“Thinking made visual”

“Design is thinking made visual.”  — Saul Bass

This quote cuts to the heart of what good design shows–when everything in a space just “clicks” and feels comfortable, it’s really because the design is just reflecting the philosophies and beliefs behind it clearly.

How do we get to that point when redesigning educational spaces?

Most importantly we get there by knowing, as the participants at the recent Reimagine:Ed conference discussed, how people learn.  And in a library, it’s about understanding how people learn in a space like a library, specifically, and how the space can support the learning of students and teachers better.

One thing that the Reimagine:Ed conference organizers  did was collect video interviews of students answering some questions about how they learn, what types of environments make them feel comfortable, how they work, etc.   We taped a few interviews from our students here and it was fascinating to hear them reflecting on their own learning environments.  If you are designing a space, this might be a great way to gather feedback from students and teachers alike about how they learn.

We also have to question things and see what might commonly be overlooked.  We have to re-see, re-envision.  David Jakes evokes this wonderfully, exploring how we can rethink hallways as  usable learning spaces in schools.

Since designing our own library, in my wanderings, I try to notice places and pieces with good design that reflects the principles that I held important when designing our own library:  transparency, playfulness, creativity, comfort, light, collaboration.

Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has it right when he reminds us  about borrowing ideas from everywhere for good  design:

So, here’s a few more pieces I’ve collected lately that reflect the philosophies that our students and staff have shared with me about our library space.  (And reflect my own design aesthetic as well, I must admit).



Playful light fixture from Ikea







Another playful light fixture, also from Ikea–sort of an interesting play on literacy and reading.   It’s also transparent, which fits the theme of our library.








This is a menu stand at Galaxy Cafe, an Austin restaurant.  The menus are hard laminated cards, and are well designed.  That gave me the idea to make cards like this for our library services, bringing in modern graphics and making our services more visible and easy to follow for students.


These signs at the University of Michigan are a clever way to promote the “faces” of the library.   They have several different series of signage similar to these, which inspired me to create something similar for our hallways.





This chalkboard at Galaxy Cafe advertises their new “specials.”  It inspired me to buy this chalkboard easel at IKEA so we could do the same.   We have many students who love to write decorated signage for us, so it allows us to invite them into the process of publicizing new books or other events.




After getting the idea at Galaxy Cafe, I stumbled over this nice and inexpensive combination whiteboard/chalkboard easel in the children’s department of Ikea.  It’s already being put to use in our library.  (and our students like to do the lettering on it, so it becomes quite collaborative.)




Inspiration can come from everywhere–for example,  I noticed that the meeting rooms at the University of Michigan Law school are called “Ponds” and loved that idea.  What a great name for a learning space! (although the signage itself could have certainly been more appealing to the eye!)

To see details like these we just have to look around us with a mindful eye–we have to become like children just learning to read, and see our environment for all its details and take the time to really see.  We have to be willing to be playful and curious.

For more inspiration, check out these  beautifully decorated design quotations.   Then take a camera, and go play.

One thought on ““Thinking made visual”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *