Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Emil Rottmayer, Apple Keyboards & Life360

Weekly Update 2016-14: Getting the club started using Arduino RGB LEDs, the experience of changing the batteries in an Apple Keyboard, and the whimsical yet secure-feeling design of an app that constantly knows your location and every move.

Music: Emil Rottmayer
If you're not up on the new New Wave that's hitting 2016 like a ton of bricks straight out of the 80s, you're not living. HOME, otherwise known as Randy Goffe, whom I mentioned in a previous post, has teamed up with Emil Rottmayer to create a excellent spacey electronic track that I can't get enough of. Check it out below:

This weekend I turned my home into a nightclub with some lights and music courtesy of our friend the Arduino.

A video posted by Chloe Silver (@chloesil) on

I must admit that I cheated a little: the light is programmed to change on a timer that I synchronized to the music by hand. But I am going to try to program the code to import the music itself. Baby steps!

I also posted my question to Designer News as I said I would, and even figured out how to phrase the post as an "Ask DN" version. Though I must say, finding out how to do that was kind of difficult. Not only is it not explained on the "Create New Post" page, it's not even linked or referenced! That seems a bit clumsy. Anyway, you can view the post here.

And I did indeed go for my first run in a while...five months now! And oh boy I am sore.

This week I will be attempting to make more Arduino stuff happen so that I can get my journal up and posted to my website. I also want to go for maybe...two runs? Depending on how fast I can recover from the soreness.

I'd also really like to spend Saturday afternoon ideating about what a good data usage app might look like. I don't want to bloat it out with too many useless features, I just want it to do one thing really well. Simplicity is key, and I definitely don't want to cause any ambiguity issues for the user when it comes down to dollars and cents.

Random Thought:
I was changing the batteries in my Apple keyboard the other day, and as always happens, I was struggling with the screw cap on the side that encloses the batteries. The obvious solution to my problem is that I am missing a coin, which is the required tool to fit inside the slot and open the compartment. Isn't it weird that some items are designed to rely on coins to open/close/operate? I suppose coins are something everyone usually has on hand, and the process of locating a coin is just arduous enough to not accidentally operate the function on the device, while common enough to be found in a pinch.

That said, the placement of the screw cap on the Apple keyboard is so out of the way that I really couldn't see anyone accidentally opening it by mistake if it were operable with human fingers alone (the easiest tool to locate – they're on the ends of your arms!). So I suppose I find this entire process well-meaning, but useless and a bit cumbersome.

Inspiration: Life360
I spoke a little about this app during my experience using an Android phone, but I wanted to share some screenshots and points about the app that I think are really great.

This was a gif!! Yep, the guy was dancing across the screen.

In this highly digital age, people are definitely more forthcoming and less private about their personal information than they were, say, ten years ago. That said, it can still be a bit daunting to grant someone access to view your location all the time. This is the perfect scenario in which a bit of good design will really help an app to gain stickiness and make people feel safe in providing the bits of information that it needs in order to function. 

Life360 does a great job of this. The first thing I really liked was the choice of avatars. Look, I'm a wizard! In case you don't want to add a picture, this was a great feature. You may also notice that each person's battery life is displayed. I have never seen this before in any app of this kind. Really nice touch. In case you're tracking someone and their phone is about to die, you'll know why they're offline.

Life360 also offers email notifications when your loved ones arrive at home. My sister mentioned that she really likes this feature, so that she doesn't have to wait up staring at an app, making sure that I'm home. Sisterly love!

Imagine the confetti floating to the bottom :) It was really pleasant.

Good design inspires trust and the feeling of accountability which, in a service such as this, is important and allows people to feel that their personal information is being used responsibly. Well done, you weird app that's basically for stalking people!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Using Google Photos

I have always had issues with the way iPhoto works. It's slow, it constantly duplicates my photos for no reason (like, say all 300 of my Israel trip photos) and it's not intuitive. It's just clunky and terrible to use. I had considered making the switch to Apple Photos, but my recent run-in with Google Photos may have stolen the show.

I had recently been to three concerts, and was procrastinating moving the videos from my phone, when I got a happy little notification from Google Photos.

I had been dabbling in the Google Photos app when I was using my friend's Android phone, and knew that Google Photos automatically backs up all photos to the cloud whenever you're connected to the internet (which in itself is a wonderful thing – I don't have to do it manually anymore). I knew that deleting photos from my phone would also delete them from the cloud, which makes sense, but how would I go about deleting photos from my phone without deleting them from the backup too? Just to keep them from taking up space on my phone? I googled it, and found the perfect answer in the help section of google.

I found the entire process exactly as easy as the help guide proclaimed. Seriously, this is the button I needed to press (the in-app assistant knew that my phone was running low on space and provided me with a shortcut):

Google even offered to send me a download link to my email for the desktop app, which I was very excited to try. I really need to free up some space on my computer (60GB+ of concert photos just sitting there collecting dust). And of course, all of this content that I am removing from my phone and computer can be viewed in exactly the same way as long as I am connected to the internet. Which most often (and certainly when I am looking for photos), I am. And did I mention that Google Photos online storage is UNLIMITED?!

Everything is so intensely in-sync that of course, I did not even need to provide my email address. Google already has it! A+ experience on that one. Check out the email below:

Using google products is a damn pleasure.

Now let me talk a bit more about another amazing feature in the mobile version: the assistant. Other than knowing when to alert me to free up space (as I mentioned before), the assistant does all sorts of cool things like creating gifs and albums out of my photos and videos.

Another thing I really like is the empty state of the trash can inside the Google Photos mobile app. It's a little raccoon! It did also make me wonder if the app is somewhat location-based since it's a raccoon in a trash can (seemingly a Toronto thing?) or if the problem of raccoon bandits messing up your garbage cans is a globally recognized occurrence.

And the last cherry on this huge, delicious, space-freeing cake is that I have finally found a good design decision in Blogger, otherwise well-known to be the bane of my existence. When I upload my photos to the Google Photos cloud, they automatically appear in dialog window of adding pictures to my blog. And that's exactly how a bunch of these screenshots got added to the post you are reading right now!

So, other than automatically storing all my photos (from my Phone, my camera, and my computer) in the cloud and creating awesome gifs and albums for me, the app also makes the entire process a pleasure with its design, interactions and illustrations. I am in love with Material Design and don't care who knows!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Gallant, Water Coolers & Presidential Logos

Weekly Update 2016-13: Listening to some soul-synth from Gallant, thinking about the usage of cone-shaped paper cups that accompany water coolers, and the new presidential logo for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Music: Gallant
A couple friends roped me into seeing Zhu in May in Toronto. I'm not a huge fan of electronic shows at the Phoenix, but I was so excited to see that Gallant is opening the show. This guy has some amazing talent. Coming from Los Angeles, he belts out some truly excellent soul in his songs. I am honestly a little confused about the strange mixture of his R&B with Zhu's electronic music, but I am otherwise really pleased about this strange turn of events. I mean, he's got a bit of synth, but...it's a strikingly different vibe. Listen below:

I finally made it to a Spelling Bae at the Ossington bar! I am pleased to say that I made it to the third round before being knocked out by the word "victuals" (pronounced "vittles" - and that's how I spelled it). It was amazingly awesome and I can't wait for the next one. Now that my Hebrew classes have moved from Tuesdays to Thursdays, I can go!

I am also teaching myself to play Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks on drums because it's just challenging enough, yet slow and repetitive for me to practice over and over. And let's be honest, it's a great song. I could probably listen to it 100 times in a row and not get sick of it. And in the next week, I probably will!

Lastly, I was outside at least as much as inside during the daylight hours of this bright and beautiful weekend. I took a walk through Christie Pits on Friday after work on my way home, and then came back after dark for a nighttime swing on the swingset. The park is very different at night, but equally as charming.

Then I took a Saturday morning walk through the north part of the park on my way home from the grocery store, and found an excellent view of the park from a set of benches on the corner. See below:

I ran some errands on Queen Street on Saturday afternoon, and decided that just wasn't enough. So on Sunday, I took the bus down to Coronation Park and watched the planes land over the water.

And if that weren't enough, my parents came down to take me to dinner and I showed them the excellent graffiti on the garage doors lining the west side of Bickford Park. Those are pretty special.

I also got my 3D Printing Certification at the library, and updated my journal on Arduinos.

I have a ton of screenshots from using the Android phone, and I feel like I want to collect them in some sort of amalgamation of what I've learned from them about usability. I'm going to do that this weekend, in addition to a small freelance project I have on the go.

I'd also like to figure out how to get into AskDN and then write a post asking for advice about moving to Portland. Better to start the research as early as possible, right?

Random Thought:
It's strange how outdated water coolers are. There's no real reason for the change, it's not like people drink water differently now, but I reflected the other day that I haven't seen a water cooler in an office for quite some time.

And that got me thinking, do you remember those cone cups from water coolers? The paper ones that you'd pull down from a weird dispensing tube? Man, those are so wasteful. Not only for the obvious reason that people should be using reusable cups, but moreso because you can't set them down without getting water everywhere. Even if you drink all the water in them, some will still dribble out from the inside, and they'll roll around on your desk, touching everything with the part that you put your mouth on. Who invented such nonsense?!

Inspiration: Hillary Clinton's Campaign

Okay, I'll be honest. I know next to nothing about the current state of affairs with the election in the United States. But I will say that from a design/advertising standpoint, Hillary's got my vote. Check out her campaign website at the link above, or the image below:

And her logo is spot-on. The arrow is so clever.

I like how simple it is, and how it reflects moving forward, which is basically what her whole deal is about. It's iconic, and the arrow can be used anywhere and still reflect her brand. I mean, it's no Obama 2008 logo, but it's pretty good.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Zansky's Fortuna

When I'm bored, one of my favourite things to do is take a random walk through Google Maps. I still find it mind-boggling that we have the ability to walk the streets of almost any place in the world, all from the comfort of our living room. At its base, Google Maps brings the world closer together, and allows us to travel to places we may not otherwise be able to visit.

What's even better is the way that people have been inspired by the mass of information that Google Maps provides. For example, you can play a game called GeoGuessr, guessing where in the world a random street view resides. It's very addictive.

In comes an illustrator/graphic designer named Zansky. Fresh outta Brazil, his website explains that he works mainly with printed materials and graphic arts (offset, silkscreen, letterpress, woodcuts, fingerprint). This is the stuff I really love about graphic design, being able to get away from the increasingly digitized world in which we pixel-push all day long. Or, at least I feel like that's what I'm doing sometimes.

But what does Zansky have to do with Google Maps? In his wonderful project entitled Fortuna, he works with randomly chosen street view images, creating intensely bright landscapes that the viewer could certainly get lost in.

I especially love the way he incorporates the blurred sides of some Google Maps images (something I find quintessential in any street view), using them to make the prints seem somehow ethereal or psychedelic. It's like I'm taking a street view walk through an acid trip.

Even the bus in the image below reminds me of the way some images in street view capture moving objects in a seemingly glitched-out way. It's great.

A little about Zansky's process:
Fortuna is a series of artworks based on the idea of map exploration without knowing the destination, before spinning any 'wheel of fortune,' there is a starting point. Using Google Street View, I pick a random spot and start exploring. Each step in a new direction is captured to be used as a reference. Then, those screen captures are reinterpreted using three colors. The results are figurative landscapes that look like abstractions with a psychedelic feeling.”
After selecting an image to work from, Zansky takes a decidedly digitally-created medium (digital photography taken by one of those crazy Google Maps camera cars) and applies analog methods (in this case, screenprinting with three colours) to create the final pieces.

I really appreciate his decision to use analog techniques applied to computer-generated subject matter. In a way, it makes the images seem more real to me, in that a bus could somehow end up looking like a caterpillar with a fat butt. Why not?

Zansky has collected these works in a book of the same name as the project with beautiful spreads for your otherwise boring coffee table. Check out more of his work on his website.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Paradis, Arduinos & City Flags

Weekly Update 2016-12: We listen to some excellent electro-pop by French disco band Paradis, play around with Arduinos and Queens of the Stone Age, and look at how to design a great city flag, thanks to Roman Mars.

Music: Paradis
I don't know where this band has been my whole life. They are the best parts of disco, electronic, r&b, and all sorts of other crazy things all rolled into one musical package. And they are so, so French. There's really nothing like some synthy beats against some smooth saxophone and French lyrics I decidedly cannot understand. Listen and be mystified.

I think the whole of last week was an accomplishment in itself. As per ol' calendar of yore, I made three Bunz trades, went to Hebrew lessons (which, by the way, is moving to Thursdays because my teacher wants to move me into the advanced class– what a nerd), went rock climbing twice, attended the Monday jam session at work, met David Walliams, attended a Dribbble meetup and a 7:00AM rave, saw BadBadNotGood from my first-time view in the mezzanine at the Danforth, and wore high heels two days in a row (that's the one I'm most proud of).

And if that weren't enough, I (kind of) got the piezo electric disc working! Instead of knocking on a table beside it, I taped it to my speaker so that our good friends Queens Of The Stone Age would help me out with the knocking. In the words of Josh Homme, "sick, sick, sick." In the good way.

What you're seeing here is the vibration of the beats of the song setting off the sensor that is attached to the speaker. When the sensor is set off, the LED changes state (either from off to on, or the opposite). (So sorry, mobile phone Gods, that I did not turn my phone sideways.)

My goal for this week is to flesh out my journal of Arduino findings into something understandable by people who are not me. I also want to go rock climbing once more on Saturday (my membership will be up by then but it's only $10 that night for Basecamp's opening party! Woo!

And I've really got to practice on the drumkit. Really.

Random Thought: A Reflection on Rock Climbing
After my experience with rock climbing, I have come to some conclusions on the sport.
  1. It is really fun.
  2. It is really hard.
  3. It is more fun with another person than alone
  4. It is really, really expensive. I would love to continue, but for $155 bucks a month plus the cost of shoes and a harness (possibly $200?) it makes for an expensive sport. Honestly I would consider it if I had someone reliable to go with, but I can't expect someone else to pay that, too! It's a lot. 
  5. In terms of exercise, I am really eager to start up my running again. I want to explore the parts of this neighbourhood that I don't know...sort of south-west of here. Dufferin Grove Park especially. Once that gets boring I may come back to rock climbing to shake things up.
Anyway, to the backburner for a while. At least I was seeing myself improve! I got halfway up a slanted wall last time, which I straight up could not do the first time there.

Here's a picture of Basecamp, where I do my climbing (and 7AM raving!). I love this mural.

Inspiration: City Flags and National Pride

I was watching this (increasingly popular) TED talk by the charming Roman Mars the other day.

Even as a designer, I've never thought much about city flags. Provincial ones, yes. Like the fact that Quebec is the only province with a good Provincial flag. Except maybe for British Columbia, but that one is a toss-up.

After watching this talk, I immediately google searched for a Portland flag patch (which is $5USD plus $35USD shipping to Canada – so...no) and checked out some of the newsletters of the Portland Flag Association. They're a great group!

I also came across the current Toronto flag, which to my intense pleasure is excellent and wonderful. Behold the simplicity:

It's so many things to me, all at once. First of all, the colour scheme is excellent. Classic red, white, and blue but somehow decidedly not the American flag. Its got a tiny, subtle version of the Canada flag at the bottom, it's graphically stunning and simple, and it also acts as a simplified version of our (arguably) iconic new city hall buildings. I must admit in the past little while, I have been attending a lot of events at Nathan Philips Square (where the city buildings live), and the city has been trying hard to make it a central social hub. 

And that is what I see in this flag. I see unity, I see beauty, I see pride. And I see a damn good design.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Walk in the Park with an Android Phone

I still remember when I got my first smartphone in 2012. It was an iPhone 5, and it had only come out a couple of months before. I never really cared about owning the newest technology, but I had to admit that it made me feel pretty cool and in-the-know.

Fast forward to three and a half years later. Overall, I have been pretty happy with the phone, but it's starting to work very slowly and it may be time for an upgrade. I should note here that I haven't updated my phone past iOS 8.3, because when the new Apple Music app came out, I started to get pretty annoyed with Apple. More on that later.

For various reasons, I have been tinkering with the idea of buying an Android phone to replace my Apple phone. I like the idea of being able to customize things to my liking, but the idea of learning a whole new operating system with new apps, new gestures and new interfaces is a little more than daunting to me.

And so the experiments began. I borrowed my friend's old Nexus 5, and have been using it for about a month as my primary phone. Below I rate the experience of Android versus Apple on the most important tasks for which I use my phone on a daily basis.

I love the interface of the version of Apple Music I am using on my iPhone with iOS 8.3, but I can tell that my days with it are numbered. As soon as I get a new iPhone (if I decide to go that route), I will be forced to update to the new Apple Music, with cloud libraries being the centric use case of the app. I have used it on other people's phones, and find it very cumbersome.

That said, Google Play is exactly the same. I do appreciate the curated music mixes it offers, but it's annoying to have to dig into a menu just to get to the music I already uploaded to my phone.

Speaking of which, Android File Transfer (the program through which I upload music to the Android Phone), is extremely cumbersome to use. iTunes certainly isn't perfect, but it does what I need.

I am currently testing out a bunch of third party music apps on both phones, but to be perfectly honest, I think Apple still wins in this department. Now if only I could develop a music player for iOS that had similar controls to that of the SoundCloud player. Now that's an excellent music interface.

And if none of that works out, there's always this article on how to remove the "Apple" from your Music app. I love LifeHacker.

Apple wins with iTunes.
Apple: 1
Android: 0

I am a big writer of notes. Most of them funnel directly into my blog on Blogger, which (I have mentioned already) has a terrible mobile interface. And so, during my iPhone days, I was simply copying notes from the Notes app into emails I would send to myself. This process is really annoying.

I must admit that Google Keep is a wonderful little app that arranges my notes in a much cleaner grid-based system, and also uploads to my Google account so I can access them from any computer. That's the kind of system I'd really expect for 2016.

That said, I know that iOS Notes has received some kind of upgrade since my dusty old 8.3, so I would like to check out what that's all about.

Android wins. (But I can use this app on my iPhone.)
Apple: 1
Android: 0 (no points for this because it's not Android-only)

I use the calendar on my phone religiously. I expect a lot from it, and iCal does most of what I need. But, as mentioned with Google Keep, the way that Google Calendar integrates with the desktop view is really handy. I even imported my personal calendar into my work calendar, so my life feels a bit more organized.

Colour coding of work/personal/facebook events/reminders has made my life so much better.

I also get the feeling that there are a lot of other features I'm missing, such as notifications from Google Now of when to leave my house in order to be somewhere on time. These have cropped up in my notifications recently, but I'm not 100% sure how that's happening. I should look into it.

Android wins. (But I can use this app on my iPhone.)
Apple: 1
Android: 0 (no points for this because it's not Android-only)

The interface of Facebook and Facebook Messenger is largely the same, with no big complaints for either. I will mention here that when I didn't have anyone's contact information in the new phone, it was still really easy to keep in contact with people through the Messenger. I hate to say that I kind of like it better than texting. I know, I'm playing right into their hands! This is what they wanted all along!

I do get a bit annoyed with chatheads, though. I find they are getting in the way more often than being helpful. I really liked the way Apple kept its notifications as banners on the top of the screen, which could be tapped to reply. That's all I really need.

I don't know if it was a coincidence that this happened just as I was settling into the new phone, but Messenger added the ability to change the colour of certain conversations at the same time that the new Android messenger app came out. I think Facebook does it better, to be honest. And the further new addition of the custom emojis on a per-conversation basis is really nice.

Apple: 1
Android: 0

Obviously, the Gmail app doesn't allow for syncing with non Gmail-inboxes (yes, I still have a lingering Hotmail account that I like to keep my eye on). Other than that, I don't mind the app and could probably get used to it.

That said, I really feel that the Apple Mail app is much more simple and workable in terms of getting what I need from my emails.

Apple wins.
Apple: 2
Android: 0

Home Screens
The home screens of both phones are pretty similar, apart from the really cool widgets I've placed on my Nexus 5 screens. I have a window of chats that I use quite a bit, and a google search bar on every page. I google a lot of stuff. On that note, I have noticed some syncing between the searches I create on desktop and on my phone. Smart behaviour.

Android wins.
Apple: 2
Android: 1

I am using SwiftKey on Android, but honestly I keep thinking about how much better the Apple Keyboard is. I like the placement of all of the punctuation characters, and the long-press to get them on the SwiftKey keyboard makes me feel like I am wasting a second of my life every time I need a quotation mark or bracket. Also, this may be due to my prolonged use of the Apple keyboard, but the autocorrect on Android is CRAP.

Apple wins.
Apple: 3
Android: 1

This is an automatic win for Apple. I DETEST Android emojis, and always feel weird sending one to someone with an iPhone. Will they see it? What does it look like in emoji? Why can't I see the one they just sent me? The story goes on. And the fact that Facebook also has custom ones makes me even more confused. I miss my taco emoji.

Apple wins.
Apple: 4
Android: 1

Backing Up Photos
I really do like how Google automatically backs up photos and videos to Drive. I am going to start using that no matter what phone I choose (it works for iPhone too). I have been using iPhoto and it just sucks. Really bad.

Android wins (but I can do this on my iPhone.)
Apple: 4
Android: 1 (no points for this because it's not Android-only)

Lock Screen Notifications
One thing I really like about android that I didn't mention before is handling of notifications. They don't all dismiss as soon as you choose one. I really enjoy the top bar icons that give you a little snippet of all of your notifications, which you can view by pulling down the drawer from the top, and dismissing one by one (or all of them, with the three-line icon on the bottom right).

iOS treats this rather stupidly, auto-dismissing all of your notifications every time you unlock your phone. So every time you have a big list of notifications, you're forced to mentally catalog and remember them all, while selecting the one that you think is most important to view first. It's idiotic.

Android wins.
Apple: 4
Android: 2

LED Notifications
Android has different coloured LEDs that flash on the front of the phone (even when the screen is off), each colour specified for a specific type of notification. This is really handy, and saves battery from having to turn the screen on and off every time I want to check if someone has messaged me.

Android wins.
Apple: 4
Android: 3

If you're a young-ish person having semi-recently moved out of your parents' house, you may know the joys and sorrows of the "Find my Friends" App. I like my father not to worry so I allow him to see my phone's location inside the app. This has also helped my friend to find her stolen/lost/we-still-don't-quite-know phone, so it's pretty useful. Unfortunately, the app is iOS-only, so I was forced to look for an alternative that was Apple and Android compatible. And that I did find. The app is called Life360, and the app is an excellent upgrade from Find My Friends. It has an excellent user interface, a hilarious tone/voice, and awesome little animated gifs. Not to mention, in addition to location, it also shares your friends' battery levels, which is important if you're looking for them in a state of emergency.

If This Then That
During my phone switch, I also incidentally came across the awesome service "If This Then That". It allows you to create 'recipes' that will auto-run at specific times and occurrences. For example, I have the weather sent to my phone as a notification at 7AM every day so I know how to dress for the day. I have Twitter automatically tweet my new blog posts (including this very one!) every time I post them to Blogger. It's great. Check it out.

Probably my favourite recipe is that every screenshot I take of my phone screen automatically saves to a Dropbox folder. With this new interface to learn, I am finding great little instances of user experience that I want to refer to later. Maybe I'll chronicle some of them in a blog post!

The biggest change during this experiment is my change in attitude about auto-updating apps. I don't do it on my iPhone, but I must admit that it's been a joy to see new features in apps on the Nexus 5 without having had to do anything. Keeping updated is important for a lot of apps (except that dang Apple Music app).

Overall, it looks like I am going back to Apple. I am particularly excited about the fact that I can get rid of the darn iCloud Music from the Music app. I am going to start using a bunch of Google Apps actively on the iPhone, though, which is something I never would have found by sticking to Apple everything. I really love the personality of Google Apps and the awesome interface of the notifications, but the underlying gestures and interface features of Apple will unfortunately keep me coming back for the foreseeable future. You win this one, zombie Steve Jobs.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Carpenter Brut, Christie Pits & Toronto Bingo

Weekly Update 2016-11: Poppy French disco for all your...poppy French disco needs, the real reason behind Christie Pits Park's name, and the best instagram account in Toronto.

Music: Carpenter Brut
This is some weird stuff. It sounds like a slightly more poppy Justice...but I can't quite place it. And of course, this artist is also from France, just like Justice. If you like a bit of metal, techno and synth all mixed together, you'll like this.

Well, I probably over-extended myself last week. The Daniel Clowes talk, a ukulele lesson, I got a rock climbing membership and rented, transported and set up an electronic drum kit. I also got dragged clubbing (which wasn't terrible!) and went for a nice walk in Christie Pits.

It's all manageable, but I knew I needed to make myself a calendar to remember everything that was happening, and to schedule the rock climbing and drum kit especially so that I would get my money out of them. And so, here it is. Crazy, I know.

I also managed to get to Home Hardware to buy the resistors I need for the Piezo electric disc. That Home Hardware is a confusing place for sure. It took me half an hour to find the small piece I needed along a HUGE wall of tiny drawers.

In accordance with the calendar (but it isn't 100% strict) I will attempt to go rock climbing twice before my membership finishes. I also want to build the piezo electric disc experiment and start a Wordpress Arduino blog on Sunday.

Random Thought: Christie Pits
Along my lovely stroll through the park yesterday, I noticed something. In the center of the park, the ground is so low that you can't really see the building surrounding the park. Because the elevation is so steep, all you can really see is walls of grass on all four sides. This makes for a really lovely feeling of being immersed in nature in the middle of a city. I assume this bit of urban planning was done on purpose, but I had never really realized it before. Maybe that's where the name "Christie Pits" comes from!

Inspiration: Toronto Bingo
I don't know how this instagram account came to be, but I am so happy that it did. Someone in the city takes the time, every day I might add, to create a cute illustration of something that is quintessentially Torontonian. I like to look at them and think about how much I know about each subject. I have a pretty good record so far!

And what's even better is that the artist is also holding a Toronto Scavenger hunt in May! If I read the posts every day, I'll be a shoe-in to win the hunt. Check out the Facebook event page here.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Winter Sneckdowns

One of the things I love about user experience design is that it extends so far beyond the page or phone screen. User experience exists in everything with which we interact on a daily basis, and impacts our lives more than anything else I can think of.

One of my favourite examples (lovingly lifted from a second-year university lecture I attended) is that of the beaten park path. You've probably seen something like this before:

While I assume the park planner carefully designed that path for the best user experience, the beaten dirt path shows that the planner failed in this goal. Nothing displays what the user needs more than a visual sign of how the park is actually being used. And while I'm sure the planner had good intentions, enough feet to make a dirt path as defined as this one can't be wrong.

But these examples unfortunately only exist in natural areas that can be shaped by the common folk who use them. What about solid concrete? How do we know when an area has been improperly designed that is used more often than a park? Unfortunately, most of us in this first world of ours come into more contact with designs that are decidedly much harder to shape through use than a park path.

Take city streets and sidewalks for example. If I were to walk on the street (say, because the sidewalk concrete was in bad repair or too narrow), I would not be able to shape my use into something visible. Even as many feet as had shaped that park path wouldn't cut it. So where does that leave the average user in terms of shaping their experience to fit their needs?

In come the sneckdowns.

Now, maybe you haven't heard of this term. I sure hadn't, before this wonderful article in the Toronto Star from Friday. An excerpt:
Piles of snow can work like city planners, revealing the path to better road design, say advocates. In the white space that sticks in intersections, untouched by cars after a snowfall, they see bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and tree-filled traffic islands.
The snow piles are dubbed “sneckdowns,” a combination of “snow” and “neckdown,” a technical term for traffic-calming curb extensions.
It seems to me that these sneckdowns are exactly what users need to be able to visibly represent the fact that urban areas are in need of some change. My former classmate Iain Campbell has launched the Toronto Sneckdown Blog, chronicling all of the areas in Toronto where winter snowfalls can reveal a need for change. Some pertinent examples include:

Of course, while this is a natural and elegant answer to the problem outlined above, it is only as good as the snowfalls of the season. There isn't really much to be seen of sneckdowns in the summer months, ironically when that space could be used most. That said, a skilled urban planner could surely see these design faults without need for a winter snowfall.

On a positive note, think of all of the potential for the unused areas in these sneckdowns. I have seen some excellent restaurant patios that edge onto the street, filled with greenery on an otherwise very drab landscape. Or how about some covered bicycle parking, or just a really nice bench on which to sit and read a book? The possibilities are truly endless.