Friday, July 12, 2019

Cayetana, Haggling & Mason London

Weekly Update 2019-25: Riot grrrl vibes from Philly-based Cayetana, the art of haggling at garage sales and the beautiful lens of people watching captured through the eyes of artist/designer Mason London aka Joe Prytherch.

A peek at Prytherch's daydream-like work.

Music: Cayetana
This instalment of Badass Women brings a full band of 'em: Philadephia's Cayetana channels original riot grrrl vibes in their all-female thrash rock, lo-fi setup. Kelly Olsen, Allegra Anka and Augusta Koch make empowering music on borrowed equipment and no formal training, using their love of music and life experiences to make some really authentic songs about love, heartbreak and lots of other things. They also have a great cover of New Order's Age of Consent.

My family had our garage sale this past weekend and it was an even bigger success than our last sale. All the money we raised will go toward Larissa's wedding fund, and it was so nice to spend time with family doing something we all love.

This past week was also the last class of my third semester with BrainStation, which is always my favourite. All the students really impressed me with how much effort they had put into their final projects. One of my students even posted her project online as an Instagram post. She used her amazing illustration skills to polish her UI to a very high degree.

June is scoliosis awareness month (and it has taken 25 days for me to work up the nerve to share this). Got Your Back is an app prototype I've been developing to help alleviate the physical and emotional challenges that scoliosis patients face. The patients that I interviewed for this project have shown themselves to be incredibly strong and optimistic individuals in the face of harsh circumstances. Many come through the other side of treatment with an admirable appreciation for the experiences they've gone through. I may do a more personal post on the topic before the month ends, but for now, shoutout to all the scoliosis warriors out there; it only gets better. // The app is still a work in progress. If you're an individual with scoliosis, know that you're amazing, and DM me if you would like to contribute to the research! ____________________________ #scoliosis #scoliosisawarenessmonth #scoliosiswarrior #scoliosisawareness #scoliosisart #curvygirlsscoliosis #cgscolimonth #art #characterdesign #digitaldrawing #illustration #uxdesign #uidesign #uxdesigner #uxdesignmastery #ux #userinterface #userexperience #prototype #graphic
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My goals this week mostly revolve around marking a ton of student work and making an appearance at BrainStation's summer social. I appreciate the ways they show how they care about their staff, even us part-time people. Plus, I don't get a lot of interaction time with other instructors, so that'll be cool.

Random Thought: Haggling
After a weekend full of strangers trying to devalue all my worldly possessions (aka a garage sale), I am left wondering about the psychology of shopping at garage sales and haggling as a life skill. For my family's sale this past weekend, our main goal in pricing our items was to find homes for them with people who could truly use them. We priced our items quite low, as in $1 for a frying pan, or $3 for a piece of framed art. Even Value Village's average prices are higher than this.

And yet, shoppers still felt the need to haggle. Garage sale culture in Toronto just does not seem to allow for prices to be so conceivably low that a shopper will feel satisfied without haggling. It's mind-boggling. Not to mention, on what was mostly an extremely chilled out weekend of sitting on my parents' driveway hanging out, a woman got into a very heated debate with our neighbour over a carpet she bought for like $10 or something. I guess garage sales bring out the best and worst in people?

In any case, if the spirit of the sale is to ensure items are rehomed with people who will actually use them, perhaps it doesn't make sense to price them so low. I don't think convincing someone to buy a $1 frying pan is actually a good thing if that pan ends up in a landfill without being used. Do (slightly) higher prices mean that buyers will feel more motivated to only buy what they need? Does that make it more challenging for people to responsibly rehome their unused possessions? Laughably, I struggle with these thoughts from time to time.

Inspiration: Mason London
There's nothing better than sitting in a cafe or on a subway train and noticing that someone near you is sketching strangers around them. I absolutely love to watch people draw, especially when they don't notice me watching them. It's definitely a window into the soul of a person, as well as just a cool way for me to compare my current experience to theirs (since I can see both their drawing and the subject matter).

Of course it's double-fun when I notice they're drawing me, though my ego isn't too big that I don't also love to watch them draw...whatever! The TTC has been showcasing subway/bus sketchings by its passengers instead of advertisements on some of their vehicles, which definitely exude a similar (if not watered-down) experience.

 I do enjoy seeing these on the subway, but their lack of payment to the artists is less than ideal.

Mason London (aka Joe Prytherch), a Loondon-based illustrator is creating his own spin on these transit-based sketches. It's a form of people watching through a lens that makes me feel warm and fuzzy about riding the bus. His gif loop for pianist and producer Kiefer is a dream to watch. Check it out:

I love the way the people sway back and forth, the little details, the whole thing is just super cute (as advertised). Here's another:

In addition to illustration, Prytherch does some kickass design work. I especially love the recipe book he designed and typeset for his friend's Chinese restaurant Bosslady.

People watching is such a constant source of inspiration for me, and it's wonderful to see an artist pay such true homage to his own experience of people watching. Joe's work is awesome, his website is definitely worth a look-through.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

IAN SWEET, Danda Da Hora & Strive Conference

Weekly Update 2019-24: Los Angeles songstress IAN SWEET and Brazilian queen Dandha Da Hora both graced my week in different ways, as well as Strive: the UX Research Conference.

This week's instalment of my Badass Women music series comes from IAN SWEET aka Jilian Medford, a local to Los Angeles. She toured with Frankie Cosmos (another badass woman) and has released two super-sweet albums. I absolutely adore her ability to balance her poetic vocals against brash, heavy guitar strums to make for a powerful, yet melancholy sound. It's the right music for cleaning your apartment, going for a brisk walk through the woods, or drafting a resignation letter for a job you hate.

I started with a song called 2soft2chew off 2016's Shapeshifter.

I never knew there was red-coloured egg crate foam?!

I attended a very inspiring user research conference this past week, surrounded by leaders in my field from all over the world. It was two days of pure awesomeness, meeting lots of new people and reconnecting with old friends as well. More on that in the inspiration section below.

On Tuesday my band played a very special drumming show with a guest star. All the way from Bahia, Brazil (via Santa Cruz, California) came Dandha Da Hora, an amazingly sweet and talented triple-threat singer, dancer and drummer. She did a few workshops with us leading up to the performance, which I thought were the most special moments we got to spend with her. Her sweet temperament balanced out Pato's quite well, and she took the time to learn all of our names during the practice.  Of course she sings like a literal angel.

Just when I thought I couldn't be more in awe of her, she gave a lecture (with slides) about the subjugation of Afro-Brazilians. They had been historical excluded from Carnival until the coming of the bloco (band) Ilê Aiyê in 1974, which made a rightful place for Afro-Brazilians among the celebrations.

Following that, we accompanied her on drums as she taught a dance class. This was also special to me because she explained to us how her dance classes must be accompanied by real music. It provides something that recorded music just can't.

This Thursday marks my last BrainStation class for the semester. I love week 10 because I get to see all the final projects for the semester, and my students get to share all the fruits of their labour. I'll be taking a semester off after this one, so I've really got to take everything in before I leave until Fall.

My family is also doing another garage sale this weekend - the perfect activity for my dad since it's also Father's Day! I know he loves to make a deal, get rid of his stuff to people that will enjoy it, and hang out with his family. What else could a dad ask for?! Plus, I'm sure we will be able to fit in a Chinese food dinner for him (his favourite).

Random Thought: Dandha Da Hora
I really must pay a bit more tribute to this amazing woman. Originally from Bahia, Brazil (the same place where our music is from), she now lives in Santa Cruz, California doing the same thing as our band: spreading the word about the power of Brazilian music. Since she can sing, dance, play drums, and who knows what else, I think of her as a person who exudes the spirit of Bahia 24/7.

Spending the day with her was a treat in and of itself, going from a private band practice with her, to a lecture about her experiences with prejudice in Brazil as well as North America, to watching her lead a dance class - I am convinced there's nothing she can't do.

The way she spreads the culture of her home is very similar to what Pato (my band leader) is trying to do, and it was really inspiring just to watch her live the music in so many ways. Not to mention, she has some beautiful outfits that accentuate her dancing so beautifully.

I can't wait to see more of this in Brazil next year!

Inspiration: Strive
I am so fortunate to work at a company that sent me to Strive, an excellent UX Research conference in Toronto. Over two days, I tried to absorb all the information I could.

Thursday was filled with design-specific user research tactic, my most favourite talk of which being from Kristina Rostorotsky. She took great care in outlining all the reasons designers hesitate to do research, and gave calm rationales as to how designers can use our existing skills to leverage an improved research practice. I really appreciated her approach in asking everyone to write down our fears about UX research on a cue card at the start of the talk, and then one way we could combat that fear with a design skill (or superpower) we already possessed on the back of the card at the end of the talk.

Another amazing talk on Thursday came from Ariel Sim, a true visionary whose mission is to show us all how to predict the future through design and anthropology. She described her love for the diagram of Waves of Change (based on the one by Deborah Frieze), depicting the way social change disrupts the status quo. There are four types of people along the line of resisting change to embracing it, and this is the crux of how true social and technological disruption happens.

Protectors will uphold the dominant system (say, the dial-tone telephone system) while hospice workers will maintain its death for them. Meanwhile illuminators draw attention to oncoming trends (like the internet becoming more accessible) and must repeat themselves a number of times, while trailblazers are the ones who listen to the illuminators and leave the system to start something new (like a smartphone).

Ariel is an enthusiastic believer in big-picture thinking, using her world cultural and anthropological skills as a lens through which to conduct design research. She urged us to make decisions based on the long view, and to choose our tools wisely from the design research toolkit.

On Friday, my mind was truly blown over and over again with how much I still wanted to learn about UX research. Shruti Kataria from Airbnb spoke about the company's use of design research to inspire trust, and the importance of opinions as well as facts. Designers and researchers are in a unique position because we study our own biases and are naturally data-driven. We can derive hypotheses from findings, which are what makes our opinion useful to us. This makes sense to me. I see design as an art and a science, wherein sometimes I rely on my gut to make a decision about the findings I've gathered.

Vivianne Castillo spoke about the importance of care and self-care in performing ethnographic research. This type of work, interviewing and working with people from all walks of life to understand their problems, can be very taxing on the soul. Vivianne urges us, rather than "move fast and break things", to slow down and take the time to perform empathy-recharging tasks of care with our interviewees and participants as well as ourselves.

The end of the second day came too quickly, but ended off with a bang. Christina Janzer and Michael Massimi of Slack spoke in detail about their own design research process, in the form of a case study on how to bring the intra-office messaging system to Japan's tech scene. Since the app relies on so many English mannerisms and conventions (in language as well as culture), this would be a huge undertaking in understanding all these differences and how to go about appealing to them through design.

Michael broke down his entire process for us, starting with interviewing all stakeholders, understanding their needs, and creating a list of questions that represented those needs. He then assigned each question a specific user research method that would be able to answer the question. He also assigned each method to the best person for the job (which was not always himself), received sign-off from each stakeholder and set out to complete the research. Co-creation workshops, one-on-one interviews and generative research all came into play.

Slack is big in Japan!

Both days were so inspiring. Especially as a designer on a very small team who takes on all my own design research, it was awesome to meet so many people going through the same thing. I came away with so many things to experiment and try, what an amazing experience.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Mothers, Error Prevention v. Recovery & Ikea

Weekly Update 2019-23: Heartbreaking vocals from this week's badass woman Mothers, the risks in designing error prevention in interfaces and my eternal love affair with Ikea.

Music: Mothers
The second in my spotlight on Badass Women for the month of June: Mothers was originally formed in 2013 as the solo project of musician Kristine Leschper. The band has since grown some to four members, still with Leschper at the heart of it all. Her voice is heartbreakingly sweet against a backdrop of melancholy guitar riffs, and on a rainy day like today, it's everything I need.

Leschper started making music while she attended art school for printmaking in Athens, Georgia. “It’s a lot of working with chemicals that are really bad for you, that you have to be really careful around,” she says. “It was special because it was dangerous. I remember feeling that it was so badass.”

So badass, she even looks good in the rain.

Check out her first album, 2016's When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired.

We made paper flowers! Yes, I now finally understand the magic that is the Cricut machine. Larissa is already hard at work making her bridesmaid bouquets out of old book pages, and they look amazing. I especially love how quickly the machine can cut through paper (easily the most time-consuming part of paper flower making), it's super fun to watch. As an aside, this is exactly how I pictured humans and machines working together - machines assisting humans in making creative expression quicker and easier. This, my friends, is the true future.

I also spent a lovely afternoon hanging out with my dad, during a part of which, we filled in the holes we made in my bathroom wall when we removed the old towel rack brackets. He taught me how to use Polyfill to patch the holes in the drywall, and it's looking a lot better. All I have to do now is sand and paint!

I am super excited because this week finally brings Strive, a UX research conference held in Toronto. This will be the second year of the event, and it sure looks like they're gaining some traction because the tracks and speakers look AMAZING.

I'm also seeing Vampire Weekend at Echo Beach (yay, outdoor concerts!) and doing some extra band practice on the weekend to prepare for a special drumming show on Tuesday. We welcome Dandha Da Hora, all the way from Brazil (via California) to come and teach us a thing or two about Samba Reggae and the culture around Carnival.

Random Thought: Error Prevention v. Recovery
A well-designed user experience should allow users to recover from their mistakes. The simplest user interface element that exemplifies this is the back button - "I picked the wrong thing in the navigation system and now I want to go back and try another way". To err is human and it makes good sense for systems to provide feedback to allow users another chance.

While error recovery allows users to make mistakes and then fix them, error prevention in design attempts to predict user behaviour in an attempt to prevent the error from ever happening. Take this example from Gmail:

Error prevention in its current form in 2019 is pretty helpful, and will continue to be as we utilize artificial intelligence to better predict user behaviour. Take self-driving cars for example - you'd definitely want error prevention over recovery, especially if you're about to crash into a brick wall.

While error prevention is currently helpful and mostly simple, I do worry about its future in technology. As machines prevent humans from making errors, we lose our own innate ability to avoid errors and rely too heavily on technology. It's like an overbearing parent who does all your homework for you - it's fine now, but what about when you need the skills to solve a problem yourself?

If everything I've learned from science fiction comes true, I predict that error prevention will eventually cease to allow the user to opt-out. Think about the Gmail example above (scanning your email for the word attachment and then prompting you), except there is literally no way to send the email without either adding an attachment or removing the word. It sounds silly, but this is literally how singularity happens. As soon as we relinquish the ability to think for ourselves and allow machines to take over, that's it for humanity in my opinion.

Unsurprisingly, Black Mirror hits the nail on the head in a tiny detail of the first episode of their fifth season, Striking Vipers. Each of the main characters loads the dishwasher, but it refuses to turn on until they "properly" rinse their plate or turn the knives to face point-down in the cutlery rack.

If nothing else, it's an interesting non-gendered exploration of the heteronormative kitchen-nag, classically used by wives to convince their husbands to load the dishwasher properly. What an exercise in empathy as well as a glimpse into our darkening futures.

Inspiration: Ikea
This past weekend I was lucky enough to convince my sister to take me to Ikea. She got some cool matching bookshelves from the as-is section, I managed walk out without a single plant (tooooo many already), and we split a deal on a pair of Almondy chocolate pies. If you haven't tried them yet, they're reason enough on their own to visit the store. We even met up with my mom in the restaurant.

It's common knowledge that Ikea has constantly revolutionized the furniture buying experience. Low prices and good design come together to actively bring the customer into the process. Do you like this chair? Go pick up the boxes in the warehouse and build it yourself at home - it's easy and cheap and makes the customer feel like an active part of the process beyond just forking over some money.

But it's not just the process of buying furniture; there is some kind of allure to simply being in the store. Why is Ikea so pleasant an experience that many people joke about going on dates there? Personally, I think it's because the store designers have actually done the research to get as close to a perfect experience as they can.

The wayfinding in the upper level to navigate customers through the maze of staged rooms makes great use of dividing up a huge expansive space into manageable, organized boxes. It's reminiscent of the way they use small boxes to organize drawers on the micro level - everything is considered and puzzled out on a macro and micro level.

You may already know that the Ikea restaurant is designed to give customers a reason and ability to stay longer and shop more, by fulfilling one of the needs they would otherwise need to leave the store to fulfill. It was a true innovation when it was introduced to the first Ikea store in Sweden in 1958.

The brand continues to innovate today, with a particularly inspiring modular double-couch living room layout that works for the way we actually use our living rooms today.

Now, if only I actually owned a big tv to point all my furniture at.

Ikea is also introducing hyper-modular furniture for small-space living that is simply marvelous.

Instead of cramming a bunch of different furniture into a small space that you'll only use some of the time, why not combine and re-imagine how furniture can change to fit your needs throughout the day. From bed to desk to storage, it literally rolls around your room to fit whatever you need. If only I lived in a smaller apartment!