Sunday, May 31, 2015

Weekly Update: Puhka rahus, kallis Ene

Music: Hot Chip
Hot Chip has been a favourite band of mine for a long time. I found them around the time their second album The Warning came out in 2006. Since then, I've transformed into a giddy schoolgirl each and every time they released a subsequent four albums came out. I think the longest wait has been between 2012's In Our Heads and 2015's Why Make Sense?, which has made me the most excited for this new one.

In true Hot Chip style, lead singer Alexis Taylor combines curiously cheeky lyrics with Joe Goddard's sickly-sweet synthesizer to make tunes that just make you want to dance. By this, their sixth studio album, I'd say they've got the formula for the dancefloor all worked out.

Not to mention, they only played a measly 40 minute set at Grove Festival in 2013 when I first saw them. I have just freshly scored a ticket on Kijiji to their sold-out show on Wednesday, and I can't wait to break out some sweet moves to Huarache Lights. Try your moves out below:

I've continued working on the Wolf Parade infographic, as intended from last week. I think it'll take a little longer than anticipated, though, because I am clearly the most indecisive individual when it comes to colour. I'll be continuing it today and throughout the week whenever I get the chance, but the next big work day will be next Sunday. It's a busy week ahead, what with two concerts and the Mac & Cheese Fest coming up as well! My favourite.

I also completed a new page on my portfolio site, for Design Latitudes. Now that the project is completed, I am so excited to show it off to others. It's really rewarding to be able to finish a freelance project for someone. In the best scenarios, everyone comes away a little more enriched by something. I know I did.

Still working on Wolf Parade stuff, but I'd like to take a bit of time this week to look into some Lynda tutorials about Photoshop. Soon I'll be using it a lot more than I have in past, and I want to make sure my skill level is up to the task.

I found a pretty good one: Photoshop CC for Web Design with Justin Seeley. If anything, I hope this will get me a little more comfortable with Photoshop CC. I've been using CS5 for about five years now and am as afraid of change as the rest of the poor souls who cry everytime Facebook changes their layout, so wish me luck!

Random Thought: Personas
If you aren't familiar with the term, personas are a theory used in user experience design. A persona is a fictional character that represents a user who will interact with your product. For example, a general persona for a travel app is someone who likes to travel (that's an easy one). A persona may also be specific, depending on the product. For example, J-17 Magazine's main persona of users is American girls roughly 17 years old.

It can be difficult to do research with personas for products that reach a larger audience, such as Facebook. Take location tagging for example. The other day, I was looking through my newsfeed and noticed that my dad had tagged a photo from our backyard as "Home Sweet Home," which happens to be a restaurant in Karachi, Pakistan. Leave it to my father to single-handedly ruin the analytics of Facebook with his location tagging.

I asked him about it to see what he thought of location tagging in general, and his answer was pretty good. He doesn't see the feature as quantitative so much as qualitative, in that people on Facebook will see that these beautiful Trilliums are growing at our home. Whether or not the phrase "Home Sweet Home" will register to Facebook as my dad's actual home doesn't matter to him. It was a very interesting thing to think about how he uses Facebook versus someone like me, who likes to check in at specific places to make my friends jealous (in a nice way!)

This whole experience begs the question; what kind of persona does my dad fit? Are others like him using Facebook in the same way, and messing up the statistics for all the poor souls who pay Facebook for the accuracy of such services? Does the owner of Home Sweet Home in Pakistan care that my father is mistakenly announcing to Facebook that he has been there?

I think the one piece of information I can glean from this is that no matter how thorough you are with user testing and personas and research, there will always be a person who will use your product for a purpose for which it was not originally designed. And hey, isn't that where innovation comes from? All the power to you, dad.

This is a bit of a sad one, so prepare. My very good friend's mother lost her battle with cancer last week, and I did my best to be there for her. I have never known loss akin to that of losing one's mother, and from what I can tell, she was truly loved. Having been a wearer of many hats such as ballet, animation and library sciences, this woman was truly an inspiration. Honestly, I knew that she was a wonderful person from having the joy of knowing her three children. Her eldest daughter took the time through her mourning process to design the funeral program, which just furthers the fact that design has the power to do much good in the world.

Even before we arrived at the funeral home, we noticed a copy of the program tacked up on a bulletin board in a nearby restaurant. This woman touched the lives of so many people that her loss was felt throughout the community and beyond. I also noticed that more chairs had to be put out every few moments as more people poured through the doors of the funeral home to pay their respects.

My condolences to her family and friends, all of those who were lucky enough to know her. Even though I wasn't one of those people, I still feel lucky to know her family and hear stories about her as told through her loved ones. Some are happy, some sad, some incredibly funny. It's comforting to me (and hopefully to others) to know that her spirit will clearly live on in those with whom she interacted.

Puhka rahus, kallis Ene. 

Rest in peace, dear Ene.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Designer Tourists

I am all for well-designed websites and boy, have I found one. There are so many travel websites kicking around the web, but none of them had ever caught my eye until I found OnTheGrid. Created by Hyperakt out of Brooklyn, the website features an in-depth designer’s look at all the hidden nooks and crannies in well-known boroughs. Each borough’s collection is curated by a different creative company, and they roll out one borough every Friday. Did did you notice the custom .city on the URL? Swanky.

You may now know of my love of getting an insider’s look at places I don’t know much about (though I am a semi-frequent visitor of the Big Apple), and this website does an amazing job of putting the city behind a lens of curation of creatives like me.

Even the borough that Hyperakt themselves curated, Gowanus, is the new location of their office. You can tell that this project was created out of a love of good food and shopping in the city, and it is a joy to peruse.

From Hyperakt's website:
On the Grid is a designer’s guide to neighborhood gems. It was created by Hyperakt, a design agency based in Brooklyn. Excited by all the new places we discovered after moving to the neighborhood of Gowanus, we decided to make a simple, user-friendly guide which would allow us to share these gems with the rest of the world. We’re asking some of our favorite creative companies to join in on the fun by representing their own neighborhoods. Please get in touch if you’d like to help us put the best places in the world’s most creative neighborhoods On the Grid!

I usually plan my NYC trips around food, trying to eat as many small bites of delicious things as I can before I burst. The guide is largely based around food, but also includes other things such as bike shops, stationery stores, and more. Probably the best category (after food) is the parks. I am always on the lookout here in Toronto for hidden greenspaces in which to spend a few minutes. It’s my little moment to stop and smell the tulips, and it’s good for the soul of people who live among buildings and smog to find a break and be among nature. I know that sounds hippy-dippy, but it’s true!

A little about Hyperakt: they are a social impact design agency based in Brooklyn, specializing in creative storytelling and – my favourite – data visualization! Too few people understand the importance of what an interactive infographic can do for your audience. People love to play around with tools and when they involve interesting little tidbits of information that you can bring to your next dinner party, what’s not to love! Another interesting project of theirs (that involves the magic of dataviz):

In collaboration with

The GOOD Wellness Project, Hyperakt has created a completely immersive web experience that shows us how important vitamins are to our well-being. As you move through the body, each important body part is a hotspot, clickable for more information.

I have bad eyesight, so it’s good to know I need more Vitamin A!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Weekly Update: Something New

Music: Patrick Watson - Love Songs for Robots
If you know me at all, you know that my two favourite genres of music are folk and electronica. While you might say that these two genres are pretty much polar opposites, I'd say that they're contrasting enough to be a perfect match. And in walks this gem of an album. Watson, a native of Montreal, has managed to marry ethereal and spooky synths with soft piano and acoustic guitar. Not to mention the quality of his voice, which carries a sweet sadness to it.

I have been following Watson for a while and am familiar with his two previous albums, but I really think he's come into his own with this one. Listen to the opening track below:

A new chapter has begun! Today marks my first day at my new job, and my first full-time adult-type job at that. After a day at EventMobi, I can see that things move pretty quickly there. I'm really excited to dig my teeth into the new projects we have going on, and as always I am happy to be again surrounded by design/development nerds who are as meticulous about detail as I am. It'll be a little while before I begin working on real projects, but the training is going interestingly enough. Of all things, I made a mock app of the 2015 Milan Expo as an exercise inside the CMS that produces the apps. All good fun. Though I must say that it looks a little strange to have the real Expo app beside my silly little mock app on my phone.

All of that said, probably the best part of the day was when two designers took me for lunch to Kinton Ramen. In that hour, I felt like a sponge. I tried to soak up everything I could about topics from Japanese crepe restaurants to the value of design management to the best and most accurate weather app that money can't buy (it's free). It's called and it's amazing.

Now that I've seen the inside of this office in which I work, I know for sure that past Chloe was right. If I want to keep doing design stuff on the side for fun, I'll need to schedule time for it. So this week, I'll be scheduling time on Sunday for some serious work on my Wolf Parade infographic. It's pitiful to think of the steam I gathered at the beginning of the project, and need to gather again now. I'd say the hard part is pretty well finished since I've collected and plotted all of the data. It's just a matter of prettying it up a little, and maybe drawing the heads of all of the band members. That won't take more than a day (I hope!) 

This is all making me feel like I am becoming a statistic myself – using Sundays to get all of my chores done. Ah well, there isn't a lot I can really do to help that, now that I am a nine-to-fiver with all the other poor saps.

Random Thought:
By now, it's pretty much an undisputed fact that the Green Room is Toronto's best bar. Cheap and delicious drinks and food, lots of places to sit on mismatched chairs and sofas, and a pretty outdoor patio. One thing that I think goes amiss about the place (and about its Bathurst & College sister Nirvana) is the amount of awesome art that adorns the walls. Even when it isn't awesome, it's still really intriguing to look at. I've noted that the art is all for sale by artists, which makes it even better. The bars get to run a loop of continually changing art (which, dare I say, freshens the soul), and the artists get a forum through which to have their art seen by lots of people (and possibly even make a sale here or there). Even if the establishments take a cut of the sales, I still think it's a great example of synergy in the city and always make a point to look at the art in restaurants that have pieces for sale.

Inspiration: Milan Expo 2015
I am a big fan of World Fairs and the connection they provide between people from different cultures and countries. You may have seen the branding project I did for Toronto's bid to be the host city in 2025. This year the expo is happening in Milan, Italy, and the branding is quite nice.

I love the mix of primary colours and how they overlap to create more colours. And the way that the numbers of 2015 overlap with EXPO is really cool too. From the expo website:

The logo can be interpreted in different ways. It is made up of primary colors and linear shapes that represent simplicity but also versatility which is multifaceted. It represents the essence of food, where just a few simple ingredients can be combined to create an infinite number of recipes, each with a different taste. It is also the symbol of light and energy where simple primary colors create different shades and energies. In the same way, Expo Milano 2015 represents the different fields of knowledge which, when brought together, create a new energy for the future.
It feels so energetic and bright, which is in keeping with the theme of food and growth.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Long Pause

I hope you'll excuse my tardiness! Life has been a whirlwind in the past few weeks. I still feel like my head is spinning between countless interviews, having my wisdom teeth pulled out, and an incredible trip to Israel, from which I returned yesterday. And I'll be honest with you, I wouldn't have blogged anything even if I could find any reliable wifi. First of all, you and I know all too well that this is by no means a travel blog (heaven forbid!) and second, I believe in living in the moment. Why tweet a photo of the sunrise when you can just watch it as it happens? It's like the old adage says, 'Be there or be squared".

So now that I am home, I will of course return to the regularly scheduled program. If I had to choose a recurring topic for this blog (again, definitely not travel), I might venture to say that it relates to personal stories people tell and what those stories can tell about their people. If you read between the lines and pay attention to how a person tells a story, you can uncover hidden layers that you may have otherwise missed.

You may be familiar with an app I conceived and designed called Hear & Now. In a nutshell, the app allows users to record stories in their own voice and tense, while other users can listen to these stories only when they are standing in the place where the stories originally occurred. The idea is based on Toronto's best kept walking-tour secret, Murmur Ears. Find a green sign, listen to the story on your phone, and learn more about the area around you.

Now, a new spin on the idea is erupting in Harbord Village. Aptly named StoryPosts, you can find exactly 24 signs dotting the village. They are attached to fences, signposts, and an assortment of other things in the neighbourhood. Similarly to Murmur Ears, these posts comprise a location-based story, recorded in the voice of the person from whom the story originates. The posts contain a QR code, scannable by a smartphone.

The subject matter of the stories is simply teeming with interesting tidbits of history, and varies in tone from lighthearted to serious. Some stories describe racism and prejudice, while others discuss the paradise of a front porch in days before central air conditioning.

Oral histories are incredibly important. In the future, all we will have left from days of old is the stories of our elders. And when they are gone, recordings of their little pieces of histories will be around to remind us of what life was like in their time. I really enjoy these stories, and they feel very personal even though I don't know the storytellers personally.

One last point that I find interesting is something that the interviewer noted. In 150 interviews, many people had a tendency to preface their stories with a warning that the stories didn't have much interest or anything to offer. I strongly disagree. After you listen to some of the stories, I think you will, too.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Walking About Town

As I previously mentioned, I finished my bout of Jane's Walks last weekend. And oh, what a weekend it was! In case you weren't aware, Jane's Walks are a series of planned walking tours that happen annually all over the world. That said, I can objectively tell you that Toronto is the best city in which to attend a walk because both the event and the founder - Jane Jacobs - are from Toronto.

This weekend marks a special record-breaking adventure in which I completed FOUR walks. And I have the sore thighs to prove it. The great thing is that no matter how many years and walks I attend, each one is so different from the next. For example...

Friday - Eat Danforth East
Never before have I been so far east on Danforth Avenue - we're talking east of Woodbine and beyond! And that was only the first of many first experiences on the walk. Phil Pothen, a lawyer working and living in the area, took us on a tour of all the different culinary spots along Danforth. From Ethiopian to Icelandic to British to Caribbean, you'd really never know how multicultural that part of the town is, unless you went on a Jane's Walk, of course. It was especially interesting to see all of the different vegetables that are used in dishes from other countries. I had never seen many of them before. And not only that, I found my favourite Caribbean cookie of all time, the famed Shirley Biscuit. You can't find these just anywhere, okay.

If you know me at all, you know I love to hang out in the Annex. That little stretch of Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina is one of my favourite spots in the city. Jennifer Hollett led a colourful walk through the Annex and spaces surrounding, ending at the beautiful U of T grounds. The most amazing part of the walk was the fact that she invited Runt, the artist responsible for the mural on Lee's Palace, to speak about his work. You'd be surprised by the number of genitalia hidden in that mural. His words, not mine!

I even got a picture with Runt in front of his famed Lee's Palace mural. One for the scrapbooks!

And a visit to the Annex is never complete without some kind of culinary adventure. This time it was Guu for some seared salmon and ramen.

Sunday I - A Sense of Spadina
A historically-rich walk in Kensington began my Sunday. We started at the old synagogue and moved our way around the area, checking out establishments of past and present Jewish importance. As we stopped by a Russian church to get a nice look at the architecture, one of the members invited us inside! It is beautiful in there - but no pictures unfortunately. You'll just have to go get a look for yourself.

The final walk of the weekend - and oh boy, my feet were politely reminding me to buy better shoes. Two architects from an urban planning firm took us on a tour of all of the unusual and wondrous planned spaces around the King and Spadina area. It was really nice to see some harmony at work in amongst what may seem like any other street in Toronto. For example, there is a beautiful courtyard in behind a restaurant called Weslodge, on King and west of Spadina. It acts as a laneway for cars, but also as a nice little resting area for condo owners and really anyone to sit and take a load off. And you wouldn't believe how quiet it is! They also spoke about the importance of restoration versus tearing down and building anew. Which is probably the reason why most of the design firms in that area have old wood floors and brick walls. Not that I am complaining, it looks swanky!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Weekly Update - Chansons

Music: Serge Gainesbourg
My boyfriend just bought a Serge Gainesbourg record and I am enthralled. What is this full-sounding chamber pop I have been missing my whole life? In my renewed opinion, all music needs a custom-written strings section.

Gainesbourg had quite the full life; he was a French singer, songwriter, pianist, film composer, poet, painter, screenwriter, writer, actor and director. Once-lover of Jane Birkin and father of Charlotte Gainesbourg, Serge had been making music since 1958. I love the music for its interesting mix of sounds and, to be honest, the sound of French singing is very nice. I know Gainesbourg was a master of wordplay in his songs, but it's lost on me because I don't know any French! Maybe this will inspire me to learn.

Check out his duet with Brigitte Bardot, Bonnie & Clyde.

Accomplishment: Causes of Death

Yes, I did indeed get Downfall By Numbers up onto my website, it's all glossy and finished now. And as I say goodbye to the CMHA project, I recall that it is now three years old. I almost feel embarrassed to show it to anyone! But installation work always looks really impressive, so it will stay on the server until further notice.

Goal: RGD Awards & IBM Assignment
RGD Awards are due this Friday! I am taking an active stand against award competitions that require a cash entry fee, so this will be the final award for which I will be entering this year. I already have most of the assets prepared, but I know they like a typeset PDF document for each piece, so that will require some work. I will be fleshing it all out on Wednesday night.

I also have some homework to do for my IBM interview on Wednesday morning. I love wireframing apps. I've been hearing some very uplifting things from friends about the interview, and I can only assume they are trying to create a positive atmosphere with the addition of a slew of new designers. So that's going to be exciting!

Random Thought:
I saw this comic online and thought it was poignant.

As the internet will do, someone took an idea and poked some fun at the way we view products. But that's alright, it actually takes an interesting analogy and unfolds it a bit more to frame the way we feel about good UX versus bad. 

Take the original, the diagram for Spotify, for example. A skateboard starts with simple functionality and not a lot of bells and whistles, and it does what it needs to do. Every upgrade from there adds functionality. Every step of the process is a finished product, but each upgrade is also an improvement.

The iPhone is pretty accurate, too. The skateboard will get you where you need to go but it's missing a lot of functionality. And as the product develops, not a lot has changed except for the size. You understand where this is going.

And of course, Internet Explorer is always the butt of the joke. Forever trying to improve, and always missing a core component that users need.

Inspiration: Paying It Forward
This one isn't exactly a design or visual-related inspiration, but more of an overall way to live. One of the best things about life is examples of kindness in strangers. We all want to do nice things for the people we care about, but what happens when we do kindnesses to people we don't know? I frequent a Green P parking lot in the Annex, and have noticed that a lot of people hand off their daily maximum parking passes to others as they leave. Someone gave me their all-night parking on Valentine's Day last year (yes, I remember the day!) and I think about it every time I park there. So yesterday, I did the same for someone else as I was leaving. As I gave the man the pass, he thanked me and I asked him to pay it forward. These small kindnesses that cost us literally nothing, go so far. I also try to do this when I am travelling from YRT into Finch station. I hold out my transfer and try to find someone who wants it. Occasionally I will actually ask people if they need it, and it does work some of the time. So here's my little promotion to hand off your YRT transfer to someone coming out of the subway at Finch! Let's all save a little money and make someone's day.