Thursday, January 17, 2019

Maribou State, Recipe Layouts & Slack's Redesign

Weekly Update 2019-03: Dreamy tunes from Maribou State, the anatomy of a recipe and Slack's new logo.

Slack's got a new logo! More on that below.

Music: Maribou State
England-based Chris Davids and Liam Ivory make up the dreamy tunes of Maribou State. Ambient piano and synth music back a series of guest vocalists to comprise a lovely set of tunes that are really good to study along to. Their music is peaceful yet exciting when it seeks to be; it's a really good range of upbeat and downbeat tempo.

Check out their newest album, Kingdoms in Colour.

Maribou State comes to Toronto's Velvet Underground on February 16.

I got to see two of my favourite ex-coworkers from EventMobi earlier this week and get the old team back together with Feng and Scott. It was obviously awesome to catch up, but also unexpectedly to reminisce and realize how much I've grown in my professional design practice since then. Nice!

I also played a lot of board games this weekend, both with a group of friends and with my family. With the snow so delayed I have been feeling lucky that it's still easy to get around and spend time with the people I care about. I really hope this doesn't mean we'll have terrible snow in April.

I start my new BrainStation semester tomorrow! I'm pretty excited to level up in my teaching and public speaking skills. I've already added all the new students to my UX Slack channel and read up on their profiles, so I'm excited to meet them in person.

Random Thought: Recipe Layouts
I've been doing a fair amount of cooking to recipe lately, which got me thinking about the user experience of a recipe. It's not a new concept to this blog - we all know that recipes consist of two separate lists: ingredients and steps. But why are they separated? Supposedly because you gather your ingredients as Step Zero, aka the mise en place. Well that's fine and good, but am I meant to do all my measuring at this point as well, and dirty up all my little pinch pots before everything just ends up in one big bowl or pot anyway?

So many pinch pots to wash...

A radical notion: it's completely ridiculous that these two pieces of the recipe - the ingredients and steps - are separated, as though I have time or inclination to measure out all my ingredients into tiny little bowls before I use them in their step. Nope, I'm consistently moving my attention between the two lists, trying desperately to remember which step required which of the six of the spices I am trying to collect from my spice drawer. Really I feel that the measurement of ingredients should be repeated inside each step; such as

3) Add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin to the bubbling mixture.

With the right type hierarchy and layout, you don't even need an ingredient list at all. I'm for the integrated recipe layout!

Then again, maybe it's my anarchistic tendencies in the kitchen that are getting me into trouble. I've been wondering if I can get better at free-pouring and eyeballing measurements. You may remember the giant cookie I made last week - well that was baked entirely without measuring spoons, eyeballing much of the recipe's ingredients. I don't bake much due to these anarchistic tendencies to stray from exact measurements, though the cookie turned out really well and the seven people who ate it did not get sick. So while my eyeballing freepour skills seem to be tried and tested, I think I can practice easily with water, which is a hilarious way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Inspiration: The New Slack
Long gone are the wondersome days of MSN Messenger, in front of which I would spend hours chatting, doodling, playing Minesweeper Flags, creating custom emoticons and updating my status. Facebook's Messenger has attempted to fill that void in the heart of many millennials such as myself, and come up quite short. It lacks the pure expression and joy that chatting with twenty of your friends in at least as many conversations over MSN would bring.

And then I met Slack. In the summer of 2014 I started an internship at a digital design agency in downtown Toronto and immediately understood the joy of what a well-designed messaging system could do for the culture in the office workspace. So much more than a tool to cut down on email communication (my least favourite), Slack is simple to use, witty, customizable and has quickly become the industry standard of intra-office communication.

And they've just redesigned their brand with the illustrious Michael Bierut, partner at Pentagram out of New York City. The new logo:

Versus the old logo (directly above)

I had a penchant for the old logo but will no less than 11 colours, it needed a simplification. The new logo carries the same wit and charisma of the old one, but with an air of modernism that is simple and breezy. I would love a logo tshirt in that beautiful plum purple like no other tshirt I currently own. 

Yet of course, there are already many dissenters online. Many say that the new logo has lost the charm of the old one, stripping the brand of everything it had going for it: the iconography of the letter S, the hash symbol, the plaid. It cannot be argued that no one else has even thought of branding with plaid in the past decade; it's so inherently well-ingrained into the brand that it's hard to see them losing it.

Though I suppose those who know and love Slack are no longer the target of the brand; it's heading after the larger companies and cleaning up its image. No matter what you think you see in the negative space.

Read the design statement on Pentagram's website.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Point Point, Hands-Free Rideshares & Clothing with Pockets

Weekly Update 2019-02: Upbeat yet melancholy electronica from Paris' Point Point, voice-based interfaces that give rideshares that true bus-feel and the quiet revolution of adding pockets to women's clothing.

Music: Point Point
Paris-based four-piece Point Point prove that France electronica is more than just Daft Punk and Justice. Made up of Aazar, LH4L, Nömak, and DVTGD, Point Point has been making a name for themselves with their Filet Mignon compilation series. I like their music because it's upbeat and melancholy, hard and somehow soft at the same time. Point Point passes my litmus test of being good music to cycle to, which I consider quite high praise.

They don't have a ton of music on Spotify yet, so start anywhere.

Last Saturday marked another in the books for my craft day with my sister and our friend Ruth-Ann. We hot glued lots of buttons and bottlecaps onto mannequin forms and made a Wendy Kou-inspired big cookie.

That pull tho.

I also hosted the most recent meeting of my Feminist Book Club - we read Bad Feminist Essays by Roxane Gay. I appreciated Gay's take on how it's the responsibility of the media to reflect the proper treatment of women in popular culture, and how we as consumers should demand that the media do so. We discussed the portrayal of women in our favourite television and movies, as well as intersectionality and feminism. It's always a good group of people to be around. I can't wait for the next one.

I met up with Britney, my teaching assistant for the next semester of BrainStation. I'm getting excited for class to start again, especially since I'm still able to bike over there from work for the time being.

I attended my first BrainStation Instructor Onboarding yesterday evening. I suppose I had missed the last one due to being added to the team on short notice, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Honestly I found it quite inspired and appreciated the care that went into planning such an event. All the part-time instructors were invited to have dinner, network and have a mini "class" on teaching, complete with a presentation and workshop component. We were also given personalized name cards (did they pick a strategic seating arrangement?) and everyone got a personal shoutout in the slide presentation. Instructors with one or more years of experience were labeled as such, as well as the top instructor with 41 cohorts under his belt. I honestly cannot even fathom fitting that all into the amount of years BrainStation has even been running. Anywho, the exercise was useful for my class and I felt that the company really values me. The brainwashing worked.

My second cohort of Brainstation starts next week. I'll be going through my notes from last semester and making sure I read through the student profiles before class.

I have some free time this weekend and definitely stuck in the crafting way so maybe I'll finally do the cross-stitching kit I bought a couple years ago. I strongly believe that winter is for hibernation and that's what I intend to do.

Random Thought: Hands-Free Rideshare
On the morning of a snowy January 3rd, I was greeted by a friendly notification from Lyft that I had $5 off my next ten rides. Now, the bike ride to work is not too far or dangerous, but there are downhill parts that present their own special challenge. And if I can take a Shared Lyft to work for literally 10 cents more than TTC, I'm gonna do it. It's basically a bus, anyway.

During that ride and the subsequent few I have used with the discount, I always notice the same thing. The drivers use phone holders that attach to the dashboard, but are still using their phones in a non-handsfree manner and taking their eyes off the road to do this.

In the same vein as food bike couriers being dangerous and daring cyclists, I am disappointed in the system that forces its employees to make these unsafe choices. Yes, everyone has free will to make their own decisions (like swerving through heavy traffic to deliver one more meal or concentrating on one's phone instead of the road to pick up one more passenger), but this is the perfect situation for good design and technology to remove the aspect of danger and improve the experience for everyone.

If voice interfaces are the future, this seems like the perfect application for it. Not only would the driver no longer need to be distracted by their phone screen, but everyone in the car would have automatic updates about what's going on - just like a bus. That's what I want, anyway.

Inspiration: Clothing With Pockets
In a world that is slowly but surely moving toward non-binary gender norms, I hope we also manage to do away with the ridiculous features found in women's clothing that are somehow exempt from most men's clothing.

To me, the most frustrating "feature" is the lack of pockets on most women's clothing. I rarely deign to carry a purse around because I find it cumbersome and don't bother to carry around more than would fit in a normal set of jeans pockets, but it's true that most women's clothing does not feature pockets. Even on jeans and jeans-like pants, some pockets are fake and sewn together for the look, which is even more angersome.

It's such a normalized thing that I even see it in myself: pockets are a superpower. Whenever someone compliments my outfit, I MUST inform them that it has pockets. It's newsworthy. According to this meme I found in a Dungeons & Dragons group, a dress with pockets has magical powers.

As I mentioned before, we are in a time of great political change, and some people are breaking the norm. One such example is the dress line of American clothing designer Svaha. All of the dresses have pockets, and manage to make a flattering form of a dress at the same time. It's really not that difficult of a concept to grasp. 

I also really like that Svaha's website navigation isn't organized by gender norms (i.e. dresses are not under a "women" category), which is to say that all of their clothing is for humans. I honestly just find the idea of gendered clothing so boring - wear whatever is most comfortable/makes you the most happy. 

Some might argue that we need the gender labels on clothing in order to locate the fits that meet our body types, but I think the current labels are not doing our figures enough justice. In order to find clothing that truly fits, why stop at a binary of men's/women's? Why not apply some logic and science, and use measurements? Heck, we could even find non-gendered terms to generalize how about small, medium, large?

Anyway, while labels do matter, the thing I want most in all clothing is POCKETS. They are the great equalizer.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Perfume Genius, Hand Tutorials & Experimental Features

Weekly Update 2019-01: All about watching others complete tasks to understand their behaviours and goals. It's not creepy, it's design! Necessary sad music from Perfume Genius, learning by watching hand tutorials and Spotify's experimental features.

Music: Perfume Genius
Commonly found on playlists with titles like "Sad Indie" and "Happy Cry Music", Perfume Genius has started to catch a wave with his range of soulful ballads and swaggering glam rock. Also know as Mike Hadreas, the Washington-based singer/songwriter brings forth topics of homophobia, sexuality, and domestic abuse with poetry, artful craft and often brutal honesty. Through pain, I get the feeling that Hadreas shares his catharsis with his audience. It makes for some special music.

I suggest starting with 2017's Grammy nominated No Shape and working backwards to earlier work.

I made a cute little ladder for my hoya!

She's got a lot more vertical energy going now.

I've also been trying to figure out the smart plug equation I mentioned last week. If This Then That actually doesn't support the idea of "two thises" aka two requirements needing to be met to trigger a "that". So I may have to see about a custom system like I've been reading about on Reddit. Yes, sadly my idea is far from original and many have made an attempt at turning on a heater based on location AND outside temperature.

I did manage to get to the IMAX Cinesphere to see Interstellar, and it was just as good as the first time. I've learned my lesson to get there early though because the theatre was PACKED and we had to crane our necks a bit to see.

All in all, it was a great holiday week once Christmas came and went. I got to see a bunch of friends I hadn't seen in a while and spent New Years on the 52nd storey of a condo overlooking the Scotiabank Arena (which is how I can tell you they've wasted no time putting two huge LED Scotiabank signs on the roof of the arena.

My New Years Resolution is to talk to more clients at work. I find it so interesting to listen to their processes and flows, and how our product is usually around 80% of the way to being everything they need. These users LOVE our product and honestly want to help us to make it better for them.

I've also set an Official Crafting Day with my sister and our friend Ruth-Ann for this weekend. We haven't had a day like that in a while and there's lots to do. I'm warming up my glue gun as we speak. We're also going to attempt to make one of Wendy Kou's amazing cookie masterpieces. It's really her lovely videos showing her hands breaking open the cookies that make it for me. Watch them here.

Kou often breaks her cookies open on camera to show the surprise fillings.

I am hosting my book club next week (as well as moderating) so I've been reading like mad to finish the book and start piecing together the discussion topics this week. If you haven't heard, we're reading a collection of essays called "Bad Feminist" by Roxane Gay. I appreciate her tone and take for all sorts of different topics on feminism, especially what it means to be a feminist in the 21st century while also consuming popular culture and loving the colour pink.

Random Thought: Hand Tutorials
Most likely since it's my literal dayjob, I love to creep on people around me on the subway and see how they use their phones. I know I shouldn't be doing it but I'm not retaining any personal information if I can't remember what I ate for breakfast this morning so I think it's a moral wash. I really do love to see how people use apps in their own personal ways, especially when it's an app I use too.

I specifically remember watching a woman use a dating app (highly entertaining) and inadventently show me a feature I had never discovered on my own during a short stint with said app. It was really inspiring - it made me wonder if there might be some kind of following for a YouTube channel that shows you a power use of different apps. Watching and replicating is one of the best ways to learn (certainly one of my favourites) so why not learn the quickest way to do things so you can spend less time on your phone, use less battery power, be more productive with your time, anything. I would definitely be able to make a how-to power user video for Bunz - I have a bunch of replies saved to my keyboard and have the numbers to back up my smooth trades.

The only thing I'm missing is a pretty pair of hands!

Inspiration: Experimental Features
While some people complain that Spotify hasn't released many new features in the past year and certainly doesn't allow the user much access to their listening data beyond a yearly summary, I did manage to stumble across something new (to me) the other day.

Experimental features?!

Don't get too excited; there are only two of them at the time of this publishing. The Affinity Survey allows users to take a short survey to sharpen Spotify's algorithm for providing them new music that aligns with their taste - and you get a new customized playlist out of it too. The other feature, Classical Works, is a tab on artist pages that can be optionally turned on to provide more depth and information (Classical music only). I turned it on in the hopes that Spotify would throw me more Classical music, but no such luck yet. 

Neither of these features are earth-shattering to me (honestly, why can't the Classical Works tab just always be turned on?) but I really do appreciate the experimental nature of development, and while Spotify hasn't been showcasing it too much to the public, this feels like a step in the right direction. 

Back when iTunes wasn't terrible bloatware that updated so often that it corrupted my Music Library (ten years of listening history and playlists down the drain), I did appreciate the flexibility it provided in allowing users to customize their own listening data and manipulate the service in unique and personalized ways. Smart Playlists are just one of the examples of this. 

Spotify's outward stance is arguably the opposite of what iTunes once was, freeing its users of recorded data like how many times they've played or skipped a song. I do like the idea of simplicity, especially in an interface that is the visual representation of a non-visual product (music), but Spotify generally leaves something to be desired in my self-reflection of my music tastes. So when I see something literally labelled as "experimental" inside the Spotify interface, I get pretty excited. I wonder what they've got cooking for 2019.