Monday, December 11, 2017

2017 Wrapped, Smart Playlists & Benjamin Lory

Weekly Update 2017-50: Reviewing a year of music with Spotify's 2017 Wrapped, reminiscing about Smart Playlists, and the wonderful typography of Benjamin Lory.

Music: Spotify's 2017 Wrapped
In a similar fashion to 2016's year in review, Spotify has produced yet another interactive web experience for its users. People love to learn about their own habits (it's a form of narcissism, of course), and so the experience makes for an interesting trip down memory lane and a look at my year in music.

None of this is surprising.

I really do love Spoon. They've remained one of my favourite bands for a really long time, ever since I first heard I Turn My Camera On on an episode of Veronica Mars on CTV (Canada got the new episodes three days after the CW aired the premieres in the United States).

It's pretty cool that anyone with a Spotify account (free or paid) can access their own version of this experience chronicled from personalized data, I can see how it seems almost magical. It reminds me of how I used to make Smart Playlists in iTunes back in the day when I still used it. This is becoming more of a random thought, so read more on that below.

This weekend marked the fifth anniversary of my drumming band (which fell just before my personal second anniversary with the band). We played an amazing show in our rehearsal space, and honestly it might have been the best show I have ever performed. We sounded so incredibly good with our backup band, I played a huge cowbell-type instrument called a gonguê during Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel, we even played Salsa Percussiva without too many mistakes. On top of all that, I even got a great picture of me playing:

Occasionally my drumming face isn't terrible.

I had my first bike ride through a mild snowfall tonight, which was both scary and beautiful. I thought I would be clear to ride home before the streets became covered but it was too late. Good to know I can do it at least! Riding through Trinity Bellwoods was especially beautiful as the snow softly drifted onto my eyeballs and melted. Haha, sorry to be gross but honestly I got used to the feeling and it started to feel good after a few snowflakes. There may be something wrong with me.

I've been collecting ideas of things I want to accomplish during my week of winter holidays, and I'm hoping it'll be a productive week. I'd like to cook something fun, but I haven't come across the right recipe yet. I'll be on the hunt for some good recipes this week and collecting a list to go grocery shopping.

Random Thought: Smart Playlists
It's interesting to compare some of the exciting features of Spotify (my current music subscription service of choice) with the features of iTunes back in the day when I used it exclusively.

The current incarnation, Apple Music, doesn't produce the year-in-review feature for its users, but I find it interesting that its desktop app offers a much more robust system of analyzing and categorizing music and related habits than Spotify's desktop app.

Apple Music offers the Smart Playlist feature that will automatically create a playlist for you based on pretty much any detail or combination of details of your choosing, such as all songs with the word "love" in the title and released before 1975, or everything you listened to between 2:00AM and 7:30AM on every Friday between July of last year and today. Spotify curates the experience, but Apple Music offers more control to make your own experience. Based on Apple's product mantras for operating systems (like OSX or iOS) you'd think the role would be reversed.

Inspiration: Benjamin Lory
I have mentioned Trampoline Hall before on this blog, but if you haven't heard of it, don't get your hopes too high because it has nothing to do with trampolines. Instead of exercising your legs, you can exercise your brain at this monthly lecture series featuring three guest lecturers who speak about topics in which they are not professionals. Along with controversial Q&A periods that last as long as the lectures themselves, it makes for a good night out.

Alongside the sparkling and creative lectures are a different stage design and a different ticket design each month. The tickets are the first taste of what the event will be like, since they must be picked up from Soundscapes on College a few days before the event. They're always very interesting, and December's cohort was no exception.

Designed by Benjamin Lory, these seemingly random typographic arrangements are actually excerpts from the MC Misha Glouberman's introductory speech, which he strives to make "more and more the same" with each event. While I am a sucker for a good avant-garde (and slightly Dada) typographic composition, I was especially enamoured with these designs in the way they capture Misha's speaking style. He has an extremely toned way of addressing a crowd, the kind of tone that makes me laugh at the same joke every month for years.

Originally from France, Lory has immersed himself in the Toronto design community, especially with a wonderful project archiving and recreating street posters he found in Kensington Market. Lory posted the recreations around Kensington Market as a comment on the social fabric of the community. Called 100 Kensington Posters, check out some of the images below:

The original posters: Lory's inspiration for the project.

You can see something of a similarity between the Trampoline Hall tickets and this project. I like the roughness and stark communication style they both share. 100 Kensington Posters is really striking, I urge you to check it out on his website.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quitters, Bluetooth Woes & Personal Kanban

Weekly Update 2017-49: Kathleen Edwards leaves us with a lovely album as she moves from music to coffee, the woes of a bad relationship with Bluetooth, and true inspiration from my friend's personal Kanban board.

Music: Kathleen Edwards
Not usually one for the Americana genre, this Ottawa-born folk singer caught my ear after reading a very interesting bit of entertainment news (another thing to which I don't usually subscribe). Edwards happened to strike up a relationship with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame after ending a five-year marriage with her former husband. She spent a number of months recording 2012's Voyageur at Vernon's studio in Wisconsin, only to break up after it was released. That doesn't take away from the strength of emotion that comes out of each song, though: some of loss, some of love, some of regret and joy. I think the sheer honesty is what draws me to it the most.

I especially like A Soft Place To Land, Mint and Change The Sheets.

This album is the newest musical release from Edwards yet it is almost six years old, as she has moved on from the musical life to open a coffee shop in Stittsville, Ontario (just outside of Ottawa). She named it Quitters Coffee, which I absolutely adore. Sometimes people change direction and it's okay to quit something if it's not right for you anymore. I think we've all experienced that at some point in our lives.

Kathleen Edwards sitting intensely on a table at her coffee shop Quitters Coffee.

Next time I'm in the Ottawa area, I'll definitely be checking out this coffee shop. Read more about Quitters Coffee in this Toronto Star article

I found a template for FriendCanoe emails but it has some issues with Outlook (no surprise there) so I'll be using it until I find something better. This week also marks seven weeks since I started my new job, which means I am more than halfway to health benefits and getting an eye exam. Ah, the things that make me excited as an adult are becoming really boring.

Well, here's a more fun thing - I attended the Christmas version of the Bunz flea this weekend and got some really amazing items:
  • A screenprinted bag and tea towel featuring my favourite moon (Earth's!)
  • Adventure Time Season 1 on DVD
  • a Jake plushie from the same show
  • two lovely handmade pins (one featuring an alpaca and the other a secret because it's a present for my sister)
  • ceramic T-Rex with a circular spot in its back for a candle
The ceramic T-Rex was a great trade because it originally belonged to a young boy (no older than eight years old?) who traded it to me for a pack of fat crayons that used to belong to my mother when she was a student. It was a really heartwarming moment.

Jake has also fit nicely into our home at the Noodle; he's already nestled comfortably into our Christmas tree.

This week, I'd like to wrap up all the gifts I've been collecting and dole them out. It seems a bit early in the season but this appears to be the weekend upon which gifts are exchanged between friends. And so it shall be!

I'd also like to find time to find a better email template, if such time exists on my calendar. I'll also be taking a first stab at a personal kanban board, probably on Thursday night. More on exactly what a kanban board is - found below in the Inspiration section.

Random Thought: Bluetooth Relationships
I have always had moderate trouble dealing with Bluetooth. I could never get my Bose Soundlink Mini to pair with my computer or phone without several attempts, turning things on and off, and even hard-resetting the speaker sometimes.

It was a big leap for me to buy Bluetooth earbuds, generally because I was really fed up with the cord of my headphones getting caught on things (especially TTC turnstiles and my scarf) and because I had a $90 Apple store gift card burning a hole in my pocket. And so I landed somehow on Beats Earbuds. After so much shit-talking of this brand (some of which out of my own mouth), they seemed like the best option at $180 or so (before gift card) and came with a lot of accessories to attempt to fit my weirdly-shaped ear canals.

And since buying them, it seems like my Bluetooth woes are somehow over. The Earbuds pair almost effortlessly with my phone and work computer, reconnecting in a matter of seconds, and it even somehow seems like my Soundlink Mini has fewer issues pairing with my phone and personal computer. I don't know how any of this happened, but it feels like my relationship with Bluetooth has gone from hatred to mutual respect and understanding. This is a really random thought but it feels as though my decision to change my outlook on Bluetooth with little or no solid reasoning behind it, was the catalyst to make Bluetooth finally work for me. This all to say, I wonder if Bluetooth can sense my emotions and respond, like a human-to-human relationship.

Inspiration: The Personal Kanban Board
If you work in the tech industry, you may be familiar with the Agile methodology. Its mantra is to work quickly and efficiently, estimate the resources that tasks will eat, prioritize tasks, and be willing to change direction when change is necessary (a similar theme to Kathleen Edwards' way of life, mentioned above).

One way of working with Agile is to manage a Kanban board, upon which you label, cost and categorize all your upcoming tasks or to-dos. Many of the methodologies in my workplace can certainly be applied to personal life (which I have mentioned before on this blog), though it never occurred to me to make a Kanban board for my personal goals and tasks. I had been a listmaker when I had a nice large whiteboard in my room, but I think the prioritization of tasks was what was missing in terms of inspiring a mentality for getting things done.

I am proud to have friends who are smarter than me, especially one of them who made his own kanban board in his apartment to keep track of personal life tasks.

A personal Kanban board taped up to my friend's closet door for easy daily access (and self-imposed guilt, I suppose).

Each post-it could be something as simple as "buy kitchen chairs" or as difficult as "find new mealprep recipes", depending on your point of view. The point is that you make a habit of moving post-its from the left side (backlog) through the middle (doing) and on to the right side (done) at a realistic, measured pace.

I don't think I have space for this sort of thing in my apartment, but I can definitely begin a digital one in Trello and I believe I will start that this week!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cuphead, Anthropology & Mar Cerdà

Weekly Update 2017-48: Music from the Cuphead soundtrack, how designers relate to anthropologists, and the amazing miniature cut paper worlds of Mar Cerdà.

Music: Cuphead (Original Soundtrack)
Once in a while, I come across a game soundtrack that is so good, it could stand on its own without playing the game. And though I have yet to play this wonderful 1930's inspired run and gun action game, I am already enamoured with its soundtrack.

Recorded at Canterbury Music Company right here in Toronto, each of these amazing songs was composed by Kristofer Maddigan (a percussionist and composer also from Toronto). I love how the songs contain a lot of classical instruments and sounds mixed in with some weirdness that shows they don't take themselves too seriously. Floral Fury is a good example of this, using brass band sounds mixed with what sounds like a rubber straw being pushed in and out of a plastic cup. Check it out below:

This week I compiled a brief of sorts for the next phase of the FriendCanoe project - emails! There will be a number of communications that we will need to include in the experience, from Reset Your Password to It's time to hang out with your friend. Check out the brief here.

Now that the content of the emails has been solidified to some extent, I'll be designing the emails this week. I really need to make a big shoutout to Mailchimp, considering I know firsthand the headache of creating HTML email templates that work seamlessly across all the different platforms and devices (I'm looking at you, Outlook). So instead of all that mess, I'll be using Mailchimp templates and testing tools so as not to reinvent the email wheel. Who would ever want to do that?

Random Thought: Designer as Anthropologist
Reflecting on the past while in my role as a UX designer, I have been thinking about the parts of the job that relate best to my interests and personality. I have noticed lately that I really enjoy learning about cultures and the nature behind why people do the things they do. Understanding motivations allows designers the power to reshape experiences that are catered to those motivations, so that users can achieve their goals more easily.

In the coming months, I'd like to focus on my design practice as seen through a sort of anthropological lens, to try to tap into that obsession and make it into something useful. And this doesn't only apply to the way users use products that I might be redesigning, but also to daily processes within and without my workplace. Our design processes at ecentricarts are somewhat established but could certainly use a focused look to see if we are solving problems in the most efficient way.

Inspiration: Mar Cerdà
In continuation from last week's inspirational movie prop designer Annie Atkins (specializing in Wes Anderson movies), I now present to you an artist who has mastered the world of cut paper and watercolour miniature scenes (many of which also for Wes Anderson movies). Mar Cerdà is an illustrator based in Barcelona, Spain, using watercolor painting and paper as the base materials of her work. She uses both in watercolor prints and in little dioramas made of cut papers.

From The Grand Budapest Hotel.

From Moonrise Kingdom.

From The Royal Tenenbaums.

What's really interesting is her background in cinema and audiovisual, which have emphasized her fascination with scenography and the treatment of space. She firmly believes that a character can be defined by a space, even if the character is not present at all.

I have always been enamoured by dioramas and miniature scenes; playing with scale just tickles me in the right way. Check out more on Mar's website and Instagram.