A couple of weeks ago I was stopped dead in my tracks by a piece of tissue paper. I was food shopping at the time and the tissue paper was wrapped around an orange. A blood orange. It was one of the decorative wrappers that fruit growers use to attract you towards their produce in a market. As I reached out to take the orange had I been in a film I would’ve transitioned into myself as a child, smoothing out the wrapper and adding it to a collection of others I kept flattened between the pages of my scrapbook.
I never stuck them in because being able to get them out was a key element of their attraction. I loved their delicateness which seemed at odds with their rough purpose, I loved the designs, the colours, their millions of crinkles, the places they had come from and the journeys I imagined they had made. Collecting them I found hugely pleasurable and orange wrappers were the first of many things I collected, some of which I still do.
Collecting is generally thought to be a symptom of trauma and it makes sense that preservation, ordering, accumulation and the rituals associated with these activities can come together to form a therapeutic response. Freud, of course, thought it was all about poo. Let’s take it as read that I was traumatised (I did grow up in Norfolk after all) but what was it specifically about collecting that I enjoyed so much? There was a little bit of the thrill of accumulation although I’ve always hated ‘stuff’. With later collections (match books and small denomination notes from places I have visited) there’s a clear sense of keeping trophies. But this seminal orange wrapper collection turned out to be mostly about categorisation and this was how I came to have my first cognitive thoughts about ordering information so that communication and sharing of ideas could occur.
I liked to keep the wrappers in the order that I found them, but I quickly realised that only made sense, and was therefore only interesting, to me. If I wanted to show them to my geography-obsessed Dad and get more than a brief nod of interest I had to order them by country of origin: Spain, Italy, Morocco etc. If I wanted to share them with my blingy and magpie-like friend from school and not feel like a nerd I had to group them by predominant colour (gold being her favourite). I could also group them by theme of central motif, although this was zany as there seemed to be a fabulous lack of rules about what was appropriate (bikini-clad ladies, monkeys, space rockets).
At this point, you might think that if it was all about grouping and ordering then stamp collecting would have been my ultimate hobby. I did have a not-fleeting dalliance with philately and whilst I loved the whole process of soaking, drying, arranging, mounting and filing, I found the end result boring unless I actually liked how the stamps looked. And so did everyone else I tried to show them too. The rigid instruction of the wretched Stanley Gibbons and his exhaustive categorisation of all stamps, ever, left me with no way of making stamp collecting interesting to the people I wanted to share things with.
So, really, my joy in collecting lay in the discovery that it was a controlled environment through which I could experiment with communicating differently to different people.
In the short film of this blog we would now be re-joining me at the fruiterer, holding the piece of tissue paper and gazing into the middle-distance. That ordering of things and following the truths of how they group and flow and using that to deliver different messages designed to appeal to different audiences is essentially what an information designer does. Your information might be all the myriad skills, techniques and behaviours that make you great at your job and your audience might be the gatekeepers to buying your services – a good information designer will take all the things that make up ‘you’ and make you make sense to those people. We may work in the language of vectors, pantones and code but the brand and collateral we design for you is carefully assimilated and positioned to talk to your audience in the language that appeals to them most.
I realise orange wrappers are not the only fruit as far as collectors are concerned, if you’re feeling brave do share tales of your own collecting proclivities, I love being told something different, in fact, you could say I collect interesting and unusual information.
And finally, well done, the oranges you have consumed whilst reading this blog have counted towards your five-a-day.