Customer Stories, Marketing

The anatomy of an empathetic design in library marketing

Find out how to practice empathy in design as we closely dissect library promotional designs by Pulaski County Public Library’s youth services assistant.

Customer Stories with Scotia Marshall

Hi Scotia! Could you please tell me a little bit about the Pulaski County Public library and the services that you provide?

Pulaski County Public Library is a public library; we have a large collection of books, but we also function as a safe place and an epicenter of resources for the community.

We offer free Wi-Fi to the public, we have quite a few youth and adult programs along with craft programs, and we work to build community. Pulaski has a fairly large homeless population. So those people can come to the library and be connected with resources that help them find housing. We’re also right down the street from a soup kitchen that will help them access food, and we help domestic abuse victims connect with community services.

We also have different authors coming in to speak at the library as guest speakers. And for such a rural area to have well-known authors visiting it, providing those talks, and inspiring other people who might want to be authors or illustrators—it’s an amazing opportunity for such a small town. 

What is your role in the library?

I am a youth services assistant, which means I am the assistant to the children’s librarian, Miss Jennifer Coulson.

When I first started in the position, we had a few events that we needed to create marketing materials and social media graphics for. Miss Coulson recommended using PosterMyWall for those materials. I tried other websites as well but I just found PosterMyWall to be the easiest to navigate and build the graphics that I was visualizing in my head. The tools were there, they were easily accessible. The UI made sense. I wasn’t overwhelmed with options, but I had enough to customize it to my satisfaction.

Important aspects of graphic design in a library

Did you have any prior experience with graphic design? What was your reaction when you found out this was part of your job? 

I was very excited that that was part of my job. Since high school and college, designing graphics has fascinated me.

I always was a little bit of a nerd about fonts, and had strong opinions about a color scheme of something and a graphic being immediately legible and understandable.

I think people need to be able to look at something from a distance and understand the who, what, when, where, and how of what you’re trying to communicate because every graphic has its own thesis and that needs to be immediately apparent. No one needs to be searching for more than half a second to find out what you’re trying to say; it needs to be immediately accessible.

How do you keep your graphics accessible?

We have a lot of elderly patrons, or patrons whose literacy skills aren’t aren’t very good. So I also need to make sure that all the words I’m using and all the graphics are legible, and someone with poor vision can read the font.

The core of graphic design for me is accessibility and making sure designs are easy on the eyes without being complicated, but are also visually interesting enough to catch the eye of a person scrolling on Facebook or Instagram.

So it needs to appeal to a range of people: from teenagers who want something to look wild and colorful and amazing, but also older patrons who need something to be immediately understandable and accessible for them.

As an undergraduate, I studied art history so I was already familiar with making sure that a design is visually cohesive, and that all the elements within it complement each other.

Legibility and accessibility in library promotion material

How does your commitment to legibility and accessibility weave into your design or what you include in your communications?

The first example of this is our adult programming.

One of the services we offer is afternoon GED classes. When we’re marketing our GED classes, we need to make sure that the target audience is going to see it, bearing in mind their age range, reading level, and so on. 

The second example is marketing children’s events, which is my main job.

I try to make sure that parents can understand what you’re trying to market, and focus on what age range the design is for. For example, you don’t really want a two-year-old coming to a teenager event.

It circles back to reading level and vocabulary, visual clarity, cohesiveness of graphics, and making sure that the color scheme you use is at a contrast level to where everything is visible. You wouldn’t want to put a neon pink font on top of a red background—you wouldn’t be able to read that.

Anatomy of an empathetic design in library marketing

Do you have any specific examples on any of the recent posters you have created?

For the dinosaur storytime, something I was keeping in mind was trying not to make it look too childish, even though it’s a children’s event, because I want to attract the 7-8-year-old range.

If there was a choice between a graphic of this brown silhouette of the dinosaur, which is the one I chose, or a choice of a cartoon dinosaur, that’s cuter looking, the silhouette would work better because something more cutesy would attract a younger crowd. On the other hand, you want the picture to be ‘cool’ for the older kids because if the child you want to come to this event sees it, they won’t think it is an event for ‘babies’. Being knowledgeable about what type of graphics you’re choosing is important in that way.

It needs to be eye-catching. But the information of the who, what, when, where, and how need still needs to be visible for the parents. And that’s usually what I put at the bottom. I also like everything to be centered, so your eye isn’t jumping around the graphic. For things that are off-center, I prefer them to be smaller, since they are not crucial to the main thesis of the graphic and are just there for visual interest or filling empty space.

I usually use the dropper tool to grab colors from the graphics to use in my fonts. If the image is a little busy, I don’t want it to distract from the words, so I’ll put a box behind them. The colors for the outline of the box will be pulled from the graphic too, because I want it to have a cohesive color story, instead of having several different colors all over the place.

The need for empathetic design in library marketing

I’m getting the idea that you employ quite a bit of empathy in your library marketing. How important do you think being empathetic, and empathetic design is as part of your process?

I feel it’s very important. Because you really do have to put yourself in the position of the person you’re trying to market to: if you were that type of person, what would appeal to you, and that’s how you get effective marketing.

It is very important to practice that empathy. Because if you don’t, and you’re just designing something that you think is aesthetically pleasing, then the only person that you’re really marketing to is yourself and other people like you.

I want all of my marketing to be inclusive, and applicable for everyone in the kind of age range or demographic that I’m looking for.

While you’re doing that, do you have a checklist that you are checking off all the right boxes on?

The checkboxes are:

  1. Are the designs age-appropriate?
  2. Are the descriptions effective without being too wordy?
  3. What is the reading level of the person you’re marketing to?
  4. Does the design make sense for the location that it is going to be at? Is it going to be posted on social media? Is it going to be in print media, such as hanging on the wall?
  5. Is it too busy?

What are some pitfalls or things to watch out for when it comes to empathetic design?

I feel like people, whenever they first start designing something, get really excited about a certain color scheme, a certain font, or a certain way a graphic looks. Then they treat that as a cookie cutter for every single future design that they make. While it’s great to have a certain style, you also have to be compassionate and understand that that style doesn’t work for every type of marketing material.

If we are making a social media graphic to say that we honor our veterans because it’s Veterans Day, we need that graphic to be sensitive to that topic, you wouldn’t want to use the Curlz MT font in glitter pink; that wouldn’t be appropriate.

And while I market children’s events, for the most part, you have to understand that you don’t want them to be too kitschy or too cutesy. They can be cute, but not anything that’s belittling to a child, or to parents of small children.

Calibrating library marketing for social media

Do you keep social media marketing in mind whilst designing?

Cater to short attention spans

I keep in mind that we use these designs on our Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes people are just scrolling on Facebook mindlessly at the end of the day or on their lunch break if they’re a parent. So, each design needs to be an image that catches their eye, but also provides information easily.

If I use multiple graphics, the person has to spend extra time looking in different directions all over the picture, which is not worth their time. Part of this is about attention span, which is null and void when you’re on social media. I try to make things legible as quickly as possible, because you need to get people’s attention for long enough to get them to come to your events, or to take advantage of a service you offer.

For example, our library gives out free COVID at home tests. If we’re making a graphic for that, it needs to be clear. If I spend my whole time fitting clipart images of sick people or clipart images of a thermometer all around it, that’s just unnecessary visual clutter. I like things to be succinct for the most part.

Out-of-the-box innovations in physical library marketing

Do you use the same designs in social media and physical marketing?

Most of the time, I use the same flyer or graphic.

1. Create bookmarks

I also do bookmarks to promote events. For example, I have bookmarks that are anime and manga related, and you’ll have the cartoon characters on the bookmark. I put some of them in the manga that’s in our library collection, and it will advertise that the club exists to people who are checking those books out. That’s a really out-of-the-box way I tried to market the manga club. That way I can access those people who aren’t necessarily following us on Facebook.

2. Distribute handouts inside the library

I create bookmarks, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, flyers hung up in the library, and then I’ll also print them out and distribute them as handouts sometimes. So when parents come into the children’s area, I can hand them a flyer if I think they might be interested in a program. 

Successful examples of empathetic design

What have your most successful marketing or promotional campaigns been?

Two campaigns come to mind.

The first is the poster I made for the anime and manga interest meeting.

1. Dissecting Scotia’s anime and manga interest meeting flyer

I needed to create something that would catch a teen’s eye from across the room and let them know this might be something they’re interested in. So you’ll notice I used images from different anime and mangas. I took a couple of characters and put them around the border of the flyer.

The background of the flyer looks like a comic book image. That way, it immediately makes the teen go “Hey, I know that character,” and then that makes them look a little closer. Then they realize, “Oh, that’s a club that can be really cool”. 

This flyer is one that is really specific, that has done very well. The interest meeting got a lot of attention. We had a lot of children come. And we had an anime club that kept growing and got bigger and bigger. Eventually, we were able to split the club into two separate ones, divided by age range.

2. Dissecting Scotia’s JoJo Bowtique flyer

The second one was back in January or February of last year. I did a make-your-own JoJo Siwa Inspired bow event. I called it a “JoJo Bowtique”.

I came up with a catchy name to instantly grab attention. The flyer was bright pink and looked like it had glitter on it. I put JoJo’s image on it so people knew what type of bow they would be making: expect glitter, expect pink, expect big bows.

That event was one of my first in-person events after COVID, and it was very successful. People were very excited to have an in-person event again. I needed to market to the girly girls within that age range, and the way I did it was by using pink and glitter because that is the kind of girl who likes JoJo bows.

It worked out really well. Little girls had bejeweled bows with shining rhinestones all over them, they were very happy with it. Ribbon was everywhere. And we all learned how to fold a bow in half. It was very fun.

These are my two main favorite flyers, and most successful ones, where the flyers were really, really influenced by what the event was.

Thank you for speaking to us in such detail about the way you do your marketing.

I’m really passionate, since I am still quite fresh at the library and have a lot of energy. And I’m proud of what I create on PosterMyWall, which is always very exciting.

We wish you all the best in your future library marketing. Thank you for breaking down these flyers so wonderfully for us, Scotia!

New to PosterMyWall? Market your library or educational institute today with our immense range of posters, flyers, and more.