by Darren Jones
Information Adviser,Careers and Employability Centre, The Library, University of Sussex,
War has been described as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. The design process is a bit like that. We moved from our old Centre into the university library in July 2011 following a 2 year design and planning process. Nothing much seemed to be happening for a lot of the time. Then ideas and decisions were needed at ridiculously short notice.
Here are 5 things I learned from the experience. There were plenty of casualties:
1. You need help!
If you have access to architects or other professionals, use them. Space design is complicated. People do it for a living.
Unfortunately, you may be given completely unworkable plans, where your Centre consists of just a reception desk and a table, and given 2 weeks to come up with an alternative.
No help from the architects may be forthcoming. In this situation you can only arm yourself with a set of blueprints, a few ideas and some atrocious design skills and see what you can come up with.
2. You get the idea
It helps if you have an idea about how you want to use the space, or how you want students to use it. You may have a few vague notions, such as getting rid of your files, moving the emphasis from sector information to career thinking or creating zones. Or all of the above.
You may have a few visual design ideas, too, and have read a great blog post on getting design inspiration. You may want to shoehorn your love of maps and map metaphors into the mix, as well (ahem!).
You may think that there’s not enough time to decide what you want, so put slatwall everywhere to make it as flexible as possible. You can work out the details later…
3. Stick to your guns
Your graphic designer, should you have one, will take your ideas for visuals and produce a set of designs that bears a passing resemblance to them. Your wording is questioned, your idea to have the zones colour-coded is dismissed. This person is a professional. They do it for a living. You go along with them. In hindsight, however, you really should have stuck to your guns over colour-coding.
4. You’re flexible, friend
Her idea to create takeaway webcards linking to different areas of your site gives you something physical to make up for the lack of files. And her critique of your suggestion to call one zone ‘Reflect’ as sounding too passive makes you think again. You replace it with ‘Connect’, which feels much better and works well the ‘Experience’ and ‘Explore’ zones.
Your space design may also come up against English Heritage if your library is listed. Your ideas for curvy, modern units may end up as square and wooden. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow.
6. Make the most of what you’ve got
You don’t know quite what the units you designed are going to look like until they arrive. Some things aren’t quite what you expected, but on the whole it looks…. OK. You’ve got what you’ve got. The main thing now is to make it work. You think about signage, think about displays and think about how to move people between sections. Just like you used to in your old Centre.
This is your space now. Make the most of what you’ve got.