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Origami diagramming

In his message to Origami-L dated 30th August,1997, D'gou wrote:

I'm hoping to tease/prod David Lister into making another of his interesting and informative posts regarding the next level of diagram standardization (if there is one). Here is David Lister's teased and prodded reply:

I have to confess and declare that I am NOT an expert on origami diagramming.

The whole prospect of having to diagram something sends me into paroxisms of terror. I know it's my downfall, because trying to write about paperfolding without diagrams is like trying to write Hamlet without the Prince. I'm simply not competent to comment upon "Diagram Folllowability."

Yes, I have previously outlined the revolution that Yoshizawa, Harbin and Randlett brought to diagramming, but the vast change that they wrought was so obvious that it was impossible for any paperfolder not to appreciate it. It was an exciting and liberating chapter in the history of paperfolding.

D'gou asks me to do two things. First, to say what European folders/ diagrammers contributed to the development of origami diagramming. And secondly, to recount developments in the standardisation of origami diagrams _since_ the contributions of Yoshizawa. Harbin and Randlett.

As to the earlier period, I think that it can safely be said that there were no specific, useful contributions. Of course there were diagrams. Authors of such books as there were on paperfolding stuggled in different ways to draw diagrams illustrative of their text with varying degrees of success, but they were not, in fact, very successful at all. Some supplementred theeir outline step diagrams with perspectove drawings. Some added letters at the corners. A few used photographs. Look at the diagrams in Murray and Rigney, in Houdini and Will Blyth and those in Margaret Campbell. There was no conventional way of diagramming and no descernable evolution of diagramming technique. Or look at the works of Dr. Vicente Solorzano. Solorzano first attempted to use photographs, as in his various books of Papirolas. Then in his mammoth Papiroflexia Zoomorfica, he emplyed a laboured style of instructions, combined with diagrams with letters at their corners which would not be out of place in an old-fashioned school geometry book. The result is turgid. Of course, for non-Spanish speakers, the language barrier adds to the difficulty, but Papiroflexia Zoomorfica must be one of the largest and yet least-read paperfolding books of all time..

"Step" diagrams are very old. They can be seen in a Japanese context in the "Kayaragusa" (Kan no mado) of about 1850. However, it was Yoshizawa who brought about the real revolution. By adopting different dotted lines for mountain and valley folds and by using arrows to show the moves in the paper, he at once transformed static diagrams into dynamic pictures. Yoshizawa today, still uses his original system and he has not laced it with the additions of Harbin and Randlett and their successors.

The Harbin-Randlett system is essentially that of Yoshizawa. Harbin's contribution was the identification of a few frequent key moves, like squash fold, petal fold, crimp and rabbit ear, which help us to follow the diagrams. Randlett named the standard bases and systmatised a selection of symbols additional to those of Yoshizawa's. (who still managed to do without them!).

Since them, many authors have tried to refine the system. Randlett has always jealously defended it against innovations, resisting any changes except where they gave the clearest advantage. Harbin introduced new symbols himself. (Especially his slashed arrow to mean "repeat behind").Howver, I have never perceived that there has been any general consensus on any of the additions and no further general evolution of the system. We have no Academie Origamique to lay down the law, and perhaps this is as well.

Personally, I haver never found it difficult to follow any author's chosen method of symbols and diagramming. It seems to me that what makes some diagrams easier to follow than others is not the system, but the competence of the diagrams themselves and the sequence and clarity of the steps illustrated.

In this connection, there has always been criticism of Robert Harbin's books. The first, "Paper Magic", which dated from before the intoduction of Yoshizawa's symbols got round the problem by using perspective drawings. The book was illustrated freehand by Rolf Harris, from Downunder, and he was an absolute genius at spontaneous illustration.(He is know to British audiences as a lively television personality, the opening for which, he owed much to Robert Harbin). But when it came to "Secrets of Origami" Rolf was no longer available and Robert Harbin resigned himself to drawing the diagrams for the book from scratch, following what we now know as the Yoshizawa-Harbin-Randlett system. He progressed with his freehand drawing considerably, learning as he went on. So much did he improve that he scrapped his first set of diagrams and started all over again. But he still made mistakes and "Secrets" contains many ambiguous instructions. For the new edition, Mick Guy has done a "light" revision, smoothing out the more blatant errors, but time prevented him from doing a thoroughgoing revision. So obscure points remain. But how much more lucid is "Secrets of Origami" 1963) than its near contemporary, "Papiroflexia Zoomorfica (!962).

Since then, we have had over thirty years to get used to the system and there have naturally been improvements in standards. It would be possible to chronicle the intoduction of new symbols and also to analyse the influence of styles of a succession of diagrammers with various approaches, the effect of new techniques, above all the use of the computer for diagramming. It would, no doubt, be a valuable exercise to try to chronicle it, but I do not think it would make much of a connected, still less a rivetting. story.

In summary, in the field of diagramming, not much happened before Yoshizawa-Harbin-Randlett. And not a great deal has happened since then.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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