Can’t spell “binders of cards” without IA

circa 2004

I’m a UX Designer interested in information architecture because it requires spatial thinking that’s always given me a sense of purpose.

When I was younger — and already anxious beyond my years — I was a small kid with an equally-sized personality in a house full of more charismatic family. I was never the fastest, strongest or smartest kid I knew, so I found pockets of control by developing and shaping little collections. I had respectable sets of stamps and coins, but these both paled in comparison to my baseball cards.

How would you organize these?

For months upon years I’d accumulate packs. After every birthday, Christmas, or positive report card I’d rip through aluminum wrappers and stuff the new cardboard prints into a crimson binder until its shell was swollen and tough to close. I marveled at the depth of what I’d created and spent hours reorganizing cards by player last name, first name, team, or year to figure out which configuration was the most digestible. I toiled over head scratchers like: what should you do with duplicate cards? Cards of the same player from different brands? And is there an end goal for this charade? Stack them on top of each other in a single space. Take multiple spaces but order the cards chronologically (alphabetically according to brand if they came from the same year). Collect until you either have all 22 Giants players from the 2001 Topps set, or every Barry Bonds card ever printed. Whichever comes first.

The crimson binder’s working hierarchy

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was my introduction to structures, taxonomies and forms. It taught me that material can take on new meanings when organized in different ways, and re-sorting ~1500 cards can be a pain in the ass if you decide to change your classification rules. I was never able to complete an entire Giants roster, but found satisfaction in establishing the structure I’d use to house it. Even then, I think I understood that the binder would never be perfect, but would only make progress until I put it down.

This binder of cards was either sold at a garage sale or thrown out long ago, but the memory of the 70-lb floppy-haired kid who built it passes through my mind every time I work with hierarchies, mind maps, or schematics. His appearance always brings a taste of nostalgia mixed with relief. I’m happy that I’m still doing the work I find purposeful, and I’m happy I’m still making progress.