Monday, July 22, 2019

Kiefer, Instagram Influencers & Tokyo 2020

Weekly Update 2019-26: Super-cute snobless jazz from Kiefer, the unprecedented power of Instagram Influencers and the brand for Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games.

Music: Kiefer
Fresh outta last week's Inspiration comes my new favourite alternative jazz sensation Kiefer. Los Angeles based Kiefer Shackelford has been slowly but surely erasing the snobbery associated with jazz and basically just doing his thing with a piano, some drum tracks and a bit of synth. It's perfect music for rainy days, doing the dishes or walking your dog down a tree-lined sidestreet.

I have a bittersweet relationship with networking events, but I do really appreciate the way BrainStation ran their summer event to celebrate their teaching staff. I don't get the chance to meet with my fellow faculty too often, and it was lovely to learn more about the backgrounds of my "team". I also completed the marking for my third semester - which always comes with a sigh of relief. It's a lot of work and I try to give students as much actionable feedback as I can.

BrainStation hosts their events in a really cool outdoor space downtown.

After a very long wait since buying tickets last Winter, this past weekend was the 90s Nostalgia Music Festival. I was super excited to attend with Larissa, since we grew up with all the bands at this show. Aqua, Prozzak, (some of) S Club 7, Right Said Fred and my personal favourite Vengaboys. Larissa even got her wish to do the special dance during Aqua's Dr Jones, and some strangers even joined in! The power of music is limitless.

With June comes Toronto's annual Pride Parade, and this was the first year I was able to attend. Not only that, but TDot Batu was asked by Via Rail to perform and march in the parade as well. So for my first year, I ended up experiencing the parade from the middle of it all. What an amazing display of love, acceptance, bright colours, and smiles. I tried to look every audience member in the eye and smile at them to share in the joy of the day.

As a bonus, Kaylin marched in the parade with me the whole time! Super special.

The Pride spirit continues with a Pride-themed meetup on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It'll be held at Connected's office, which I'm pretty excited to see in addition to all the great content and speakers.

Some of my band will be postering down Dufferin Street for our upcoming show next Sunday, and having a drumming bbq to celebrate summer. For this reason, I'm going to make a lot of salads. I kind of forgot how great it is to make simple summer salads to eat, Winter really brainwashed me into thinking casseroles are the only easy food to make. If I try to turn my oven on anytime between Canada and Labour Day, my kitchen might burst into flames.

Random Thought: Instagram Influencers
With the introduction of Instagram into our daily lives (Instagram or it didn't happen), there is a very special subset of people who use Instagram for their main source of income. These influencers are able to obtain many things for free that us "normal people" would have to pay for - food, hotel stays, air fare, admission to events, the list goes on and on. Yes, it is a form of advertising for the businesses that provide these goods and services, but things have gotten a little out of control when these influencers are demanding them for free.

It's no better than when people offer creatives "exposure" in lieu of actual payment for their services. Will exposure pay my rent, or keep my lights on, or put food in my fridge? No, it won't. Take a look at the email received by a hotel manager in Dublin, Ireland.

Of course, this request was not accepted and the hotel has now placed a ban on any and all influencers staying at their hotel. Have these incessant Instagram trends gone too far?

It reminds me of how a Canadian sunflower farm began to promote themselves as an Instagram attraction, only to have their fields ruined in a matter of weeks by disrespectful visitors trying to get the perfect photo.

Everyone wants a cool photo for their Insta profile, but at what cost? Maybe it's all about perspective and taking advantage of the situation for travel businesses. For example, Bali has promoted itself as a luxury travel destination for influencers with its famous jungle rope swings. My friend who visited told me that the photos make it seem much more beautiful than reality; people are waiting in line at each swing to take the same picture as everyone before them, and not really enjoying the nature or the country itself.

Looks can be deceiving.

At least new spots like Toronto's Happy Place have cropped up - allowing Instagrammers to do their thing in a place made especially for them. Yep, you can now pay admission to enter a building where you basically stand in lines waiting to take photos of yourself and your friends in kooky, artsy scenarios. They do make for excellent eye candy and don't require special photography equipment, and I suppose no natural sights are being ruined in the process, so maybe this is the future of Instagram travel. I wonder if they waive the admission fee for Instagram accounts with lots of followers. 

Inspiration: Tokyo 2020
With all the hubbub surrounding the Olympics, I always take a little joy in seeing how the branding of each new season will be designed. Here's the official logo for Tokyo 2020:

There are many rules and guidelines that must be followed in creating the logo; constraints are a designer's best friend of course. But in this case, an unofficial logo has been sweeping the internet with its simple style and ingenious use of the five Olympic rings:

Designed by Daren Newman, it's quite ingenious and beautiful in its use of the rings the complete the year 2020, as well as the red circle paying homage to the Japan flag. I certainly prefer this logo over the official one, though there are certainly some design rules that have been broken here. You can check out the official brand guidelines here.

It's a wonderful exercise in simplicity, but a perfect example that designing without brand guidelines or real-world constraints can lead to unrealistic outcomes. Even beyond the design of the logo itself, this has brought up an interesting discourse in the online design world over the value of designing without constraints.

Yes, this logo is beautiful and perfectly balanced, but if it doesn't meet the brand guidelines for the Olympics, how successful can it really be?

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.

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
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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.

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?!

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.

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.