Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sylvan Esso, Empathy & Sunny Patios

Weekly Update 2017-21: Big sounds from a little lady (and a man), what to do when you feel wronged, and how to find Toronto's sunniest patios for a day beer.

Music: Sylvan Esso
Never before had I heard so many musical styles come out of the mind of such a small person. Sylvan Esso is singer Amelia Meath along with producer Nick Sanborn, a duo out of California. They combine her soft voice against brash electronic beats to create something that makes you feel weird, perhaps a bit uncomfortable, while tapping your toes at the same time. I saw them play a show at Wayhome, and Amelia is so short that she wore 4-inch platform shoes (while she danced around as though barefoot, I should mention). Listen below:

The band will visit Toronto tonight at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.

I've got a somewhat-finished template of a post page for my blog! I didn't get as far last week as I would have liked, but I really want to get this right so I can reuse it for my portfolio project pages, so I don't mind taking a little more time. I actually spent a bit of time looking into templates to borrow from, but I realized I could make a good template myself. When it's finished, I'll be posting it to GitHub to share with others, in case anyone else is looking for that. Sharing community and all that fun stuff.

I also made a list of design firms to visit, organized by region. Portland is wonderful because every street address includes a denotation to tell you which of the four/five quadrants it's in, so you can never get too lost. I'm hoping to email some of these places within the next two weeks so they can let me know if I can come by to visit.

This week I'll be finishing the template for the post page on my blog, and then testing out the font pairings live to see how they feel. And of course, I'll be using a real blog post (gotta use real content) so there's nothing better than this fresh post hot off the press to test with. So look out for some meta repetition of this content in some screenshots I'll be sharing with you soon.

Now that I've got all my design firms mapped out (that was the important thing for sure), I'd like to start planning some Portland activities that correlate to the areas of the design offices. Since the city is divided into four quadrants, it'll be easy to plan each day around one planned activity. As I mentioned in my posts about Munich, I love to create a general list of one or two things to do per day, and let the rest flow naturally. You've got to allow for some spontaneity, especially in a city with which you're not familiar.

Random Thought:
If anyone's ever wronged you, which I sincerely hope they haven't but more likely they have, you may have felt the common feeling that they should meet the same fate as they plagued upon you. This feeling is related to the idiom “eye for an eye”. If you pluck my eye out of my head (I assume in the style of Kill Bill), I should then be allowed to pluck an eye from your head and then we will be even and everything will be right in the world. But of course, the second part of the idiom is that if everyone were to follow that rule, the whole world would be blind.

Of course, this fact rarely keeps people from feeling that the “eye for an eye” process would give them satisfaction. I think people find comfort in this thought because it would force the person who wronged them to feel sympathy for their situation. All we ever really want is to be understood, right? Of course, if the person who wronged them had felt empathy in the first place, then the eye-plucking never would have happened. To me, that's the meaning of empathy.

Sympathy = agreeing with someone's point of view
Empathy = understanding someone's point of view without necessarily agreeing

Empathy is much harder to master, but its dividends are much greater in the long run. You might feel pain from losing an eye, but it should be much easier for you to take a second and realize that, just like you, others would not want to feel the pain. So why continue an endless cycle of pain until everyone is hurting?

Inspiration: Every Sunny Patio in Toronto
My favourite kind of data visualization. Using the open data revolution (Toronto City Council's decision to make data open source for people to use as they please), Licker Geospatial Consulting has created an excellent map of all the sunny patios of Toronto at any given time of day. Their ingredients:
  • 1 Massive buildings dataset with heights that is reasonably up-to-date;
  • 1 digital elevation model of reasonable accuracy and precision;
  • 1 list of every patio in town;
  • and the capacity to build a solar shading model for an entire day at regular intervals; and
  • some GIS wizadry to put it all together!

I love this idea, simply because I believe it never would have happened if not for the open data revolution. I think there is no greater joy in life than analyzing some various datasets and finding a cool link between them that allows people to make data-driven decisions in life. I mean, sure, no one asked for this visualization, but that doesn't mean no one wants it. And if you look at the comments section on the page, you'll find that actually the opposite is true.

Check it out for yourself here.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Real Estate, Colour-Blind Interfaces & Vice Creators

Weekly Update 2017-20: Grooving to the smooth sounds of New Jersey's Real Estate, designing for accessibility in colourblindness, and inspiring content from Vice's Creators offshoot.

Music: Real Estate
After attending an amazing concert opened by Frankie Cosmos at the Danforth Music Hall last week, I am smitten with this band. I had heard most of their discography in passing, and was more excited to see Frankie Cosmos if I'm being honest, but the band honestly killed it live. Their easy listening tunes had the crowd mesmerized, and there must have been something about the lighting, the way the members were illuminated from the side, that glued my eyes to the stage. It was just one of those shows that exceeded my expectations and made me an even bigger fan than I had been before. Listen below:

I have created a Trello Board for my blog, which I hope will keep me organized and on track. You can view my updates live here. Each of the white cards is a task, while the grey surrounding cards is the status. Tasks start on the far left, and move toward the right as they are completed. As you can see at the moment, I'm focusing on the second of four phases (denoted by colour). Breaking things down into manageable chunks is the key to keep this train rolling.

This week, I'd like to finish the three items in the "In Progress" card - selecting fonts, finding a good responsive template so I don't have to start from scratch, and finalizing the visual comps that I designed a few months ago.

Random Thought:
I've been noticing that a lot of products do provide accessibility for colourblind users, which is awesome, but that accessibility is hidden behind switches that are hard to locate. Take Trello (mentioned above) for example:

A user must find this mode and turn it on, but perhaps the originally chosen label colours could have been colourblind-friendly from the start instead.

Another example that comes to mind is the setting in a popular mobile game called Two Dots. While I am not colourblind (to the best of my knowledge), I actually find that the colourblind mode makes the game easier to play. Instead of relying on colour alone, the colourblind mode allows me to rely on shape in addition to colour to make my next move.

The setting, found in the side menu (not terrible).

I find the right side much easier for noticing patterns that will help me play the game.

While ensuring an interface is always accessible to colourblind people can be a challenge and creates visual tradeoffs that have to be determined by the designer, it's arguably a better way to go than forcing colourblind users to locate the settings that work best for them, often having to trudge through interfaces that are especially difficult for them to navigate.

Inspiration: Vice Creators
Always a fan of the weird and creative, it's not often that I come across a news source that scratches my personal itch for art-related news stories. I came across Creators by chance on Facebook and, after looking through about four of their posts, I knew this was a great new addition to my daily creative inspiration.

I actually used one of their stories, on sushi shoes, in a blog post last week, and the interesting content keeps on coming.

A random screenshot from today's selection of articles. The Mickey Mouse is especially disturbing.

While I realize that Vice doesn't have the greatest rap in the media and/or fact-based worlds, I imagine that if one takes everything with a grain of salt, there really can't be much harm in spreading art-related news. As with all content on the internet, readers have to know how to separate fact from opinion and draw their own conclusions. So go ahead and keep doing that :)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review: "Eames: Architect & Painter"

I watched a wonderful documentary on two marvels in the earlier days of industrial design: Charles and Ray Eames. The limited knowledge I had of them before watching was this: they were a prolific team in the world of design, starting with the production of cheap, accessible and beautifully designed chairs that were a marriage of form and function. The Eames Team (forgive me) had their heyday starting in the 1930s (when a need for cheap furniture was prevalent), and carried their success on to all sorts of different projects like film, puppetry, architecture, and more.

Title: Eames: Architect & Painter
Director: Jason Cohn/Bill Jersey
Year: 2011

Surprisingly narrated (somewhat sparingly) by James Franco, the film takes an in-depth look at more than just their well-known and staggering works, but also at their personal life (to a tasteful level) and the social/economical setting of their success.

You may recognize this - the famous Eames lounge chair. So amazing, they named it after themselves.

Like many others, I mistakenly thought that Charles and Ray were brothers; when in fact they were a married couple. As was customary in those days, Ray was often left in Charles' shadow due to their gender roles and the attitude of the day. I found this to be extremely unfortunate as the documentary outlined the fact that the two perfectly complemented each other in their skills and specialties. As a classically trained fine artist, Ray was particularly gifted in selecting colour palettes, to a degree that Charles never could.

That said, their skills did anything but define them or place them in a box. Architect, designer, painter, filmmaker; these were not job descriptions or titles, but more of a toolbox with which they would creatively solve problems. This is the sort of thing that resonates most with me; not confining one's design practice to a specific honed skill but embracing change and need with time. Maybe yesterday I was an illustrator, today I am an animator, tomorrow I am a coder.

Even the way Charles and Ray designed their home in California was awe-inspiring. They chose to hang paintings on the ceiling, which I thought was truly ingenious. It makes them fresh, and invites you to deliberately look at them.

I also got the impression that they were early believers in the comfort and joy of a workspace that matches the worker's needs (rather than the other way around). They really took a person's shape into account when designing a chair. It must be as comfortable as it looks. This is akin to a straight-shooter that you can trust, which is a great thing to be as a designer.

In fact, huge corporations not only trusted, but relied on Charles and Ray to solve big problems for them. Polaroid entrusted them with making a camera that could be folded down flat, and IBM entrusted them to use film to explain relational distance between humans on Earth and outer space (something never before considered in its day).

We cannot truly understand the present (much less the future) without knowing where we came from. If you have any passion for design and a true renaissance in the middle of the 20th century, I urge you to watch this documentary.