Monday, May 29, 2017

Land of Talk, Subway Trains & Road Murals

Weekly Update 2017-22: Canadian content and proud of it: Elizabeth Powell's band Land of Talk returns to Toronto for a secret show, why the new subway trains don't run on the Bloor line, and how design and art can brighten up a bout of bad weather in South Korea.

Music: Land of Talk
Headed up by frontwoman Elizabeth Powell, this is a band that demands your attention. Between strangely dissonant-sounding guitar licks, heavy-handed cymbal use and Powell's wide range of vocal styles, this is some interesting indie rock. If you're looking for something to headbang to or to fall asleep to, look no further (often in the same song). And what's even better is the band is Canadian. Now on their fourth album, it seems like Powell has found her unique sound and is sticking to it. Listen below:

You can catch Elizabeth and her band tonight at the Baby G if you're lucky enough to be on the guestlist for their secret show. Doors at 7:00PM.

I've got quite a bit of work done on the post page for my blog redesign. Everything's coming together more easily than I thought, which means I can try to work through some more challenging interactions. Trello board update:

I also managed to squeeze in a couple of Doors Open spots, though nothing of real note. It may be possible that the event becomes less valuable with each year, only because I have seen inside so many places already and the fact that there wasn't really a noticeable theme of new building additions for this year.

This week, I'd like to write a blog post on the amazing listening guide I read while attending a performance of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at Roy Thomson Hall. It's truly a wonderful piece of design work, more on that later.

I'd also like to set up a preprocessor called Prepros within my coding workflow. While I have no idea how to do this, I am sure I can figure it out with their how-to guide. If I am successful, this will auto-refresh the browser window every time a CSS file changes, which will be really helpful for me and save a lot of refreshing.

Prepros is quite a robust tool, so it should also provide me with other useful features like live previews on mobile (for responsive code) and probably other things I don't even know I need yet! I just need to read about it and understand what it can do for me.

Random Thought: Subways on the Viaduct
If you frequently travel along the TTC Bloor subway line (that's the “green line” or “line 2” for those of you keeping score at home), you may have noticed that you're never riding in one of those new fancy Bombardier trains they have on line 1 that allow people to walk all the way through them. I always assumed it was because more people travel on line one and they get first priority for new toys.  Just another reason to dislike the TTC. Little did I know, this is actually not the reason.

Apparently, the Bombardier trains are quite a bit heavier than the version that came before them (the ones running on line two), and cannot be supported by the relatively-older Bloor Viaduct (between Castle Frank and Broadview stops). While I simply cannot believe that Bombardier dropped the ball so desperately as to design a subway train that cannot travel on a central part of the system, I don't want the viaduct to break with passengers in the train. Not even Mr. Incredible could keep that situation from becoming disastrous.

Did you know that lines one and two used to have a connecting pattern in their travel routes? See the image below:

Way back in the day, this was a solution to ease traffic eastbound to Scarborough. While some urbanists suggest this would be a good current-day solution to the Scarborough LRT possibly never being built (and certainly no time soon), it is simply not sustainable with the design of the new subway trains. How sad.

Inspiration: Project Monsoon
In Seoul, South Korea, monsoon season takes over much of the summer with three weeks of a rainy, wet season. Apparently this season is so extreme that many stay indoors for most of the time to relieve themselves of torrential downpour.

As with any negative subject, there is always a way to turn it around with a bit of creativity. Project Monsoon aims to do just that, by  installing beautiful and vibrant ground murals all over Seoul that can only be seen in the rain. They use a special kind of hydro-chromatic paint that can only be seen in monsoon season, and gives people a reason to look forward to dismal weather.

The project was inspired by South Korea's culture of emphasizing the importance of the flow of rivers.

Read more on the project here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sylvan Esso, Empathy & Sunny Patios

Weekly Update 2017-21: Big sounds from a little lady (and a man), what to do when you feel wronged, and how to find Toronto's sunniest patios for a day beer.

Music: Sylvan Esso
Never before had I heard so many musical styles come out of the mind of such a small person. Sylvan Esso is singer Amelia Meath along with producer Nick Sanborn, a duo out of California. They combine her soft voice against brash electronic beats to create something that makes you feel weird, perhaps a bit uncomfortable, while tapping your toes at the same time. I saw them play a show at Wayhome, and Amelia is so short that she wore 4-inch platform shoes (while she danced around as though barefoot, I should mention). Listen below:

The band will visit Toronto tonight at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.

I've got a somewhat-finished template of a post page for my blog! I didn't get as far last week as I would have liked, but I really want to get this right so I can reuse it for my portfolio project pages, so I don't mind taking a little more time. I actually spent a bit of time looking into templates to borrow from, but I realized I could make a good template myself. When it's finished, I'll be posting it to GitHub to share with others, in case anyone else is looking for that. Sharing community and all that fun stuff.

I also made a list of design firms to visit, organized by region. Portland is wonderful because every street address includes a denotation to tell you which of the four/five quadrants it's in, so you can never get too lost. I'm hoping to email some of these places within the next two weeks so they can let me know if I can come by to visit.

This week I'll be finishing the template for the post page on my blog, and then testing out the font pairings live to see how they feel. And of course, I'll be using a real blog post (gotta use real content) so there's nothing better than this fresh post hot off the press to test with. So look out for some meta repetition of this content in some screenshots I'll be sharing with you soon.

Now that I've got all my design firms mapped out (that was the important thing for sure), I'd like to start planning some Portland activities that correlate to the areas of the design offices. Since the city is divided into four quadrants, it'll be easy to plan each day around one planned activity. As I mentioned in my posts about Munich, I love to create a general list of one or two things to do per day, and let the rest flow naturally. You've got to allow for some spontaneity, especially in a city with which you're not familiar.

Random Thought:
If anyone's ever wronged you, which I sincerely hope they haven't but more likely they have, you may have felt the common feeling that they should meet the same fate as they plagued upon you. This feeling is related to the idiom “eye for an eye”. If you pluck my eye out of my head (I assume in the style of Kill Bill), I should then be allowed to pluck an eye from your head and then we will be even and everything will be right in the world. But of course, the second part of the idiom is that if everyone were to follow that rule, the whole world would be blind.

Of course, this fact rarely keeps people from feeling that the “eye for an eye” process would give them satisfaction. I think people find comfort in this thought because it would force the person who wronged them to feel sympathy for their situation. All we ever really want is to be understood, right? Of course, if the person who wronged them had felt empathy in the first place, then the eye-plucking never would have happened. To me, that's the meaning of empathy.

Sympathy = agreeing with someone's point of view
Empathy = understanding someone's point of view without necessarily agreeing

Empathy is much harder to master, but its dividends are much greater in the long run. You might feel pain from losing an eye, but it should be much easier for you to take a second and realize that, just like you, others would not want to feel the pain. So why continue an endless cycle of pain until everyone is hurting?

Inspiration: Every Sunny Patio in Toronto
My favourite kind of data visualization. Using the open data revolution (Toronto City Council's decision to make data open source for people to use as they please), Licker Geospatial Consulting has created an excellent map of all the sunny patios of Toronto at any given time of day. Their ingredients:
  • 1 Massive buildings dataset with heights that is reasonably up-to-date;
  • 1 digital elevation model of reasonable accuracy and precision;
  • 1 list of every patio in town;
  • and the capacity to build a solar shading model for an entire day at regular intervals; and
  • some GIS wizadry to put it all together!

I love this idea, simply because I believe it never would have happened if not for the open data revolution. I think there is no greater joy in life than analyzing some various datasets and finding a cool link between them that allows people to make data-driven decisions in life. I mean, sure, no one asked for this visualization, but that doesn't mean no one wants it. And if you look at the comments section on the page, you'll find that actually the opposite is true.

Check it out for yourself here.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Real Estate, Colour-Blind Interfaces & Vice Creators

Weekly Update 2017-20: Grooving to the smooth sounds of New Jersey's Real Estate, designing for accessibility in colourblindness, and inspiring content from Vice's Creators offshoot.

Music: Real Estate
After attending an amazing concert opened by Frankie Cosmos at the Danforth Music Hall last week, I am smitten with this band. I had heard most of their discography in passing, and was more excited to see Frankie Cosmos if I'm being honest, but the band honestly killed it live. Their easy listening tunes had the crowd mesmerized, and there must have been something about the lighting, the way the members were illuminated from the side, that glued my eyes to the stage. It was just one of those shows that exceeded my expectations and made me an even bigger fan than I had been before. Listen below:

I have created a Trello Board for my blog, which I hope will keep me organized and on track. You can view my updates live here. Each of the white cards is a task, while the grey surrounding cards is the status. Tasks start on the far left, and move toward the right as they are completed. As you can see at the moment, I'm focusing on the second of four phases (denoted by colour). Breaking things down into manageable chunks is the key to keep this train rolling.

This week, I'd like to finish the three items in the "In Progress" card - selecting fonts, finding a good responsive template so I don't have to start from scratch, and finalizing the visual comps that I designed a few months ago.

Random Thought:
I've been noticing that a lot of products do provide accessibility for colourblind users, which is awesome, but that accessibility is hidden behind switches that are hard to locate. Take Trello (mentioned above) for example:

A user must find this mode and turn it on, but perhaps the originally chosen label colours could have been colourblind-friendly from the start instead.

Another example that comes to mind is the setting in a popular mobile game called Two Dots. While I am not colourblind (to the best of my knowledge), I actually find that the colourblind mode makes the game easier to play. Instead of relying on colour alone, the colourblind mode allows me to rely on shape in addition to colour to make my next move.

The setting, found in the side menu (not terrible).

I find the right side much easier for noticing patterns that will help me play the game.

While ensuring an interface is always accessible to colourblind people can be a challenge and creates visual tradeoffs that have to be determined by the designer, it's arguably a better way to go than forcing colourblind users to locate the settings that work best for them, often having to trudge through interfaces that are especially difficult for them to navigate.

Inspiration: Vice Creators
Always a fan of the weird and creative, it's not often that I come across a news source that scratches my personal itch for art-related news stories. I came across Creators by chance on Facebook and, after looking through about four of their posts, I knew this was a great new addition to my daily creative inspiration.

I actually used one of their stories, on sushi shoes, in a blog post last week, and the interesting content keeps on coming.

A random screenshot from today's selection of articles. The Mickey Mouse is especially disturbing.

While I realize that Vice doesn't have the greatest rap in the media and/or fact-based worlds, I imagine that if one takes everything with a grain of salt, there really can't be much harm in spreading art-related news. As with all content on the internet, readers have to know how to separate fact from opinion and draw their own conclusions. So go ahead and keep doing that :)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review: "Eames: Architect & Painter"

I watched a wonderful documentary on two marvels in the earlier days of industrial design: Charles and Ray Eames. The limited knowledge I had of them before watching was this: they were a prolific team in the world of design, starting with the production of cheap, accessible and beautifully designed chairs that were a marriage of form and function. The Eames Team (forgive me) had their heyday starting in the 1930s (when a need for cheap furniture was prevalent), and carried their success on to all sorts of different projects like film, puppetry, architecture, and more.

Title: Eames: Architect & Painter
Director: Jason Cohn/Bill Jersey
Year: 2011

Surprisingly narrated (somewhat sparingly) by James Franco, the film takes an in-depth look at more than just their well-known and staggering works, but also at their personal life (to a tasteful level) and the social/economical setting of their success.

You may recognize this - the famous Eames lounge chair. So amazing, they named it after themselves.

Like many others, I mistakenly thought that Charles and Ray were brothers; when in fact they were a married couple. As was customary in those days, Ray was often left in Charles' shadow due to their gender roles and the attitude of the day. I found this to be extremely unfortunate as the documentary outlined the fact that the two perfectly complemented each other in their skills and specialties. As a classically trained fine artist, Ray was particularly gifted in selecting colour palettes, to a degree that Charles never could.

That said, their skills did anything but define them or place them in a box. Architect, designer, painter, filmmaker; these were not job descriptions or titles, but more of a toolbox with which they would creatively solve problems. This is the sort of thing that resonates most with me; not confining one's design practice to a specific honed skill but embracing change and need with time. Maybe yesterday I was an illustrator, today I am an animator, tomorrow I am a coder.

Even the way Charles and Ray designed their home in California was awe-inspiring. They chose to hang paintings on the ceiling, which I thought was truly ingenious. It makes them fresh, and invites you to deliberately look at them.

I also got the impression that they were early believers in the comfort and joy of a workspace that matches the worker's needs (rather than the other way around). They really took a person's shape into account when designing a chair. It must be as comfortable as it looks. This is akin to a straight-shooter that you can trust, which is a great thing to be as a designer.

In fact, huge corporations not only trusted, but relied on Charles and Ray to solve big problems for them. Polaroid entrusted them with making a camera that could be folded down flat, and IBM entrusted them to use film to explain relational distance between humans on Earth and outer space (something never before considered in its day).

We cannot truly understand the present (much less the future) without knowing where we came from. If you have any passion for design and a true renaissance in the middle of the 20th century, I urge you to watch this documentary.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bird World, Productivity & Sushi Shoes

Weekly Update 2017-19: Music for a video game that doesn't exist, how to make myself more productive, and tiny Nike shoes made of sushi. It's been a long week, so please excuse my tardiness in publishing this post.

Music: Bird World by Leon
I love video game soundtracks. Often overlooked during gameplay, the music does so much to set the mood of the game. Similar to movie soundtracks, video game soundtracks often become a genre in and of themselves by following similar patterns. When I think of the music in video games, I tend to think about chip-tunes and 8-bit music. While somewhat limiting, I think the beauty of the genre is found in the amazing things composers can do within the limits. And so, a composer from New York by the mononym of "Leon" has decided to create an album based on a video game that doesn't exist. Yep, each song would work wonderfully for a different level of what appears to be a bird-based RPG, but the game simply does not exist. And why should it? We already have the best part. Listen:

I've been working hard this week on designing and typesetting an application for my company to submit to this year's Canada's Top 100 Employers contest, and I am happy to say it is finally complete. From getting back into the groove of using InDesign to pasting the text extremely out-of-order from a poorly designed PDF application form, to sourcing images and organizing an extreme amount of content, I am happy to be on the other side of this project. Check out my cover:
I also went to St. Catharines last weekend, hence not much other work done. But I will say that catching my Megabus on time was an accomplishment in and of itself because the Greyhound worker directed me to the wrong place with only a minute to departure.

This week, I am continuing to practice chanting torah, which is actually really fun. I mean, who doesn't like singing? This class is really cool and has taught me a lot about why people sing when they read the torah. Since the Hebrew language consists of only about 800 words (each of which has many meanings), we use singing to help in proper pronunciation and to provide the correct meaning to the words. So utilitarian!

I'd also like to use some time to work on FriendCanoe, especially different ways to visualize the health of your friendship. There probably isn't any problem that a data visualization can't solve.

Random Thought:
I've been doing some thinking about how to better understand what motivates me to do work. I've been struggling with the balance of working a full-time job and personal design work, and what will actually get me to sit down in a chair and do some meaningful work beyond my job.

I've realized that I am more of a starter than a finisher; I have a lot of motivation at the start of a project and find it challenging to get back into the project after time has passed. So I wonder if the best way for me to follow through on something is to do as much of the task preparation as possible when I think of the project. If I can provide myself the most momentum to do as much as possible now, and have less to have to do later, I'll feel more motivated to pick it back up. Or, in a better scenario, since my momentum will keep me going longer, perhaps I can finish the whole thing in one fell swoop.

One example of this is to start blog posts as I think of an idea, rather than dump them into a google keep note. In this way I am reducing the barrier to completion by getting as much done upfront as possible. And yes, Blogger's mobile app is good enough to do this, though it certainly leaves much to be desired. Along this vein, I wonder what other ways my phone can aid in this venture. Since I'm trying to complete work on-the-go, what apps can help me to be productive away from my computer?

Inspiration: Sushi Shoes
You may know my love of miniature items. Well this one takes the cake: tiny classic Nike shoe designs, made of sushi!

Sushi chef and illustrator Yujia Hu is the creator of these tiny delights, using carefully cut pieces of seaweed and fish to model the rice base of the shoes.

Yeezys don't even need the nori for you to know them by their iconic shape.

I think what I love most about this project is that it's obviously done for the pure fun of it. There's no reason or function for these works, except that they're lovely to look at, and to imagine eating. Red, white and black is such a classic colour palette, and lends itself so well to all sorts of things. I wonder what else could be made miniature from sushi?

See more on Yujia's instagram.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Little Dragon, Bus Seats & Church Sales

Weekly Update 2017-18: Swedish electro-pop band Little Dragon, getting that coveted seat on a long bus ride, and waking up early for great finds at a church sale.

Music: Little Dragon
After an honourable mention from a post in 2015, I thought it might be time to give Little Dragon the attention they deserve. Formed in 1996 (over 20 years ago!) in Gothenburg, Sweden, this band has been a long-time favourite of mine. They're labelled as electronic, but that genre simply doesn't cut it here. I'd call them a rock-pop-electronic jazz fusion band. Yay for genre-bending! Lead signer Yukimi Nagano has an extremely recognizable and unique voice, adding an air of lightness to their already ethereal-sounding music. She has also collaborated with ODESZA, Gorillaz, SBTRKT and more. Listen below:

You can catch Little Dragon with Abjo and Goldlink at Danforth Music Hall this Thursday.

I've done a bit of work on FriendCanoe, mostly trying to sort out how to organize one's friendships without adding too much judgement or ranking. Cold hard facts provide the user with the information to understand and manage their friendships, but they can also be, well, a bit hard and cold. Finding the right balance of information and warmth is a bit of a challenge for this project. Anyway, here's a sketch:

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I also held my third semi-annual bonfire this weekend, what a success! So many of my friends showed up to delight in the firey glow and roast some marshmallows on my new artisanal marshmallow stick (which fits eight marshmallows on it!). I was alarmed to notice that there were three other bonfires going on around us (on unsanctioned grass) and hoped we wouldn't get shut down by police, which, we did. Still, four hours of fire is awesome, and I have lots of firewood for the next one.

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We got the fire going all by ourselves! Not too bad for some city slickers. Erika also had the amazing idea of using a dustpan to angle water from the public bathroom near the fire pit into the bucket (which we used later to put out the fire).

Last Wednesday I biked 9km in about 30 minutes to complete three Bunz trades during rush hour. It was hectic and sweaty but totally worth it.

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This week I'd like to try out some solutions for the graphing problem with FriendCanoe, write a non-"Weekly Update" blog post (the ideas have been piling up), and plan my trip ti St. Catharines this weekend to visit my friend Chelsea.

Random Thought: Sitting on Public Transit
I thank the heavens for every bike ride I take, which directly translates into saved money and time, weight lost, and overall replenishment of my sanity. Of course, taking the TTC results in the direct opposite of all of these things. I am still regrettably forced to use TTC in the summer months, when I have time to contemplate my life as a way of ignoring my internal screaming. The other day while trapped on a smelly, packed bus, I was thinking about the value of getting a seat versus having a short ride. How do the two factors play into productivity, sanity or happiness while using transit? Would I opt for a longer trip so that I could have a seat?

Back when I used to work at College and Spadina, I would certainly opt to go southbound at Queen's Park (and take the line all the way around to Finch on the other side, rather than take the Bloor line east to catch the subway north at Bloor station. The difference was about ten minutes, but it guaranteed me a seat all the way north to Finch. This feels like an obvious choice for me, but perhaps others don't mind standing as much as me? The advent of sitting meant that I could work on my laptop, sleep, eat without making a mess of myself and others around me (it's happened before) and be a more sane person overall. So what's the real value of time versus waiting a little longer to have a seat?

Inspiration: Church Sales
It's become somewhat of a tradition for my family to line up for hours each year outside the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Richmond Hill, waiting for the popular church sale to begin. The congregation donates gently used items which are sold at the sale to raise money for women's and children's local charities in the area. Each person in my family likes to find different sorts of treasure, from the housewares and antiques to books and records, to the huge room where you can fill a garbage bag with clothes for only $7.

I love the idea of finding renewed use in items that have seen very little wear, and of donating to charity in the process. Not to mention the thrill of the find. This year, I found a lovely pair of black patent rubber boots with a cute almond toe, a vintage red double-breasted high-waisted skirt, a pair of fetching green silk pants, and a beading loom (so I can get rid of the one I made from a kleenex box). And yes, waiting for over an hour in the cold of 8:00AM on a Saturday was worth it.

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