INDEX-SYSTEM: First steps

Across the coming 15 months I’m embarking on the comprehensive and deeply satisfying project of indexing all of my notebooks, mind-map sketchbooks, journals etc. from the past twenty years. It’s an inventory of ideas, a tended garden of forking paths, a purposeful search through lost time, a catalogue of trajectories and a (re-)discovery of generative themes.

I’ve discussed my plan with fellow system-thinkers and chaos-makers, and the universal consensus is that this project should be documented. Welcome to its beginning.

The first step

The first step is to create a system for indexing the various different types of bound books and loosely ordered items I wish to index. While the index needs to be malleable and allow for entries to be cross-referenced and potentially re-catalogued in the future, the system won’t be able to change; it must remain consistent across the project and into the future. According to I2/26.03.14 I first devised this system on 26 March 2014:

Volumes V Since 1999. 18 volumes. Entries dated. Volumes numbered and dated on inside cover.
Sketchbooks S Since 2001. 3 sketchbooks. No consistent references. Some mind-maps dated.
Ideas books I Since 1996. 3 books. Contents pages and cross-references.
Notebooks N At least twenty years. Unknown number of books. Some dated entries.
Professional development books P Since 2009. 1 book. Pages hand-numbered.
Work diaries W Since 2005. 1 per year. Dated with notes sections. Work diaries prior to 2005 were hand-made and sadly not all survive.
Bauhaus notebook B 2001-2002. 1 book. Pages selected at random for entries. Some entries dated. Needs numbering.
Card file C Fifteen years. 1 file. Alphabetical but movable.
Filing cabinet F At least fifteen years. One large 2-drawer lateral unit. Files, folders, tab-marks.

Now any entry in any book can be referred to – once each book has its own internally coherent index, which of course need not be consistent across all the books. Earlier, in mentioning when it was that I first created the list above, I used the reference I2/26.03.14 which refers to the entry in the second Ideas book dated 26 March 2014. Similarly, V15/22.12.11 is the entry in Volume 15 dated 22 December 2011 where I describe the feeling of being compelled to write.

The next step requires a decision.

Index-book or index-file?

The distraction-challenge that will occupy my mind between today and my next INDEX-SYSTEM focus will be the decision on what form the index itself should take.

cardfile or index bookCard file or index book or cardfileindex book?

My original idea was to house the index in a red A5 Moleskine, which would exist as a single portable volume. I would make entries and then leave a suitable gap of unknown size for adding further references, as I would go through the delicious process of re-reading past books, identifying themes and entering them into the index. A card-file, on the other hand, allows each index entry to exist as its own card, with plenty of room for cross-references, as well as the possibility to re-catalogue the entry as the system begins to generate its own ideas, its own meaning. The red book is beautifully self-contained, but shouldn’t an index remain open?


INDEX-SYSTEM is an unrealised project I developed in the days when I was working both as a designer and a programmer, within a brief period in the late 1990s where neither practice had primacy over the other. I began to think about what a more sophisticated approach to metadata would make possible the systematic exchange of ideas that remained in development. I imagined an editable set of drop-down boxes in an open database where anyone anywhere could create the kind of index entry I describe here, and share that incomplete thought with others. I was long fascinated by the systems kept by world-crafting artists like Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, or world-diagramming philosophers like Hegel and Deleuze. What if those unrealised ideas could take shape in unintended ways?

A very welcome unintended consequence of planning this new iteration of INDEX-SYSTEM has been the desire to document and share my unrealised projects. I’ve just created two new categories for this blog: INDEX-SYSTEM and UNREALISED. I will be delighted to see the shape they’ll each be in come year’s end and beyond.