Cognition & Space

February 2017


What do you think about when you hear the word ‘design’? There seem to be an infinite number of definitions, and in my experience, those definitions are usually offered up with a shrug that suggests “of course, the one definition we unanimously agreed upon”. One I heard a lot as a student was ‘art but with clients’, which to me always rang as wholly false. Another was ‘thinking made visible’, which I can kind of get on board with, but doesn’t exactly fit design specifically (after all, wasn’t it first said that ‘good writing is thinking made visible’?). My least favourite has always been ‘problem solving’, because after all, isn’t every profession based around solving problems? I’ve heard increasing numbers of people quote Steve Jobs in saying that design is how something works, which halts the gears in my head. It feels right, but it only feels right. Because design, as I know it, isn’t necessarily how something works, as much as why or what.

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Reading Journal 2016

December 2016


Every Year I publish a list of the books that I read throughout the year. Last year I was disheartened by the state of the digital reading industry (is that even something?), and I think it had a real effect on how and what I read this year. I split the year reading technical books, books on dharma, and fiction, but didn’t necessarily find standout works to excite me as I have in past years. I reintroduced the Kindle hardware to my reading practice, having spent the previous year reading exclusively on my phone, which enhanced the emotional aspect of reading, but actually caused me to read less. As it turns out, the best book is the one you have with you. Nonetheless I plan to keep reading on the Kindle. My enthusiasm for eInk as a technology keeps me believing in the product, despite the fact that the digital reading landscape is less competitive now than it was five years ago. I’m still looking for the type of product or service to take the place of Readmill, or to even convince me in any way that there are people outside Amazon and Kobo that still believe that reading technology has a place in the world. I’ve highlighted the books that struck a chord with me, and already have a stack of (ePub) books waiting for me in 2017.

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Artwork in the Age of Data-Driven Design

October 2016


I spend much of my video-watching hours on either YouTube or Netflix. Or, I think I do anyways. I missed the wave of YouTube becoming a dominant cultural platform, and as a result, I still feel awash with confusion whenever I go to the homepage. The interface is more or less fine–staid, you could call it–but the content itself usually presents itself as somewhere between somewhat off-putting and visually baffling. It’s not always the case, but it often times is.

I don’t consider myself too old or out of touch with the inherent culture of YouTube necessarily (though this article may itself prove that I am), and I don’t believe that the culture of YouTube in itself is specific or introspective enough to validate these specific anti-aesthetic decisions. What I mean is, I don’t think that the typical (forgive the generalizations, I could be very wrong about all this) content generators of YouTube are visually sophisticated enough to consciously decide to make something unpleasant in place of what otherwise would be visually pleasing for their existing audience. That the bombastic nature of their graphic design is not driven by the same unifying ethos as the equivalent would be in a punk scene, despite similarly effective visual results. That it is neither aesthetically, nor ideologically driven. My completely uninformed speculation is that they–given that they all have access to sophisticated analytical tools–are purely responding to the data they have in hand. That loud imagery beats out quiet, and big messaging overshadows modest.

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Ouroboros No. 2 | Cable Television

August 2016


In Laws of Media, Marshall McLuhan established a collection of effects that apply to any new media. The fourth of these asks the question “When pushed to the limits of its potential, the new form will tend to reverse what had been its original characteristics. What is the reversal potential of the new form?” I’m interested in looking at new technologies & forms and seeing in which ways they eat their own tail.

Before the internet came to be what the internet now is, watching video was best done exclusively on the TV. Then, over time the internet got really, really good at video, and the TV was relegated to the second (or third or non existent) screen for entertainment. Video on the internet became its own industry, and over time, following the path laid for it by the music industry a decade prior, absorbed the content libraries of cable television.

First, as with music, the idea was of an infinite library that allowed you molecular access to individual episodes and films. As the world shifted towards pay-for-access streaming services, the terrible economics of that model created a land grab for users and for original content (which is cheaper to produce and license). Cable networks smartened up, and started to ween their content off of other services in favour of their own, not wanting to be left behind as the world moved into apps and to subscription services. Now each network has their own good-enough streaming platform, and push proprietary content as the primary reason for subscription.

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Ouroboros No. 1 | the Ride Sharing interface

July 2016


In Laws of Media, Marshall McLuhan established a collection of effects that apply to any new media. The fourth of these asks the question “When pushed to the limits of its potential, the new form will tend to reverse what had been its original characteristics. What is the reversal potential of the new form?” I’m interested in looking at new technologies & forms and seeing in which ways they eat their own tail.

Before the smartphone but after the phone, if you wanted to call for a car service, you would find the contact information for the service you wanted, call them and place your request.

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Retro-Presentism

July 2016


Pokémon GO is out, and this is by any metric a wonderful thing. As someone who grew up during Peak Pokémon, I have a few thoughts on this.

  1. It’s a cultural phenomenon in a way that feels very linked to the kind of internet culture that existed when Pokémon first emerged in 1996. A relatively small group on people betraying social convention to do a thing that from the outside might seem valueless and nerdy. The last few great tech phenomena have felt different from this because there’s always been a social payoff. Pokémon GO, true to its original game incarnation still has a veneer of antisocial dorkery that feels very warmly insular for those playing.
  2. At what point does something pass the threshold of being a part of modern popular culture and become an artifact of the past? At what point is something considered retro, despite its continued societal presence? I’ve seen a lot of sneering that the return of Pokémon is just part of the typical twenty-year pop culture cycle, but unlike Blink-182, Pokémon has at no point slowed its momentum. The franchise itself has been impressively consistent, now being 16 seasons into it’s TV show, 17 movies deep, with a new flagship game coming out next year, on the same clockwork as the last 10 games they’ve released. Pokémon fever is definitely a throwback to 1996, but it’s interesting that it’s not the franchise itself that has come back, just our palette for it.

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Casts and Casts and Casts for Candy

July 2016


N. and I just moved into a new apartment together, and for the first time in my adult life I’m looking at my physical environment as more than a temporary place to leave my backpack at the end of the day. This is a very exciting feeling, and with it comes a whole slew of things I’ve never bothered thinking about before, such as what technology is suited to a living room. N. and I went out first to buy an Apple TV first because no matter your feelings, buying Apple is never really a bad choice. Then we got skittish about spending $200 off the bat for a thing that in our case would be used pretty sparingly, and left with a Chromecast instead. Now I am totally enamoured with the little dongle, but there’s something about it that doesn’t click for me. It works beautifully, and it’s a delight to see the little cast icon appear on its own in apps I already have with me. I love the experience of turning on the living room screen, opening up Spotify or Mubi and having it just appear. And the fact that the device you use to host the content doesn’t have to give the Chromecast it’s full attention is a really thoughtful characteristic of the little media stick. But every time I use it, I hear a little voice at the back of my head whispering “but it isn’t Bluetooth”.

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The Grotesque & the Banal

June 2016


My friend J. and I are suckers for horror movies. We get together every so often to watch movies, and usually end up on something campy, violent and gross. This isn’t something I would have ever predicted for myself, because growing I had a hair trigger imagination, and anything even remotely frightening would cause me to lose sleep for weeks. I couldn’t even watch trailers for movies. But over time I learned the difference between a scary movie and a horror movie, and I learned that I actually really love the latter. The reason I can like horror and hate the sensation of fear is that horror works on an entirely separate system of psychological pulleys.

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Three Newsletters

June 2016


In 2015 it seemed like the idea of newsletters as a writer’s distribution was coming back in a mean way. I was constantly being turned towards really interesting daily or weekly snippets that I could herd into my inbox. It was a cool idea. It felt like bloggers had abandoned their fortified homesteads and taken to the seas for a rocky, untethered adventure in the face of established distribution platforms like Medium and Facebook. But like anything that quickly swings into style, it quickly swung out of style, and with it went some newsletters that were simply too beautiful for this world (for posterity, I am referring to Matt Braga’s deep yet accessible security & technology newsletter The Dot Digest, and Robin Sloan’s wonderfully arrhythmic recommendation newsletter PRIMES). However many have still stuck with it, and every few days I’ll open up my inbox to find treasure mixed in with my receipts.

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iA on Icons

June 2016


iA wrote a wonderful piece on the use of icons within tactile and navigational interfaces, as a way of promoting their new game Iconic. I’m a big fan of their software, which I use on both phone & desktop (losing access to iA Writer for my personal computer was one of this biggest concessions I made when switching to the Surface.) and also of the transparency they practice in both their products and their process. This article is a smart distillation of something they’ve been conceptualizing for a long time (which beta users of iA Writer 3 were witness to, as they tested interfaces with text-only functions and actions).

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Low Pressure Systems

June 2016


Last week, an article popped up on Wired about Ello, the social network that for one brief moment looked to be the next shore for Facebook-departees. The article checks in on the site, having once been the beneficiary of a giant groundswell of public attention, that seems to collapse under the weight of it’s own short-lived fame. However, while the world seemed to write it off as a failed coupe against the social giant (myself included), it looks like it’s been doing just fine.

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The Broad Narrows

June 2016


Yesterday I had a long conversation with my friend S. about a subject we rant about often. We are both designers, and spend a lot of time thinking about what tools and systems are the best for the things we want to achieve. We are also both firm advocates of technological accessibility, but we got caught on one particular paradox.

Technological accessibility, in my mind boils down to two basic facets: The capacity to reach the greatest number of people, and the fundamental ease and capability of that technology to serve that same number of people. The paradox we found ourselves stuck on is the realization that in many cases, the thing that is the most accessible in its use is not the thing that’s most accessible in its reach. For example, I am writing this blog on WordPress, the broadest reaching content management system that has built itself upon over a decade of backwards-compatible, versatile, open-source practices. However it would be difficult to argue that it is the simplest or the most immediate way to create and distribute information on the web. Ecommerce for example requires a lot of dedicated functions that aren’t best addressed by WordPress. So platforms like Shopify create their own languages that best address the needs of ecommerce, but as a result have created a proprietary system that is only accessible for the small channel of users on their particular platform. It serves those users very well, but it doesn’t address the needs of anyone not paying to use their platform. Another example is the idea of web apps vs native apps. An iPhone app may be the most seamless way to empower a user with a particular technology, but it will only serve the portion of the population that has one extremely specific product in their pocket. Conversely, building the same tools on more broadly accessible web technologies will open the door to a greater potential group of people, but at a reduced efficiency, and will rely on the savviness of that broader group to find and use these tools.

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Hammers & Screwdrivers

June 2016


In the graphic design program I attended at OCAD, one of the expectations was for all students to buy (from the school at a modest discount) a new MacBook Pro with Adobe Creative Suite. This was in part, to ensure that all students had the same resources available to them, but also I believe to establish early in their careers a sense of brand devotion. I was ecstatic to have a reason to buy a MacBook, it was the first year of the aluminum unibody, and the computer I had been using at home was a faceless Dell tower from three years earlier. The love affair with the MacBook Pro lasted until my second year, when the burden of carrying around a four-pound, 15″ slab of metal started to weigh on me. Then, one day a classmate showed up with a lean, shiny, new MacBook Air, and I stood there, with my aluminum anchor stressing the shoulder straps of my backpack thinking “I didn’t know we were allowed to do that”.

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Meta Culture

May 2016


Remix culture was the defining cultural mode of the early 2000s. The accessibility of tools and the freedom of distribution gave way to a new way of interacting with existing cultural objects. Same as how the camera gave way to a cultural of mechanical reproduction, the internet gave way to sampling, remixes and mashups. Now, midway through the next decade, I feel like another cultural shift has taken place. Remixing is now a given, and what is now being sampled is the context of our cultural objects, rather than the objects themselves.

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Modern Tools

May 2016


A few weeks ago my friend L., who recently enrolled in a design program in Japan, asked on Facebook what tools for visual design she should be investing her time in learning. I was eager to send her a response, because it’s a subject I care about and hope that I have a level of expertise in. Ultimately I was too disappointed in my own answer to respond. After 6 years in the design environment my answer was “whatever your printers and developers need you to use”. And I know that this is the wrong answer, but it’s not the wrong idea, so I wanted to work out what I meant by that.

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Changing Digital Names

May 2016


I don’t normally feel compelled to make a note of any changes I make to my personal website, but I wanted to make a few notes about this one. And this post is going to be pretty self-indulgent, so I fully expect this to not make great reading material. For starters I’ve changed my name, kind of. The idea of having a pseudonym, for me, has always been an exciting part of being on the internet. Early on I was conditioned to believe that the internet was a dangerous place and that your identity & information always needed protecting.

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Mannequins

December 2015


A few years ago I wrote a piece about the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi. The piece was about the production of the film, and the weird, cyberpunk, multimedia world that could have been. Spirits Within was a part of the first wave of entirely computer generated feature films, and possibly the first to attempt photorealism. The entire film rendered out over 15 terabytes of data (in 2001 keep in mind), and took a cumulative 120 years of production time, split amongst the staff of 200. The aim was to create a world indistinguishable from our own, inhabited by characters that could be brought to life in a way no artificially created character had ever been in the past. The goal was to have the characters, particularly the protagonist Dr. Aki Ross, to have a life outside the film, and be “cast” in future computer generated films, or even alongside actual actors in live action. The film flopped, and any hopes of this extension of the characters or set were squashed.

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Reading Journal 2015

December 2015


This year felt like an off year for me when it came to reading. I’ve long been an evangelist for electronic reading, and every year for the last half a decade or so has given me reason to continue my excitement until this one. Blloon, an alternative to Kindle Unlimited, has not been successful in creating a sustainable business out of eBook subscriptions and has  entered a period of ‘refuelling’, Oyster, the beautiful spiritual successor to Readmill has been absorbed into Google Play,  and the downward trend of eBook sales in favour of their physical counterparts continues to chug logarithmically along. It seems like the only players left in the game are Amazon, Apple and Google, and that’s never a position anyone likes a market to be in. What is a die-hard .epub fan to do? I am holding out hope for a technology that acts as more of a mediator than a content provider, so that the terrible economics of licensing content do not have to interfere with the technology through which we access that content (Rdio listeners will share that sentiment). That being said, I did read many books this year that I really enjoyed, and as a habitual list-taker, I’ve included them all in the list below for posterity. I’ve highlighted the books that I’d really recommend.

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Communication Arts Design Annual 2015

November 2015


The poster I made as part of the Music for Memory campaign while at JWT Canada was featured in the Communication Arts Design Annual. I’m hugely proud of that project, and am happy to see it get recognition, as well as to see my work standing side by side with posters from designers and illustrators I greatly admire such as Matt Taylor, Strawberry Luna and Tyler Stout. The September issue of Communication Arts is still on bookshelves, so go brush through it!

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Applied Arts 2015 Design Annual

July 2015


The July edition of Applied Arts is out, and page 143 of the issue features my work for J Walter Thompson’s 150th Anniversary. I was given a lot of creative freedom with the project, and seeing it in print amongst all of the other winners feels pretty great. It’s on racks everywhere, so go grab a copy.

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Our Butcher Year

February 2015


I’ve been thinking a lot more about editing than I ever have before. That’s largely because of Tony Zhou, and his video series Every Frame a Painting. If you haven’t seen them, they are short (5~10m) videos where he dissects a particular filmmakers specific hallmarks. Whether it’s the use of the lateral tracking shot in animated features, or how Michael Bay uses parallax, he’s slowly teaching a virgin public about the unseen details of constructing a visual narrative. I’m tempted to think of it as the cinematic equivalent of Scott McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’. Here are two of my favourites:

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Reading Journal 2014

December 2014


A list I feel much better about is that of the books I’ve read this year. By far the stand-out of the bunch is Underground by Haruki Murakami. It’s unlike many Murakami books in that it is non-fiction, and not about a benign 30-something man with an underplayed talent who has to leave Tokyo to find a woman who in a previous time of his life was once meaningful and he now must return to. It’s amazing how many times he can write one story. Underground however is a staggeringly beautiful account of the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Subway by the Aum Shinrikyo on March 20th, 1995. The interviews are thoughtful, deep, human, and on a few occasions brought me to tears. It took me over a month to finish this book and I can’t wait until enough time has passed to read it again.

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