Monday, March 25, 2019

Ministry of Sound's Mashed, Preserving Music Epochs & Rail Bikes

Weekly Update 2019-13: A very special moment in my music memory provided by Ministry of Sound, preserving such moments through Spotify mega-playlists (150+ songs) and the beauty and strength of a rail bike.

Music: Ministry Of Sound's Mashed
I've spoken before about the concept of music epochs - various chapters or eras in a person's life that define specific tastes or trends in their enjoyment of music. I've certainly gone through a few of these myself. It's no surprise that I am a sucker for nostalgia, so I have taken to the habit of recording these epochs as Spotify mega-playlists. My newest venture came from a break on Sunday afternoon between marking final projects for BrainStation. May I present to you:

This was a very special music epoch for me, let me paint the scene. The year is 2006. I had just discovered MSTRKRFT, Justice, Crystal Castles, Digitalism, Boys Noize and Simian Mobile Disco. The music was hard, it was loud, heavy on the synth, repeating lyrics, and definitely did not impress my parents. I distinctly remember trying without luck to order Toronto-based MSTRKRFTs The Looks at my local HMV, only to be returned with looks of confusion from uppity store employees. Resigned to pirating music on an old PC like the rest of the indie music fans of my time, I somehow came across Ministry of Sound's Mashed III.

Ministry of Sound's Mashed III (2006) mixed by Tonite Only and Riot In Belgium.

Ministry of Sound is a multimedia entertainment business based in London with a nightclub, shared workspace and private members club, worldwide events operation, music publishing business and fitness studio. The Compilations business was first established in 1993 with the release of Sessions Volume One, a compilation album of dance music mixed by Tony Humphries. The album was a commercial success. The business has now sold more than 55 million compilation albums worldwide.

Their Mashed compilations were my first real foray into electronic music from all over the world (especially Europe). France (of course), Sweden, Germany, the UK, Switzerland, once I had listened to the third volume about twenty times through, I went in search of the other four. I was never able to locate a ripped copy of the first volume, but I was able to immerse myself in approximately 200 tracks of Europe's finest mashup club mixes. It was like a domino effect; I would look up the bands featured, the artists who remixed their songs, and each volume of Mashed itself was curated by an electronic musician. To this day I still haven't exhausted the listening power of these songs, nor have I finished my discovery of all the featured musicians and their offshoots.

I recall that I couldn't find a version of the second or fourth volumes as anything other than a single, uncut track, so I spent hours of my teenhood working painstakingly between Audacity and Youtube to cut the tracks perfectly. I keep these files on my iPhone all the time because they're (unsurprisingly) not on Spotify.

And now, in a final painstaking tribute to these golden years of electronic music before I found SoundCloud, I am building this playlist to commemorate this music epoch. It was a doozy, and it continues to spill over into a decade later for me. It covers 2004-2009, it's really weird at times, and you may not like it but it gives me life.

Yes indeed, this marks the end of my second semester at BrainStation. I have marked all the final projects, and it has been truly amazing to see how far the students have come from the start of the semester. It also reinstates my opinion that anyone can be a user experience designer because we all want to improve the processes that hinder our daily lives. From a redesign of the process to report a pothole to the city of Toronto to an app that helps you discover new small businesses in your neighbourhood to a resource on cannabis use for seasoned and new tokers alike, I was so impressed to see the final projects.

My class took me for a beer after our final presentations.
They make me so proud!

My friend Laura was kind enough to invite me to check out a yoga studio near our workplaces in Liberty Village. I am about ten years out of practice and the studio only does hot yoga, and on top of that, we accidentally picked an advanced class. I am really proud of myself for not throwing up, it was that difficult. But I made it through, was sore for three days following, and now I know I don't like hot yoga! It did make me realize I like cool (even maybe outdoor?) yoga, especially at a beginner level, so maybe I'll look for an alternative.

Saturday was a wonderful art crawl with my parents to the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Gardiner Museum. I love pottery and china, and the Gardiner is such a gem of a place. I've spoken about it before, and you really must see Ai's exhibit there. We also checked out the beading exhibit at the Textile Museum, another absolute gem that has made it onto this blog before.

Many of the beaded works spoke openly about their heritage in Native Canadian culture.

Beading intricately covering racist depictions of Native Canadian dolls.

This is so beautiful I might die.

I especially enjoyed these beaded "Swatches" from artist Bev Koski. The left is Old Dutch potato chip bags and the right is the carpet pattern in The Shining.

And in other news, I booked a trip to San Diego and Los Angeles! I have literally no idea what I'll do in San Diego for five days, but I'm staying near the Zoo and there are no less than 25 entries for the city on Atlas Obscura, so I'm sure I'll find some ways to pass the time. Plus, I get to take the Pacific Surfliner from one city to the other, with a potential stop in a third city on the way! Who doesn't love a coastal train?

Laura and Eric have booked a swanky dig in Los Angeles with a pool, which I'm gonna jump into as soon as we get back from the music festival (the heart of our trip activities). Quick shoutout to this music festival Just Like Heaven for providing a venue for many of my favourite artists of 2007 (the epicenter of the music epoch I mentioned above).

I have three books due back soon to the library, plus another instalment of the feminist book club to prepare for, so I'd like to spend my time free from BrainStation this week to read more. The pile of books on my bedside table is becoming unmanageable, so it's time to do something about it.

I'd also like to plan my California trip a little more formally so I have more things to look forward to!

Random Thought: Preserving Music Epochs

A history of rock music (according to some guy).

I could talk all day long about my love of nostalgia, music epochs and the relationship between sound and memory. It's been a wonderful hobby of mine to create playlists that capture specific points in my music experience, and especially so to share them easily with others as Spotify offers somewhat seamlessly.

I find it difficult to describe the eras of music I am most attached to, so creating these playlists allows me to explain them to others quite easily, but more importantly Spotify's interlinking of bands within a playlist allows me to explore the epoch further from the center and into its edges in a way I could never do with Google or YouTube as I did before.

Until the next epoch arrives, I will be catalogging these epochs in my current era of Spotify. I wonder what will come next...

Inspiration: Rail Bikes
As a bicycle enthusiast, I absolutely love to see their purpose extended beyond the norm by some clever person on the internet. It has happened again, allow me to share this with your eyeballs:

Yes, it's a bicycle attachment that counterbalances on abandoned railways and allows you to take day trips through beautiful forest scenery ALL WHILE pretending you're a TRAIN!

I would love if this was the main transportation method in Toronto, it especially pulls at my heartstrings because it takes what I consider to be the scariest part of bike riding in Toronto and makes it a strength. No, I'm not talking about cars, I'm talking about streetcar tracks!

The above bike hack was created by Will, a member of the forum Read about his plight at the link above.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vampire Weekend, Revisiting Old Lyrics & Amelia Earhart's Prenup

Weekly Update 2019-12: Consistently stellar music from indie pop darlings Vampire Weekend, recycling old lyrics into new songs and the very modern prenuptial agreement between Amelia Earhart and her fiance.

Music: Vampire Weekend
A band I've been following since their 2008 self-titled debut album, Vampire Weekend remains on my heavy rotation over ten years later. Formed by lead vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig, multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, drummer Chris Tomson, and bassist Chris Baio, all four of these musicians are at the top of their game. What results is a series of three absolutely stellar albums with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Jerry Seinfeld gracing their music videos. The band's fourth album Father of the Bride will release on May 3.

Start anywhere, though you may want to work chronologically if you've never heard them before.

My bandmate Leon and I led the band this past week of band practice, the last practice until our leader Pato returns from Brazil. I hear he has made some solid plans for the whole band to go there next year - which I can't wait to do! All his photos and videos look so colourful, and what's better than going to Carnavale, but actually participating in Carnavale!

Vena sent me to VentureOut, a wonderful conference on improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. I loved everything about the conference, from the pronoun stickers given out with each nametag lanyard to the keynote with rookz, Canadian music executive to the touching land acknowledgement to the uplifting and informative content across many difficult subjects. There was even a session on making your design voice heard - something I often struggle with in my daily role.

My friend Nadia led an art crawl along this year's installment of Winter Stations on Sunday. We had a bit of sun to break the cold lake wind as we checked out the sculptural scenes against the beachy backdrop. The installations themselves were interesting, though I think I preferred last year's version a little more. All that to say, I relish the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of strangers, and it was really nice to meet a bunch of new people that Nadia knows. She seems to be quite the people-connector, and (self-proclaimed) very good at networking.


Tonight I'll be trying something I haven't done in a long time - yoga. My friend Laura invited me to try a class of hot yoga, which leads me to believe I'll be getting a little sweaty.

Spring has sprung (for me at least), and I've been biking every day in earnest. It's time to fertilize and repot some of my plants, which I'd like to do on Wednesday.

I'm giving over my Saturday afternoon to lots of artistic ventures: Ai Weiwei at the Gardiner Museum, a beading exhibition at the Textile Museum, and a stroll through Ryerson's Photography exhibit. These three art hubs are some of my favourites in Toronto, and Saturday will be a packed day!

The rest of my free time this week will be dedicated to marking - Thursday marks the last class of my second semester teaching at BrainStation. Another goal (though not for next week) is to start crafting a blog post abut my experiences as an instructor. It'll be good content for myself and for LinkedIn. I've never taken much stock in LinkedIn, but several different sources have been telling me to apply a bit more attention to it. But I'm still not downloading the app to my phone. I definitely don't need another social media app to get addicted to.

Random Thought: Lyric Callbacks
It's no secret that I love listening to music. I dare you to follow me on Spotify because I will always be at the top of your feed. This naturally means I have a lot of lyrics memorized. Upwards of 20,000 songs, maybe more. It's a hard thing to count. But at any rate, I have certainly noticed a small trend of musicians calling back to old lyrics from their past albums.

Britt Daniel of Spoon first sang about Jonathon Fisk on the band's 2002 album Kill The Moonlight. Fisk makes a reappearance on 2014's They Want My Soul (title track), twelve years later. Daniel has said in interviews that the 2002 song is based on his own experience being bullied in middle school. The bully later became a Spoon fan who attended, in Daniel’s words, “all of [Spoon’s] shows for about two or three years.” I like to believe this callback is a way of Daniel proclaiming his truce with Fisk "irl" as the kids say, and shows a little human kindness.

Vampire Weekend (hey, they sound familiar...) have done a similar trick. Lead singer Ezra Koenig sang those weighted lyrics "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die" back in 2013 on their Grammy-winning Modern Vampires of the City, though what could have made for a biting chorus was saved for the final 30 seconds of the song Finger Back. Now, six years later, Vampire Weekend is back and Koenig repeats his fated lyric on Harmony Hall

And a bonus; I've been on quite a Justice kick lately. I never gave their third album Woman Worldwide a proper spin, and my newfound appreciation for it brought me to their 2018 live album WWW. Justice's three live albums are, each in their own way, a true masterpiece in reworking of art into new art. As they add a new studio album to each live album, they mix and remix their own songs together, across albums and across their roomy expanse over the electronic genre-scape. And I love it. I know that with every new studio album will come a delicious new live album, in which they'll give new life to my favourite older hits as they mix with newer releases.

Inspiration: Amelia Earhart's Prenup
We all remember Amelia Earhart from our days in history class: the female pilot ahead of her time, what with her passion for aviation and wearing pants (both unheard of for women in the 1930s). Now, I learn a new layer of her true sense of modernity.

In the one-page letter written by Earhart to her fiance, book publisher George Putnam, Earhart admits that she is "reluctant" to marry, fearing marriage will "shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me." She then suggests an open relationship of sorts.

"On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly," Earhart writes.

In the end, Earhart asks Putnam to make her one promise -- that he will "let her go" in one year if they are not happy. The letter is featured in Purdue University's online Amelia Earhart exhibition.

Putnam himself also held pretty modern views on marriage. In an essay published in 1932 (one year after he and Earhart married), he wrote that he had few objections to Earhart's career and that he didn't "let" her fly, but rather encouraged it.

"Women who earn their salt are entitled to have what they want to put the salt on!" he writes.

Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and mysteriously vanished during an attempted flight around the world in 1937. But she continues to be revered as a feminist icon, and with a prenup like this, it's easy to see why.

I've been realizing lately that with our current political climate being as charged as it is, it's more important now than ever to recall on history to remind us how to move forward.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Kurt Vile, Vancouver & Toolkit for Equality

Weekly Update 2019-11: Content warning for a LOT of Vancouver tourism photos. Twangy banjo rock from Kurt Vile, the proper timing of notifications for the best user experience and Pansy Lee's amazing gender equality toolkit. 

Erika and I went to Whistler!

Music: Kurt Vile
More of a twang than I usually swing with, Kurt Vile has been providing me the melancholy lo-fi folk rock tunes for my trip out West last week. He just has a real penchant for writing songs, really coming more into his own since his departure from his past band The War On Drugs.
At the age of fourteen, Kurt Vile was given a banjo by his father, with Vile noting, "I kind of wished [it] was a guitar. So I'd kind of just play it like a guitar anyway. I was really into writing pretty primitive tunes, and really into recording. I pretty much knew I was going to do music [with my life] then.
Such a prominent moment in his life, when he realized he knew what his calling would be. I find Vile's music sad, but still upbeat and joyous at times, and always in a different sort of way. Check out my favourite of the discography, his 2013 album Wakin On A Pretty Daze.

I made it to Vancouver and back in under a week with minimal damage, I do so reckon. I was sent by Vena to represent the Product Development department for some of our esteemed Vancouver clients on Thursday, which left the weekend for me to do some heavy tourism with my friends who have fled Toronto for the West Coast.

We ended off our workday with a delicious steak dinner - I don't think I've ever been that full in my life.



The sides.

Mac & cheese baked into a waffle. I would come here just to eat this.

Crazy desserts. The left one was maple cotton candy!

We topped off the evening with a stretch limousine ride for a ten minute journey back to our hotel - so unnecessary but so amazing.

The next day, I made a morning pitstop in the downtown core to visit the Vancouver Brainstation office. They happened to be taking a photo for International Women's Day, and graciously invited me to be a part of it. What a great moment!

After that, I fled across the water on the Seabus and into Erika's arms. She showed me around the Think Tank building where she goes to school, and then we hopped in a car with her classmate and friends northward to Whistler via Squamish. It was a lovely drive and a lovely place.

It's a mountain, alright!

Back to the city for Erika's evening class, and I was back across the SeaBus to the south side to meet Mia and Simon for dinner. We went to a super cool sushi restaurant with weird toy sculptures hanging from the ceiling...sort of like a spin on a hunting lodge? Really eccentric decor and amazing maki rolls.

I don't even know what this sculpture was.

One more SeaBus ride for good measure back to Erika's school, and we spent the night at her apartment near the school. She had class again the next morning (it never ends) so I explored North Van a bit on my own. Lonsdale Quay and The Polygon Gallery were both right beside Erika's school, and I wandered into a costume shop for fun too.

The Polygon Gallery lights up beautifully with diagonal lights at night.

The boardwalk.

I'm not sure what this was.

After Erika's class, her brother Kurt picked us up and whisked us to Surrey to see Erika's family and especially my nephew Ario Speedwagon aka the furry scarf-boy. He ran up to me and jumped all over me so I think he remembered me. Still as cute as ever.

What a furry goober. 

It was Erika's dad Karl's birthday, so I got to see her mom Deb's parents Karen and Bill as well. Almost the whole family except Alan, who's on a Eurotrip right now.

And that's it! I literally could not have fit anything more into such a short span of time. I also win the award for travelling eastbound on the worst day of the year - Daylight Savings time, when a three-hour jetlag magically becomes a four-hour jetlag. Bye Vancouver, hope to see you soon.

I get the distinct impression I will be required to lead band practice on Wednesday, which is always a barrel of anxiety...but I haven't done it in a while and I have enough time to prepare mentally, so I have no excuse not to do it. Plus, very regrettably I haven't attended in four weeks or so. Shameful.

Double up the drumming this week in repentence, as I'll be staying late tonight for some more kit practice. I can't wait to try out a B Boys song called Sound Frequency I've been listening to on repeat lately.

This Thursday is the penultimate class of the semester, and Friday marks the VentureOut Conference (another delegation for Vena), a very cool tech conference in celebration of LGBTQ and intersectionality. I've got to pick my tracks for Friday - which is hilarious since the conference has chosen EventMobi for their event app.

On Saturday I'll visit my parents and do a little Spring cleaning there, and Sunday will be another trip to Woodbine Beach for a guided walk of Winter Stations.

Random Thought: Well Timed Notifications
I've been designing a user activation experience for new users to be welcomed into the Vena platform. Between that and everything I've learned from the onboarding teardowns of esteemed Samuel Hulick, I can tell you that one of the most important things is well timed notifications.

Never send a verification email to your users right at the moment they sign up. Odds are at that point that they'll be exploring your app, and if you drag them into their inbox to verify their email, they're going to get distracted and not return to your app. Maybe ever!

A lot of notification user experiences are quite broken, so much that it was painfully easy for me to capture two issues in one screen last night.

What do you see here?

I see that it's 12:16am and I'm checking my phone one last time before bed as I set my alarm. I see a bunch of notifications and feel slightly annoyed at the "work" I have to do now before bed. But then I realize the first notification is just a reminder that Do Nut Disturb is on, and that I won't be bothered by any notifications...except this one? This feature is new in iOS 12 by the way, and it can't be turned off.

The second notification is a message from Stepz (don't laugh), an app that keeps track of my daily step goal. It's reminding me that I am close to my daily goal before the day is over. 600 more steps to go, and two minutes left to complete them. First of all, that was straight up not gonna happen as the kids say, as I am bed-ready and not about to leave to walk 600 more steps around the block in the cold night. 

Furthermore, this notification was from 18 minutes ago. I can't achieve that goal now, even if I wanted to. It's an extremely final situation, if you think about it. So why doesn't that notification just clear itself out at the end of the day? Don't shame me when there's nothing I can do. It has an expiry date.

Time is a huge factor in user experience and must be regarded in kind. Take time and strides to understand your users' feelings and attitudes when they enter your experience. And the entry may be earlier than you currently identify - long before they're online on your actual product.

Inspiration: Tech Needs More Men: Toolkit
I mentioned Pansy Lee last week and her inspirational talk about how men can be better allies in our strides toward gender equality. I have seen this over and over again as a barrier to this goal, interacting with men who are not being their best selves or helping to advance us all toward equality.

Pansy's toolkit for men to better arm themselves with knowledge and understanding of the facts about feminism and gender equality is an amazing approach to solving this issue. She brought up a very common problem through a now-famous scene from HBO's Silicon Valley:

The issue is that men, and especially white North American men, aged 18-50, have very little or more likely no concept of what it means to live without privilege or even that they have privilege themselves. Because of this, they are generally poorly armed with understanding or capability to identify or make strides to change the inequality. They don't experience it personally, so they don't know how to deal with it.

I love that this toolkit (created by Pansy, a woman) makes strides to understand and empathize with this group of privileged people, understanding that in a dark, twisted way, having so much privilege that you're blind to a lack of it, is in itself a lack of privilege. 

Take a look at the guide and see if any part of it can't help you to understand a little more about your fellow humans, no matter how you identify. Check it out here.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

B Boys, Taking Risks & International Women's Day 2019

Weekly Update 2019-10: All about boldness: slapping chords from Brooklyn's B Boys, living a life of boldness favoured by fortune and #DevTO's annual IWDTO event.

Music: B Boys
Not to be confused with the British male vocal/instrumental pop group of the same name, or even the title of the same name that refers to a person devoted to breaking and hip-hop culture. Nope, this is indie power rock out of Brooklyn, New York with a very confusing name and a penchant for slapping chords and rough drum beats. It's the definitely the song with the most power on my otherwise very chill playlist Sunday Shoegaze, but it somehow fits. Check out their 2016 EP No Worry No Mind.

Last week marked the end of my first full quarter with Vena. We named it the Falcon Release, and of course there is an illustration to go with it. I even posted it to Dribbble.


All fifty of us in the development and product departments went axe-throwing (more fun than I thought it would be) and did some escape rooms. I really love these celebrations; they definitely make me feel valued as a part of the team but even moreso, I really like the Vena development team and I only get to work closely with about half of them. So it's a great way to hang with the people I don't usually talk to as much as I'd like to.

Gotta wear plaid to throw axes!

We won our escape room!

If that wasn't all, my amazing coworker Carrie enlisted each team to make a logo, which would then be turned into a sticker that they could give out and collect for the next quarter. I designed the stickers for my two teams without knowing, and now I'm so stoked that they'll be made into stickers too!

The Apps and Integrations Team (they transform data)

The Workflow & Collaboration Team (they love Subway).

Work trips can be a lot of fun, especially to access a different physical setting to help promote more creative and versatile thinking. Vena sends staff to our clients' locations all over the world to promote Vena, complete onsite training and setup, and run Customer Exchanges to allow our clients in different cities to connect with each other. Unfortunately, the designer (at our company and many others) is rarely as necessary on these sorts of trips.

This weekend is different - I am going to a Customer Exchange in beautiful Vancouver! Yes, I volunteered to be the face of our Product Team for some pretty cool clients out on the other side of the country - including banks, silver and gold mining companies, a really cool animation company called Bardel (notably behind Rick & Morty), and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC! I'm excited to learn about their pain points and hopes for our product, and to connect with them for future user interviews and the like.

Luckily the work is only one day (Thursday) so I have a couple days after that to hang out with all my friends who fled Toronto for Vancouver in the past couple years. Notably Erika and Ario Speedwagon have been gone for six months and it'll be great to see them both again. I really hope Ari remembers me.

Random Thought: Fortune Favours The Bold
As someone who loves to plan and gather all the information before making decisions, I have been trying something new lately. Having all the information can be a great way to make a decision but when it's impossible to obtain, I don't want to keep falling into a spiral of indecision. So I've been practicing making some decisions based on gut and intuition, trying to take more risks when the stakes of failing are low enough not to matter too much.

Travelling to Vancouver is definitely a great example of how this has started to work in my favour. As soon as I heard that someone from my team would be sent there, I knew it would be a good way to push myself into a new experience and take a low-cost risk. After only five months with Vena, I wasn't sure if I would be ready to talk to customers about our entire product portfolio – it's highly technical and involves more than four times the subject matter I cover in my daily work. But the risk of failure is pretty low, and I gave myself lots of prep time. Mixed with the support from my team in Toronto, I knew this would be a great opportunity.

This mentality is something I want to continue. The phrase "Fortune Favours The Bold" comes to mind; when there isn't time or opportunity to make an educated decision, I'm going to start moving toward the riskier choice. On a lower scale, I've been doing this for a while with various kinds of events in Toronto. It's so easy to flake on plans and stay home, especially during winter, but I've made a mental note that every time I force myself out of the house, I have never regretted it.

For all of us type-A people who suffer from analysis paralysis, I really suggest trying this out. I'm making strides to move away from overthinking, and not being so cautious when the stakes of failure are so low. Of course, the trick is to recognize when the stakes are low in order to seize the opportunity. Life is too short to worry as much as I have done in the past, and I am resolving to remember all of the success I've had in practicing boldness for my future decisions.

Not to mention, nothing is bolder than the mighty falcon. I need to remember that this quarter at work.

Inspiration: IWDTO 2019

Friday March 8 marks the annual International Women's Day, which is a big topic in the tech industry. Many roles in tech (including design) are still overly male-dominated, so I relish any opportunity to hear women, non-binary folk and their allies speak about their experiences in tech and feel a sense of solidarity and community. Vena sent ten of us to a wonderful annual event held by #DevTO: a day we celebrate and set a stage for Women in Tech to gather, speak and cheer with their allies.

Specifically, I was really impressed with Pansy Lee and her toolkit to support gender equality from a refreshing lens - focusing on how men can be better allies. Toxic masculinity is a huge problem and focusing only on women to provide the solution for gender equality is simply not a full-picture view. I can't wait to check out the toolkit with my boss Andrew next week. We always have great chats about gender equality in our past experiences and how they relate to the representation of women in our workforce at Vena.

Sarah Stockdale was also a stunner, speaking out against women's inner voice telling them they're not good enough. She brought more light to a fact with which I am already all too familiar: women often don't apply for roles above their self-perceived skill level, while men of the same skillset and experience wouldn't blink an eye about applying for a role above their qualifications.

Despite the technical difficulties, it was an awesome event. I am not a big fan of networking but I make a point of it at events like these. It was a joy to catch up with many an old coworker from my two most recent roles, and meet some new people as well. International Women's Day is a cause for celebration as well as recognition that we're on a journey that's nowhere near its end.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Saje, Mighty Metaphors & Tiny Toy Co.

Weekly Update 2019-09: Catchy slow jams from Saje, using metaphors to simplify complex processes for design thinking and the magic of upcycling old toys with Tiny Toy Co.

Old memories...become new learning tools!

Music: Saje
One of my old SoundCloud favourites resurfaced recently with new music, which is always fun. All I could really find about Saje is that they're a duo from Paris. What they lack in online informational presence, they surely make up for in catchy slow jams for late nights. Their music sort of feels like the moment you turn on a neon lamp and it takes a second to brighten. Take a listen to my favourites Raspberry and Who I Am (especially if it's a gloomy day):

My Product team at Vena had a very fruitful offsite this past couple days in Niagara. It was great to get away and focus in on some of the meta team skills work we'd not gotten a chance to focus on in the hustle and bustle of daily work. I presented two topics:
  1. Jackie and I facilitated a discussion and exercise on the ways designers and PMs can work better together by defining the lines (blurry and solid) between roles and responsibilities.
  2. Mel and I led the team through an exercise called the Leadership Wheel, which helps us to identify each member's leadership style and how they work most effectively with others.
  3. (Bonus) I cooked a french toast breakfast for everyone (I'm a pro from having done the same last weekend at Blue Mountain).
My boss Andrew has given me the thumbs up for buying a ticket for Strive: The 2019 UX Research Conference at Roy Thomson Hall in June, and I've bought a ticket. I'm pretty excited to see how we can bring more UX research practices into our work at Vena, as well as sharpening that set of skills for my personal work and BrainStation presentations.

And a final work celebration: tomorrow marks the end of the "E" Release of the Vena Engineering and Product Departments. We produce an alphabet-animal-named release of features into our platform every quarter, and this quarter is special for me in a few ways. It marks the end of my first full quarter of work for two product teams, as well as being named the Emu Release, for which I drew an illustration that ended up on a pair of huge cakes.

It me.

We celebrate our releases with full force: a half day of retrospectives and team building, yummy lunch, and a team activity. This time it will be axe throwing and escape rooms...I feel pretty darn lucky to work at this company, let me tell you. The company may not fully understand the value of design and I may be extremely, extremely overworked, but I really love my job and face new, exciting challenges literally every day. Not to mention, my team is some of the best collection of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. And I've worked with some awesome teams.

My beautiful team (minus Mat who took the photo).
Friday night will be a drumming night, I can't wait to rock it out to some more drumming songs I've added to my practice playlist, including some Cherry Glazerr since their show last Wednesday was so outstanding. I also want to finally visit the Really, Really Free Market for the first time and donate some toys to Tiny Toy Co. (see Inspiration section below for more).

Sunday I will be treating Emilia to a day out for her birthday. The plan at the moment is to go to a drop-in dance class and eat some fattening food to balance it all out, then some thrifting at Value Village (my specialty).

Random Thought: Mighty Metaphors
This new job at Vena has been a huge level up in my craft. I've been mouthwatering for a real user experience challenge to sink my teeth into, and this one surely takes the cake. Working with complex finance calculations and the people who do the calculating on a national or even global scale has been quite a five-month journey so far.

I've found that metaphors and similes work very well in relating these technical processes, which happens to be a skill I've wanted to sharpen in my design toolkit. Describing complex processes in a simple way is actually the first (and arguably most important) step in a proper design sprint. And it's often overlooked.

One of the more complex processes for which I design involves the connection of data from various external sources into the Vena "cube", streamed repeatedly from the correct sources and into the right spots in the Vena cube so everything can flow into templates for spreadsheets and everyone gets the numbers they need.

I've described this process using several cooking metaphors because I love food. The data must be fresh like bread so it has to be baked in the oven (that processes the data) at least once a day or it's garbage. Retrieving the data inside spreadsheets is like following a recipe to create the proper situation for the food to taste (or the data look) how you want it. If you need a different outcome, you get a different recipe and manipulate the steps and ingredients in a different way.

My coworker is working on a solution to the problem that some of our custom solutions take too long to implement for clients and become too costly to them. This will involve pre-built packages that can be migrated and lightly manipulated to fit the same use cases of custom needs in a fraction of the time. So instead of having a costume custom-made, you can buy it at Zara – fewer choices, sizes and colours, but still enough selection to get you 80% there, and then there's a tailor for alterations.

Design is like writing a story to communicate an idea, which I really like to do.

Inspiration: Tiny Toy Co.
It has been a personal plight of mine to try and get rid of all the clutter and unnecessary possessions I've accumulated over my short life. The challenge hasn't really been the act of deciding to detach myself from the clutter, but finding proper channels for ethical and ecological recycling/reuse. Bunz Trading Zone has been a great forum for a lot of my clothes, books and accessories, but I haven't been so lucky with little trinkets and toys and such. I used to collect them in the hopes that I'd become a famous mixed-media collage artist among the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, but alas it may be too late for that dream.

What to do with all this stuff? I have had exactly 0 Bunz offers on this lot.

About a month ago, something wonderful popped into my Facebook News Feed.
Tiny Toy Co. is the brainchild of teacher-librarian Rebecca Saha. We collect, corral, and curate tiny toy "debris" to give it a second life as part of upcycled early learning activities, literacy lessons, and educational games for young children.
Upcycling, charity, learning AND fun?! This is probably the best thing I have seen in a long while. Saha's idea is amazing, and she's even been featured on CityNews for the good she brings into society.

I bet lots of people have these little mismatched toy remnants lying around; a barbie shoe here, a lego piece there. Especially for these little toy pieces that don't really work on their own as a true toy, they're given a new lease on life in the hands of Saha. 

I'll be dropping off my toys for donation to this wonderful charity at the Really Really Free Market in Campbell Park this Saturday. For more info about Tiny Toy Co, check out their website.

Before and after.