The Crowdsourced Search for an Iconic Symbol's Creator

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Where did the Tidyman come from? That familiar image of a man letting his trash float gently into a wastebasket has been used for decades on packaging and bins in the UK, but no one knows who created it. Or at least, not yet.

The online course provider Skillshare is launching a crowdsourcing campaign to help find the origins of the Tidyman icon, hoping that one of its millions of students can lead design historians to its genesis.

The nonprofit Keep Britain Tidy has been using the symbol since the 1960s, when it imported the graphic from the U.S. The anti-littering charity retired the Tidyman logo for a few years, but began using the icon again back in early February. The renewed focus on the symbol brought its mysterious origins back to the fore. Where did the Tidyman come from?

Keep Britain Tidy imported the Tidyman symbol from the U.S. in the 1960s, adding it to trash cans and packaging across the UK in 1969. Before that, it's hard to tell where it came from.

The charity credits the design to a collaboration between Keep American Beautiful and the American Brewers Association. However, when a British consultant named Peter Jones did some digging, those organizations didn’t have any records pertaining to its creation. Keep America Beautiful didn’t know when it was first used and the American Brewers Association, now called the Beer Institute, couldn’t find historic uses from that time period in its archives, either. Budweiser, which partially funded the 1960s campaign between the two groups, didn’t have any record of the logo appearing before the 1970s. The Tidyman’s origins may lie somewhere else entirely.

When the trail ran cold, Jones brought his question to Skillshare, which counts plenty of brand-name designers among its faculty. The company is now running a campaign to help track down the answer. The tip line is open, so design history sleuths, get crackin'.

Anyone with a lead can email or tweet @skillshare with the hashtag #SearchingForTidyman.