I just came across this article I wrote for the TU Delft magazine Bnieuws, back when I worked in the Architecture faculty. The magazine has a regular column where they ask a staff member to write about one of their favourite objects. I chose a small piece of folded paper. Here is the article (you can read the original in Bnieuws 52/2 here):
This article describes an object and a process. The object is a piece of cheap A5 paper torn from a notepad, and the process is the one I use whenever I have to define an idea, or communicate something complex to anyone else. I use this process for every presentation, lecture, lesson plan, syllabus, artwork, or article (including this one).
Limitations fuel creativity. A single small piece of paper is great for clarifying ideas. It fits in your pocket, it’s cheap, and there is always a piece of paper nearby.
I fold my piece of paper into eight segments, to make a little pad. Then I go for a walk, and think. I write down ideas as they come to me, putting each separate idea or theme into a new section of the paper. If I can’t think of anything to write, I’ll continue walking. If I have another idea, I’ll stop, and write again. Walking removes all my usual reasons for not starting, and all the distractions that usually stop me. I don’t plan a destination, but try to take a route I haven’t taken before. I just walk to enjoy walking, and thinking. When my paper is full, or I feel I have enough written to continue with my project, I go home.
So much of communication is about finding the hierarchy of information that enables other people, who don’t have the knowledge you have, to understand what you’re thinking. On my little piece of paper, similar ideas naturally cluster together, and soon enough an order emerges. I try to write everything that someone with no knowledge of the subject would need to understand it, but not too much. After all, I only have one piece of paper.
There are little folded pieces of paper full of notes in plenty of my pockets, my wallet, my sketchbook, books, and drawers. Finding them again instantly takes me back to the places I was when I wrote them, and the little journey I took to come up with an idea. Similarly, there are strange pockets of cities around the world inextricably linked to the ideas I had when I was there, writing scrawly notes on tiny pieces of paper such as this one.