What the History of the Times Square Ball Drop Can Teach You About Yearbooks

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For over 100 years, we’ve been able to ring in the New Year by watching a ball descend on Times Square. At face value, this is an iconic tradition that is used to mark the passing of another year. But if you dig a little deeper, this event is packed with lessons you can use in designing your yearbook. Yes, that’s right, your yearbook (would you expect anything else from us?).

Lesson 1: Consistency

drop ball to sync boats - lesson 1 for yearbooks

Wikimedia Commons, Greenwich Royal Observatory

The idea to drop a ball to signify the New Year is taken from maritime history. Back in the day (before atomic clocks), ships in the harbor were able to accurately set their chronometers by waiting for a ball to drop at precisely 1:00 PM on top of a local building. This system, invented by captain of the British Royal Navy Robert Wauchope, enabled the ships to consistently sync their clocks with complete accuracy. This may seem like a moot point—until you remember that in the early 1800s, we were still relying on the stars for navigation. Knowing the correct time was the only thing that was keeping these sailors from veering off course.

You can bring the same dedication to consistency to your yearbook committee. This can mean establishing a process for accurate proofreading or using your style tile to ensure consistent design. The lesson here is to create systems for accuracy that will ensure consistent results and keep your yearbook from sailing too far in the wrong direction.

Lesson 2: Design Updates

In the past 108 years, there have been seven different versions of the iconic Times Square Ball. The original ball, used in 1907, was constructed out of wood, iron, and 25-watt light bulbs. The subsequent iterations were reflections of the technological advancements and design preferences of the time. Even the third ball, which had the longest reign (from 1955 until 1999), went through some substantial updates during its time in action. It went through an especially cringey period in the 1980s (no surprise there) where it was redesigned to look like a “Big Apple.”

NYE ball designs - lesson 2 for yearbooks

Pinterest, Lumens.com

With a 12-foot diameter, the current ball is twice the size of its predecessors. Its lighting display is completely automated, with over 32,000 LED bulbs firing in sync to showcase over 16 million different colors and patterns. To cap it off, the entire sphere is encased in Waterford Crystal panels and is completely weatherproofed—allowing it to be displayed year-round. It is truly a triumph of design.

The lesson your yearbook can take from the design of the Times Square Ball is that it’s okay to modernize. Each year brings new technologies and ideas to make this year’s book the best ever. You can stick your toe in the water by trying new photography software or updating your fonts. You could also revamp the entire idea of a yearbook by offering customized pages for each student, or bringing the entire yearbook online. Whether you’re toying with the idea of a new design or thinking about utilizing a new technology, make the Times Square Ball your spirit animal and go for the update with gusto.

Lesson 3: New Traditions

If you haven’t been paying attention, the Times Square celebration doesn’t look like it’s changed much over the past hundred years. The ball descends for 60 seconds, we chant the last 10 seconds with glee, confetti falls from the sky, and we sing “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s tradition.

But that’s the funny thing about traditions—we can always make new ones. Since 2005, the ball drop has been immediately preceded by a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” performed by a different artist each year. It’s a lovely reminder of unity and peace—and it fits perfectly into the theme of the Times Square New Year’s celebration.

Use this as inspiration to start a new tradition in your yearbook. Maybe this is the year you begin to do a superlatives spread, a letter from the principal, or a giant class photo as the centerfold. When you start a new, meaningful tradition, you are creating a legacy that will strengthen the yearbook, and your school community, for years to come.

Lesson 4: Make a Mess

The celebration at Times Square drops over 2,000 pounds of confetti on a million people each year. Needless to say, these people make quite a mess. (Such a mess that it takes 200 people to haul away the 50 tons of trash, rendering the square spotless again by 8:00 AM the next morning.) But it is worth it—bucket list, must-do, forever worth it.

Pinterest, Newyork.com

When creating your yearbook, don’t worry about making a mess. Sometimes the best ideas come from a pile of photo printouts, sticky notes, and chicken scratch messages. Let the chaos drive creativity and allow your team to work ideas to fruition. It’s tempting to keep everything digital—just because we can. But if you loosen your grasp a little bit, you’ll be surprised at what can evolve using the old design methods with xacto knives and a glue stick.

(Just remember that you don’t have a clean-up crew and your mother doesn’t work here—so, if you make a mess, you’re going to have to make it right again.)

Happy New Year!

Keep these lessons in mind as you bid farewell to 2015. We hope you’ve captured the memories of the past year and are ready to begin anew. May the new year bring you fresh ideas, a united and driven team, and a gorgeous yearbook in 2016.