Why do we collect?

One of these days, I’m going to end up on the TV show Hoarders, grizzled and bleary eyed, sitting in front of a pile of plastic souvenir sundae baseball helmets. I’ll have that distant, agonized look in my eyes that people on that show get, my wife Sheila will be crying in the corner, my kids will be screaming at me to wake up from this nightmare, and I’ll be saying something like, “I know no one understands, but the collection just wasn’t complete without that 1997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays helmet.”

My entire life, I have collected—everything from typical items like baseball cards and ticket stubs to odder things like lost pet flyers and yard sale signs. (This past Christmas, my seven-year-old son inherited my decades-old collection of the first 62 Choose Your Own Adventure books, pictured here.) I have always had a tendency to be what I think of as “goal-oriented,” and what my wife thinks of as “obsessive-compulsive.” When I focus on one of these collections, it’s hard for me to think about much else, such as family or hygiene.

Recently, I have been scouring eBay for the plastic souvenir sundae helmets they sell at Major League Baseball games. At first glance, you might think, “There are 30 teams, so there are 30 helmets. That’s not so bad.” But when you think about the fact that many teams have changed logos and colors several times (the Arizona Diamondbacks do it about every six months), and many have alternate identities, the possibilities are limitless. (It makes me twitch when I think that I have to wait several months before I can get my hands on the new helmets that the Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles will be selling in the 2012 season.)

People who write about the psychology of collecting say that collectors do what they do for a connection to the past, to rekindle fond memories, and to achieve a sense of completion, among other reasons. An article on the website HorizonLines.org cites author Kim A. Herzinger on the subject:

Collecting is a means by which one relieves a basic sense of incompletion brought on by unfulfilled childhood needs. It functions as a form of wish fulfillment, which eases deep-rooted uncertainties and existential dread.

I did not realize that I was easing existential dread when I ordered that retro Milwaukee Brewers helmet on eBay, but if that’s all it takes, then I’m in good shape. These helmets appeal to me as a designer because I like logos. They appeal to me as a baseball fan for obvious reasons. They appeal to me as a consumer because they are plastic junk. And they appeal to me as a childish knucklehead because it’s fun to see how high I can stack them.

With all of this as background, I had resigned myself to the fact that I’m crazy until I read Tim Merriman’s recent post on the NAI blog, “The Collector Within Each of Us.” Tim writes about the importance of properly interpreting museum collections—telling stories and making connections rather than simply displaying a bunch of stuff. It made me realize that the small space my wife has allowed me in our kitchen cabinets for my helmets is my own personal baseball museum.

The helmets are conversation pieces when we have guests. The blue Expos helmet prompts stories about when, as newlyweds, Sheila and I moved to Montreal; the Cubs helmet almost always leads to stories about the time Shea and I ditched our respective wives and children in Chicago to make a pilgrimage to Wrigley field; and yes, that 1997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays helmet that’s going to get me featured on Hoarders prompts stories about time spent with friends in St. Petersburg.

And because the whole point of the tiny baseball museum in my kitchen—as it should be with all interpretive sites—is to be relevant to my visitors, I make it a point to serve ice cream to my guests in their favorite team’s helmet (and if they don’t have a favorite team, then I don’t want them in my house).

In anticipation of Shea’s next visit, I have a Yankees helmet at the ready, which I procured on a visit to the old Yankee Stadium in the late 1990s. And I have some stories to tell about that day.

Have a Platypustastic New Year!

I have been making New Year’s resolutions on this site since we started doing this in 2009. And I’ve accomplished some amazing things based on past resolutions: I threw out that old, disgusting Tupperware in 2010, and I have not feathered an edge in months.

With that, here are some promises Shea and I make to you for 2012:

  1. We will learn about platypuses—web-footed, venomous, egg-laying mammals that they are.
  2. We will embrace new media. Learn about it. Talk about it. Use it.
  3. To my wife’s chagrin, I will at least triple the size of my collection of Major League Baseball ice cream sundae helmets.
  4. We will get a pet platypus.
  5. Shea will finally call Cy Sperling to see what can be done.
  6. We will not place photos in compositions at random angles (and certainly not with drop shadows).
  7. We will introduce a new word to the English lexicon: platypustastic.
  8. We will use that extra day in February to its fullest potential.
  9. We will become huge hockey fans. I will root for the Philadelphia Flyers because I grew up in Philadelphia and I am still connected to that community through family and frequent visits. Shea will root for the Montreal Canadiens because they have the most championships and that’s how he picks his teams.
  10. We will start a podcast. A platypustastic podcast.

Happy new year!

 

The 76ers New Mascot: You Are Not Reading This

It’s the day after Christmas, so the chances that you are reading this have never been lower, even considering that I once wrote a post about letter spacing. So given that you are off doing meaningful things with your family instead of reading this, I’m going to take this opportunity to write about the new mascot of the Philadelphia 76ers. (That’s a basketball team, in case you were wondering.) (Basketball is the one with the bouncing orange ball, in case you were wondering that, too.)

The 76ers, named for the number of fans they have in attendance during each home game, have never been known for their sophisticated design sensibilities. In the early 1990s, Sixers player Charles Barkley said this about his team’s new uniforms: “They look like my daughter got ahold of some crayons and designed them.”

Recently, the team asked fans to vote on a new mascot to replace their old mascot, Hip Hop. Hip Hop, pictured above, is notable for being unbearably stupid, possibly the worst mascot in all of sports, and that’s saying something because there are a lot of bad sports mascots (all of them but two, by my count). Anyway, the three new choices the 76ers presented were not much better than Hip Hop. According to a story on ESPN, “A poll by the local ABC affiliate found more than half of voters opting for ‘None of the above.'”

The first choice is “Big Ben,” modeled after Philadelphia hero Ben Franklin, if Ben Franklin were played by a drunken Nick Nolte in a sleeveless undershirt.

Choice number two is B. Franklin Dogg (“The extra G is for ‘Gah, what is that thing?'”). B. Dogg is basically what you’d get if McGruff the Crime Dog and Poochy from the Simpsons got together and had a puppy.

The final choice is “Phil E. Moose,” who, if he is selected as the new mascot, will be the first moose within 300 miles of the city.

We talk a lot on this site about the importance of design decisions being meaningful. I’d argue that the three mascot options the Sixers presented failed precisely because they were not meaningful. The moose and the dog(g) really have nothing to do with anything related to basketball or the 76ers. And while Benjamin Franklin is iconic of the city, I don’t think anyone wants to see him belittled in a tank top or a circus costume.

Personally, I think it would be fine with most fans if the 76ers did not have a mascot at all, because, as I mentioned above, most mascots are terrible. The only two who are not unbearably annoying are the Phillie Phanatic (by far the best) and the San Diego Chicken (a distant second). Also, mascots in NBA basketball are a bit superfluous because any break in the action is filled with fans taking half-court shots for a lifetime supply of turtle wax, short guys doing weird acrobatic routines with trampolines and basketballs, and “dance” teams performing routines that make parents shield their children’s eyes

But if the Sixers are determined to have a mascot, I hope they’ll listen the growing legion of fans calling for the return of Muppet-ish guy Big Shot, pictured here, who was retired by the team in 1996. I’m not sure why he appeals to me. Must be that we have the same physique and hair color.

Now get back to your families. Happy holidays!

Get to Know a Typeface! Cooper Black

Cooper Black is heavy, round, and friendly. It might as well be the third author of IBD. (The blog, not the book.) (We already have a third author of the book, and I would never call her heavy or round.) (You see, since Shea and I are heavy and round, like Cooper Black, and the two of us write this blog, the joke here was that Cooper Black could also be an author of this blog.) (I reiterate, I was not calling our reclusive and mysterious third author (of the book, not the blog), diehard Texas Rangers fan Lisa Brochu, heavy or round.) (Though Lisa is friendly. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! Hi Lisa!) (I better get on with this.)

When I look at Cooper Black, I think of Chicago. This is because I’ve always thought Cooper Black is what a traditional serifed typeface would look like if it ate like I did for the one week I spent in Chicago. (Did you know it’s possible to consider an entire deep-dish pizza a mid-afternoon snack?) It turns out there’s another reason to associate this typeface with Chicago: It was designed in 1922 by Chicago’s own Oswald Bruce Cooper. (At the time, Oswald was thinking, “It’s been 14 years since the Cubs won a World Series. It’s about time they win again!”)

In 1972, US President Richard Nixon issued an executive order that all communication worldwide be conducted exclusively in Cooper Black. It’s important to note that while the previous sentence is entirely false, it might as well have been true, because Cooper Black was used a lot in the 1970s. To wit:

This 1976 poster for the movie King Kong.

The flag (often mistakenly called the masthead) of National Lampoon magazine. This one here was from 1970.

The Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds,” released in 1966 (which we understand is technically not a part of the 1970s).

The end credits for the TV show Cheers, beginning in 1982. (Let’s face it: I was there in 1982 and it was still part of the ’70s.)

And just so that we know it’s still around, Cooper Black still shows up pretty regularly in high-profile places, as with the logo for Slurm soda in Futurama:

Cooper Black is the VW Bug of typography. There have been periods where it was wildly popular as the people’s font, then widely reviled as too round and kind of ugly, then popular again in a sort of ironic way. Graphic designers who use Cooper Black are the same people who wear plastic-mesh-backed John Deere baseball caps without ever having been on a farm. They think it’s funny but they’re not sure why.

Cooper Black is indeed used a lot, so many designers shy away from it, but it was carefully crafted by a talented type designer and it’s perfectly suited for certain purposes, so using Cooper Black cannot be compared to using actual bad typefaces like Comic Sans.

Ultimately, I like Cooper Black and would use it if the occasion were to arise. Now I just have to get hold of the guy and see if he wants to write this blog with us.

Add this bird to your life list

Shea and I share many interests, which we call The Six Bs*: baseball, blogging, buffets, baseball, being married to people way out of our respective leagues, and baseball. One interest that we do not share, but which also begins with a B, is birding.

When we’re at NAI National Workshops every November, Shea usually says to me something like, “A couple of us are going to get up at 4:00 in the morning and go sit in a freezing-cold puddle in the middle of a big field for a few hours. Wanna come?” For a long time, I thought this was Shea’s way of telling me he didn’t want to hang out, but I learned recently that this group of people was actually doing the thing he said. They take binoculars and birding books and sit in freezing-cold puddles. Then they look for birds and check “lifers” off their lists.

I have a healthy respect for life lists and collections in general. I keep a running list of Major League Baseball stadiums I have visited (19, including seven that are no longer in use) and I am dangerously close to becoming obsessed with my ice cream sundae mini-helmet collection. However, the extent of my interest in birds boils down to a three-tiered classification system that I learned from an NAI friend: Big, Pretty, Other. (It used to be a four-tiered system, until Shea told me that I cannot count “Buffalo Chicken” on my life list.)

I don’t actually object to birds (though there have been a few incidents when it seemed birds thought I had a target on my head). In fact, when I’m in a place where there are interesting birds (in the “Big” or “Pretty” categories) or birds that I used to sing about as a child, I have been known to actually take photos of them, as with this actual kookaburra sitting on an actual old gum tree that I saw in southern Australia in 2010. (Note that this photo was taken from the deck of a house while I was drinking coffee in the late morning, rather than from a frozen puddle while it was still dark.)

Given my interest in branding and identity, especially where they cross over into sports, and my relative lack of interest in birds, I was intrigued to learn the back story of the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies and the best mascot in all of sports, objectively speaking. The Phanatic was introduced in 1978 as the last survivor of a flightless bird species from the Galapagos islands.

Just recently, the Phanatic returned to his native land on a tour offered by Lindblad Expeditions—the same Lindblad Expeditions that interpretation superstar Sam Ham has collaborated with since 1988 to promote conservation of the Galapagos. Worlds are colliding! There’s an article about that collaboration in the September/October 2008 issue of Legacy magazine. (You can see a photo album of the Phanatic’s visit, including the above photo by Celso Montalvo, on the Phillies website.)

I, for one, am glad to see the Phanatic involved with Lindblad. In the 2008 Legacy article, titled “Using Interpretation to Promote Conservation in the Galapagos,” Sam Ham says, “The conservation community is watching the Galapagos example…. If conservation can’t work there, where can it work?” To date, according to the Lindblad website, interpretive techniques—making people care about the place—have helped them raise $4.5 million, “more than any other organization in Galapagos.”

And while all of this has piqued my interest in birds, it’s funny that Sam didn’t mention the Phanatic once in that article. Probably because he’s a Mariners fan.

All of that said, I still don’t see myself getting up at 4:00 in the morning to go look for birds at next November’s NAI Workshop in Virginia. I prefer my favorite birds to show up at coordinated holiday events in downtown Ocean City, New Jersey, and be willing to pose for pictures.

Notes
*Not really.