Discovery Through Intentional Search

In both our physical and digital searches we don’t leave much room for discovery. Most often we’re out searching for one thing in specific, and we either find it and move on or we don’t find it and move on; either way we’re missing out on the benefits of a deeper pursuit.

“If you only look where you expect things, you will always find what you expect.” — Professor Scott Thorp

Continuing on a concept from Professor Thorp, when you go to the woods you get what the woods have. Let’s say you’re in the market for a new stick so you take a trip down to the woods, quite easily you will find a stick which is quite relevant to the accessibility and abundance of things today. You may do a bit of searching to make sure the stick you find meets your standard of quality, but in your search you disregard your surroundings. By doing this you’re missing out on two things: You’re missing out on the thousands of other sticks you didn’t care to look at because you had already found one — though you can’t be expected to look at every single thing there is also no need to always cut your search short — and secondly you’re also failing to recognize the other objects around you such as the dirt, leaves, and even the enormous trees.

This sense of tunnel vision we develop when we know what we are looking for is the result of selective attention. Watch the video below and count how many times the players wearing white pass the basketball. This video isn’t very long, and there are other players passing a ball as well so pay close attention.

Perhaps you saw the gorilla upon your initial watch, but when this study was done at Harvard University they found that half of those who were trying to count the passes did not see the gorilla. As mentioned earlier this is the result of selective attention, but it is also referred to as inattentional blindness. By focusing our attention on one thing it’s not only possible, but it’s actually quite common for us to fail to notice unexpected objects despite how fully visible they are. Don’t worry, there are ways to improve your searches and discover more.

On the web, our searches are typically limited to google images, but we may use other sources such as dribbble for stylistic design inspiration depending on the type of reference material we need. I want to focus on the extent in which we use google, and talk about what we’re missing out on. While searching on google it’s important to acknowledge the popular results that appear on the surface, but it’s equally important to also explore the randoms. I want to walk you through a recent google image search of mine, and show you how I came across a gold mine, and explain why this actually happens very often for me.

In Steven Heller and Louise Fili’s book Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age I came across some script that read “The House of the Seven Gables,” a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I was curious if this were featured on the actual book so of course I googled it. When I searched “The House of the Seven Gables” all I saw was an unruly amount of photos of the actual house, so my next instinct was to add “book” at the end of my search. Almost immediately I could tell that I wasn’t going to find what I’m looking for because all of the book covers appear rather similar featuring an illustration of the house and no script to be seen, but I decided to continue scrolling. Before moving forward, I should point out that I was in a mode of selective attention so in my search of this script I wasn’t really looking at the images of the houses and instead I was scanning the page for what I wanted to see. When I realized that I wasn’t going to see the script I wanted to find my mind eased up and I began to see more. So as I scrolled my hopes to find the script slowly diminished and the search results displayed less popular images that began to stray from images of the houses and into more random images that are tangentially related to the book. I scrolled farther and farther eventually having to click “Show More Results,” and everyone knows that is no man’s land; no one dares to continue past that, but rest assured that I braved the ambiguity of results and continued onward. By this point I was seeing book covers for entirely different books, and I would click on them to see them larger, but rather than viewing just the image I always make a note to view the page it’s from. Most pages linked to pinterest or amazon which neither were of my interest, but every so often I’d be redirected to an old website reserved for archiving information — these are the gold mines. I clicked to view a book that was completely different from my original search which can be seen below.


By viewing this image’s source I was able to stumble across “a site devoted to the publisher, Henry Altemus Company.” Immediately the site looks very old school with the use of colors you’d see in an 19th century house, and the title written in comic sans across the top. While others would cringe and reach to close the tab as fast as possible I always make an effort to always explore where I’m at, both on the internet and in the physical world. Having an underlying curiosity for everything life has to offer will constantly reward you with worthwhile discoveries. As I began to navigate the site I started clicking on all of the links and trying to view as much as I could, and about 4 hours later I had viewed thousands of book covers that were archived on this site. The best part of it all, the site still gets updated! Plus, the site has a handy side navigation which includes links to other sites on the bottom so I was able to explore more glorious, vintage book designs.

At first it may seem like this was a rare instance, but in fact this continually happens to me. While others insist on narrowing your focus so that you rid yourself of distractions I suggest the opposite. In my post Inspiration Or Influence? I suggest that viewing images at large quantity and small scale can help prevent you from being overly influenced by your searches, which also relates to this topic. As stated earlier, it’s typical for us to suffer from inattentional blindness, but that is only the result of a narrowed focus, and so when you’re viewing lots of images you actually aren’t viewing lots of images you’re viewing just the images you wish to see. You must do more than just view a large quantity of small scale images, you must also open up your area of focus so that you’re less inclined to be influenced by your own filtered view and instead are able to discover more. When you lose the desire to find exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll begin to find the things you didn’t know you wanted to find.
Two other magnificent finds:

Bibliotypes – A blog dedicated to the history of writing filled with beautiful calligraphy and typography.

40oz Malt Liquor – Hundreds of high resolution 40oz labels.