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.

Interpreting Unwritten Rules of Baseball: Part 2

In Monday’s post, Paul began a discussion of how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball. Based on the overwhelming response, it is possible that we managed to divide an already partly interested audience, yet again? Today I’m going to tackle some of the unwritten rules that address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

Don’t steal the catcher’s signs using means outside of the diamond. It is okay to be on second base and steal signs from the catcher. It is the responsibility of the pitcher and catcher to conceal those calls through various signs.

Interpreters should not conceal their messages. Otherwise they take the chance that they will get lost in translation, stolen, or misinterpreted. If the theme is a single complete thought, it should be easily repeated by the interpreter and conveyed by the visitor at the end of presentation. Having someone in your audience tipping your pitches is a totally different story.

Intentionally throwing at hitters will be reciprocated by the other team. Turnabout is fair play. In the event that a pitcher throws to hit a player (while not aiming at the head, see Monday’s post) you can expect revenge will be taken within the next couple of innings. This goes for intentional body shots but can happen on unintentional tosses as well. This can continue back and forth until the umpire starts tossing players out of the game. (Paul, I had an image of Pedro in Red Sox gear but I thought you would enjoy this one more.)

As interpreters, if we are found preaching or proselytizing at visitors you are going to get a returned negative reaction. Visitors to interpretive sites, in most cases, are intelligent people. No one wants to be preached at even if you are right. You will garner more support through carefully crafted messages that relate to your audience. You can expect a similar reaction if you are simply fact vomiting as well (minus the vomit…you know what I mean…I hope).

Base runners should not shout or distract a fielder getting under an infield fly. Imagine this, you are rounding the bases and the shortstop is about to catch an infield fly ball for the out. Just before he makes the catch you yell, “HA!” making the shortstop drop the ball. This is considered “bush league” (a term used to describe amateurish play below the professional level) in Major League Baseball.

For interpretation, extraneous information not related to the theme will detract from your presentation. Chasing tangents or being distracted from your thematic message will lose visitors. Not to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of those impromptu moments that may command your attention. For instance while leading a geology hike you hear the rare and elusive A-Rod call “HA!” You have to take that opportunity to interpret it, but somehow relate that distraction back to your theme to keep you efforts intact.

Don’t discuss a no-hitter in progress. Much like professional baseball players, Paul and I are extremely superstitious. (We are also similar in body types, bank accounts, and our affinity for tight pants.) If the pitcher for your team is in the process of throwing a no-hitter, you don’t say anything about it. If you do and the opposing team gets a hit, it is your fault. Announcers are the worst at following this rule. Joe Buck can kill a no-no like no other.

At your interpretive site if you have a no-hitter in progress and a visitor is buying in while moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, leave them alone and let them make their own conclusions. Just because we see the light bulb going off doesn’t mean we need to check the switch. We also think we know what’s best for the visitor but we never know what brings a visitor to our sites and what their motivations are. Lead but don’t guide.

Don’t steal bases when leading by a wide margin. Come on, there’s no reason to show people how fast you are. The only reason to break this rule is if you are in peewee baseball and you have new shoes and you must show others how fast they make you run. Just because you can swipe a bag because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should. (That goes for baseball too.) That’s all I’ve got.

Don’t admire your home run right after you hit it. This is a sure way to get yourself plunked at your next at bat.

Have you ever had a moment when Freeman shined down from the great visitor center in the sky and everything about your program went perfectly? The crowd was awesome, they asked all the right questions, and spent several hundred dollars in the gift shop before they left, buying everything related to your message. Don’t brag or someone in your office will throw a stapler at you.

Don’t use steroids. While we are on Manny you should also never grow your dreadlocks so long that they name the thing you wear under your ball cap a mandana.

 

The Rule of Third (Base) and other unwritten rules of graphic design/baseball

Not too long ago, my co-author and friend Shea called me with an interesting question: “Is there a way we could somehow incorporate baseball into our blog about graphic design and interpretation?” It seemed like a stretch, but since baseball is a mutual interest, we thought we’d give it a try this week.

In today’s post, I will discuss how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball (actually, for the purposes of this post, they are, in fact, written rules of baseball). Thursday, Shea will address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

If you intentionally hit a batter, don’t aim at his head.
Sometimes a baseball pitcher needs to send a message. Suppose the pitcher is unhappy with a player on the other team for violating one of the many unwritten rules of baseball, and he decides to intentionally plunk him with a pitch. It’s an unwritten rule that the pitcher should aim at the batter’s backside rather than a more vulnerable area, like his head.

Designers send messages, too, and it’s important not to aim at your audience’s head. Large fields of bright red, using lots of different typefaces, bolding everything, and filling every last square inch of white space—these are all examples of being overly aggressive, or aiming at your audience’s head. It’s important to get your message across, but you don’t have to beat people over the head with it.

Don’t step on the foul line.
This is more of a superstition than an unwritten rule, but many players—pitchers, mostly—avoid stepping on the lines drawn on the field as they enter or leave the field between innings. There are parts of the field clearly designated for different purposes—fair territory is for game faces and steadfast focus, foul territory is where players can relax and prepare for the next inning. Stepping on the line between those two areas muddies the distinction between them.

Designers rely on lines and areas with clearly defined purposes as well. A grid system helps designers decide where to place important elements on a page. (See a post on the grid here.)

Don’t slide with your spikes up.
When a runner slides into a base with the spikes on his shoes up, there’s a risk of serious injury. This is something noted jerk and Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb was famous for. Clearly, for designers, this rule relates to using starbursts. You’d have to be a real Ty Cobb to intentionally inflict those pointy aberrations on your audience.

Don’t make the first or third out at third base.
For various strategic reasons that I will resist detailing here, base runners should avoid making the first or third out of an inning trying to reach third base. They’re better off staying at second, if the situation allows, rather than risking making an out at third base. That said, there are occasions where it’s okay to force the issue and aggressively try for third base.

Designers use a Rule of Thirds as a guide to attractive compositions. Like baseball’s Rule of Third Base, though, there are times when the compositional Rule of Thirds can be violated. See a post about the Rule of Thirds here.

Pitchers should not show up their fielders.
When a fielder makes an error, pitchers have to resist outwardly showing their displeasure. Even though the pitcher has inherited a difficult situation because of his teammate’s misstep, he has to suck it up and focus on that next batter.

Similarly, every design project is a collaboration. If the copy writer comes in with too high a word count or the photographer gets thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple, the project manager still needs to own the project and work with team members to get it right.

Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter.
This is just a weasely thing to do. Swing the bat. This is not a concern in the American League because no one bunts there.

Well, there you go. Tune in next week when we’ll delve into the importance of working pitch counts when setting type!