Monday, October 30, 2017

Alt-J, Witches & Fishy Alexa

Weekly Update 2017-44: Dreamy music from Alt-J, witches as the new symbol for feminism, and soldering an Amazon Alexa to a singing wall fish.

Music: Alt-J
I am counting down the days until Massey Hall closes its doors for two years of renovations by seeing as many shows as I possibly can there. One of those is English indie rock band Alt-J, who played two sold out performances on Friday and Saturday. Being the early-adopting hipster that I am, I was able to enjoy the Friday show, and what a show it was. The three musicians arrange themselves rather peculiarly onstage, along a row facing the audience, each on their own platform. There are series of lights between the platforms all the way to the ceiling, separating them by what is essentially walls of light. It makes for quite a light show.

Anyway, you probably know their music as they've become quite mainstream since winning the British Mercury Prize in 2012. In case not, check out Breezeblocks, Left Hand Free and Matilda.


Accomplishment:
Last week was full of small accomplishments that didn't add up to much in the end, unfortunately. For instance, I managed to make a nice trip home to visit my parents but we didn't get to relax and enjoy each others' company amidst the other catching up that needed doing. I also tried to dye my hair blue for my halloween costume, which ended up interesting but not the colour I needed for my costume. I managed to Bunz trade for a wig about 20 minutes before my halloween night began, but then didn't have the kind of night I was expecting to have.

All in all, everything got done. I did manage to visit The Green Room for one last drink before it closed yesterday. I can't believe that one of the classic bars of my youth is closing. I hear it's relocating to College, but the Annex is surely becoming something totally different than it once was.

Goal:
I didn't get to do any writing last week, though I did do some soul searching to think about my next steps in building my Jewish identity. I'll be writing my reflection on my bat mitzvah this week.

One of my favourite events, the Bunz Flea is coming up tomorrow night. A whole hotel full of spooky artisans making cool stuff, all for trade. I feel almost like a travelling salesman when I attend these events, lugging all my wares along with me. But I usually find really cool stuff. And there's something about making a trade on the spot that's really thrilling.

I'm also hoping to check out the OCAD Yorkville Village Art Show in Hazelton Lanes this weekend. I've never seen anything like this in Hazelton lanes, so I am excited to see what's going to be there.

Random Thought: Being Witchy
Maybe it's the halloween in the air, but I've been noticing the higher-than-normal use of witch tropes in a positive light. It's almost like feminists are reclaiming the trope as something positive, which I am pretty excited about. The most recent episode of Broad City contained a whole sub-plot about women being witches in a coven, but in an empowering and positive, inclusive way.

Witches might be the ultimate feminists.

Maybe because we're living in a world of political turmoil where these topics are pretty much everywhere you look, it's easy to draw parallels between classic characters of the halloween season and the rapidly empowered women we are hearing about in the news every day, standing up for their rights and the rights of women around them. 

I especially love related ephemera like this vintage patch. I know it's a little extreme, but being a little edgy is funny. And I know women who could paralyze a man with their evil stare. Freaky.

Inspiration: Fishy Alexa
Ah, maker culture. Without it, we would never have...well, a bunch of things we probably don't need, but that bring a smile to our faces anyway. For example. Take an Amazon Alexa, a soldering iron and some know-how, and that old singing wall fish you got as a joke present. And what do you get?


Without maker culture, this never would have happened. There's no way a giant corporation would ever produce a singing wall fish that can be possessed by your smart home system. And if there were, I don't think I'd want to live in that world. I'm more that satisfied with the world in which this Fishy Alexa exists.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Twin Peaks, Process & Periods

Weekly Update 2017-43: Soulful sounds from Chicago band Twin Peaks, the move from aversion to acceptance of process work, and seeing periods depicted realistically in digital media.

Music: Twin Peaks
The most wonderful bout of garage rock popped into my Discover Weekly playlist last week. Amongst others was Twin Peaks out of Chicago. Their music has a lot of feeling to it and it just makes me happy. One of their singles, called Wanted You is especially soulful. I'd venture a guess that we've all experienced the sticky situation of unreciprocated feelings, and this song reflects the same vibe. It feels really honest and raw. I'd definitely suggest starting with that song (it's track 2 below).


Accomplishment:
I reflected and wrote a new post about my experiences from the communication workshop I've been taking for the past six weeks. Especially in a career where I work with all different types of people, this skill is becoming more and more important for me. It's really helped me focus a bit more on my oral communication skills and becoming more proactive on the spot. Anyway, if you want all the gory details, click here.

I've also made some medium-sized changes to the furniture layout in my room, for a few reasons:

  • I've had this idea for a while, but not sure if it would work out. I decided it wouldn't be too difficult to move back, so why not just try!
  • If it works, it will make the space in my room more efficient and hopefully stop me from piling too many clothes in one place (actively putting things back in their places)
  • Some change is good for the soul. I like controlled change; it acts as a reminder of positivity that I have some control in life (sounds dramatic)
I hope it works out. If not, something else to try!

Goal:
This week I will be working on my Halloween costume, which includes making another medium-sized change. More on that to come. I've actually already started putting together the final pieces of my costume, and I'm pretty excited. I even have a cool secondary costume for the second of the two events my office is having on two different days, for some reason.

I'd also like to push out another blog post, keeping the reflection train rolling on through Bat Mitzvah town. Along that line, I want to think about how to continue my Jewish education in the near future and what that will look like in my life.


Random Thought: Process
One of the principles of design resides in the journey over the destination: understanding and building on process. Given the choice, any designer worth their salt will choose to read about a designer's process toward creating something than read about the final product itself. Of course the final product is important, but I am wildly obsessed with process these days. Maybe it's the new creative environment I'm in, but I've been trying to work out these ways of doing things and different ways of looking at or solving a problem.

I feel like there is a shifting (but still present) stigma away from a very recent aversion to process, or the act of learning about another creative's process. It was like sausage meat. “Just give me the end product, I don't want to see where it came from”. It's certainly simpler to think of design that way. Many end users never consider the fact that things they use every day were designed by someone. Looking inwardly in my community, I can still see remnants of that stigma on Dribbble, where some designers will still shy away from the challenge of solving a problem in any meaningful way for the user. In turn, commenters rarely inquire after process work, very few even manage much more than a couple of positive-sounding words.

I really enjoyed this video of how Kevin Parker, main songwriter for Tame Impala, creates music from a fabulous beachy apartment. Of course I do love this band to pieces, but to see how he layers music over itself and basically spends what I read as a “day” is mesmerizing.

~ 2min.

Inspiration: Bloody, Bloody Periods
I'm not usually so brashly-voiced on my blog, but yeah, women bleed from their vaginas every four weeks. No, I don't need to yell it from the rooftops, but it is something that we've decided is taboo enough to exclude from pretty much any form of media presence there is. Even advertisements for sanitary products, whose only purpose is to interact with the bloody mess so we don't have to, feature a weird blue substance (does anyone think that's what menstrual fluid is supposed to look like?) or sometimes no substance at all. We use our collective imagination. It's kind of insane.

Not to mention the gender imbalance here; no, men don't have to deal with periods, but yes, they should be educated on them and not be taught from a young age to view them as disgusting or unspeakable or (perish the thought) a sign of weakness.

And so, in these times what-are-a-changin', I bring you the first UK-based advertisement for a pad to show real menstrual blood. And I'm not warning you because there's nothing gross about it. It's empowering and uplifting and normalizes the period into what it is, a truly normal thing. (In the sense that many people have had periods before us, and many will have periods after we are gone).


The creator, Bodyform, states that it's not actually menstrual blood (for health and safety reasons), but it's a giant step in the right direction for the normalization of (already normal) human bodily functions. No body-shaming here! Read more about the campaign here.

How To Talk About Things

You may have read previously on my blog that I've been participating in an weekly evening communication workshop. I first heard about this very special class through Trampoline Hall, a monthly barroom lecture series with quite a rowdy Q&A period moderated by Misha Glouberman. His ability to read the audience and run the series is impeccable, often helping speakers through tough audience questions or digging into their chosen topic for deeper meaning.

Like any good businessperson, Misha cross-advertises a communication workshop that he runs through the newsletter of Trampoline Hall. Which worked very well for my roommate and me, since we were both lucky enough to take the class over six Tuesday evenings this Fall.

I took the class because I wanted to work on my negotiation skills. I feel that I communicate best on paper, but not as well in the moment. The class taught me many skills to keep in my toolbelt to prepare for negotiation, including how to know when to use those skills in the moment. I also learned that negotiation the process or setting of negotiation plays a big part. For example, I have influence to control the negotiation in the medium of my choosing, which can be over email or some other form of written word. Of course, that's not always possible, so there were lots of interesting cases and examples to study to understand how to work the current moment.

Read on for more detail than you ever asked for...

Class #1

We played an interesting exercise in which we pretended we were competing companies selling an object called The Pepulator. Without conversing with each other except for a quick 5 minutes in the middle of the exercise, we had to price our pepulators on a monthly basis to try to get the maximum profit possible. Since we couldn't converse with our counterparts to make an agreement on a staying at a higher price to provide more profit for both companies, we stayed at the lowest amount possible and neither company made as much profit as they could have.

The exercise was meant to show that in most situations, communication isn't necessary but certainly makes it easier for both sides to get what they want. And so we understood the theme of the class: being about effectively work with your counterpart to achieve something that both parties can be happy with. Of course, that can't work 100% of the time, but it's always worth trying.

We also discussed the notion of how trust is built up between two people. It involves a goal of high substance, and also of a quality relationship with your counterpart. If you only have one of those in mind, it'll be hard to get on the same page. If you have neither, there is no trust at all.
  • hearing a "no" in the short-term may feel like a loss but can actually lead to a future "yes"
    • the same goes for hearing a "yes" too early, you may still have some work to do...
  • try to assess the risk of striving for perfect substance and relationship - will it be possible/worthwhile to try to achieve with your counterpart?
  • be upfront about what you want, and ask the same of your counterpart
At the end of the class, we all made a commitment to be open and participatory throughout the coming weeks (both inside the class, and outside where we would try out these tools on people in our lives).

Class #2

Negotiation Concepts:
  1. Understand Interests
    - Position
    : what people ask for
    - Interest: why they're asking for it (focus on figuring this out)

    Two girls are fighting over an orange. Their dad breaks it up but cutting the orange in half and giving each half to each sister. This was useless to both girls because one needed the rind for a cake, and the other needed the flesh for orange juice.

    Identify your categories of interest:
    - common
    - differing (but not conflicting)
    - conflicting
    This tactic is your surface discovery, understanding what both sides want.

    By understanding interest, you can...
  2. Invent Options for Mutual Gain or Expand the Pie
    - focus on the maximum possible value for both parties, creating it instead of giving to or taking from the other person
    - this is where your creative hat goes on
  3. BATNA best alternative to negotiated agreement
    - discover and weigh all your possible alternatives to the agreement
    - know that your counterpart could also have alternatives, and discover those as well to better prepare for them
  4. Legitimacy/Benchmarks
    - what's fair to both parties?
    - are there external standards we can consult?
    - can we bring in a 3rd party to mediate?
We then played another exercise, involving roleplaying one of either the agent for opera singer Sally Soprano, or the representative for an opera company putting on a play. This play had a famous star playing the female lead, who had to drop out unexpectedly. The opera company had a couple choices to fill the role, but Sally is their first pick. Sally is worried that she is getting older and has already seen her golden years.

The two parties have to converse to strike some sort of deal, and neither knows the personal information or feelings of the other. In the end, as we communicated with each other in our role-playing exercise, we realized that our goals were not conflicting and we could both easily have what we wanted. The opera company wanted Sally for the role for a fair (but not too large) price, and Sally just wanted back into the spotlight. She had little need for a big paycheque, and the two were able to come to an understanding in pretty much every instance in the class.

Both parties:
  • were honest with each other at the start and didn't try to keep anything hidden
  • initiated/responded to trust and began to build an agreement that was equally beneficial to both
  • found value in the partnership beyond money (mentorship, fame, clout, popularity, improvement of the craft of opera)

Class #3

Misha told us an interesting story in which he moved in to an apartment only two weeks before a loud bar became his neighbour. He would often call or speak with the workers in person to ask that the music be turned down, and they would rarely comply. Soon enough he edged further and further to crazy and went to city hall to see what could be done on the legal side. Which was nothing. 

Eventually he caught wind that the bar was going to open a patio, which they would need community agreement in order to build. Misha saw this as his opportunity to gain some leverage, so he gathered his other neighbours (many of whom were as disgruntled as himself) and together they gathered so many signatures on a petition that they were successful in stopping the bar from being able to build the patio. In the midst of their new success, the city councillor asked them to step back into a room with the bar owners and listen to a possible approach that could benefit both sides even more. 

The neighbours were at first unwilling to listen to the councillor, but soon reconsidered since it would cost them nothing to listen, especially since they now had the upper hand. The councillor suggested that the patio permit be given to the bar owner on the condition that they would keep the noise down. Any further noise complaints from neighbours now actually had some weight to them: the bar would lose its patio license. Since the neighbours wouldn't really gain anything from the bar losing its patio (i.e. the bar would still keep them up at night with its music), the neighbours agreed and everyone got what they wanted. Apparently the bar owners never wanted the music so loud either, but they were simply bad at communicating volume needs to rowdy performing DJs.
  • Misha being nice to the bar workers at first, in hopes that they would do what he wanted, was focusing all on relationship and none on substance
  • When that failed, he moved right from relationship to the other side of substance, all the way across the scale (rallying neighbours against the bar)
  • Going to City Hall was Misha's BATNA, but it proved useless the first time
  • The patio plans gave Misha an opportunity to explore a better BATNA (rallying against that)
  • People value what they create together (i.e. the city councillor - mediator - bringing both sides together to create a better outcome)
Negotiation Concepts Continued:
  1. Discovering Interests
    Share your interests before inventing options (so you invent the correct ones)
    Ask things like "why is that important to you"?
    Share your interests and then ask for theirs
    Share your understanding of their interests and ask what's missing
    Use reciprocal disclosure to build trust and momentum
  2. Finding External Options
    Suspend commitment and evaluation while looking for a way for both to win
  3. BATNA
    Be aware of your BATNA and try to know theirs too
    Do not accept a negotiated agreement if your BATNA is better
    Strengthen your negotiation position by improving your BATNA
  4. Legitimacy
    Be prepared with outside information/tools to strengthen your case
  5. Communication
    Sit on the same side of the table, show you're working together
  6. Relationship
    Substance AND Relationship
  7. Commitment
    To the agreed upon outcome, from both sides
Curiosity & Transparency
Curiosity
  • listening
  • asking good questions
  • transferring information from the counterpart to me
 Transparency
  • being honest/upfront
  • inspiring trust
  • transferring information from me to the counterpart
Good communication requires both curiosity and transparency.

It is in your best interest to listen!

  • get over the many reasons for not listening to your counterpart like
    • focusing on yourself/what you're going to say
    • interrupting/discounting them
  • even if the other person is your enemy, you can use what they say to build a case against their wishes
In a negotiation where your counterpart isn't listening to you, don't try to keep explaining. This is when you should be listening more to their point of view, so that you can understand them and find points of common ground/mutual understanding.

Control Vs Influence
What We Control
  • how we behave
  • how we allow others to persuade us
What We Influence
  • behaviour of others
  • the process of negotiation
  • our relationship to the counterpart
  • the results of the negotiation
Try to focus on what you control moreso than what you influence.

Negotiate The Negotiation Process Itself
Who's involved? What are we discussing? When and where?
Do we agree on why this conversation is being had?

Say: "I want to share my concerns with you"
Don't Say: "Stop what you're doing and talk to me!"

The time and place of the negotiation process is not something we can always control, but we should try to create an environment that is conducive to both parties. If your counterpart is demanding your attention and you need more time, you can usually find a way to excuse yourself. Say you're going to the bathroom or taking a call.

Class #4

Four Communication Skills
  1. Inquiry
    Ask questions, learn information that will help you negotiate
  2. Paraphrase
    Summarize what your counterpart said so they know you've heard them
    Could work well as a question, asking if you've gotten it right
  3. Acknowledgement
    of their thoughts/views/feelings (without agreeing necessarily)
    try to move from BUT to AND
  4. Advocacy
    explaining your point of view
Try to keep away from advocacy. You may have different views of what happened, and both think the other person is wrong. It's not about who's right so much as a question: "Why do we see things differently?" Move away from winners/losers, you both can work collaboratively.

Ladder of Inference
We don't see the world as it is, but a lens based on our experiences. We filter and select information, moving more and more into areas that are not necessarily reality.

Try to stay away from assigning blame as the goal of your negotiation. Instead of focusing on the past, focus on the future of learning and improvement.

Know that when people do things, we assume intent but all we know is impact. It's possible that their intent was not the impact at all.

We then played an exercise in which we roleplayed one of either a manager of a company that develops video game software, or the female employee who has just been promoted to head of a department. The manager has chosen to give this prized project, the creation of a casino game, to the new, somewhat untested department head because she will have the opportunity to succeed and gain the respect of her peers. In the end, the project went poorly due to a series of factors, involving the manager not playing enough of a mentorship role and the department head not accepting help from her coworkers because she felt they were being sexist (she is the only female in that role).

The two parties have to converse to discuss the department head's performance now that the project is complete, and it becomes clear that neither party has all the information. The manager is unaware of the sexist comments and general exclusive nature of the other department heads, and the department head thinks she was doing her best without much in the way of instruction. Basically, there is a story that each person has in their mind about what happened, with a lot of inference and assumption, and when the two people come together to discuss, they come to a new understanding of what happened.

Class #5

Negotiating the Process
It's like having a meta-negotiation about the process itself. In order for the negotiation to succeed, both parties must agree on the process. Use the same steps that you would in a normal negotiation. Ask questions and be transparent. Ask if now is a good time to have the negotiation. If not, ask if there's a better time, or why this time doesn't work. There may be a separate interest from the position the counterpart takes, that they're not saying.

Third Story
We're both in a difficult situation that we'd like to get out of.
  1. Your Story (contains at least a little assumption and may be at any level of the ladder of inference)
  2. Their Story (also probably contains some assumption)
  3. Third Story
The third story is one that you create together with your counterpart. You both reach an understanding and uncover facts that were missing before you started the conversation. This will allow you to create a solution to the problem together, and in a way that works for both of you.

We then played an exercise using this third story. There are three rounds, with two roles for each. Let's call the two participants A and B. A has a negotiation coming up, and needs to prepare for it.

Round One: B interviews A about the negotiation
Round Two: A interviews B, with B playing the role of A's future counterpart
Round Three: A and B act out the negotiation, with A playing the future role of their counterpart and B playing A's future role

Class #6

My classmates had wonderful examples of how they'd attempted to use the class tools in situations in the past week.
  • one person laid the cards on the table by bringing up an issue that their counterpart might be thinking about, and reassured them that it wouldn't factor into their work
  • one person overprepared with a bunch of options, but only needed the first thing they prepared (this shows that we actually can prepare the first thing we are going to say)
  • one person did their best to stay in the data pool (without climbing the ladder of inference)
  • one person admitted that they were wrong about something right at the start of the conversation (which inspired trust from their counterpart)
  • one person began by agreeing on the process ("This is a thing that's happening. Can we talk about it now?")
  • one person was upfront about something that would put them in a better light in their counterpart's eyes (why not!)
What happens when emotions are high?
How do you handle a difficult conversation when your, their, or both of your emotions are high? You go into reaction mode, the conversation becomes less about curiosity than winning or losing. You're not your best self and you're unable to see the situation from outside of it.

What doesn't work?
Avoiding the subject, repeating your case over and over, or being passive-aggressive all don't usually work in a situation like that.

What can work?
De-escalating the issue is the key here. Try to find a way to take a break, even if it's your counterpart who needs the break. You might have to make an excuse like a bathroom break. You may want to get a mediator involved, or even try to acknowledge both of your emotions to try to control them again. Repeat your mantra: "there is a third story here". Stay away from attributes like "always" or "never". Note that you're too upset to negotiate when these rules start to seem stupid to you. You can even try setting a goal at the start and ensuring it doesn't change.

What happens when they don't want to talk?
Try to find out why not.
Maybe they're too important to talk to you, or don't respect you. Or maybe they think they know what you're going to say.

What can work?
Give them a reason why they should care about what you have to say. It may not be the same reason you want to talk to them. Ask them why they don't want to talk to you, and try to match their communication style. Perhaps they would prefer you email them, or talk to you another time. If all else fails, find a BATNA.

What happens when there's a power imbalance?
Such as a parent, teacher, boss, landlord, doctor etc.
No matter what the outcome could be, it's important to stay calm and be curious and transparent. Try to say what's on your mind and even negotiate the process to skew the power a little more to your favour. Focus on their interests to get them to inch toward yours.

Overall: The thing I will remember most from this class is that it takes two to tango, and that both sides need to understand the other and work together to find a true solution that will suit both sides. 

The Most Important Thing: Listen more. It will almost always benefit you to listen to the other person.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Todd Terje, Mixing TV & Bendik Kaltenborn

Weekly Update 2017-42: Norwegian everything! Groovy disco from Todd Terje, what happens when two well-known television shows of different genres mix, and the amazing illustration of Bendik Kaltenborn.

Music: Todd Terje
More Scandinavian music coming at you. I've talked about Space Disco as a really fun sub-genre of electronic music out of Norway, and Terje Olsen aka Todd Terje is making waves. I love the silly sound of his name (sorry not sorry) and songs, which are so Norwegian. Well, he doesn't take himself seriously and so why should I? Read more on his amazing album art in the inspiration section below. This music is really fun and easy to listen to. It's just the right bit of weird, mixed with equal parts danceable beats and slow, sad songs that might bring a tear to the dancefloor.

Check out Ragysh, Inspector Norse, Strandbar, and Alfonso Muskedunder.




Accomplishment:
Last week was a biggun' for me. I had the pleasure of hosting my family at Temple Sinai Synagogue for the culmination of my journey to my Bat Mitzvah. The evening was really special and as I later confessed to one of the two ladies who embarked upon this journey with me, since I went on my birthright trip in 2015 and decided I wanted to have my Bat Mitzvah, I always pictured doing it solo. It felt like such a personal experience, so why go through the process with a bunch of other people, whom I barely knew?

Little did I know that Lisa and Barbara would shape my experience for the better in ways I never even imagined. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for their companionship and for sharing their bat mitzvah joruney with me. The experience was far better than I think it would have been making the journey by myself, and I will cherish that forever!

Right after my Bat Mitzvah, I was on a plane to New York for their annual Open House New York Weekend (similar to Toronto's Doors Open in May). You can see a custom map of what we did this weekend here.

Last night, I finished the final class of the communication workshop I had been taking with Misha Glouberman, which was simply wonderful. I learned so many things and just need to make sure I retain them all.

Lastly, Swash & Serif accepted my piece into their exhibition! It'll be showcasing on Thursday night (when the opening party is), but you can visit it at the Northern Contemporary Gallery until next Wednesday. More info here. I'll post a picture of my work in next week's update. In the meantime if you can't wait, you should go see it in person! It's 3D. :)

Goal:
This is also a busy week for me, fitting in all my chores with working full time again. I'll be attempting to get all my thoughts down from my Bat Mitzvah journey, my New York trip, and the six week communication workshop. Lots of writing.

Other than that, I'll be attending the opening party for Swash & Serif tomorrow night, and taking the rest of the week easy. On Saturday night, I'm taking my sister and her boyfriend on a spooky lagoon tour through Toronto Islands, which should be fun.

Random Thought: Mixing TV Genres - robot chicken and walking dead
If you're a fan of Cartoon Network's claymation/stop-motion wonder Robot Chicken and the gore of a television show that is The Walking Dead, you're in luck. There is a hilarious crossover episode of Robot Chicken in which all the Walking Dead characters are animated from plastic dolls, with the real actors voicing them. Not only is it a mixture of one of my favourite types of animation with characters from a story I enjoy, but many of the now-dead characters make an appearance in the one-off Robot Chicken episode. It's also technically the 100th episode of Walking Dead, if you count it. (They don't).

Watch the full episode here.

According to this article, the Robot Chicken co-creator Matt Senreich and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman have an "annual dinner" every year at San Diego Comic Con, and this was an idea from their dinner together.

I think it's great! The two shows: one being so super-serious and the other basically, the opposite of that. They complement each other perfectly.

Inspiration: Bendik Kaltenborn
As if I didn't already love Norway enough, the album art of Todd Terje's music is created by his friend and fellow Norwegian Bendik Kaltenborn. I absolutely love all of it.






He even made the music video for Todd Terje's Alfonso Muskedunder:


His Instagram account is the one to watch, which he updates quite frequently.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Day Wave, Damn Millennials & Lost Pages

Weekly Update 2017-41: Setting an upbeat autumn season to Californian Day Wave, more thoughts on shopping experiences of the future, and the art of designing an appropriate 404 page.

Music: Day Wave
California native Jackson Phillips aka Day Wave is lo-fi, beachy bedroom pop with a little bit of shoegaze added in. It's upbeat music that's catchy enough be heard on the radio but still indie enough not to be played. With fall coming late this year and the enjoyment of warm, sunny days amid changing colours of leaves, it really suits a mellow mood.

I really like Drag and Promises.



Accomplishment:
This Thanksgiving weekend I gave thanks for having the time to visit my good friend Kaylin in her new home in Kitchener. We also wanted to attend the Kitchener/Waterloo Oktoberfest, since we had attended the Vankleek Hill (Beau's Brewery) Oktoberfest a few years before and really enjoyed that.

Mission accomplished!

We also watched the Thanksgiving Day Parade which was really quaint and cute. 

Kitchener and Waterloo are both really curious places in the midst of much change. There are old buildings from the 70s and older, even a heritage home from the early 1800s, while also huge new glass buildings to coincide with the bustling tech community in Waterloo.

I also need to shoutout that getting there and back was a small feat in itself, using the transit systems of FOUR cities to get from door to door (Toronto, Mississauga, GO, Kitchener) in not less than 2:45. I am extremely good at taking public transit, so I'll also give thanks for everything running smoothly even though I had to load my Presto card at eleventh hour and pray the money would transfer in time.

We are now in the final days before my Bat Mitzvah, so I am prepping for that. I have also acquired all the ingredients I need for my typography project for Swash & Serif.

Goal:
Until Wednesday night, I'll be practicing my speech like a mad person. After that, I'll be packing and researching for my trip to New York at the end of the week, as well as finishing my typography project on Thursday. Hopefully it's accepted!

Random Thought:
It seems to be the order of the day that millennials are constantly blamed for the arguably terrible state we all live in, in many regards. The outcries and upset of modern politics, relationships becoming ever more digital with the onset of social media, laziness, entitlement, I could go on.

I really can't speak for all of it as a whole, but there are some ways of life that I think will see a bit of undue distress and upset throughout the oncoming generation. The era of mass-production and something as ubiquitous as a shopping mall, are all coming to an end. I became acutely aware of this over the past week, as I noticed three separate instances of coming in contact with the concept of “dead malls”, which I'll explain further later this week in a different blog post.

I honestly don't think buying things online is such a terrible thing, especially compared to the outdated concept of brick-and-mortar stores as we know them. They both probably have a large carbon footprint, but at least we can cap over-production and waste by keeping stock in a centralized warehouse.

I've talked about this concept before, thinking about how models like Clearly Contacts or Oak and Fort have one brick-and-mortar store in each major city, with most of their stock online. They're gateway concepts to what I see happening in the near future: these 'stores' will not sell a single thing.  You can check out/try on/test the items in-store but the stock is 100% shipped.

All of this until we figure out how to scan our bodies and have a computer algorithm choose the best clothing for us. All praise our future robot overlords!

Inspiration: 404s
I love the colloquialism of the 404 page. Every internet user comes across this page once in a while, and I think most of us know that 404 means the link is broken or the page is missing in a specific website (though I doubt many people outside the engineering world know that it relates to the error code thrown by the broken link). Better websites will design this page to help the user navigate to something more helpful, but your browser has a backup version as well.

I really like well-designed 404 pages, especially since their appearance is inherently met with a negative feeling from the user. The page is never a place the user intends to go, and usually can't explain the problem well to the user, causing more frustration for them.

404 page designs have been worked from all angles, from funny to sarcastic to whimsical to sad, but I think the best ones will:

  • tell the user what might be the problem (reason why they are seeing the page)
  • guide the user in what they can do to get what they want
  • be generally pleasant to look at (but not overly so)
  • not taunt or mock the user, on purpose or otherwise (perhaps by poking too much fun at the problem to lighten it)
  • reflect the brand of the website (this is actually a great place to inject a strong dosage of your brand voice)
I came across a 404 page on Dribbble that I really like by Mike Piechota. The illustration and colour palette are really beautiful and soft, and feel soothing to me.

By Mike Piechota on Dribbble.

It's hard to say how this would fare in real use since it's only a Dribbble mock and I didn't come across it in true practice, but I think it would be successful. It guides the user backward, but I think a search bar down there wouldn't go amiss. I know there's a search icon on the top right, but context is impotant and you could argue that the browser also has a back button. Sometimes redundancy is necessary in design.

Next up is a 404 I came across in real life, and chuckled a little before I navigated away to fix my error. I was looking for a specific item on the Lululemon website, but elected to use Google to search the site because I prefer its interface to that of Lululemon's native search. 

Unfortunately I believe Google had cached the page incorrectly and it came up as a 404:


I enjoyed reading the message “This is our way of getting you outside” because it's clever but not aloof, and matches the brand and target audience's sensibilities. Unfortunately the thoughtful addition of a search bar is hidden under the scroll break or “below the fold” as we might borrow such a term from newspaper printing. Can't win 'em all.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

EDIT: Exposition for Design, Innovation & Technology

I am a big fan of the Design Exchange in Toronto. Situated on Bay Street in the old Toronto Stock Exchange, they put on all sorts of amazing events such as 2013's The Happy Show (a look into the mind of prolific designer/artist Stefan Sagmeister) and 2014's This Is Not A Toy (an exhibit on the popularity of vinyl toys and collectibles curated by Pharrell Williams). They also host inspirational lectures by designers all over the world, run design competitions of varying themes, and lots more.

The Exposition in Design, Innovation and Technology, aka EDIT, is probably the Design Exchange's biggest undertaking this decade. Since Toronto is a sizeable design hub, many of their events are well-attended but EDIT is something of a completely different nature. Encompassing four floors of the old Unilever Soap Factory (pictured below) and using design and technology as a lens to view topics like human rights, sustainability, ecological impact, developing countries, world hunger, and so much more.

Shipping containers scattered around the front of the building to show the charming nature of tiny unconventional homes.

I attended EDIT last Friday September 29, the first full day of the exposition. I couldn't believe that single-day tickets are only $15, considering the scale and quality of the programming, and on top of that, this day was stacked. The environmental keynote and first talk of the day was the legendary David Suzuki, environmental activist and one of Canada's favourite homegrown celebrities.


Suzuki spoke about the environmental impact that humans are having on the environment, and how we need to sustainably coexist with the earth. I especially appreciated his advice about what to do with people who say it's too late to change: just tell them to "shut up!"

Suzuki spoke very passionately on a program that he hopes will come to fruition: allowing indigenous peoples of all areas and terrains of Canada to become stewards of their land. We need to utilize their valuable knowledge of how our natural land works and allow them to dictate how we can help the land instead of hurting it with unsustainable practices.

After Suzuki came the next knockout talk by renowned designer, editor and filmmaker Scott Dadich. Dadich was the editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine until he stepped down earlier this year to focus on his Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design. This is a person who wants the world to understand the importance of design and believes it should be accessible to everyone.


In this Design Keynote, Dadich described his personal approach to design, which I found very enlightening. For one of the first covers he ever designed for Wired's rebrand, he took careful consideration to make everything on the page work just so. When his director gave him less-than-ideal feedback, he decided to simply add a small horizontal bar of red, the ugliest and most backwards thing he could find. He basically plopped it on the page, pressed print, and plopped it on the director's desk. From there, the rest was history. Through his work at Wired and beyond, Dadich has followed the principle of creating a "perfect" design, one on which everyone can come to a consensus, and then adding one wrong thing to it. This off-balance style is now an integral part of Wired's brand.

After that, it was time to check out some of the exhibits that covered most of the four floors of the factory. Not to mention...this was pretty much the only sunshine we got on such a gloomy Friday. Good thing most of the exhibits were indoors.

This rooftop garden adjacent to the speakers' stage is called No Lot Is Vacant, showing that any space can be used to grow food easily and bountifully. What was probably a dingy gross gravel and concrete space had been transformed into a lush, green oasis of herbs and vegetables.



Complete with a lovely view of the city from the east side of the Don River.
 This was a great space to sit for a few minutes and discuss the talks of the day.


A project called Astrocyte, created by Philip Beesley Architects.


I really enjoyed scoping out the exhibits and contrasting them with the leftover factory relics like industrial vats and employee safety posters.


Yes, this definitely used to be a factory.

The next talk was by Eythor Bender, CEO of a company called UNYQ, specializing in creating prosthetics and other equipment to help differently-abled people live normal lives. Bender is an innovation and business leader in the field of human augmentation. UNYQ works with emerging technologies like 3D printing and other rapid prototyping tools to ensure that their prosthetics are accessible to people all over the world at low costs and/or that meet insurance policies to be covered by providers instead of having to pay out-of-pocket.

Bender invited a user of his prosthetic leg design to speak about her experience with it.

Next, John Brownstein gave the Care Keynote on the future of health data. As the Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Hospital – and the healthcare advisor behind Uber Health – he spoke about putting the “public” back in public health with his data-generated health maps. Utilizing public data like tweets involving keywords like "sick" and "flu", his vision is that technologies can predict major outbreaks before anything else. Even scraping something as simple as OpenTable for last-minute cancellations in a specific location can show trends in sickness and disease.

I eventually was able to locate what used to be the men's locker room for factory workers, where three prolific design educators spoke in a panel about design thinking. The panel featured Rosanne Somerson, President of Rhode Island School of Design; Sara Diamond, President of OCAD University; and Luigi Ferrara, Dean of Centre Arts, Design and Information Technology at George Brown College, and Director of Institute Without Boundaries. 

Three varying opinions on the meaning of design thinking and how we can use it to solve the world's wicked problems.

I had been sitting in talks from 10:30 to around 5:00, so it was time to check out some more of the exhibits.
These hanging air purifiers can create clean, breathable air for a family of four. A little freaky since they look like IV bags, but maybe that's the point!

A visual of some of the produce deemed unfit to sell in grocery stores, due only to less-than-satisfactory appearance. Even sitting in the display for two days or so by this point, it all looked very edible to me.

An interactive display on the importance of wood as a renewable resource, complete with hanging test tubes containing saplings that will eventually be planted.


A rare selfie with an interesting exhibit that uses light and colour to display the economic divide between upper and lower class citizens.

Back to talks again: Carlo Ratti, the founder of MIT's Senseable City Lab, and curator of EDIT’s Shelter/Cities exhibit, explored how we can bring nature back into urban areas – from the home to the metropolis. He also spoke excitedly about Toronto's upcoming Eataly to be situated at Bay and Bloor.

I was honoured to hold the door open for Jennifer Keesmaat (urban planner and former chief planner for the city of Toronto) on our way up to the panel on resilient cities that she was moderating. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. This panel discussion shows how we can hack the city, turning it into a place that provides sustenance while we bolster its sustainability.

Each of these people has a different view of how to make cities resilient. Recent natural disasters were a popular topic, as well as how to grow food to eat on an individual scale.

Looking up from the talk, it was interesting to note the architecture and how high this building actually goes!

From there, I made my way down to the first floor for the last talk of the evening. I was pretty hyped to see Emily Haines (lead singer of popular Canadian band Metric) speak with Nell Merlino on their partnership in a new initiative in gender equality. Haines is the spokesperson for Global Citizen's new campaign, She Decides.

The talk was held in a very interesting room, decorated with letters to the mayor. The subject of the letters complimented the scale models scattered around the room showing that Toronto can do better in its approach to architecture and urban planning.


The two women spoke on gender equality in the workplace and beyond, the importance of women and girls having the power to decide what to do with her body, with her life, and with her future.

After 12 hours of amazing talks and exhibits, I simply didn't have the energy to explore the amazing exhibit on the first floor, Prosperity for All curated by Bruce Mau. Luckily, I was able to come back the next day for Nuit Blanche, when the building was open to the public. Thanks, Design Exchange!

The building is a little spooky at night!

There were some amazing inventions and innovations all over the first floor, like a water skimmer that removes plastic waste from our oceans while preserving the ecosystem and wildlife, a makeshift shelter made from discarded life vests that are no longer needed by refugees, and lots more.

I really enjoyed these infographics that depict complex ideas and information through simple pictorial means.

Design has the power to be beautiful, inspirational, meaningful, and life-changing.

I was beyond impressed with the Design Exchange's ability to put on an exposition of such a grand scale. I can't recommend more that you should attend, especially since there are only three days left to experience all the inspiration. Check out the exposition website and purchase tickets here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ellise Barbara's Black Space, Tipping & Gvido

Weekly Update 2017-40: The outspoken and entrancing sounds of Ellise Barbara's Black Space, the 'right' way of tipping, and a new e-reader for sheet music.

Music: Ellise Barbara's Black Space
A very interesting and fitting choice as an opener last night for TOPS at Mod Club, Ellise Barbara's Black Space brings us psych, disco, dance-pop, and soul with some excellent stage presence to top it all off. Hailing from Montreal, the lead singer Jef Ellise Barbara gives voice to the seemingly large void of African-inspired culture and music in the indie spotlight in Canada, while also representing the trans community as a trans woman. I knew nothing of the band when I arrived at the show, and I am definitely a new fan after watching such a soulful and inspired performance. There isn't much information online about them yet, but you can watch a performance from July here:


Accomplishment:
Only a week until my Bat Mitzvah! My torah portion and speech are 99% finished, and I even got to touch the real torah (with a pointer, not my hand) last week as we practiced together in the synagogue. That was really cool :)

I've also started working on the packing app I mentioned last week. I spent a full day working on it, hoping to get some sort of finished piece out of it by the end. I didn't realize that much of the visual comp creation time I budgeted would be taken up learning how to use symbols in Sketch, but it's good to learn that as well, so no time wasted there. I'll be continuing my work on it for perhaps one more day of comps.

On Friday I went to the Exhibition in Design, Innovation & Technology hosted by Toronto's very own Design Exchange at the old Unilever soap factory. It was a day simply packed with talks by David Suzuki, Emily Haines (lead singer of Metric), Scott Dadich (former editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and producer of Netflix's Abstract, and so many more. It was so cool, I went back again on Saturday night for Nuit Blanche. There was so much to see that I didn't get a chance to see anything else, but I think I spent my time well anyway.

I've also got a good idea of what I want to submit to the 4th annual Swash & Serif exhibition, and I've planned out a schedule to get it all done in time for the October 14 deadline.

Goal:
My goal this week is to continue practicing for my Bat Mitzvah, spend another day or so on the packing app (Thursday at the library), and source out a printer for my typographic piece.

I'd like to write a standalone blog post on EDIT this week, since it was such an inspirational time. Look out for that soon...

I'll also be travelling to Kitchener this weekend for their annual Oktoberfest. It's not as cool as the Munich one, but I'm sure it will be lots of fun!

Random Thought: Tipping
With the advent of credit card machines for paying at restaurants, it's great that we no longer have to do mental math to pay a tip. 15% is standard, so all I have to do is tap the 15% button and it's done for me. Except that the math is almost always wrong. Have you ever noticed that?

Many people disagree with me on this, but I don't think it's right to tip as a percentage of the total, after tax. That basically means I'm paying a tip for good service in charging me tax? It's just not right. Most machines (but not all) will apply tip on top of tax, and hilariously, they will differ from the "suggested" tip that might be printed on the bottom of your bill (tip calculated before tax). So obviously these restaurants don't even know they're making a mistake while using two different systems for calculating your tip for you.

This is one thing that I think is done better in other countries. Tax should always be included in the price of everything you see, removing the guesswork. And tipping should always be optional, like it is almost everywhere outside of restaurants. I bet that if we started paying servers an actual proper wage and only included tipping as an option, servers would work harder to provide good service and maybe even make more in the long run.

Not only that, but my tip amount would be more communicative. In the current process, if I decide to leave no tip (perhaps the service was lousy, or the server was rude to me), the server has no indication of what was wrong and will probably think I was being cheap. But if tips were not

Inspiration: Gvido
Technology is constantly being used to improve processes which have traditionally only existed in an analog format, and I find it really interesting when a breakthrough emerges that can convince all users of the analog format to adopt a new technology-enhanced method.

Gvido has done just this, in creating a special double-screen tablet designed specifically for use reading sheet music while playing an instrument.

Equipped with e-ink similar to that of a Kindle reader, users can make notes right on the sheet music using a stylus. Simply tap the left-side or right-side frame to turn the pages respectively. See the demo video below:


For piano players (or really any musician), this is a true breakthrough. You can download and use sheet music easily without having to print, wait for delivery or go out and purchase at a real store (does anyone do that anymore?) but I do have some notes about how to improve this device.

I am not a piano player myself, but I do know the struggle of turning pages. Some pieces are so difficult that my piano-playing friends have enlisted myself and others as resident page-turners so that they can focus on playing. While this digitized version certainly has the ability to improve this process, it falls short. Yes, it's easier to tap a button than to flip a page, but why not take this further?

Perhaps there could be a camera that senses your eye movements and can see when to turn the page automatically for you. Or instead, a sound sensor that can hear you play the music and therein knows when to turn the page?

I'd say this device solves a problem about halfway to success. This is why it's so important to conduct proper user research at the beginning of a project before moving into problem-solving mode. Within just one interview with a piano player, the creators of Gvido could have figured out that a major pain point is the turning of pages, and applied a better solution than the one they have.

Though of course, this is definitely a step up from the original analog process! If they can get the price down a little bit from its selling point of around $1600, I could see this device being used in pianos everywhere.