Monday, January 15, 2018

Snail Mail, Clear Wrapping Paper & False Knees

Weekly Update 2018-03: All about authenticity - teenage passion in the music of Snail Mail, seeing the true essence of a present wrapped in clear wrapping paper, and the amazing webcomics of Joshua Barkman's False Knees.

Music: Snail Mail
I'm nearing an age where I often come across wonderfully talented people who are doing amazing things, only to find that they are younger than me and have already achieved so much more. Lately, that thought doesn't make me sad; it only inspires me to trust in the agency of the generation after mine. Lindsey Jordan is doing just that as an 18-year-old lead guitarist and songwriter for the newest alt rock band out of Maryland called Snail Mail. Their songs are heartbreakingly authentic, as a direct result of the raw emotion that only teenage years can bring. I love it.

My favourites are Thinning and the title track Habit.

I managed to catch up with lots of friends last week, including at my roommate's two birthday parties this weekend. We had some crappy weather but it didn't keep me from trudging through the snow with two HUGE number balloons for extra celebrations.

I really never thought this is what 25 would look like.

I also ignored terrible weather earlier this evening to check out no fewer than thirteen window installations as part of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival. More on that later.

This week is full of TODO exhibits to see (descriptions lovingly lifted from the TODO website):

Tuesday - Artscape Youngplace
An exhibition of 365 images of contemporary Canadian design taken from a year long investigative project by Joy Charbonneau. On January 1st 2017, Charbonneau started a social media account for Instagram under the name @marianadesigncanada. For every day of 2017, Charbonneau discovered and posted furnishings, ceramics, textiles, objects, and illustrations from over one hundred makers and designers from across the country to promote and celebrate Canadian design culture.

Analog Shift is an interactive display that serves as a promotional tool for Fin, a Seattle based design brand, as well as commentary on virtual reality. Images of Fin’s actual showroom are viewed through a View-Master highlighting that physical objects are needed to create a virtual environment.

Complexities & Cloth looks at the detailed process involved in crafting woven textiles, while opening a dialogue with the fabrics of our time.

Through the lens of hand weaving you are invited to take a closer look into the process of making cloth. Where each thread is calculated to bend over and under one another, creating the structural bonds that form our fabrics. Observing that within these bends of interwoven lines, lays the potential for delicate pattern work.

The Museum of Contemporary Work is a precarious pop-up exhibit. The show explores the past, present and future of labour through physical objects that support our work. The artifacts displayed, both real and fictional, connect themes like identity, inequity, meaning, and motivation. Some of the items have all but disappeared. Others are re-emerging as souvenirs. Some are tools. Others inspirational tokens. Each is a symbol of the invisible forces at work in our work. They tell stories of how our daily labours are changing, and how they are changing us.

And that's just one day! There's lots more happening throughout the week, I hope to see much more and report back.

Random Thought:
I was riding the streetcar to work the other day and noticed a peculiar package held in the arms of one of my fellow riders.

In case you can't tell, it's a box of chocolates wrapped in clear wrapping paper with green trees on it. I beg an obvious question: What's the point of clear wrapping paper? Is wrapping paper not supposed to obfuscate the item you are giving someone, so that they may guess/feel the element of surprise before they open it? I really don't think I can make my point any clearer, so I'll leave the rest of the musing up to you, dear reader.

Inspiration: False Knees
Sometimes life's small moments are the ones that shape us and make us feel most alive. I know this is true and yet I can never remember the little things that happen to me throughout the day. As it turns out, I don't need to remember any of it because a wonderful webcomic called False Knees is doing it for me.

I often wonder this aloud.

There's just something wonderful about seeing the hard-hitting topics of life being represented through woodland creatures (mostly birds) in beautiful watercolours. The content is so real that I think it would be taken too seriously if it were coming out of humans' mouths, but the tone set by the lovely illustrations of wildlife creates a perfect balance.

I can really relate to this one.

These wonderful comics and more are created by Joshua Barkman, and I urge you to check out his awesome website for more.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Brockhampton, Onomatopoeias & Ad Tricks

Weekly Update 2018-02: The internet's first boyband Brockhampton creates the soundtrack to our exploration through onomatopoeias as a brand tool, and being tricked by Instagram ads for fake shoes.

Music: Brockhampton
Labeled as “the internet's first boyband”, Brockhampton has been making big waves this past year. Created from a post in an online Kanye West fan forum, the seven members of the band come together to create music that is extremely catchy but also a magnetic mix of lyrics and production. Their music feels really authentic, especially considering their self-brand as a boyband. Not to mention, the fact that someone (the lead Kevin Abstract) could post in an online forum and create a successful band is pretty interesting in and of itself.

Favourite tracks include Bleach (also the fave of three band members), Boogie and Liquid.

So many Sketch tutorials! It's actually gotten to the point where I had to open up Adobe Illustrator for something and felt a real pang of frustration because I just wanted to work in Sketch. It took less than a week to change my opinion about design tools by this much. Muchos gracias again to Pablo Stanley for his wonderful videos. Maybe I'll check out his non-Sketch tutorials. Seriously, he could teach me anything.

I also bought a Metropass last week. Honestly, admitting to myself that I needed it for January (and probably February) was really hard. I rely on my bike not only economically, socially and physically, but emotionally and mentally above all else. Accepting that I am not going to have the chance to use it for probably two more months is frustrating to say the least. In any case I haven't had a Metropass in about ten months so the feelings of having a superpower are coming back to me. And January 2018's version has ~sparkles~.

You can't really tell but the A in the circle on the top left is sparkly and two-tone brown/pink! It works quite well.

This is a week of making the “friendship rounds” – catching up with someone pretty much every day of the week, including a design chat with Marjorie before drumming starts up again on Wednesday. And at the end of the week, Alison comes back to Toronto to visit! So I'm keeping it light.

Random Thought: Sound As Brand
You may be familiar with the term ‘onomatopoeia’, meaning the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle). I have been noticing the use of onomatopoeia as a tool for creating a strong brand lately, and wondered if there was a pattern to its use that could be repeated.

Take Tic Tacs for example. They're basically a household brand by now, and I believe it has to do with the sound they make inside their little clear box. The more Tic Tacs you eat, the more empty space there is in the box, which makes the sound of them hitting against each other louder as you empty the box. And of course, Tic Tacs are named for this sound. You hear the tic-tac sound, you remember that your box of mints is almost finished, and then you buy more! Simple.

Tic Tac isn't the only example of onomatopoeia as brand, Schweppes has also been using this tactic. Their line of ginger ales and sparkling waters invoke a feeling of carbonation and lightness, and the name itself reflects this same feeling.

Schweppes likes a good portmanteau as well.

Finally, the brand Nespresso is probably one of the more clever ones I have seen. If you want to ask for a regular espresso, what do you say? “May I please have an espresso?” Say that out loud. It sounds the exact same as asking, “May I please have a nespresso?” Of course the brand is not as established as something like Tic Tac, so people may not think about Nespresso when they think about espresso, but the trick is pretty ingenious anyway.

Inspiration: Ad Tricks
Continuing on the train of interesting advertising techniques, check out this winner:

Original image from a tweet by Blake Robbins.

Don't keep trying to get that hair off your screen; it's part of the ad! Depending on what device you're using to view this blog post, it may have a varying effect. The original Instagram ad, posted by Chinese shoe company Kaiwei Ni, includes the hair in the hopes that users will swipe to remove the hair from their screen (but will then be taken to the website as a result of the interaction). 

After making the rounds on Reddit's r/mildlyinfuriating subreddit, the ad has since been taken down from Instagram because of its trickster ways but I still think it's a great idea. One Reddit user leaves us with some important words to live by when it comes to hair on your screen: “Always blow, never swipe.”

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beach Fossils, NUMTOTs & Human Flow

Weekly Update 2018-01: The number eighteen is a lucky one in Judaism, and so this year shall be for me. Listening to Beach Fossils, gathering public opinion on transit systems around the world, and the impact of the humanizing story of refugees in Ai Weiwei's Human Flow.

Music: Beach Fossils
Some albums are so important, but take a long time to break through to me on a deeper level. Beach Fossils' 2013 LP Clash the Truth is one of those albums. Synths and guitar licks reminiscent of 80s new wave mix with a dash of atmospheric lo-fi to create something that sounds really authentic, both modern and vintage at the same time.

Literally every song on this album gets stuck in my head, and especially so the more I listen. Check it out below:

I had a nice quiet holiday season, so I was able to get a lot of things done:
  • renewed my domain
  • cleaned everything in the bathroom
  • cooked a bunch of crazy things
    • lasagna
    • potato-crust meat pie
    • pesto baked chicken
    • chocolate chip cookies
  • organized the liquor and board games shelf (it's a fun area)
  • got a facial
  • visited the AGO
  • put new music on my phone from iTunes (yep, there's some music that isn't on Spotify - who knew?!)
I also made a multi-day schedule for the Toronto Design Offsite Festival coming up in a couple of weeks. I love all the window displays along Queen Street, and Gladstone Hotel's annual Come Up To My Room festival which happens in conjunction with TODO. I am especially excited for a bunch of new things opening up on Geary Avenue which I bike by to get to drumming practice.

I have spent the past two days knee-deep in Sketch tutorials since I can't deny that it's the industry standard now. I had a good working knowledge of the program, but there are so many ways to improve your workflow (especially with all the open-source plugins that people make to solve common problems). There's no better way to become a power user than by starting with Pablo Stanley's Sketch Together series, which I highly recommend. Not only is he a fabulous teacher, he is very entertaining and includes lots of project files you can download to follow along. And it's all free!

I also did something I have been meaning to do for a long time: I bought a goat. No, not for me. I believe in the importance of charity but moreso in donating my time/services/items than money, since you never really know where it's going to go. For that reason, I have always been a big fan of Plan International and their charitable programs that provide livestock for families. The addition of a goat or a few chickens will help a family to nourish themselves and thrive in a much more permanent way than the same value in donated goods.

A man named Christopher Richardson actually created a documentary that sources the goat he purchased through charitable means, watch the trailer below:

So yes, I bought a goat as well as a rooster and three hens, in the hopes that two families will be able to thrive off this gift. Now if only I had space in my apartment for some chickens.

If you want to look into it, check out Plan International Canada.

I've learned a ton of Sketch stuff this week, so I'd like to write a blog post about everything to really solidify my learnings (and share them with you, dear reader)! Other than that, my broader goals for this year are to remember to sit up straight and have good posture while working at my desk, and practice reading other people's emotions a little better than I do now.

Random Thought:
One other change I made this holiday was to become more involved in different cultures and social scenes that I hadn't previously known about. I joined some new Facebook groups that give me lots of joy when I absent-mindedly check my phone:

1) Awful recipes: recipes for disaster
I don't know if the colon means there are other awful recipe groups, but this one never fails to amaze me. People mostly post about disgusting food they inexplicably like, or delicious food they inexplicably dislike (let the anger comments ensue), so I thought I would post about one of the weird foods from Portland that I love.

Peanut butter satay and smoked raspberry jam poutine from Potato Champion in Portland.
Mostly well-received with a few haters.

2) New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens (or NUMTOTs for short)
Similar to Young Urbanists League but on a global scale, this group has no shortage of love for trains, urban transit systems and all things that make people move.

All the shameful times people have taken Ubers.
This was a particularly inspired post for the first day of 2018.

I honestly love to read the unfiltered opinions (of largely varying quality) of all the topics surrounding transit systems all over the world, and find it interesting to note that many citizens of other cities hold their transit systems in the same low regard as Torontonians do the TTC.

Inspiration: Ai Weiwei's Human Flow
I saw a very inspirational film at Hot Docs a couple of weeks ago: Ai Weiwei's new film about the influx of refugees over the past few years. So many people have been displaced from their homes this decade by various factors including war, famine, politics, drought and natural disasters just to name a few.

Ai Weiwei discusses Human Flow.

These people's misfortunes are usually a matter of circumstance, which is to say that their misfortunes could have happened to anyone, including you or me. These people come from all over, but are largely universally overlooked by the rest of the world. They are sometimes grossly mistreated, forgotten or simply ignored. The way the film displays their plights, many of them just want basic human understanding and respect.

It really tore at my heart strings to think about these people and the way they are largely helpless. They have been given no resources or help to begin their lives anew, but they are very strong and somehow continue on, hoping that they will be able to find a home someday.

I urge you to see this movie; it will change your perspective on global aid. There is a particularly touching scene in which Ai Weiwei symbolically exchanges his passport with that of a refugee in a camp, exclaiming that he respects the man's passport, and he respects him.

After seeing all the wonderful designs and innovations at the Exposition for Design, Innovation & Technology and this movie as well, I am proud to know that Toronto does its part to help these people, but I know we could be doing more.

After all, respect and compassion both cost literally nothing and go such a long way.