The obvious paper clip

How often do we stop to look, in admiration or wonder, at the extraordinary of the ordinary? A safety pin, velcro, Post-It Notes, clocks. Commonly found objects are not thought to be objects with lessons or objects to be revered, and we, in turn, pass them by without study.

Consider then for a moment, how Jonathan Harris has made us stop at the paper clip. An object common in form yet complex in lesson.

The paper clip in your work area might seem inconsequential, invisible even, its position on the desk something to put away. If situated, however, next to a pile of papers, the paper clip becomes an organizing principle, in potential control of the scenario — the only thing standing between you and order. The clip is control in wire format.

Make something obvious and add an object or service.

The paper clip’s construction, bent-wire and wound, reminds us of the spectacular effort that is simplicity. It is, by its place in the modern office, a testament to iteration, to trial, to error. The paper clip, for all its rounded edges, has had a rough start. The first clip invented in 1867 was succeeded by decades of followers who tried not to catch or damage paper and hold lots of it. Clips had to be reusable, light, and easy to use. Finally what’s called a Gem Clip emerged as the champion.

What sort of paper clip user are you, you might not have asked. While the Gem is nearly synonymous with “paper clip” at this stage, the Owl Paper Clip is a popular choice as is the Queen City clip, each letting on a bit of the attitude of the individual who uses it to the document’s recipient.

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While solving organization is the paper clip’s primary purpose, there are others. Henry Petroski noted that clips are a “tactile form of doodling,” reminding us of the limitless functions a form can be. So next time we clip, we might consider one more.

Post written for Search for the Obvious. It is posted here with permission.