off, I love love love Jenny Luca’s photographs of her library renovation in Australia.

I love her intentional description of each different area of the library and the choices made, and hope to replicate her efforts by sharing some images from our own library soon.

I especially love the large lettering they’ve used on their front desk and this lab which explain clearly the purpose of the space.   And they’ve chosen furniture that is very mobile and flexible as well as comfortable for students to use.


Other things on my “Things I love List” lately:

This whole space from VS products:

I love the flexible panels, both the corrugated cardboard look and the plexiglass look.  In fact,  we’re considering some “locally created versions” but out of plexiglass or board w/whiteboard paint.

I saw some of our own students achieve this themselves with some folding boards like you use for cutting out fabric, actually.

And I  like how this mobile desk furniture could make a lab space so flexible and easy to repurpose.

Another recent “love” are these  ottomans from Steel Case , aptly named Campfire, which are similar to the ones Jenny Luca purchased in Australia from Dare.

I love the pop of color, the portability, the fact that they are large enough to work as a table or as seating for students.





I really like this tall table from VS as well because it’s so multi-functional:

It’s such a great multi-purpose piece–I like the curves; I like that it rolls and it can be raised to different heights.   It could function as a teacher station, a standing desk, a work area for students, and I like the flexible functionalities.



Another item I ran across that I LOVE and  I hope we’ll be getting for our library is this modular seating from Teknion, called DNA.

It looks like perfect seating for students using mobile devices and can be rearranged into different configurations, like couches or chairs like these, all in different colors.

Those are just a few of my latest “loves.”  What are yours?



This window in an Austin storefront says it best (I might add how much I “heart” quotations on transparent glass):

When things feel right, they make a place feel like home, like a campfire, like a place you want to hang out, learn, and live.

That’s what Steve Jobs was a genius at–using design that made us fall in love, no matter how irrational it was, just because it felt right.

Thank you, Steve, for your passion.  May it inspire many others to share theirs with the world.


3 thoughts on “Good design doesn’t just happen

  1. Thanks for sharing our library here Carolyn. What made me smile was your reference to Steelcase and their campfire range. I was heavily influenced by their ideas in our design, but their range is not available in Australia, so I had to find ways to create it! Our Ottomans came from a company here called James Richardson, who also arranged manufacture of our ‘Snake lounge’ winding bench seating piece that helps define our large library space.
    I had one of those moments in our library this week where I stopped for a moment and looked around. A group of former students had just visited and were amazed at how the library looks now. It made me realize we had created a pretty special place.
    I love some of these ideas you’ve presented, especially the DNA chairs! Now, where can I put one of those…..

  2. Great post. We’ll be designing a new space on our campus this year and I’m gathering examples of modular furniture to share, so I love and appreciate the examples you included. Thanks!

  3. Have you seen the book Library, which was a compilation of photographs and descriptions from the NY CIty library renovation project? Very inspiring!

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