Friday, July 12, 2019

Cayetana, Haggling & Mason London

Weekly Update 2019-25: Riot grrrl vibes from Philly-based Cayetana, the art of haggling at garage sales and the beautiful lens of people watching captured through the eyes of artist/designer Mason London aka Joe Prytherch.

A peek at Prytherch's daydream-like work.

Music: Cayetana
This instalment of Badass Women brings a full band of 'em: Philadephia's Cayetana channels original riot grrrl vibes in their all-female thrash rock, lo-fi setup. Kelly Olsen, Allegra Anka and Augusta Koch make empowering music on borrowed equipment and no formal training, using their love of music and life experiences to make some really authentic songs about love, heartbreak and lots of other things. They also have a great cover of New Order's Age of Consent.


Accomplishment:
My family had our garage sale this past weekend and it was an even bigger success than our last sale. All the money we raised will go toward Larissa's wedding fund, and it was so nice to spend time with family doing something we all love.



This past week was also the last class of my third semester with BrainStation, which is always my favourite. All the students really impressed me with how much effort they had put into their final projects. One of my students even posted her project online as an Instagram post. She used her amazing illustration skills to polish her UI to a very high degree.







June is scoliosis awareness month (and it has taken 25 days for me to work up the nerve to share this). Got Your Back is an app prototype I've been developing to help alleviate the physical and emotional challenges that scoliosis patients face. The patients that I interviewed for this project have shown themselves to be incredibly strong and optimistic individuals in the face of harsh circumstances. Many come through the other side of treatment with an admirable appreciation for the experiences they've gone through. I may do a more personal post on the topic before the month ends, but for now, shoutout to all the scoliosis warriors out there; it only gets better. // The app is still a work in progress. If you're an individual with scoliosis, know that you're amazing, and DM me if you would like to contribute to the research! ____________________________ #scoliosis #scoliosisawarenessmonth #scoliosiswarrior #scoliosisawareness #scoliosisart #curvygirlsscoliosis #cgscolimonth #art #characterdesign #digitaldrawing #illustration #uxdesign #uidesign #uxdesigner #uxdesignmastery #ux #userinterface #userexperience #prototype #graphic
A post shared by Jess (@alittlejess) on 


Goal:
My goals this week mostly revolve around marking a ton of student work and making an appearance at BrainStation's summer social. I appreciate the ways they show how they care about their staff, even us part-time people. Plus, I don't get a lot of interaction time with other instructors, so that'll be cool.

Random Thought: Haggling
After a weekend full of strangers trying to devalue all my worldly possessions (aka a garage sale), I am left wondering about the psychology of shopping at garage sales and haggling as a life skill. For my family's sale this past weekend, our main goal in pricing our items was to find homes for them with people who could truly use them. We priced our items quite low, as in $1 for a frying pan, or $3 for a piece of framed art. Even Value Village's average prices are higher than this.

And yet, shoppers still felt the need to haggle. Garage sale culture in Toronto just does not seem to allow for prices to be so conceivably low that a shopper will feel satisfied without haggling. It's mind-boggling. Not to mention, on what was mostly an extremely chilled out weekend of sitting on my parents' driveway hanging out, a woman got into a very heated debate with our neighbour over a carpet she bought for like $10 or something. I guess garage sales bring out the best and worst in people?

In any case, if the spirit of the sale is to ensure items are rehomed with people who will actually use them, perhaps it doesn't make sense to price them so low. I don't think convincing someone to buy a $1 frying pan is actually a good thing if that pan ends up in a landfill without being used. Do (slightly) higher prices mean that buyers will feel more motivated to only buy what they need? Does that make it more challenging for people to responsibly rehome their unused possessions? Laughably, I struggle with these thoughts from time to time.

Inspiration: Mason London
There's nothing better than sitting in a cafe or on a subway train and noticing that someone near you is sketching strangers around them. I absolutely love to watch people draw, especially when they don't notice me watching them. It's definitely a window into the soul of a person, as well as just a cool way for me to compare my current experience to theirs (since I can see both their drawing and the subject matter).



Of course it's double-fun when I notice they're drawing me, though my ego isn't too big that I don't also love to watch them draw...whatever! The TTC has been showcasing subway/bus sketchings by its passengers instead of advertisements on some of their vehicles, which definitely exude a similar (if not watered-down) experience.

 I do enjoy seeing these on the subway, but their lack of payment to the artists is less than ideal.

Mason London (aka Joe Prytherch), a Loondon-based illustrator is creating his own spin on these transit-based sketches. It's a form of people watching through a lens that makes me feel warm and fuzzy about riding the bus. His gif loop for pianist and producer Kiefer is a dream to watch. Check it out:


I love the way the people sway back and forth, the little details, the whole thing is just super cute (as advertised). Here's another:


In addition to illustration, Prytherch does some kickass design work. I especially love the recipe book he designed and typeset for his friend's Chinese restaurant Bosslady.



People watching is such a constant source of inspiration for me, and it's wonderful to see an artist pay such true homage to his own experience of people watching. Joe's work is awesome, his website is definitely worth a look-through.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

IAN SWEET, Danda Da Hora & Strive Conference

Weekly Update 2019-24: Los Angeles songstress IAN SWEET and Brazilian queen Dandha Da Hora both graced my week in different ways, as well as Strive: the UX Research Conference.

Music: IAN SWEET
This week's instalment of my Badass Women music series comes from IAN SWEET aka Jilian Medford, a local to Los Angeles. She toured with Frankie Cosmos (another badass woman) and has released two super-sweet albums. I absolutely adore her ability to balance her poetic vocals against brash, heavy guitar strums to make for a powerful, yet melancholy sound. It's the right music for cleaning your apartment, going for a brisk walk through the woods, or drafting a resignation letter for a job you hate.

I started with a song called 2soft2chew off 2016's Shapeshifter.


I never knew there was red-coloured egg crate foam?!

Accomplishment:
I attended a very inspiring user research conference this past week, surrounded by leaders in my field from all over the world. It was two days of pure awesomeness, meeting lots of new people and reconnecting with old friends as well. More on that in the inspiration section below.

On Tuesday my band played a very special drumming show with a guest star. All the way from Bahia, Brazil (via Santa Cruz, California) came Dandha Da Hora, an amazingly sweet and talented triple-threat singer, dancer and drummer. She did a few workshops with us leading up to the performance, which I thought were the most special moments we got to spend with her. Her sweet temperament balanced out Pato's quite well, and she took the time to learn all of our names during the practice.  Of course she sings like a literal angel.

Just when I thought I couldn't be more in awe of her, she gave a lecture (with slides) about the subjugation of Afro-Brazilians. They had been historical excluded from Carnival until the coming of the bloco (band) Ilê Aiyê in 1974, which made a rightful place for Afro-Brazilians among the celebrations.

Following that, we accompanied her on drums as she taught a dance class. This was also special to me because she explained to us how her dance classes must be accompanied by real music. It provides something that recorded music just can't.


Goal:
This Thursday marks my last BrainStation class for the semester. I love week 10 because I get to see all the final projects for the semester, and my students get to share all the fruits of their labour. I'll be taking a semester off after this one, so I've really got to take everything in before I leave until Fall.

My family is also doing another garage sale this weekend - the perfect activity for my dad since it's also Father's Day! I know he loves to make a deal, get rid of his stuff to people that will enjoy it, and hang out with his family. What else could a dad ask for?! Plus, I'm sure we will be able to fit in a Chinese food dinner for him (his favourite).

Random Thought: Dandha Da Hora
I really must pay a bit more tribute to this amazing woman. Originally from Bahia, Brazil (the same place where our music is from), she now lives in Santa Cruz, California doing the same thing as our band: spreading the word about the power of Brazilian music. Since she can sing, dance, play drums, and who knows what else, I think of her as a person who exudes the spirit of Bahia 24/7.

Spending the day with her was a treat in and of itself, going from a private band practice with her, to a lecture about her experiences with prejudice in Brazil as well as North America, to watching her lead a dance class - I am convinced there's nothing she can't do.

The way she spreads the culture of her home is very similar to what Pato (my band leader) is trying to do, and it was really inspiring just to watch her live the music in so many ways. Not to mention, she has some beautiful outfits that accentuate her dancing so beautifully.

I can't wait to see more of this in Brazil next year!

Inspiration: Strive
I am so fortunate to work at a company that sent me to Strive, an excellent UX Research conference in Toronto. Over two days, I tried to absorb all the information I could.

Thursday was filled with design-specific user research tactic, my most favourite talk of which being from Kristina Rostorotsky. She took great care in outlining all the reasons designers hesitate to do research, and gave calm rationales as to how designers can use our existing skills to leverage an improved research practice. I really appreciated her approach in asking everyone to write down our fears about UX research on a cue card at the start of the talk, and then one way we could combat that fear with a design skill (or superpower) we already possessed on the back of the card at the end of the talk.


Another amazing talk on Thursday came from Ariel Sim, a true visionary whose mission is to show us all how to predict the future through design and anthropology. She described her love for the diagram of Waves of Change (based on the one by Deborah Frieze), depicting the way social change disrupts the status quo. There are four types of people along the line of resisting change to embracing it, and this is the crux of how true social and technological disruption happens.


Protectors will uphold the dominant system (say, the dial-tone telephone system) while hospice workers will maintain its death for them. Meanwhile illuminators draw attention to oncoming trends (like the internet becoming more accessible) and must repeat themselves a number of times, while trailblazers are the ones who listen to the illuminators and leave the system to start something new (like a smartphone).

Ariel is an enthusiastic believer in big-picture thinking, using her world cultural and anthropological skills as a lens through which to conduct design research. She urged us to make decisions based on the long view, and to choose our tools wisely from the design research toolkit.

On Friday, my mind was truly blown over and over again with how much I still wanted to learn about UX research. Shruti Kataria from Airbnb spoke about the company's use of design research to inspire trust, and the importance of opinions as well as facts. Designers and researchers are in a unique position because we study our own biases and are naturally data-driven. We can derive hypotheses from findings, which are what makes our opinion useful to us. This makes sense to me. I see design as an art and a science, wherein sometimes I rely on my gut to make a decision about the findings I've gathered.



Vivianne Castillo spoke about the importance of care and self-care in performing ethnographic research. This type of work, interviewing and working with people from all walks of life to understand their problems, can be very taxing on the soul. Vivianne urges us, rather than "move fast and break things", to slow down and take the time to perform empathy-recharging tasks of care with our interviewees and participants as well as ourselves.

The end of the second day came too quickly, but ended off with a bang. Christina Janzer and Michael Massimi of Slack spoke in detail about their own design research process, in the form of a case study on how to bring the intra-office messaging system to Japan's tech scene. Since the app relies on so many English mannerisms and conventions (in language as well as culture), this would be a huge undertaking in understanding all these differences and how to go about appealing to them through design.

Michael broke down his entire process for us, starting with interviewing all stakeholders, understanding their needs, and creating a list of questions that represented those needs. He then assigned each question a specific user research method that would be able to answer the question. He also assigned each method to the best person for the job (which was not always himself), received sign-off from each stakeholder and set out to complete the research. Co-creation workshops, one-on-one interviews and generative research all came into play.

Slack is big in Japan!

Both days were so inspiring. Especially as a designer on a very small team who takes on all my own design research, it was awesome to meet so many people going through the same thing. I came away with so many things to experiment and try, what an amazing experience.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Mothers, Error Prevention v. Recovery & Ikea

Weekly Update 2019-23: Heartbreaking vocals from this week's badass woman Mothers, the risks in designing error prevention in interfaces and my eternal love affair with Ikea.

Music: Mothers
The second in my spotlight on Badass Women for the month of June: Mothers was originally formed in 2013 as the solo project of musician Kristine Leschper. The band has since grown some to four members, still with Leschper at the heart of it all. Her voice is heartbreakingly sweet against a backdrop of melancholy guitar riffs, and on a rainy day like today, it's everything I need.

Leschper started making music while she attended art school for printmaking in Athens, Georgia. “It’s a lot of working with chemicals that are really bad for you, that you have to be really careful around,” she says. “It was special because it was dangerous. I remember feeling that it was so badass.”

So badass, she even looks good in the rain.

Check out her first album, 2016's When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired.


Accomplishment:
We made paper flowers! Yes, I now finally understand the magic that is the Cricut machine. Larissa is already hard at work making her bridesmaid bouquets out of old book pages, and they look amazing. I especially love how quickly the machine can cut through paper (easily the most time-consuming part of paper flower making), it's super fun to watch. As an aside, this is exactly how I pictured humans and machines working together - machines assisting humans in making creative expression quicker and easier. This, my friends, is the true future.


I also spent a lovely afternoon hanging out with my dad, during a part of which, we filled in the holes we made in my bathroom wall when we removed the old towel rack brackets. He taught me how to use Polyfill to patch the holes in the drywall, and it's looking a lot better. All I have to do now is sand and paint!

Goal:
I am super excited because this week finally brings Strive, a UX research conference held in Toronto. This will be the second year of the event, and it sure looks like they're gaining some traction because the tracks and speakers look AMAZING.

I'm also seeing Vampire Weekend at Echo Beach (yay, outdoor concerts!) and doing some extra band practice on the weekend to prepare for a special drumming show on Tuesday. We welcome Dandha Da Hora, all the way from Brazil (via California) to come and teach us a thing or two about Samba Reggae and the culture around Carnival.


Random Thought: Error Prevention v. Recovery
A well-designed user experience should allow users to recover from their mistakes. The simplest user interface element that exemplifies this is the back button - "I picked the wrong thing in the navigation system and now I want to go back and try another way". To err is human and it makes good sense for systems to provide feedback to allow users another chance.

While error recovery allows users to make mistakes and then fix them, error prevention in design attempts to predict user behaviour in an attempt to prevent the error from ever happening. Take this example from Gmail:


Error prevention in its current form in 2019 is pretty helpful, and will continue to be as we utilize artificial intelligence to better predict user behaviour. Take self-driving cars for example - you'd definitely want error prevention over recovery, especially if you're about to crash into a brick wall.

While error prevention is currently helpful and mostly simple, I do worry about its future in technology. As machines prevent humans from making errors, we lose our own innate ability to avoid errors and rely too heavily on technology. It's like an overbearing parent who does all your homework for you - it's fine now, but what about when you need the skills to solve a problem yourself?

If everything I've learned from science fiction comes true, I predict that error prevention will eventually cease to allow the user to opt-out. Think about the Gmail example above (scanning your email for the word attachment and then prompting you), except there is literally no way to send the email without either adding an attachment or removing the word. It sounds silly, but this is literally how singularity happens. As soon as we relinquish the ability to think for ourselves and allow machines to take over, that's it for humanity in my opinion.

Unsurprisingly, Black Mirror hits the nail on the head in a tiny detail of the first episode of their fifth season, Striking Vipers. Each of the main characters loads the dishwasher, but it refuses to turn on until they "properly" rinse their plate or turn the knives to face point-down in the cutlery rack.


If nothing else, it's an interesting non-gendered exploration of the heteronormative kitchen-nag, classically used by wives to convince their husbands to load the dishwasher properly. What an exercise in empathy as well as a glimpse into our darkening futures.



Inspiration: Ikea
This past weekend I was lucky enough to convince my sister to take me to Ikea. She got some cool matching bookshelves from the as-is section, I managed walk out without a single plant (tooooo many already), and we split a deal on a pair of Almondy chocolate pies. If you haven't tried them yet, they're reason enough on their own to visit the store. We even met up with my mom in the restaurant.


It's common knowledge that Ikea has constantly revolutionized the furniture buying experience. Low prices and good design come together to actively bring the customer into the process. Do you like this chair? Go pick up the boxes in the warehouse and build it yourself at home - it's easy and cheap and makes the customer feel like an active part of the process beyond just forking over some money.

But it's not just the process of buying furniture; there is some kind of allure to simply being in the store. Why is Ikea so pleasant an experience that many people joke about going on dates there? Personally, I think it's because the store designers have actually done the research to get as close to a perfect experience as they can.



The wayfinding in the upper level to navigate customers through the maze of staged rooms makes great use of dividing up a huge expansive space into manageable, organized boxes. It's reminiscent of the way they use small boxes to organize drawers on the micro level - everything is considered and puzzled out on a macro and micro level.

You may already know that the Ikea restaurant is designed to give customers a reason and ability to stay longer and shop more, by fulfilling one of the needs they would otherwise need to leave the store to fulfill. It was a true innovation when it was introduced to the first Ikea store in Sweden in 1958.

The brand continues to innovate today, with a particularly inspiring modular double-couch living room layout that works for the way we actually use our living rooms today.

Now, if only I actually owned a big tv to point all my furniture at.

Ikea is also introducing hyper-modular furniture for small-space living that is simply marvelous.


Instead of cramming a bunch of different furniture into a small space that you'll only use some of the time, why not combine and re-imagine how furniture can change to fit your needs throughout the day. From bed to desk to storage, it literally rolls around your room to fit whatever you need. If only I lived in a smaller apartment!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Laura Sauvage, Picking Fruit & Anime North

Weekly Update 2019-22: A kickass Anime North weekend along with Laura Sauvage, a badass singer and the best ways to pick the best fruit.

Music: Laura Sauvage (Badass Women Series)
Spotify has delivered another wonderful playlist to soothe my political unrest in these troubling times: a whole set of songs with leading vocals and guitar by badass women. It features a lot of the bands I've profiled on my blog before like Snail Mail, Jay Som and Chastity Belt along with new favourites to add to my collection. In times when laws are being repealed to take more and more control from women over their own bodies, I need this music to connect to my fellow women in our creative struggles against corrupt governments and political parties.

One particular winner from the playlist is Laura Sauvage - the sweet little solo project from Vivianne Roy of Les Hay Babies. I like how her song Everything Is In Everything straddles the line between a cute little pop song and a psychedelic banger beat...kind of off the wall, but cool. Not to mention, Sauvage is based on Montreal and from New Brunswick!



Accomplishment:
Erika returned the favour I paid in March and visited me this week! She came in for Anime North but was gracious enough to spend most of her time with me (because I'm the luckiest person ever). Among other things, we walked all the way to Chinatown on a chance to find a copy of Pokemon Heart Gold and then went for dim sum at Rol San. I hear the Raptors have been doing well in basketball lately, even celebrating at the restaurants I visit (I always knew I was a trendsetter). Check out Serge Ibaka visiting only a couple days after us!

Pooped after our first couple of days, taking a Ringolo nap.

On Monday, I took the afternoon off to explore Ontario Place together. I can't believe how much cool stuff there is behind the island on the far coast.




Five short days and then she was gone. I guess I'll be visiting her next, and maybe it won't even be Vancouver!?

Goal:
This weekend will be super-crafty. Larissa got a Cricut machine and we're going to test out some paper flower templates to make her bouquets. I'm also super excited to visit Ikea because I never get to go there and I need new bedsheets and a big frame for a poster.

Random Thought: Picking Fruit
One of the things I remember about my grandfather from before he passed away was his uncanny ability to pick fruit. He was a grandmaster in picking cantaloupes. Though admittedly they're still not my favourite fruit, as mango season rolls around I find myself wondering if he would have been good at picking a ripe mango or avocado.

With age comes experience (and hopefully wisdom), so it would follow that many elderly people would possess the skill to pick fruit. This seems like a low-cost, low-effort, high impact way to give elderly people something to pass the time as they retire. Let them hang out in the fruit sections of supermarkets where it's air-conditioned and there's lots of people around, and they can pick fruit for customers if they so choose.

It's a win-win for everyone really. Who wouldn't want a grocery grandmother to pick their grapes and gooseberries for them?

Inspiration: Anime North v2.0
Yep, this was my second year braving the intense weekend that is Anime North. Squishing too many people into one small hotel room, climbing a big muddy hill to get from one place to another, making sure my cosplay was on straight, and just general silliness that happens when a bunch of adult-aged animation admirers get together to play dress-up. This year I wanted to actually create a costume, so I decided to be a female version of Waluigi, as per the gender-bending crown from the Bowsette meme. Waluigi's character was actually invented for the game Mario Tennis so that Wario could have a partner to play with (oh, lonely Wario), so I had a tennis variant as well of course.












On Sunday, we all dressed up as platelets from Cells at Work.

I even expanded my Animal Crossing Amiibo set. Can't wait to nab KK Slider next year.

After taking several days to catch up on sleep, I can now look back on the weekend with some clarity and say it was a lot of fun! Until next year...

Monday, May 27, 2019

Plantasia, Collision Conference & #a11ycamp

Weekly Update 2019-21: I had the pleasure of attending two conferences this week, at a very stark contrast to each other in their attendee experience. Plus, I was blessed by the plant spirits - just hope I don't mess it up.

Music: Mort Garson's Plantasia
Somehow by fate, I was graced with a green gift this week (to be revealed below) and at the same time found an extremely perfect soundtrack for plants. Mort Garson was a Canadian-born composer, arranger, songwriter, and pioneer of electronic music. He is best known for his albums in the 1960s and 1970s that were among the first to feature Moog synthesizers. He also co-wrote several hit songs, including "Our Day Will Come", a hit for Ruby and the Romantics. According to Allmusic, "Mort Garson boasts one of the most unique and outright bizarre resumés in popular music, spanning from easy listening to occult-influenced space-age electronic pop."

I absolutely adore this entire record. Released in 1976 to a scattered audience, it was rediscovered and spread widely across the internet in 2018. It's sweet, a bit weird, simple but not at all simplistic and in some ways, is the sound of plants to me. I have been treating my plants to it all week and I think they like it too. Moog music in general reminds me of NES game soundtracks, for which I have a strong affinity. A few of these songs definitely remind me of games, especially Symphony for a Spider Plant reminding me of Kirby: Adventures in Dreamland.


Accomplishment:
Something magical happened at BrainStation on Thursday. As I was parking my bike in the staff room, I noticed there was a HUGE amount of cuttings of a plant in the sink. Not just any plant, but a Monstera, the most sacred of all Bunz houseplants! The leaves were as big as dinner plates and there were over ten of them for sure. Apparently they were cutoffs from one of the huge plants upstairs (BrainStation has lovely plants), and they were going to be thrown out. Imagine.

After ensuring it was alright to take them home, I stuffed them into my backpack, into my bike basket, and cycled slowly and very haphazardly all the way home. No casualties from the ride but now that they were all splayed out in my bathtub, I realized I was way I over my head here.


Off to Bunz I went. I enlisted for help in Bunz Planting Zone and had my call quickly answered by an angel named Pauline. She teaches vocal choir and French at the high school down the street and was able to come over and help me out the next day after school. And so we sat to cut the plant into more manageable pieces and chatted. She is super cool.





I love the Bunz community so much, this is just the latest in a series of ways it helps me to live my best life all the time.

Additionally, Sasha and I made brunch and planned our Japan trip a bit more. We have now booked two Airbnbs, but we still need to find a place to stay in Kyoto and an onsen. We also watched the last episode EVER of Game of Thrones, which was a bittersweet experience.


I love his little coffee pot.

Goal:
Erika arrives this week! I'll be cleaning the apartment and getting her room ready for her to stay. And if she's coming, that means it's also Anime North weekend! Yep, I'll have to finish getting my costume together in time to paint the convention centre red in true nerd style. 

Random Thought: Collision Conference
Tech conferences are really a very interesting, if not extremely draining experience. Having come fresh out of two consecutive days milling about the Enercare Centre, I have gathered that Collision is definitely one of a kind and unlike any conference I have ever been to. Coming to Toronto for the first time after five years in Silicon Valley, this is touted to be the biggest tech conference in North America.

The sheer size of the conference was mind-boggling - spread across the four huge halls that make up the Enercare Centre and an expected audience of over 25,000 attendees across four days. A big shoutout to VentureOut Conference for giving me a ticket to this event (though Vena also purchased tickets for my department) because there was so much to see. From Justin Trudeau to Seth Rogen to Joseph Gordon Levitt, all under the original premise of Collision: global innovation in technology across all disciplines. Each talk was based on an interview format, with the interviewer/interviewee combo crossing these disciplines for interesting pairings.



Justin Trudeau was interviewed on Canada's plains to remain a vibrant hub for entrepreneurship by Shahrzad Rafati, Founder & CEO of BroadbandTV. Seth Rogen was interviewed on his startup Houseplant by Karan Wadhera, Managing Partner at Casa Verde Capital. Joseph Gordon Levitt was interviewed on HITRECORD, his amazing online creative community by Laurie Segall, Storyteller at Dot Dot Dot.




I was only able to attend two days out of the four, and by gosh the entire thing was tiring. From selecting from the seventeen tracks to actually figuring out where the entrance would be located as it changed from day to day, to actually navigating the overcrowded conference, it was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Inspiration: #a11ycamp
In start contrast to Collision was a wonderful one-day conference that I attended on Saturday. #a11yTO, a Toronto-based meetup group about accessibility in tech and beyond, ran this special day of talks as a yearly bootcamp in all things a11y. I learned so much and wish I could have cloned myself to attend all four tracks. The five talks I did see:

Job van Achterberg paid great homage to the CAPTCHA, explaining its history and how it got to be where it is today. He explained that as quickly as developers create CAPTCHAs that humans can solve but machines can't, humans are inventing robots or scripts to fool them. Not only that, but CAPTCHAs are simply not accessible due to their nature of requiring some form of test for the user to complete. Instead, he offered that we must take initiative to understand the root of the problem; how spammers are getting into our site content, and find new ways of combatting them that don't put the onus on the user.


Thea Kurdi talked about the complete lack of attention paid to accessibility by literally every building in Canada. Our laws, guidelines and regulations for architecture, interior design and other built environments simply do not come close to meeting our human right to be able to barrier-free access to any building. I can't even imagine how hard it must be to find accessible, affordable housing in Toronto. I don't think a single place I looked to rent in Toronto was wheelchair-accessible, which is only one of many forms of barriers anyway. While it only paints a small part of the picture, I do experience it in my own way when I bike around. For example there are shockingly fewer curb cuts on sidewalks than you may think, and you'd notice if you were to limit yourself from going over them.


Steve Saylor, a popular video game streamer with a large following on YouTube, also happens to be blind. He spoke about his experience and needs while playing video games, which are so poorly met in some game designs but shockingly well-met in others. Specifically Assassin's Creed franchise made a total 180 degree turn from its first game not even containing captions in cutscenes, to Civil War being the first game Saylor could actually play all the way through, all the way to their most recent game Odyssey being one of the best games Saylor has ever played. While the gaming world is known to be particularly vicious online, I agree fully with Saylor that we must continue to bring settings to games to allow users to play them in a way that levels the playing field and makes it more enjoyable for all. I'll keep using my Game Genie codes for my dad's NES until one of the devices stops working (which I hope is never).

Alex Tait gave a very informative talk on how she started a grassroots accessibility guild in her company as well as great tips on how to do it yourself. She echoed a lot of my thoughts about planning our guild at Vena; involving everyone in the company is the only way it can work. She also explained that a facilitator should be prepared with an agenda for each meeting, but allow for others to facilitate or change the topic of needed. Be flexible and ensure everyone feels enabled to play the role they are able to play. I hope to speak with her over Twitter to chat more about her process!


Finally, Julianna Rowsell spoke about her user research with a variety of people with disabilities, her findings, and outcomes for various projects she works on with the Canadian Digital Service (digitizing fully-paper based governmental processes). One very interesting case study surrounded veterans being able to understand their

Surprisingly, my favourite part of the conference wasn't the content (though it was top-rate for sure), it was the people. Everyone was so nice and kind to each other, especially so at this event, and it made me realize how much empathy people must have to spend their Saturday here. It was literally all topics on how we can use our skills to better the lives of others, especially if they have been overlooked by the designs and products of other people. I met lots of cool people who taught me about their practices in usability testing, being environmentally friendly, knitting, eating banana pudding and writing inclusive copy.

It was also very sobering to understand that while 22% of Canadians would self-identify has having a disability (according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability), I now feel like that number is actually higher. Not only does every human age into disability because of the decaying human body (yay!), but I certainly found my experience heightened by various caring touches of the organizers that were meant to combat barriers. Specifically the speech-to-tech transcription (aka CART) of the content was very helpful to me because I do find myself a bit harder of hearing in the past couple of years. If to make content accessible is to simplify it and make it user-friendly, then accessibility should be the forefront of everything we do.