Monday, August 13, 2018

Deerhunter, Designer Goods and Toronto Botanical Gardens

Weekly Update 2018-33: Cross-genre tunes from Deerhunter, what exactly makes a handbag "designer" and the beauty and sculpture found in Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Music: Deerhunter
A classic from my childhood days of borrowing CDs from my local library, Atlanta's Deerhunter continues to create melancholy tunes that are at once simple and extremely intriguing. The band describes their music as "ambient punk", though I also hear tones of rock and even pop at times. That's one of the things that makes their music so interesting, is that it borrows from genres that are really different from each other.

Even the list of bands they've toured with speaks volumes in the span of genres: Nine Inch Nails, TV on the Radio, Project Pat, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Fiery Furnaces, Lower Dens, Ex Models, Battles, and Kings of Leon.

Their third album, 2008's Microcastle was how I found Deerhunter, so it would seem a fitting place for you to start as well.

It's been a busy week. I was able to finish a first draft of the general flow for my associate appointment booking app, so this week will be about refinements and user testing.

I also played a bonus little drumming show with my band this week, at a children's day camp festival in Grange Park. I thought our set went really well, though naturally we were upstaged by the Reptilia man who had a live boa constrictor wrapped around his neck. It's ok, my ego is hardly tarnished.

A shoutout must be made regarding the amazing Dim Sum breakfast that my dad's coworkers threw for fun, to which I was very graciously invited as well. It was enough food to feed thirty people easily, and I tried some weird new things I'd never had before. It's amazing to eat at restaurants with people who know what to order. All the food was so extremely tasty.

A mango pudding in the shape of a fish.

As intended, I also biked to my friend Philip's party through Richmond Hill - which I so rarely get to bike around. There are not a ton of bike lanes and you wouldn't catch me on a main road by any means, but I know the side streets and neighbourhoods pretty well so it wasn't terrible. Too bad Richmond Hill isn't just a name though - it was all uphill on the way there.

Last week I finally completed a Kijiji sale, purchasing a device that's meant to be a stretching and strengthening workout band as well as a back brace. All this time spent sitting at a desk with bad posture to begin with has been causing my spine to curve - so I thought it was time to try something that has a regimented plan. I'll be starting the treatment this week, which lasts 8 weeks of stretches and time wearing the brace.

I'll be spending all my free time this week working on the presentation and refinements for the associate app, hopefully coming to a good place by the end of Thursday since I'll be up at my friend's cottage this weekend. Lucky me!

Random Thought: Designer Goods
Having spent some time these past few weeks on the insides of malls and department stores, I have seen the word “designer” being thrown around a lot. Designer handbags, designer shoes, etc. I take this to mean that the handbag or shoes were made by a high-end designer, but I just find the term a bit hilarious in its generalization, as if to say that since this is a designer handbag, handbags that are not "designer" are not designed. But of course they are! Literally everything we come into contact with on a daily basis that isn't from right out of the ground has been designed by someone.

I actually find that thought endlessly amusing as I move through my day. I am constantly thinking about the person who decided to make the handle on my mug or select the pattern on my shirt. I get the impression most people don't think about the items they use, but as I am able to add more well-designed items to my life I find more gratitude in myself for those designers. So perhaps we might change the term "designer handbag" to "well-designed handbag", though the two current definitions are certainly not always found in the same item.

Inspiration: Toronto Botanical Gardens
The good summer months bring about a lovely scene in the parks around Toronto, perhaps none quite as beautiful as Edward Gardens and the Toronto Botanical Gardens. I took a trip there this weekend after quite some time since my last visit, and it was even more beautiful than I remembered.

Not only are all the flowers in beautiful bloom, but there is a wonderful exhibit on right now with literally dozens of stone sculptures by Zimbabwean artists. I honestly couldn't tell you whether the sculptures or flowers were more beautiful.

There were a couple of artists there as well, having come all the way from Africa to discuss their work and showcase how they do their carvings.

And on top of all that, I got to try out the Gardens' new mobile app, which uses beacons and geolocation to take you on a tour through the gardens. As you access each new part of the garden, more information is revealed to you about the plants and landscaping surrounding you. It was a lovely addition and contrast to such a natural and organic experience, not too overbearing.

The app is called GrowIt, and it's actually used for plant identification anywhere you happen to be looking at beautiful plants, not just at one of its official locations like the TBG. Check out the app here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Vundabar, Personal Stylists & Museum of Failure

Weekly Update 2018-32: Singing along to Vundabar, interviewing personal stylists for an associate app project and visiting the Harbourfront's Museum of Failure.

Music: Vundabar
Boston-based Vundabar pelts their listeners with moody powerchords, drums-forward tracking, and repeated chamber vocals that just beg us to sing along. It's the teen garage pop I never knew I needed. I imagine their lyrics are somewhat sad, but I appreciate the ambiguity and the cathartic nature of being able to sing along without fully knowing all the words. It's a mood, okay?

Check out Holy Toledo and their entire 2015 album Gawk.

I'm working on a portfolio piece that is making quite the interesting challenge from a user interface perspective. It's an associate app for a fashion brand that will allow salespeople to book and manage personal appointments with clients, allowing clients to request specific items in advance before coming in to try them on in person. When they arrive at the store, the items are waiting for the client in a fitting room, and the associate can upsell, communicate and even checkout the client all through the app.

I spent a few hours wandering around Eaton Centre speaking with people in various roles, asking about how they manage their client appointments. More on that below!

Now that my roommate is leaving quite soon, I am cherishing our last days together. We went to the Christie Pits Sunday movie this week to see Amelie (such a cute film I had somehow missed) and for a hike in a small Ontario town called Limehouse. The hiking trail there contains ruins of an old set of kilns (that used to produce limestone blocks for buildings - which were exported to Melbourne), and a sort of rocky heights that are cracked in places, so you can go down a set of wooden ladders to explore down between the two sides. A very cool place.

Erika and Ari in his party bandana.

I'm hoping to get the upfront research on this app all done so I can work on perfecting the InVision prototype all through the week.

I'm also finally able to join my father with his coworkers on their occasional Dim Sum adventure (always very early in the morning, when the Dim Sum is sleepy and easier to catch). On top of that, I'm taking my roommate to a Blue Jays Game - her first (and last) one before she leaves Ontario. The goal there is not to get hit in the head with a ball. Saturday marks my friend Phillip's goodbye party before he moves permanently to Europe, and I'm hoping to bike there as I did for one of his parties when I was just learning to ride a bike. I'd also like to make time to visit the Gardiner Museum on Sunday for the final day of an interesting exhibit they have called Reclaiming Artifacts.

Random Thought:
For my associate app project, I took to the streets this week. By that I mean that I went to Eaton Centre and interviewed as many personal shoppers, stylists, salespeople and makeup artists as I could about how they manage their appointments. You'd be surprised to know how much of these tasks end up being done manually, with no technology beyond a phone call or perhaps email in some cases.

With an apparent gap between customer need and the available products, I did find it quite interesting to note all the workarounds and interesting ways that personal shoppers (especially at Hudson's Bay's The Room) use the tools and services they already have to do their jobs. One personal stylist even showed me his contact list on WeChat (extremely popular in the personal styling business in China) and some of the conversations he has with ongoing clients. He simply uses WeChat as a one-stop-service for sharing pictures and links of clothing, booking appointments, and providing fashion advice to his clients.

My favourite example, though, is the way one salon professional used an appointment booking product while working at a salon. She showed her coworkers that they could repurpose an unused field in any client's profile to set all sorts of notes regarding upselling and helpful hints for the next appointment. All of this really inspires me to make an app that will improve their experience beyond what it is now. I definitely see the potential to do so.

Inspiration: Museum of Failure
During my mother's and my seasonal jaunt about Harbourfront Centre and Powerplant Gallery to see the current instalment of art and design, we came across quite an interesting little shadowbox display of objects of all kinds - the sad physical history of failures in products sold all over the world. From purple ketchup to overcomplicated and underperforming musical equipment to the Virtual Boy - the only Nintendo product ever to be declared a failure by the company - it was an array of wonder at how anyone could have come up with such silly products.

The 1957 Ford Edsel was a total failure from a business perspective, but without it we would never have had the Ford Mustang.

The Museum of Failure's founder, psychologist Samuel West, has high praise for his collection. He says, "The point of having the museum is that we can learn from these failures. I want us to start to admit our failures as companies, as individuals, so we can learn from it."

When you think about it, it really rings true that most examples of success in life are the end result of a lot of failure. Failure is a useful tool in building the bridge to success, as can be seen with something as frivolous as the Virtual Boy. It was truly ahead of its time as a step toward the futuristic world of virtual reality, which we are teetering on the edge of now.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sleigh Bells, The Uber Logo & Joe Sulsenti

Weekly Update 2018-31: Delightfully contrasting soft lyrics and heavy guitar riffs make up Sleigh Bells, wondering why the Uber logo is always placed incorrectly on car windshields, and the cheeky animations of Joe Sulsenti.

Music: Sleigh Bells
Alexis Krauss and Derek Edward Miller have been making powerful noise pop since 2008 under the moniker of Sleigh Bells. Not only is their lo-fi music super catchy, but they mix Alexis' dreamy soft voice with Derek's screaming guitar riffs which make for a delightful contrast that I can't get enough of. And what's more special is that my dad is a huge fan of this band - maybe even more than me. They're definitely one of the catalysts for the two of us to attend more live concerts together which is something I really treasure.

I still listen to their first album quite often (though the new stuff is also great). Check out 2010's Treats below.

As promised, I made it to the other side of three intense days of drumming for the Beaches Jazz Festival. So many happy, shiny faces in the crowd made it all worthwhile by Saturday night. Just like last year, these shows were a major bonding experience for my band. I'm so proud of us.

I also surprised myself with my ability to complete a freelance project for a client, apparently redirecting hosting and duplicating an entire Wordpress site isn't as difficult as I thought it would be. It's the small wins that put a smile on my face.

I heard about a really cool exhibition going on at the Gardiner Museum, which I'll be checking out on Friday.

I am also going to make a trip to the west side beach this week, and visit the Toronto Tool Library in Parkdale while I'm in the area. I don't need to borrow anything but I do want to see how it works and check out the space. I think the idea is really cool. Plus it's near Craig's Cookies, which I really want to check out as well.

Random Thought: The Uber Logo
I don't think I know anyone who actually understands the redesigned Uber logo, circa February 2016. The case study on the brand as a whole is actually quite compelling and interesting in some areas, but the App Icon and logo itself are somewhat unintelligible past the point of abstraction.

I know this sounds like opinion but I state it as fact due to a problem I see in its application almost every day. We've all been on the lookout for the car we've hailed from the app, trying to spot the Uber logo sticker in the car's windshield. And while drivers do somehow manage to place the sticker in the right area, so very few of them manage to set the sticker in the right orientation. As compared with Lyft's logo (pictured below), the wordmark is a very easy one to understand in terms of its top and bottom. Uber on the other hand, has no discernible top or bottom. It's an abstract circle with a line.

A laminated card from AliExpress doesn't allow room for error in application.
But so few Uber drivers own this!

Some people do know that the thinner line from the outside to the center should be horizontal on the left (this is how the logo is meant to be displayed), but I see many more instances of the sticker being placed upside down or some other orientation that isn't correct. You'd think the designers would have considered this as a possible application result, and yet here we are. 

Inspiration: Joe Sulsenti
I first found Joe Sulsenti's work through New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens. We've all had that feeling where we see someone attractive on the subway and try to get them to notice us as we get off the train. It's just a funny little slice of life that Sulsenti captured hilariously well in this short animation:

I love his style, so cheeky and fun. Sulsenti is currently studying and working in animation in New York. On his website, he states:
I think animation is the strongest medium to convey ideas. It has the power to move, touch, and tingle people of any age group anywhere around the world.
Character design for a Merman.

Frame from Sulsenti's comic Draw My Bunz, showcasing his experiences being a nude figure model for artists.

Check out more of Sulsenti's work on his website.