[2019 me: This post was in my draft box for over two years, back when I worked in the JPL Library. While it is not up to date I thought it was still worth sharing since it went over some mistakes I’ve done while trying to figure out how to deliver on a task I know very little about.]
For the past few months, my job has started to incorporate a quite a bit of design work. It started with simple updates to icons on our website, moved up to creating instructional signs for our collaborative area, and now requires me to come up with videos for our digital displays. I’ll cover the digital displays in another post, which will also cover how we configured a Raspberry Pi to meet our needs [2019 me: uh… yeah that is not going to happen]. This post, however, will look at how the quality of my posters has improved… or so I like to think it has.
My participation in the Advisory Council for Women (ACW) has allowed me a venue to grow my design skills through various events. Some required a simple 8.5 x 11 flyer, most needed to scale from 30 x 40 down to website friendly size, and even others were multisubject biography posters. Each had to capture the attention of passersby and provide just enough information. I use to just do clumsy layers in Photoshop and the results were… well take a look:
Yeap, a bit of a mess. Now I can see how there is just information overload. I needed to advertise two events on one poster but some items could be cut. The date and time are spread on different sections. Too many texts and fonts to keep track of, which leads to confusion over what the focus is. In short, what I learned is that I needed to simplify the poster and let the all personnel email take care of the details.
For this year’s luncheon poster I went a simplistic approach:
This poster reads from top to bottom with all the information lined up. I used green to highlight some key terms in the speaker’s synopsis which in hindsight will need to be reworked as they were a bit too washed out on the final printed version.
After getting the user’s attention about the talk they then have the event details and RSVP details. [2019 me: this was before people knew how to use payment systems like Venmo. All payments were done via cash and checks so those details were left out. In the new posters we provided Venmo username and it is the only payment form we accept.] Exact details like street address and food options were left up to a follow on email to members.
The last line is also a lesson learned: men will not attend an event hosted by a women’s group unless it is explicitly stated. Our feedback surveys continue to receive “I’m glad men were invited” messages from attendees. I thought inviting men would go without saying but I’ll add a simple line at the footer if it gets a few more through the door.
Simplification is a process
Like I said, I had a tendency to want to give all the details and make a specific color or area for them. Which, quite honestly, sucked. BUT as I started going through several iterations I would take a step back and critique, as well as send for feedback to a few friends for honest feedback. The latter is truly important.
For example, here are three versions of a noontime talk:
First Version – This is my classic design of being overly complex. I thought having a nice background would make it stand out, but due to the speaker’s image and bio, which are more important, the background’s impact is lost.
Second Version – Cleaner but still too many attention grabbers. I thought taking the speech title out of the main image would help give it some impact. Well, it have it too much. I also thought perhaps bringing out the speech synopsis would be worthwhile… not so much said my feedback.
Final Version – Praised for being simple but effective. In the final version, I honestly just removed the background from the original. Yeap, it was that simple of a fix. Looking back, I’d probably also move the title to below the image and just got with a simple block text.
[2019 me: Initially I wanted this post to go over a few more examples but in short, I’m lazy. Just know that the ones below went through several iterations where I worked out:
Event Details – Simplified to commonly used location names. Avoided details that could be covered in follow up emails.
RSVP Info – Our luncheons require RSVP since we needed to pay the host. It went from URLs, to tiny URLs, and finally to QR codes. Now we just point to our site where there are links to a Google form to capture the information.
Edit Bios – Some of our speakers provided full on biographies. I edited them down to just the high marks that our audience, tech and engineering heavy, would care about.
High Quality Photos – I always asked for speakers to provided high resolution photos. This rarely happened but thankfully most had websites with the exact resolution I needed.]
Description: I participated in a panel discussion involving a wide range of information professionals. I discussed my career path and how my MSIS in Information Systems and GAC in Digital Content Management helped me achieve my goals. The slides are fairly basic and lack much detail.
Presented At: 2017 West Coast WMS Users Group Meeting, May 19th 2017
Title: Implementing WorldCat Discovery in 3 Weeks (give or take a few months)
Description: The JPL Library registered its Discovery URL last year but only recently went live with the platform. This presentation covers how easy it is rollout Discovery and how to best avoid putting off the inevitable.
In my previous post I showed how we turned a Raspberry Pi into a digital display device by installing a Video Looper application. Now let’s take a look at how to fill that display with content. First, do yourself a favor and read fellow writer Leanne Mobley’s wonderful post on design resources for librarians. She provides a great overview of tools out there that can add some polish do your content and provide a starting point.
The focus of this post is how I used Microsoft PowerPoint to create the content for our Digital Displays. I went with PowerPoint as it met two major requirements: low cost and user familiarity. Like most projects I create, my aim is to be able to hand this off to another user and bring them up to speed quickly. By going with a program that is available on every system on lab, it reduced the headache of transferring licenses or vetting software that is platform neutral; as we have users on Mac OS and Windows. Additionally, there are tons of resources available online that can introduce users to PowerPoint, cover advanced topics, and a robust reference/support site.
With that said I’ll look at:
Availability – What versions of PowerPoint have export and where to get it.
Templates – Why they are important and how to create them.
Working in PowerPoint – Covering simple one slide movies and how to utilize animations to bring your video to life.
Raspberry Pi – Geared towards those using the Video Looper technique I covered in my previous post.
Fine Tuning – The importance of viewing on end device and being okay with tinkering.
While I do love that Raspberry Pi holds onto the dream of Libre Office, as this was my primary writing program while college, by now the Microsoft Office Suite has become the de facto productivity package, so most users should have access to a version of it. In order for this project to work you would need to have access to at least PowerPoint 2007, as this is when the video creation option was introduced. Unfortunately, PowerPoint web users (available through Office 365) will not have the video creation option.
Creating a new video from scratch each time can seem like a daunting task. Indeed, the first batch of videos can take up hours of your day. To reduce this added stress, I opt to create templates for each video category I have. In addition to making it easier to update for each new video, templates also allow your videos to maintain a consistent look, which is great for extending your existing branding. If your library or institution has a style guide, I highly recommend sticking to it to help reduce the amount of work.
For example, here is the New Book template I use:
It contains library information that remains static; the book cover and call number which are the most prominent features; and, to add some animation, I have book review quotes slide in every 20 seconds. The entire movie lasts one minute, which is plenty of time to digest each quote and not completely annoy patrons.
I use LucidPress.com to create my templates, but really any design program or even PowerPoint itself can be used. The templates just need to be:
Easily imported into PowerPoint
Editable text and image areas
Configured to house static information
The reason for #1, is that I like to make each template the background image of a slide. I have LucidPress export the template as a PNG and then, in PowerPoint, set that PNG as the slide background. Going back to the New Books movie, here is the background image I use.
For #2, we want the template to do the heavy lifting. It needs to show where the customized text boxes and images should go. Here is a workflow that works for me:
Repurpose: Start with a flyer from previous iteration of the category, such as a past event. This will give you a great starting point, as you will not have a blank page mocking your efforts.
Scrape the need-to-know information of category and try out a few placements and ideas. I clump bits of info together and move them around, while keeping the main image as centered as possible to keep it as the focal point.
Aim for a template that has as few editable sections as possible; when you have +5 areas you need to update for each new video, you really aren’t saving that much time with a template. Going back to the New Book template, for every new book I only have three sections to update: Book Cover, Review Quotes, and Call Number. It took me an hour to create the template and takes about five minutes to create a video for a new book. The template should let the user easily know where the custom text and image areas are.
Finally, #3 is about on making use of static information areas as this is the best way to utilize a template. For example, each of my templates has a section where I list the library’s Name, Website, and Email. This is partially done for branding purposes but it also prevents the slide from being too empty. With this static info in place I don’t have to shy from just using a single image and block of text. Additionally, static information can also include color schemes and category headers, which makes it much easier when figuring out how the rest of the image should look. Reuse any content that makes your job easier and lets users know that all of the slides in this video are connected.
Working in PowerPoint
What we want to do is have PowerPoint create an MPEG4 of the presentation, complete with timings and animations. If you already have a presentation that you think is ready for the big screen, you can try it out by simply:
Create a Video
PowerPoint will then create the video and save it to the selected directory. Depending on your computer’s processing power and the length of the presentation, you might want to give it a few minutes to process. Just keep an eye on the progress bar at the bottom of the screen and do not close PowerPoint before it completes.
Basic – Single Image Video
For simple displays, such as an event flyer, you can get away with making a single slide presentation with a set display time. Keeping things simple makes it much easier to update the slide for every new event. Pick images and titles that let you slim down the description. Did I mention Leanne’s design resources post is a great starting off point? Definitely check it out for places to find those eye-catching images and color schemes. Since I am using the generic library logo, I went with a simplistic color scheme for this Upcoming Event template:
As you can see, it has slots for just the facts; title, brief description, date, and time. I try to design flyers that are easily digestible. Here is the filled in template.
For these basic videos we can leave it as a one slide presentation and have it display for one minute. To do this:
Create a Video
Adjust the adjust the Seconds Spent on Each Slide option to 60.
The end result is a static 1-minute upcoming event flyer.
For videos that need to display a large amount of information, take advantage of PowerPoint’s animations and slides transitions. It can be a simple text box appearing after 20 seconds. Going back to the New Book template, I have each quote in a separate Text Box. Each box is set to appear for 20 seconds and disappear when a new one appears. This can be done by:
Opening both the Animation Pane and Selection Pane. This makes it easier to select items:
In the options panel, found in the Animation Pane, select Start After Previous
In the same options panel select Timing… and for Delay insert 3 seconds, or whatever you want the initial delay to be.
Select Textbox 1
Add Animation -> Disappear
In the options panel select Start After Previous
In the same options panel select Timing… and for Delay insert 20 seconds. This will make Textbox 1 disappear after 20 seconds.
Select Textbox 2
Add Animation -> Appear
The file is now ready for video creation
File -> Export -> Create a Video
Adjust the adjust the Seconds Spent on Each Slide option to 1 minute.
Click Create Video
The end result is a 1 minute video with two textbox that appear 3 seconds and 23 seconds into the movie.
I use this technique to create videos that have multiple slides with varying bits of information on each slide, such as a How To for the 3D Printers or general information, like service desks available in the area and their hours of operation. As I said before, any flyer can be turned into a movie.
Once you have your video all ready to go it is simply a matter of loading it onto a USB stick and starting up the Raspberry Pi. The Pi will detect the videos and play as usual. The Video Looper plays the videos in alphabetical order, you can use this to your advantage by using a file naming scheme to sets up the videos in a particular order. For example, I go with:
01 – General – Welcome
01 – New Book – Name of Book
02 – Event – Summer Movie
02 – New Book – Name of Book
As you can imagine, with that naming scheme the videos play in the exact order. This was particularly useful when the archives wanted to display three videos back to back.
Finally, I have some words of advice culled from creating videos for the past few months.
Try it out, at least once. You won’t know how the video will turn out until you actually see it on the end device. I’ve had videos that look amazing on my laptop only to have the video show up with wonky colors or screwy text sizes. Before you throw out the video or mark it as done, load it up and even edited it on the fly while watching the video on the big screen.
Don’t be afraid to test out variations, even with a single change. This is similar to the first but you should not wait until you have a finished product. I have around 5 different versions of my “Welcome to…” videos that have large changes, such as fonts and colors, or just even a single line of text. I am not wedded to any video being the “Final” version and that is okay. It is an iterative process.
Listen to patrons and notice their movements. Like most user experience books teach us: it is valuable to see how your patrons interact with your displays. Some patrons will be vocal about the videos being too distracting, it is how I figured out I should avoid videos that last less than a minute. Others will simply continue to glance up at the screen at every video change, while it is great that they notice the videos it can also be a sign that it is distracting them from their work.
Well that wraps up this two post look at how to create a Digital Display on a Budget. I hope there were at least a few takeaways for you.
This is also my final post for the LITA Blog, it has been an absolute pleasure sharing some of my experiences and projects. I’d like to thank my fellow writers for the wonderful experience, in particular the amazing Brianna Marshall for bringing me onto the blog. So long, and thanks for all the fish!
At the JPL Library we recently remodeled our collaborative workspace. This process allowed us to repurpose underutilized televisions into digital displays. Digital displays can be an effective way to communicate key events and information to our patrons. However, running displays has usually required either expensive hardware (installing new cables to tap into local media hosts) or software (Movie Maker, 3rd Party software), sometimes both. We had the displays ready but needed cost effective solutions for hosting and creating the content. Enter Raspberry Pi and a movie creator that can be found in any Microsoft Office Suite purchased since 2010… Microsoft PowerPoint.
In this post I will cover how to select, setup, and install the hardware. The follow up post will go over the content creation aspect.
Luckily for us, this part took care of itself. If you need to obtain a display, I have two recommendations:
Verify the display has a convenient HDMI port. You are looking for a port that allows you to discreetly tuck the Raspberry Pi behind the display. Additionally, the port should be easily accessible if the need arises to swap out HDMI cables.
Opt for a display that is widescreen capable (16:9 aspect ratio). This will provide you with a greater canvas for your content. Whatever aspect ratio you decide upon, make sure your content settings match. This graphic sums up the difference between the aspect ratios of widescreen and standard (4:3 aspect ratio).
There are plenty of blog posts and documentation that cover the basics of what Raspberry Pi is and what is fully capable of. In short, you can think of it as a mini and price effective computer. For this project are interested in its price point, native movie player, and operating system customization prowess.
There are three main iterations available for purchase:
Obviously I would recommend the Pi 3, which was just released in late February, over the rest. All three are capable of running HD quality videos, but the Pi 3 will definitely run smoother. Also, the Pi 3 has on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, on previous versions this required purchasing add-ons and used up USB slots.
However, these prices are only for the computer itself. You would still need, at the minimum, an SD card to store the operating system and files, power adaptor, keyboard and mouse, and an HDMI cable. The only advantage of selecting the 2 is that there are several pre-selected bundles created by 3rd party sellers that can lower the costs. Make sure to check the bundle details to confirm it contains the Raspberry Pi iteration that you want.
Here are some recommended bundles that contain all you need (minus keyboard and mouse) for this project:
Most USB keyboards and mice will work with a Pi but opt for simple ones to avoid drawing too much power from it. If you do not have a spare one consider this Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse Touchpad. The touchpad is a bit wonky but it’ll get the job done and the portability is worth it.
Getting the Raspberry Pi ready to boot is fairly easy. We just need to plug in the power supply, insert Micro SD Card with the operating system, and attach a display. Granted this all just gets to you a basic screen with the Pi awaiting instructions. A mouse, keyboard, and network connection are pretty much required for setting up the Pi software in order to get the device into a usable state.
The program we use is the Raspberry Pi Video Looper. This setup works exactly how it sounds: the Raspberry Pi plays and loops videos. However, before we can install that we need to get the Raspberry Pi up and running with the latest Raspbian operating system.
Using personal SD
If you decided to use your own SD card, see this guide on how to get up and running.
If you bought a bundle, chances are that it came with a Micro SD Card pre-loaded with NOOBS (New Out of Box Software). With NOOBS we can just boot up the Pi and select Raspbian from the first menu. Make sure to also change the Language and Keyboard to your preferred settings, such as English (US) and us.
Once you hit Install, the NOOBS software will do its thing. Grab a cup of coffee or walk the dog as it will take a bit to complete the install. After installation the Pi will reboot and load up Raspi-config to let you adjust settings. There is a wide range of options but the two that should be adjusted right now are:
Change User Password
SSH – If you want remote access, you will need to Enable to SSH. For more information on this option see the Raspberry Pi Documentation.
After adjusting the settings, the Pi will boot the desktop environment. Because the NOOBS version loaded onto the card might be dated, the next step is to update the firmware and packages. To do this, click on the start menu and select the terminal and type in the following commands:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
Once the Pi reboots we can continue to the next phase, installing the video looper.
After a few minutes the install is complete and the Video Looper is good to go! If you do not have any movies loaded your PI will now display “Insert USB drive with compatible movies”. Inserting a USB drive into the Pi will initiate a countdown followed by video playback.
Using Video Looper
Now that the Pi is all set you can load your videos onto an USB stick and the Looper will take care of the rest. The Video Looper is quite versatile and can display movies in the following formats:
If your Pi fails to read the files on the USB drive, try loading them on another. I had several USB sticks that I went through before it read the files. Sadly, most of the vendor USB stick freebies were incompatible.
Lastly, the Video Looper has a few configuration options that you adjust to best fit your needs. Of those listed in the documentation I would recommend adjusting the file locations (USB stick vs on the Pi itself) and video player. The last one only being relevant if you cannot live with the loop delay between movies.
After the Video Looper Steup we can now install the unit behind the display. We opted to attach the device using Velcro tape and a 0.3m Flat HDMI cable. Thanks toe the Velcro I can remove and reattach the Pi as needed. The flat HDMI cable reduces the need for cable management . The biggest issue we had was tucking away the extra cable from the power supply, a few well placed Velcro ties. Velcro, is there anything it can’t solve?
Well if you’ve made it this far I hope you are on your way to creating a digital display for your institution. In my next post I will cover how we used Microsoft PowerPoint to create our videos in a quick and efficient manner.
The Raspberry Pi is a wonderful device so even if it the Video Looper setup fails to live up to your needs, you can easily find another project for it to handle. May I suggest the Game Boy Emulator?
Presented At: 2016 West Coast WMS Users Group Meeting
Title: Integrating local user data with WMS reports
Description: WMS provides a great snapshot of your user data, but what happens when that data has grown stale? In this presentation I show how the JPL Library Has used Microsoft Access in various data cleanup projects and how it can add new dimensions to stock WMS reports.
Note: The speaker notes contain details. Download a copy for full presentation.
Lindsay Cronk recently interviewed me for the LITA Blog. We covered a range of topics, from my motivations for pursuing a career in the library field to my techniques on answering obscure reference questions from the public. The entire process was amazing and I enjoyed every minute of the interview.