Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lower Dens, Urbanist Laundromats & Typeset In The Future

Weekly Update 2018-50: Soulful shoegaze from Baltimore's Lower Dens, what you can tell about a neighbourhood from its laundromats and the typography that shapes our perception of the future.

Music: Lower Dens
Formed in 2010 by Jana Hunter, Geoff Graham, Abram Sanders and Will Adams, Lower Dens is an exploration into shoegaze from Baltimore, Maryland. Hunter, who had been growing sick of the solo touring life, brought together a backing band along with her realization that she wasn't enjoying touring alone. The backing band stuck around and Lower Dens was formed.

According to bassist Geoff Graham, the band's creative process starts with Hunter creating "song sketches" which the band finishes together: "Every song is different but we do try to make decisions democratically, and try every idea and then decide by majority what choices we make." Check them out below.

I love their 80s new wave style, especially brought forth by Hunter's soulful voice. Favourite tracks include Real Thing and Ondine.

I visited the home of a fellow bun last week in the hopes of taking on a ten-day job to water her HUGE collection of plants. Sadly it didn't work out in the end as she found a friend to help take care of her flora babies, but it was pretty cool to nose into someone's life for an hour and see how she's decided to fill her 2-bedroom condo with so many plants and a very old cat. It's made me wonder if I should start to offer my services on Bunz - house sitting for the holidays. I really enjoyed doing it a couple weekends ago, and I think I'm pretty good at it too.

I also managed to get out to Kitchener (thanks Wayne and Leona) to visit my friend Kaylin for her very special Hannukah dinner on Friday night. Exactly how she managed to fit 17 people and two large dogs into her tiny apartment is still beyond me, but it totally worked.

I am always torn about the years when Hannukah comes so early, since it can be hard to schedule celebrations around the early part of December when we are expected to be in the office (and the end of the month feels equally empty, working when everyone else has left). But this year we even managed to squeeze in a family gathering at my aunt's house on the last day of Hannukah, right when my parents and sister got back from a vacation. So it all worked out perfectly, though it's December 11 and the festivities are largely complete for me. Which is a feeling I feel in strong contrast with the 20-foot Christmas tree propped up in front of my desk at work.

Office chair for scale. It's huge.

My office holiday party is this Friday! No less than three band practices will fill my week, culminating in the annual Tarragona Secret Santa. I feel like I really had my work cut out for me this year, but I think my recipient will really like their presents. Plus I wrapped them all spooky for Christmas...I also realized that I really like to wrap presents.

My tiny 3-foot tree.

On Sunday I will finally do my mother the honour of visiting and making Shakshuka for her - she's only ever had it leftover when I've made extra in my own home, so I think this will be a special treat for her. I can't believe how obsessed I've become with tomatoes...I feel like they're in every dish I make.

Random Thought: The New Urbanist Laundromat
The residential rental market in Toronto is pretty brutal right now, and it should be no surprise that renters will have to settle on one thing or another in finding a place to live. You'd have to be pretty lucky to find a place with on-site laundry, parking, an outdoor space, close to a subway station, etc. I think it's an unarguable fact that access to clean clothing is a human right, and yet not all apartments contain washing machines (mine included). I will accept the argument that it's not sustainable to own one's own machine, and the sharing economy is much better for the environment when it comes to high-cost/low-use household appliances.

Granted, I own enough clothing and linens not to have to do laundry more than once or twice a month (not the case for everyone) and I happen to live 30 seconds away from the closest laundromat (also not the case for everyone). I take for granted the fact that I can return to my apartment while the machine runs through its 30 minute cycle, and do chores or whatever else I need to do that isn't wasting time sitting in the laundromat watching the machine spin.

From sheer observation and the open-source data in Google Maps, I can ascertain a lot about a neighbourhood through its laundromats (or lack thereof). If we can all agree that access to clean clothes is a human right, but that landlords are no required to provide machines with rental units, then the brunt of the need fulfillment falls on the laundromats. It's not really fair, but it's how it is. And if laundromats are so few and far-between that their users would rather sit and wait for the 30 minute cycle to complete than go home and return (i.e. more than a 15-minute walk away), the current accessibility of laundromats is not up to my standard for meeting the human need.

There are more possible solutions than simply adding more laundromats to a neighbourhood (though that would certainly get the job done); why not rethink the concept of the laundromat completely? Make it a destination for something beyond clean clothes, use it to provide a new opportunity for a sense of community and belonging.

Some people have already heeded this call: take Spin Laundry Lounge in Portland, Oregon for example. Boasting a huge array of machines (all at one, manageable height I should add), a cafe, an arcade, movie nights and events, this is a cultural hub that also happens to run laundry machines. And this is the change I want to see in the world. You can read more about Spin in my earlier blog post.

Want another example? In Munich, Germany, a chain called Wash & Coffee is exactly that - a cafe and laundromat together at last. Featured in an earlier blog post as well, these two are both great examples of how we can use the access to a human need in positive ways to bring communities together.

Inspiration: Typeset In The Future
Typography is such an expressive medium for communication; while delivering the message through letterforms, the actual style of each individual letterform can deliver its own separate message as well. One such expression is the way typography can evoke feelings of futurism. Some typefaces have become so ingrained with the future through their use in pop culture that they would seem laughable when used in any other function.

The person documenting all of these futuristic fonts is the lead blogger for Typeset In The Future Dave Addey. He explains the userbase of his website and its contents through a lovely venn diagram:

Before you ask, yes, the circles are both uppercase O's set in Gill Sans.

Take for example the font Eurostile Bold Extended, which has been used in many Science Fiction films to give a futuristic feel. In fact, they have been used so often that the presence of these fonts in the credits or set design now actually helps viewers to quickly understand the setting of the scene.

Addey's blog is full of examples of futuristic typography found in popular culture and media. I found his piece researching the typography used in Disney/Pixar's 2008 animated film WALL·E to be quite inspired. From the use of an interpunct between the WALL and E (not a hyphen or bullet) to the subtle correlation of the fictional Buy'N'Large company to the real-world Costco Wholesale brand.

Check out Typeset In The Future for all your sci-fi/typography wants and needs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mild High Club, The Thankless Job & Happy Lists

Weekly Update 2018-49: All things happiness. Mild High Club provides soothing tones as I contemplate the feeling of contentment that design provides me and creating a Happy List for these dark times.

Happiness by Meroo Seth on Dribbble.

Music: Mild High Club
Talk about some feel-good music, you'll find it in Mild High Club. This easy, grooving, synthy yet also acoustic psych pop from Los Angeles is the work of Chicago-native Alexander Brettin. The music has such an effortless laidback appeal though of course much attention is truly paid to detail. If this music were a tactile sensation, it would be a hand gently caressing your cheek. Both of the band's LPs have been featured in a handful of television shows over the past while, so you may recognize some tunes. Give them a listen:

What a week! I went from band practice to band practice, to my final class of this BrainStation semester. It's been awesome to see the projects develop over ten weeks, so much so that it was a joy to mark their final projects. I hope to enjoy it as much when I do it all again in January.

This weekend marked my first 72 hours taking care of Theo the puppy. Almost as much as hanging out with an awesome dog, I also thoroughly enjoyed house sitting for Eric and Laura. The change of scenery (and routine) gave me an excuse to focus on some projects. I also got it pretty close to perfect planning on my first run: ordering a meal kit box delivery straight to their address and providing myself adequate snackage (only two leftover granola bars). Theo and I cuddled, I got a lot of work done, and it was fun living in someone else's home (especially as nice a place as Eric and Laura's apartment), kind of like a vacation.

This week I hope to visit the home of Dani - a woman I met on Bunz who needs her home sat (read: 100 plants watered and a 21yo cat and three fish fed) for ten days at the end of the month. You can't make this stuff up. I feel up to the challenge, and definitely learned that you need at least two people and a yard to care properly for a dog (while being able to have a life), I don't think the bar is as high for a cat. So I'm considering getting one. Maybe.

More drumming is on the menu of course, as our Holiday party is next week. Now that my Thursdays are no longer consumed by BrainStation, I can start to devote them to drumming.

I'm also making a mad dash to get all my holiday shopping done this week before the craziness sets in for the last-minute shoppers.

Random Thought: The Thankless Job Of Design
It's always been a rule of thumb in my design education that good design should not be noticed at all, it should allow users to complete their tasks with so little effort that they don't even think about the "design" of the experience; it should feel so natural that they don't even think about the design.

For non-designers, this is truly the way of life. You may never notice how easy it is to open a door until a badly-designed handle reminds you that some doors are much more difficult than others. The same goes for a toothbrush or an alarm clock.

I can accept this behaviour to some extent, reminding myself that ease of use is pretty much my life's goal - but there's no question that this results in some thankless work. That is to say, if I design something to such an extent that no user ever encounters an issue while using it, they'll surely never think about the fact that it was designed in the first place, and therein never realize that someone was behind its creation. If you're thinking of going into the field of design for the sweet taste of gratitude, you may want to rethink some life choices.

Inspiration: Happy Lists
It's no surprise to anyone that we're currently living in the darkest timeline. Most of the news events are quite sadness-inducing, and the world needs something to combat that. Everyone has a list of things that make them happy, but few people ever take that list to pen and paper. I think this is such a shame, since the things that truly make us happy don't come up in daily life as often as we'd like. So why not start recording and taking a look at the list when you really need it?

All credit for this wonderful idea goes to Kaylin, whose ongoing iPhone note of her favouritest things is lovingly screenshotted below:

The list is much longer than this screenshot shows, but I'll leave the rest to mystery.

Favourite smells, words, places, sounds, activities, the list can go on as long as you'd like it to. While it's definitely a great thing to have a personalized list of things to put a smile on your face, there's actually an added bonus of creating and updating this sort of list by challenging yourself to think about the things that make you happy and why they make you happy. Each person's list will be unique and telling about the way they live their life, which can be a good continual exercise in understanding more about oneself.

So go make your own happy list! Feel free to share yours in the comments to spread your happiness!

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Zolas, Fitbit Implants & Manhole Covers

Weekly Update 2018-48: Pop-rock from Vancouver's The Zolas, an innovation in Fitbit technology and the wild, wild world of manhole covers.

A manhole cover in Portland Oregon...
not that the rose or the rain weren't already a dead giveaway.

Music: The Zolas
Formed in Vancouver in 2009, The Zolas brought their alternative pop-rock sound to the Danforth Music Hall last Thursday. I honestly didn't know any of their songs before seeing them, and I still thought they did a great job filling such a big stage.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Bunz continues to be my favourite thing, ever. Last week I entered a contest to win concert tickets and won! So I got to see one of my favourite bands Yukon Blonde at Danforth Music Hall with one of my favourite concert buddies: my dad. The Zolas (mentioned above) deserve a shoutout for opening the show, as well as collaborating with Yukon Blonde on a cover of The Traveling Wilburys' Handle With Care.

I really can't believe how much I turned my luck around - we almost got THE monthly top score on the escape room my sister chose for her birthday. In any case we were among the 4.8% of people who have successfully escaped from that room, which if true, is HUGE. As promised, we rewarded ourselves with Korean BBQ afterward. It's been so long since I've had it, and I ended up doing a lot of the cooking because it's so much fun.

Another excellent day out with Kaylin while she was visiting Toronto for the weekend, she suggested we hike around Evergreen Brickworks which was an excellent idea. In addition to the numerous amazing selfies (I don't know why we ALWAYS look so good in photos together), we got a great tour of the facility all to ourselves and some great weather for exploring outside. Look how cute we are:

I had a nice chat this morning with Alec Levin from UX Research Collective about his processes and the way he got into his profession. It really made me wish we had a UX researcher at my day job who could help out with the fact-finding.

This Thursday marks the final BrainStation class of the semester - I can't believe how fast it's all gone by. I am honestly so proud of my students and so excited to see their final projects.

My friends Laura and Eric are taking their band on tour to Montreal this weekend, and entrusting me with the care of their super-cute dog Theo. I went to visit him yesterday and this afternoon so he could get a bit used to me before we get nice and friendly on the weekend. Theo is used to sleeping in bed with his humans, so if we're going to cuddle, he'll have to get to know me a bit first.

I started to wonder about what I'd do with all the time spent in my friends' place this weekend, so I realized I could use it to get some good chunks of work done. I've got a Meal Prep kit being delivered on Friday, Sasha visiting on Saturday, some postcards to write, some Bunz trades to make, and some Theo to love. It'll be a full weekend of awesomeness, I think.

Random: Fitbit Implants
I did a lot of walking the other day, only to greet myself at the end of it with a sense of dismay: I hadn't had my phone on me while walking, so none of the steps counted. I know their health benefits are not discounted, but at the same time I feel cheated out of something...maybe a couple Scene points from the Carrot app and a visual sense of accomplishment.

The answer to this problem for most people is their Fitbit, which you put on in the morning like a watch and never worry about not counting steps. Sounds simple enough, except I absolutely detest wearing anything on my wrists and love to push up my sleeves while I work. And now I have another device to charge? No way, that's not gonna fly either. What alternative is there for people like me?

May I introduce, the random thought of 2018-48: the Fitbit Implant. You get a tiny Fitbit device implanted into your tooth like a filling (or maybe while you're having a cavity filled - 2 for 1!), and you never have to worry about taking it out. It charges itself from the power of your chewing and transmits information right to your phone. Yes, I know it's genius. Patent pending.

Inspiration: Manhole Covers
If you're anything like me, you look mostly at the ground as you walk down the street. I just find there is the most interesting stuff to see on the ground, it really tells a story about a city (hopefully a good one). The ground is nice to look at when you're minding your own business as you walk. One of the truly overlooked and underrated things to see are manhole covers. When I'm not swerving on my bike to avoid them or the eroded, uneven pavement around them, I do admire their patterns and typography. Plus, it's a design to last through the ages: they may wear down a little over time but mostly retain their design and rough-hewn metal texture.


Manhole covers are also intriguing because they separate us, the aboveground, from...well, the upside down, as Stranger Things would put it. It's a welcome barrier in my life, separating me from the icky stuff that lives beneath the surface.

Since manhole covers tend to steam in the winter months, this clever ad comes to my mind when I cross over a steamy one. I think it came out in 2006, and I'm still thinking about it 12 years later. I don't drink Folgers Coffee but this is very memorable.

A Berlin-based art collective by the name of Raubdruckerin has been using manhole covers (and other textured architectural forms) as stencils for screenprinting designs onto some very unique shirts and bags. They explain on their website that they clean up the paint afterwards and don't leave anything behind on public property.

Last time I went to New York, my parents and I found Vernakular, a really cool vendor in Chelsea Market - selling photographs of manhole covers (from all over the world) as floormats. I am proud to say my father has good taste and bought one for their home (Manhattan) and one for me (Portland). It's a super cool statement piece and doesn't show dirt (added bonus).

I love that Portland's version looks wet - because it was probably raining that day! You can see what I think is the photographer's shadow at the bottom.

While I do love the above designs, they really can't hold a candle to some of the designs in Japan, and really all over the world. Instagram's World of Manholes is an homage to these wondrous things, and deserves a follow for sure.

Manholes can be seen as a necessary device in our society, perhaps some of us don't think about them at all. But they weren't always just "there", someone had to design them. If so, why not design them beautifully? These manhole cover designs represent the beautification and reinvigoration of something mundane, and it makes me happy.