July 11, 2022

On paper

Or, alternately, what folding can reveal.

Unless you’ve been living under a metaphorical rock, (and I wouldn’t blame you, the atmosphere over here in the UK has been pretty febrile) the last few weeks have lead us to changing political horses again.

Well, when I say ‘us’, in truth, not all of us. 

Whichever leader ends up getting the gig to run the party (ahem. Let’s trust not that kind again) also gets to lead the country; which is a little galling as most of us won’t get a chance to exercise our franchise.

Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them – or rather on us –  as the adage sort of goes. We’ll have to accept whoever makes it through what promises to be a less than dignified spectacle – expect all sorts of ‘interesting’ shortcomings to come to light, likely that weren’t on paper (or expected or hoped would be.)

And so circuitously we arrive at the point of this thread – that usually we don’t have the luxury of a blank page to start with.

Most of the time (in fact, pretty much all of the time) the point where we start isn’t with the proverbial, supposedly terrifying, empty page.

What we have to work with (or for, or towards) isn’t singularily up to us.

As with the ‘race for leadership’ du jour, the biographies of the candidates are messy tangle, often with obscure margins, things between the lines; and so with a brief – unless it’s a really, really good one – one often with little space for us to think.

In these situations (the former, where things are lifelike and messy), there’’s really only two choices open to us:

Firstly, the urge to want to screw the page up, heave it into the bin and attempt to start again. 

Sometimes that’s an option.

Likely as not that’s not really, so we attempt to navigate through and try and make some sense of things.

Our job then isn’t to try and add to the complexity, so we wrestle with a kind of mental origami – to try and make sense of and bring a shape to the page, folding it to hide the things we’d rather not see, pressing the things we do want to the surface.

Trying to reveal what kind of an (origami) animal is hiding on the page (Rousseau’s tiger, perhaps?) is the designer’s skill.

So while you’re searching for that shape, it’s always best (I think) to try and make as dramatic a shape as you can.

As emphatic as possible. With teeth ideally, to stretch the metaphor.

Hopefully you’ll end up with something more shark and deer. 

Because? Well, statistically, you’re three hundred times more likely to be killed by a deer than a shark. 

Which is probably a good moment to reflect on our previous political incumbent’s observations on it was ‘herds’ that did for him. 

Unlikely, as politics is a predatory game – but when it comes to the work we do (with a nod that it’s not free of politiking) the herd instinct is the real threat when you’re trying to change things for the good. 

Oh, and the title of this thread? It’s the phrase we use to point out that the theory (or perception) presented often isn’t the reality.

Which is a nice way of folding this up.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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