How to design a library that makes kids want to read |  Michael Bierut

How to design a library that makes kids want to read | Michael Bierut

So there’s this thing called
the law of unintended consequences. I thought it was just like a saying, but it actually exists, I guess. There’s, like, academic papers about it. And I’m a designer. I don’t like unintended consequences. People hire me because they have
consequences that they really intend, and what they intend is for me
to help them achieve those consequences. So I live in fear
of unintended consequences. And so this is a story about
consequences intended and unintended. I got called by an organization
called Robin Hood to do a favor for them. Robin Hood is based in New York,
a wonderful philanthropic organization that does what it says in the name. They take from rich people,
give it to poor people. In this case, what they wanted to benefit
was the New York City school system, a huge enterprise that educates
more than a million students at a time, and in buildings that are like this one, old buildings, big buildings, drafty buildings, sometimes buildings
that are in disrepair, certainly buildings
that could use a renovation. Robin Hood had this ambition
to improve these buildings in some way, but what they realized was to fix the buildings would be
too expensive and impractical. So instead they tried to figure out
what one room they could go into in each of these buildings,
in as many buildings that they could, and fix that one room so that they could improve
the lives of the children inside as they were studying. And what they came up with
was the school library, and they came up with this idea
called the Library Initiative. All the students
have to pass through the library. That’s where the books are. That’s where the heart
and soul of the school is. So let’s fix these libraries. So they did this wonderful thing
where they brought in first 10, then 20, then more architects, each one of whom was assigned a library
to rethink what a library was. They trained special librarians. So they started this mighty enterprise to reform public schools
by improving these libraries. Then they called me up and they said,
“Could you make a little contribution?” I said, “Sure, what do you want me to do?” And they said, “Well, we want you
to be the graphic designer in charge of the whole thing.” And so I thought, I know what that means.
That means I get to design a logo. I know how to design that. I design logos. That’s what people come to me for. So OK, let’s design a logo for this thing. Easy to do, actually,
compared with architecture and being a librarian. Just do a logo, make a contribution,
and then you’re out, and you feel really good about yourself. And I’m a great guy and I like to feel
good about myself when I do these favors. So I thought, let’s overdeliver. I’m going to give you three logos,
all based on this one idea. So you have three options,
pick any of the three. They’re all great, I said. So the basic idea was
these would be new school libraries for New York schools, and so the idea is that it’s a new thing,
a new idea that needs a new name. What I wanted to do was dispel the idea
that these were musty old libraries, the kind of places
that everyone is bored with, you know, not your grandparents’ library. Don’t worry about that at all. This is going to this new, exciting thing, not a boring library. So option number one: so instead of thinking of it as a library, think of it as a place where it is like:
do talk, do make loud noises. Right? So no shushing,
it’s like a shush-free zone. We’re going to call it the Reading Room. That was option number one.
OK, option number two. Option number two was, wait for it, OWL. I’ll meet you at OWL. I’m getting my book from the OWL.
Meet you after school down at OWL. I like that, right?
Now, what does OWL stand for? Well, it could be One World Library, or it could be Open. Wonder. Learn. Or it could be — and I figure librarians
could figure out other things it could be because they know about words. So other things, right? And then look at this.
It’s like the eye of the owl. This is irresistible in my opinion. But there’s even another idea. Option number three. Option number three
was based actually on language. It’s the idea that “read”
is the past tense of “read,” and they’re both spelled the same way. So why don’t we call
this place The Red Zone? I’ll meet you at the Red Zone. Are you Red? Get Red. I’m well Red. (Laughter) I really loved this idea, and I somehow was not focused on the idea that librarians as a class are sort of
interested in spelling and I don’t know. (Laughter) But sometimes cleverness
is more important than spelling, and I thought this would be
one of those instances. So usually when I make these presentations I say there’s just one question
and the question should be, “How can I thank you, Mike?” But in this case,
the question was more like, “Um, are you kidding?” Because, they said, the premise of all this work was that kids were bored
with old libraries, musty old libraries. They were tired of them. And instead, they said, these kids
have never really seen a library. The school libraries in these schools are really so dilapidated,
if they’re there at all, that they haven’t bored anyone. They haven’t even been there
to bore anyone at all. So the idea was, just forget
about giving it a new name. Just call it, one last try, a library. Right? OK. So I thought, OK, give it a little oomph? Exclamation point? Then — this is because I’m clever — move that into the “i,” make it red, and there you have it,
the Library Initiative. So I thought, mission accomplished,
there’s your logo. So what’s interesting about this logo,
an unintended consequence, was that it turned out that
they didn’t really even need my design because you could type it any font,
you could write it by hand, and when they started
sending emails around, they just would use Shift and 1, they’d get their own logo
just right out of the thing. And I thought, well, that’s fine. Feel free to use that logo. And then I embarked
on the real rollout of this thing — working with every one of the architects to put this logo on the front door
of their own library. Right? So here’s the big rollout. Basically I’d work
with different architects. First Robin Hood was my client.
Now these architects were my client. I’d say, “Here’s your logo.
Put it on the door.” “Here’s your logo. Put it on both doors.” “Here’s your logo.
Put it off to the side.” “Here’s your logo
repeated all over to the top.” So everything was going swimmingly. I just was saying,
“Here’s your logo. Here’s your logo.” Then I got a call
from one of the architects, a guy named Richard Lewis,
and he says, “I’ve got a problem. You’re the graphics guy.
Can you solve it?” And I said, OK, sure.” And he said, “The problem is
that there’s a space between the shelf and the ceiling.” So that sounds like
an architectural issue to me, not a graphic design issue,
so I’m, “Go on.” And Richard says, “Well,
the top shelf has to be low enough for the kid to reach it, but I’m in a big old building,
and the ceilings are really high, so actually I’ve got
all this space up there and I need something like a mural.” And I’m like, “Whoa,
you know, I’m a logo designer. I’m not Diego Rivera or something. I’m not a muralist.” And so he said, “But can’t you
think of anything?” So I said, “OK, what if we just
took pictures of the kids in the school and just put them around
the top of the thing, and maybe that could work.” And my wife is a photographer, and I said, “Dorothy, there’s no budget, can you come to this school
in east New York, take these pictures?” And she did, and if you go in Richard’s library, which is one of the first that opened, it has this glorious frieze
of, like, the heroes of the school, oversized, looking down into the little dollhouse
of the real library, right? And the kids were great,
hand-selected by the principals and the librarian. It just kind of created
this heroic atmosphere in this library, this very dignified setting below
and the joy of the children above. So naturally all the other librarians
in the other schools see this and they said, well, we want murals too. And I’m like, OK. So then I think, well,
it can’t be the same mural every time, so Dorothy did another one,
and then she did another one, but then we needed more help, so I called an illustrator I knew
named Lynn Pauley, and Lynn did these beautiful
paintings of the kids. Then I called a guy named Charles Wilkin
at a place called Automatic Design. He did these amazing collages. We had Rafael Esquer do these great silhouettes. He would work with the kids,
asking for words, and then based on those prompts, come up with this little,
delirious kind of constellation of silhouettes
of things that are in books. Peter Arkle interviewed the kids and had them talk
about their favorite books and he put their testimony
as a frieze up there. Stefan Sagmeister worked with Yuko Shimizu and they did this amazing
manga-style statement, “Everyone who is honest is interesting,” that goes all the way around. Christoph Niemann, brilliant illustrator, did a whole series of things where he embedded books
into the faces and characters and images and places
that you find in the books. And then even Maira Kalman did this amazing cryptic installation
of objects and words that kind of go all around
and will fascinate students for as long as it’s up there. So this was really satisfying, and basically my role here was reading
a series of dimensions to these artists, and I would say, “Three feet by 15 feet, whatever you want. Let me know if you have
any problem with that.” And they would go and install these.
It just was the greatest thing. But the greatest thing, actually, was — Every once in a while, I’d get, like, an invitation in the mail
made of construction paper, and it would say, “You are invited
to the opening of our new library.” So you’d go to the library,
say, you’d go to PS10, and you’d go inside. There’d be balloons,
there’d be a student ambassador, there’d be speeches that were read, poetry that was written
specifically for the opening, dignitaries would present people
with certificates, and the whole thing
was just a delirious, fun party. So I loved going to these things. I would stand there dressed like this,
obviously not belonging, and someone would say,
“What are you doing here, mister?” And I’d say, “Well, I’m part of the team
that designed this place.” And they’d said, “You do these shelves?” And I said, “No.”
“You took the pictures up above.” “No.” “Well, what did you do?” “You know when you came in?
The sign over the door?” “The sign that says library?” (Laughter) “Yeah, I did that!” And then they’d sort of go,
“OK. Nice work if you can get it.” So it was so satisfying
going to these little openings despite the fact that I was
kind of largely ignored or humiliated, but it was actually fun
going to the openings, so I decided that I wanted
to get the people in my office who had worked on these projects,
get the illustrators and photographers, and I said, why don’t we rent a van and drive around
the five boroughs of New York and see how many we could hit at one time. And eventually there were
going to be 60 of these libraries, so we probably got to see
maybe half a dozen in one long day. And the best thing of all
was meeting these librarians who kind of were running these,
took possession of these places like their private stage
upon which they were invited to mesmerize their students
and bring the books to life, and it was just
this really exciting experience for all of us to actually
see these things in action. So we spent a long day doing this and we were in the very last library. It was still winter,
because it got dark early, and the librarian says, “I’m about to close down.
So really nice having you here. Hey, wait a second, do you want to see
how I turn off the lights?” I’m like, “OK.” And she said, “I have
this special way that I do it.” And then she showed me. What she did was she turned out
every light one by one by one by one, and the last light she left on was the light that illuminated
the kids’ faces, and she said, “That’s the last light
I turn off every night, because I like to remind myself
why I come to work.” So when I started this whole thing, remember, it was just
about designing that logo and being clever, come up with a new name? The unintended consequence here, which I would like to take credit for and like to think I can think through
the experience to that extent, but I can’t. I was just focused on a foot ahead of me,
as far as I could reach with my own hands. Instead, way off in the distance was a librarian who was going to find
the chain of consequences that we had set in motion, a source of inspiration so that she in this case
could do her work really well. 40,000 kids a year
are affected by these libraries. They’ve been happening
for more than 10 years now, so those librarians have kind of turned on
a generation of children to books and so it’s been a thrill to find out that sometimes unintended consequences
are the best consequences. Thank you very much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How to design a library that makes kids want to read | Michael Bierut

  1. The whole "red library" thing would probably work in eastern Europe. You know,

    Roses are red,
    violets are red,
    if you aren't red,
    you'll get shot in the head

  2. This talk was weak. I mean yeah libraries are important but I learned almost nothing, he just babbled about putting pictures in a library.

  3. just take away their cellphones, take away their computers, take away internet, build only libraries near their house, and all of the children become jane eyre

  4. A wonderful ted talk for young designers. To remind us that the work we do shouldnt be based around our portfolio or "cleverness". And its also nice to see that the celebrities of design like michael beirut dont always get it right on the first try either.

  5. Seriously. This is just about the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

    First. A library is a destination AFTER kids have learned about books. They go there, REGARDLESS of the design, because they want to read. UNLIKE adults, children are not programmed to be receptive to design and marketing. They're impulsive, their likes and dislikes are shaped through every interaction they have, and they are NOT stimulated to 'buy' onto a single source just because you've designed it well.

    Now – among the influencers for children are the PARENTS. Design the library for the parents WITH children. Make it convenient, easy, and material available for them they may not be able to find elsewhere, let them reserve books. DONT put in a day care or toys to distract the children while the parents shop – ALL which will absolutely serve to both bore the child – and reinforce the child to start looking at the books you have there.

    What got me into reading wasn't gimmicky design or marketing., It was a lack of options. And then, over time, I actually begged my mom to go to the library.

    The key for marketing to children is to understand their influencers and market them.

  6. put a whole bunch of books in your kid's room lock up the xbox. TADA!! a library where kids want to read. lmbo.

  7. you idiots need to demonstrate, in practice, the utility of libraries through interesting projects where they are necessary – it's not about fucking fonts and logos

  8. I thought this was going to be about a method of organizing books that's easier to navigate than the Dewey Decimal System.

  9. No data, nothing on effectiveness, nothing on cost-benefit, 100% congratulating themselves. What idea exactly is worth spreading here and why? Doesn't a TED talk have to answer that question? I have no idea what I'm supposed to have learned here.

  10. My friend and I talked about the TED and YouTube combo on our podcast, the two platforms have helped educate people in ways that never would have been possible beforehand

  11. Why does gravity becomes stronger as the mass contracts?
    First it is energy… Energy contract and becomes matter… That matter gains mass and gains the property to bend spacetime… And as the mass contracts more the property to bend spacetime becomes stronger and stronger….

  12. I'm commenting on this because Ted is a joke and I can't comment on Kelli jean drinkwaters video. funny how I can't even see how many dislikes it has. Ted doesn't want to spread ideas, they want to spread the disease of social justice. garbage garbage garbage

  13. i'm surprised this is a Ted talk… and not a TedxTalk… this talk was so anecdotal that it wasn't about anything in particular. Official TED talks share ideas, concepts, possible solutions to certain problems. This was just a guy talking about a thing he had to do… and honestly, after he created the logo he didn't sound all the vested in the project but here you see him patting himself on the back for the whole endeavour.

    This is huge charity organization called him up to donate a logo and he did… good job bro..they asked him if he knew anyone that could help design/decorate the interiors, he gave them his wife's contact number and the names of some other artists…. good job bro.

  14. I did some basic research on this as I was curious. According to Google, there are around 130M books in the world. (
    The average ebook file is 1.87MB according to Quora

    so lets say these numbers are close enough. (who knows if it is or not) We'll round up to 2MB per book. There are 1024MB in a GB, 1024GB in a TB and so on. Just in case anyone doesn't know.

    2MB X 130,000,000 = 260Tb. You can buy a 10TB hard drive for around $400. You would need 26 (in theory, 27 in practice) to hold every single book ever written. It would cost around $10,800. Such a machine could be built in a public space, such as the building we now call "the library" and distribute books based on a monthly payment system. Problem is, that's an idea that's time has come and gone.

    For example, Blockbuster's demise was glorious and justified. It wasn't the poor business practices, the shifty salespeople, the criminally high late fees, or the fact that they would only get 3 copies of the new releases. I mean, it was ALL those things; but it was more because computers dominate everything they touch. Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video. Not to mention illegal movie downloads like BitTorrent, Limewire and later Frostwire. All helped contribute to the death of the video store.

    It's not going to stop either, one day computers are going to take over us, the human race. Actually, we're going to facilitate that. They'll be one with us, I would argue they already are… ANYWAY! I say quit romanticizing the past. Libraries are failing because they are simply obsolete. I know people who say stuff like "well sometimes you just can't find the info you need online" and to that I say. "You are simply not trained in the art of Google-Fu."

    But they're also not TOTALLY wrong, some o-ring catalogs are big thick books and they tend to be easier to use then finding them online. That's the only example I've ever personally seen. You're not going to find an O-ring catalog at your local library though, so….

  15. I'm deeply amused by all the triggered little snowflakes in the comment section, sounding as though they were forced to watch this video.

  16. Only thing thats gonna fix the new York school system at this point is eugenics. Can't believe people get paid for this garbage

  17. L!BRARY was San Antonio's logo since 2005.

  18. I am 64 years old, I will start my PHd within few months.
    My thesis will be “teaching children age 5-9 all about business“.
    I think this video will be big help for me. My daughter is an architect, I sent her a copy of this great video.

  19. Inspiring indeed! Functionality over cleverness. General people should get the gist, the purpose/meaning instantly.

  20. فيديو رائع جدا بما تحمله هذه الكلمة من معاني اشكركم علي الترجمة التي هي اكثر روعة
    Beautfile vedu……

  21. Hi Im in the UK and want to get information on my close relative, an artist. I see you have a listing for him, but it seems i have to come to Australia to access it . Let me know when and if I can access images or info on line ?

  22. Allow children, teens, etc., to read OUT LOUD, FROM COVER TO COVER ON YOU TUBE. There is a limit of about four pages on reading out loud. This helps keep the status quo of millions of people not be able to read in America! At least publishers and authors should allow everyone to read an entire book out loud 'around the world' on You Tube, like a relay race. This could also be used as a fundraiser for any organization: charge customers about one dollar to read one paragraph OUT LOUD on You Tube, or similar social media. This might help keep struggling bookstores around the world open. Before or afterwards, buyers could meet nearby at cafes, etc., or library rooms, in book 'clubs' for discussion on a specific book. This could be very helpful for women with the 'empty nest syndrome', who often have a baby 18 years after their first son or daughter, out of loneliness. You could have book clubs by and for women; by and for men; by and for girls, by and for boys – anything to make readers more comfortable about attending.

  23. Is this a racial black kids only library at 7:25 ?
    Oh yeah i forgot the rules, it's not racist if you are white and they are against you.

  24. i love this guy's simple but effective !DEA. much better than the owl idea. Mr. Rogers beat this guy to the "owl" connection many many years ago….X the Owl in the Neighborhood of Make Believe was an avid reader AND a librarian. and no doubt, the owl logo dates back way further than that.

  25. Excellent article! This makes me want to go to each of these libraries, not only exciting for kids, but also for librarians, and educators!! I love this!!

  26. yes but you need a free software too like to manage personal library

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