Serendipitous Juxtaposition: Sleuth & Substance, A Digital Pinboard
In the world of Pinterest and Tumblr, digital pinboards are all the rage, and for good reason. Curation is king, and I love it, but, let me tell you, this girl can organize the rest of you under the table, and yet sometimes, it’s still serendipitous juxtaposition that wins it all and drops the mic.
February 3, 2012
The Ubiquitous “Digital Pinboard of Inspiration”
Over the past few months, I've been cultivating a new blogging endeavor: Sleuth & Substance. In the briefest of descriptions, it is a digital journal of images that I am attracted to, for one reason or another, posted in no order, other than the chronology of their discovery. Most of these images are culled from the web, but there are also a spattering of iPhone shots that I have snapped in passing, and even a few that were taken with care. One might even (definitely) describe it with what could be Tumblr's most prolifically employed subtitle: a "digital pinboard of inspiration." But the fact that the web is flush with these types of blogs, and that the phrase is so vague as to be incommunicative, are both facts that lead to the gross underestimation of the value of these "inspirational digital journals." Curation is king, and I love it, but, let me tell you, this girl can organize the rest of you under the table, and yet sometimes, it's serendipitous juxtaposition that wins it all and drops the mic.
The Inspirational Power of Juxtaposition
To address the first of these facts briefly: the prolificacy of these sorts of collections of images indicates that they are useful to many, or at the very least, that they satisfy a certain compulsion of many. Of course, the popularity of a type of blogging doesn't ameliorate the second issue (the vagueness of the description), so let me clarify. I am certainly gratified when others find interest in my collection, but ultimately, it is a personal endeavor: the inspiration that I gain from the juxtaposition of disparate images is the only reason that I bother to cultivate it at all. The blog is still just a young thing, and, full disclosure, I created it on a whim, but it has since come into its own as one of my most useful design tools. My design efforts never have been, and never will be, limited only to architecture. And, that aside, subjugating design inspiration and design precedents into narrow categorical fields is about as effective as a parachute on a submarine. Ours is a time of great flux, and some of the most relevant new ideas are those that have come from the cultivation and integration of that which had previously been discrete
some of the most relevant new ideas are those that have come from the cultivation and integration of that which had previously been discrete.
The current new darling of the social media sphere is Pinterest, the apparent (read: current) winner of the digital pinboard platforms. I am an avid Pinterest user, and don't foresee myself giving it up any time soon. It has become as much of a fixture of my daily social media activities as Facebook or Twitter. But Pinterest's role is distinct: it allows the user to curate categorized boards of images that, when pinned properly (shame on all you sloppy users), link seamlessly to the source. This is brilliantly useful, but in an entirely different way than I am using Sleuth & Substance. Where my Pinterest boards allow for referenced and guided searches of material I know I will want to review in the future, Sleuth & Substance allows for the unexpected juxtapositions and crossed wires that lead to exciting new ideas.
Now, of course, one could argue that I could create a mixed board on Pinterest with the same function as Sleuth & Substance. However, while that may have been the case early on in Pinterest's evolution, the site's designers have been gently pushing users to be more categorical, and, at this point, all new boards must be labeled with a category title. I commend them for this, actually, because it helps to wrangle the enormous volume of pins and boards their users circulate, such that Pinterest can then present the content in a way that other users can find useful. Some people call it the age of discovery, rather than search, but really, you're "discovering" things that Pinterest already suspects that you'll like, which is why you are seeing them in the first place. But, "best practices" and algorithms aside, there is no harm in finding pleasure and value in using both Pinterest and my own, additional "digital pinboard of inspiration." Until Pinterest offers me the option to toggle between viewing my carefully sorted boards, and intermittently viewing the pins of certain (not all) boards mixed together, I suppose I'll just keep on cultivating Sleuth & Substance, no harm, no foul.
Curation is king, and I love it, but, let me tell you, this girl can organize the rest of you under the table, and yet sometimes, it's serendipitous juxtaposition that wins it all and drops the mic.
Incidentally, the pleasure that I find in curating Sleuth & Substance has its non-digital roots back in my childhood. As a kid, I was guilty of curating perhaps too many "collections." I would collect various objects to which I was attracted, and then organize to my little heart's delight: my collections were meticulous. Whether it was the rock collection, the shells, the stamps, or the-what-have-you, those collections were always more about their organization and display, than about the quest for the Most Worthy of Items to add to them.
In light of that, perhaps the most intriguing of my collections, in retrospect, were not those decorating my shelves, they were those not on display at all: divided boxes with all variety of objects sorted into the compartments inside. These were organized not by noun, but by adjective: fascinating, to me, at least. To anyone else, it might have looked like a box of curious junk: a few vintage buttons, a pair of dragonfly wings, a fork that had been flattened, and so on. Those, and all manner of other objects whose original purposes were unknown to me, but that I found intriguing for one reason or another (an interesting shape, maybe, or a pattern, or texture), were all carefully stored.
Back then, I was just a kid collecting and sorting things. I didn't articulate the value of those cases of mixed curios, I just enjoyed doing it. I was compelled to. Now, I do know the value of it. So, just as I collected and mixed together those physical objects years ago, I am now curating a more ephemeral collection in this digital incarnation of an old habit. Pinterest endures, but Sleuth & Substance acts simultaneously as a continually shifting design project in its own right, and as an ever-evolving tool in my larger design process, fostering the inspiration of juxtaposition in a beautifully disordered world.