Blogger Lisa Nowlain

Graphic Design Tips 101

I have a new job now in Nevada County, CA, but I am doing the summer reading graphic design for my former employers at Darien Library in CT. Summer Reading in that town is SERIOUS and they are creative every year with the way that they involve kids, so it’s always really fun to design their materials. I’m also working on the summer reading materials for my current job and so am up to my ears in design right now. At my current job, I’m making everything in Microsoft Publisher, which is not a professional design program and most computers have it, while my designs for Darien are being done at home in the Adobe Suite.

I know lots of librarians are out there fighting the good fight and designing their own materials, so I wanted to give a few tips on how to make your designs readable and accessible. I always like to keep in mind what questions I’m going to get from people and how I can make life as easy as possible for harried caregivers, or things that new readers can read. Good design can help!

The best way to make your materials clear is to choose a good couple fonts. There’s a basic design rule (that I follow very loosely) about choosing a sans serif (no curly bits, such as Arial, Helvetica, Futura) and one serif (with curly bits, like Garamond, Times New Roman, or Bodoni), and pick one for headings and one for text. Choose clear and easy to read fonts. Your library might already have a style guide that outlines what fonts you should use, and if that’s true, follow them. If not, think about choosing a couple and sticking to them. Using the same fonts makes it easier for your users to recognize your materials. May I take a moment now to recommend against Comic Sans? Yes, I am one of those snobs.

Fonts that are difficult to read

With your fonts, try not to bold or italicize willy-nilly, or choose too many sizes for the font. Stick to a header size, subheader size, paragraph text size, and then you may need one contact information too. I am a fan of justifying or centering text, but only if it fits your size format.

The next way to make it clear is your layout. Put the important information first (such as the title of the program), then a subheader that is slightly smaller below it if the title isn’t clear what the program is, and then create a block of text that explains the program. Below that, put the important stuff in larger font that includes how to register, what ages, where, and when. It makes it so much  easier for you as a designer and your users if you keep it generally standardized in format – ie the date and time are always in one format (ie 7/4/2017 at 2 p.m., versus July 4 from 2-3pm), and keep the order standardized too (ie put date and time first, then ages).

A really easy way to make things clear is to think about how your text looks when you have it in text boxes. To make things really clear and flow well, try to not break up ideas. For instance, if your flyer says:

Registration for summer reading begins June
10 at all branches

you can see how that might confuse someone. If you just move the word June down to the next line, it’s a lot clearer.

Images should be high resolution. Generally for 8.5×11″ flyers, something that is over 600 px works well, If you’re doing a Google image search make sure it’s OK for you to use it! You can also use Flickr and look for Creative Commons. If you’re going to make an image the whole background, make sure you can read the text – I like to put text boxes over background images. In programs like Publisher, or even online programs like Canva, you can use the Arrange feature to have images over text boxes or vice versa, and change if you want the image to Wrap Text or not – that just means allowing the image to move the text around it so it doesn’t disappear. Turning the image slightly and giving it a shadow are simple ways to make your images stand out. Just make sure text doesn’t disappear behind images or get cut in funny ways (like I mentioned in the last paragraph). I like to get images from Makerbook, which features free photography sites, or Flickr. In Flickr, you can even choose the orientation of the picture or the main colors featured, which is really nice.

Picture Book art club

There are some good library design examples over at Librarian Design Share. Here is an example of a recent flyer I made in Publisher. It’s not my finest work, but it’s all doable in a simple design program.

Spring events at the library sample flyer

Lisa Nowlain is a Youth Librarian in the Nevada County Community Library system in California. She’s also an artist type and you can see her work at


  1. Marge Loch-Wouters

    Bless you, my friend. Design is the hidden course no one has taken! While no expert, a year of commercial art training post MLIS was the BEST non-SLIS education I ever had. Stood me in good stead ever after in making posters and PR.

  2. Amy Laughlin

    Truer words have never been spoken, Lisa. Thank you for this and for your design brain that never ceases to amaze me!!

    1. lisa nowlain

      Hi Amy!!!!!

  3. Susan Mark

    Pixabay has great photos, free to use. I also recommend checking out Flickr Creative Commons — you do need to watch which incarnation of Creative Commons license the photo you want uses, as there are differences on what rights are offered.

  4. caterinafabian

    Informative blog! This blog is very nice for graphic designing. It gives the relevant information about graphic design. It is very helpful for designers. Thank you

  5. Lisa Thompson

    So true! I’ve seen so many designs with fonts that are hard to read! I realize everyone tries to stand out above the next guy, but IMO should use a great eye-catching design and leave the fonts to something readable. Thanks for this post!

    If any of you graphic designers are looking for a printer that can (sometimes) get you better pricing than your vendors due to their purchase volume, give Printingworx® a try!

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