DESIGN, ART, GADGETS, FASHION, AND SAFEWAY

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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Portrait Photographer

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As you can probably tell, I have a slight infatuation with photography. Much like music. Much like technology. Much like a lot of things.

But like most things, there's a trick to mastery in every category. For portrait photography in particular, I've learned a few things. First, it's all about the eyes. You need to make them smile. That is - if you don't have life in them, you're not doing it right. Bounce flash from above, reflectors from below, and controlling the way your subject lights up is key to creating the perfect image.


Another trick is to make use of anything and everything to create the perfect shot. If there's a leaf distracting the image, walk on over and kick it to the curb. Need to climb a tree for a shot? Do it. It's this type of explorative and ballsy dedication to an art that really brings out the creative spirit of photography.


Finally, there's treasure all around us. This takes years to master, but the key is to find those areas around the places you live that seem to have their own special story around them. It could be the morning 
sun that comes in your window to light your lover doing the Times crossword. It could be the lamppost on the corner that illuminates the people on the sidewalk at dusk. It could be the last bit of sunset light on the wall of your office. Watch for these pockets. Have your snap finger ready.

Time to Let It All Out

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It's almost time for that new year and I say we should all strive for one thing: letting it all out. There's only a few people in this world who are completely honest with themselves and I feel that's something that should be held highly, even more so than credentials at times. My resolution: to be completely honest with everything I do, no matter how hard it is or how vulnerable it leaves me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

That's Right!

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I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eclectic Gifts for the Urban Digital Renewist

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I think you should invest in yourself every 5 years or so. If you haven't purchased anything big recently, here's a few to spoil yourself with: 1) GF-1 Add-Ons (Pictured above is a Aki-Asahi case for $100), 2) Jean shirts and leather suspenders, and 3) Understand Rap (a fabulous typographic book explaining a few ghetto-isms in raw, university exposition for $10).

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Million Dollars in Harlem

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Ever wonder what one million dollars can get you in Harlem, New York? Wonder no more. This historic townhouse by Langston Hughes, filled to the brink with amazin' architecture and huge open windows, is a masterpiece that's well worth the premium.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

J. Crew Men's Style Guide for Fall/Winter

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For quick reference. For the hipster yuppie living in Upper East Side manhattan.

The Town Review

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Man, it's been a while since a nice fleshed out movie review, hasn't it? I'll try to redeem myself with a 60-second review of The Town. Ever since Gone Baby Gone, I've had my eye on sir Affleck. When I heard he was planning on doing a gripping crime-drama about Charlestown, Boston - a small city with the rep for being "the bank robbery capital of America" - I was in. What you get is a cesspool of violence and family dysfunction, with above average build-up to the high-stake crimes that perpetuating in a downward cycle of unescapable repetition. It's no doubt a big downer for those who's looking for an inspiration narrative from the "other side." That said, it manages to make you care for at least one or two of the characters involved, and despite feeling a bit lean and drawn out at times, still manages to carry on a suspenseful story with loud crescendos, fun action sequences, and one hell of a supporting cast. Recommended for a slow Sunday night. 7.8/10.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pimp My Camera: Grips

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My cousin Tony's ears perked up when I said I saw a Panasonic GF-1 grip somewhere on the internet. I did a little more research and found it was sold solely at Fujiya Camera in Nakano, Tokyo and here. That'll be $100, please.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Roberu Kamerasutorappu Canvas Camera Straps

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I just stumbled on the goldmine. Roberu canvas makes these awesome straps for micro 4/3rd cameras. I just wish they didn't cost $100. Drool.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sally's Epic Tuna Casserole Recipe

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Gonna miss that little girl. Gonna miss her tuna casseroles even more. Here's the top secret family recipe:

Empty half a box of pasta shells (or more), 2 cans of condensed mushroom soup, 3 cans of tuna (or more if it doesn't seem like enough), 4 tablespoons of mayo, a few handfuls of whatever kind of cheese you want (shredded), dried basil, garlic powder and parsley, salt, pepper, and crushed up Cheez-Its and melted butter on top. 

Cool the shells almost all the way through, maybe 2 or 3 minutes shy of being fully done. Mix everything together in a bowl, except Cheez-Its and butter. Place it in a pan and sprinkle Cheez-Its over the top (smother it!). Then pour half a stick of melted butter over that.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 30ish minutes or a little more until it's golden brown and bubbling. If you want more moisture in it you can put more mushroom soup in it.

DIY Panasonic GF-1 Flash Bounce

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White card. 45 degrees. Better results, yeah!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Staying Optical in a Digital World

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I love throwback design. Even if it goes against the grain of the digital revolution. Here's a Voigtlander metal viewfinder on a Panasonic Lumix GF-1 with a leather case. Drool-inducing? You bet your glass it is.

Monday, December 20, 2010

White Ring Will Surely Out-Synth You

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If you've been craving something along the lines of the Knife and some cracked out trip-hop, you've come to the right place.

I Dream in Modern Surrealism

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If living in a loft these days sounds like a long sought, unobtainable dream, I'm all for reaching the impossible. Filled to the brink with mid-century pieces, elegantly designed spaces, and a careful muted palette - this is what my dream space should have as a bare minimum. The rest, well... shall come in due time.

Anri Sugihara Meets Canvas

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A fellow named Suhel from London shot me an e-mail a couple weeks ago about canvas printing some of my art pieces I worked on over the Summer. I gave him a thumbs up for the go ahead, just so long as he sent me a photo of it mounted after he'd done it. The end result? Fantabulous! Makes me want to print out the rest of my Lookbook series and throw them all over my walls.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tame Impala!

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This is what happens when Wolfmother meets 60's psychedelic rock and British pop. The most intense double rainbow yet.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Devoured, But Invincible

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I propose a truce. A truce with rules, regulation, and sense-making in the common definition. The goal of this truce is to lead us out of the heart of evil. Fact is - despite all the available knowledge around us today, we're still running around like children. The curiosity acts as an onset to time - time lost towards our eventual fall towards death.

We're plummetting. Downward in a spiral direction. We should stop eating. We should grab paddles and start paddling. Man, the noise is tearing out our ear drums. The "bwarrp's" are just proof that this shit doesn't stop. Never ever. It feels like aural heroine.

Are we running away or accepting the collapse as a challenge? Tell me, what's more important than the human heart? What's a few sirens, exploding appendages, and broken glass to keep us from pursuing what we've set out to do? I say you need it. I say you go for it. I say you can climb out, break the mold, and escape. Do it or die.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Like Portishead? You're Gonna Love Anika

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This is some downtempo shit, this Anika. Some are describing the production as "a variety of sounds from different spaces and times to craft something excellently post-genre and out of time. A combination of 50’s girl group, late 60’s pop jangle, with 70’s dub, with early 80’s No Wave-y attitude." Sounds like aural sex to me, boss.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Digital DJ Controllers of 2010

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So you wanna be a DJ, eh? Here's the best of the best, according to the boys at Digital DJ: 1) Traktor Kontrol S4 - $899, 2) Numark Mixtrack Pro - $250, 3) Vestax VCI-300 MKII - $799. Get that living party started!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lo-Fi, I Love You

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra's anonymity is no doubt a friendly and universalising attribute to their local, "never played a single show," kids across the hall kind of sound. But maybe that's just why it's so brilliant. And why fan made videos like the one above make me really excited when I think about this new global age of music we live in.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anti-Pantone

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Word.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Raising The Bar

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It's not to say that I've been obsessed about Charles Eames' work since I first set eyes on his aluminum Management Chair, but my, I really wish I lived in his era at times. What a splendid time for the modernists to shine.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

All This Stereo, But No Party

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This seems to be a problem with my audiophile obsessions. Even after I getting all of this great audiophile gear together, it still feels like a major pain when trying to get people to interact with the system and listen to their music. AppleTV seems like the closest solution with AirPlay, but what else is there out there? Surely there must be an alternative to throw a fun small party where everyone can listen to their tunes on a sweet system without having to whip out iTunes, throw on record after record, or plug in a computer with an atrocious RCA cable strung across the room?

Pictured: Bathurst Media Cabinet, LG 55lh95 55-inch LED HDTV, Usher 6371 Tower Speakers, some tube amp.

Indian Winter Fashion

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Must keep warm. Must not buy into upcoming Native-American fashion trend. Must not, but probably will.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Thinking Design in Process

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I've never been a theory-heavy person. With years of training the field of Neuroscience, Physiology and Behavior, I've been taught the practicality of the animal form and the rules of homeostasis. There were no secrets here. If you were grumpy for a day or two, it was due to a bad feedback mechanism releasing hormones or neurotransmitters that activated stress pathways. The cure would be to get some rest, wait for your body's balance to equalibriate, and then go on with your life. If the problem persists, there would be pharmaceutical solutions for it.

This logical, yet very constrained view of the human body had prepared me enough to pursue a career in medicine, physical therapy, or one of the many health industry-related routes, but didn't address much of why people did things, let alone put a stop to certain harmful behaviors that were causing them to be unhappy to begin with.

In medicine, preventative maintenance was always suggested and backed by research, but rarely took into account user needs, their mindset, or the contextual surroundings of their respective environments. It was then that I decided to shift my focus to developing solutions that would place user needs as a priority.

I decided to do it through the medium I was most familiar and enjoyed working with: technology.
Years later, I found myself working in IT and writing for an online media company about the topics of interior design, home technology, and software solutions for the domestic space. It was a stepping stone for a career change, but it was my transition into the field of Human Computer Interaction Design that led me to the realization that designing for delight was far more satisfying than designing for failed physiological systems. It was here that I embraced the reason why I was the only person to keep a sketchbook with me at all times during my medical internship rotations. It was here that I solidified my design process that reflected everything that was me.

It was also here that I started to do a psychoanalysis on myself in order to discover how I thought about the world around me, consciously using that as a reflective tool for feedback to how I adapt to ridiculously messy design spaces.
So how does one master the art of problem setting? I believe the basic building blocks to a great design starts with a few well-framed questions that usually result in lots of good answers. This helps build constraints, although like any foreign problem - talking to the experts tends to get you the best insights into what users truly need. Thus, exemplar research, interviews, and focus groups (when a larger pool of feedback can benefit) tend to be essential at the start of any project, but it's even more important when dealt with an unfamiliar space.
Above is the typical product life cycle for technology development. But one should realize that it often looks something along the lines of the diagram seen below (courtesy of Joyce Hostyn of Open Text).
Getting that thread to unravel is probably one of the most difficult things to do; design isn't a straight forward, linear, or quantifiable process. Design is about research, analysis, intuition, and synthesis, but it's also about designing meaningful solutions that get used and not thrown out after a few week's use (unless you're designing for that). It's about addressing problems creatively and with heavy doses of empathy scattered throughout. Socio-cultural context cannot be ignored or misunderstood.

So, when presented with a problem, I enter what I call, "sketch-a-holicism." I use pictures and exemplars to familiarize myself with the space. These can be gained through ethnographic observation, short interviews, and mind-maps that connect the dots without having to invest hours and hours in pointless affinity diagram exercises. If funds permit, I always go to the area of implementation and embed myself into the culture, just to see what it would be like to face the problem at hand. I consider this a quick dose of first-hand research.
Note: It's also probably not a bad idea to invest in a really good portable camera. Any signs of inspiration along the design process will benefit greatly by contextual photographs that have a story behind it.

At this point, many will jump the gun and dive into the books. I say to hell with that. If I can't experience and immerse myself in the problems first-hand, then there is no problem. A simple re-design of an existing solution will suffice and will save time and money for everyone.

After initial research, it's good to immediately consider what you want for the end result to be. Expectation management is probably one of the most important things to consider the design process, so don't ignore this. Finding out what the client really wants and what he/she says they want is a few days' work all in itself. I never rush through this process. Define what needs delivering. Then... plan to overdeliver.
I'd also point out at this point that the best part of design is being able to come up with sky-high, crazy solutions that make sense to you and only you. The second best part is being able to argue for it in a presentation to stakeholders and have them meet you on the same page. It's an exercise of elaborate communication. It's pretty much the closest thing you can come to diving into the dreams of the other person.

Thus, the ability to communicate with clients and keep the on the same page constantly throughout the design process is essential in managing their changing expectations throughout the product's life cycle - being able to catch these dynamic changes is a skill worth investing in.
After solidifying the deliverables, exploring the space a bit, and getting the client to match my pace, I jump into simultaneous overdrive. This process consists of a mix of concept development alongside exemplar, literature, and expert research in the field. In many ways, you can consider this when I hit the white board with my design team in quick, weekly meetings to consolidate what we've gathered for concepts and research. Critiquing ideas and using sandwich model compliments, no idea is left behind and no idea is too crazy or stupid.

But eventually, decisions must be made. I tend to take lead in such situations, placing emphasis on timelines and schedules, as well as re-framing the current problem space (which is iterated again and again after each play session a.k.a. weekly design meetings) in order to give folks a good idea of where they are in the design process. If it's just me on the project, then I usually keep an on-going self-tally of the decisions made up until that point with the rationales behind each step forward. These are good for reports to clients.
When it's time for building the prototype for testing and iteration, I often leave it on autopilot. If the problem was framed well and the right questions have been addressed in the conceptualization phases, then the rest should be a matter of getting it into the hands of the target populace and seeing how they react to it.

That's not to say there's no skill involved in interviewing and managing test subjects' expectations. Focus groups and test sessions can often be expensive and time consuming since companies must pay for both the participants and the user experience expert conducting the experiment. It's important to use the rule of: Plan twice. Execute once. Have the proper questions ready and don't waste a second. However, it's up to your professional judgement whether the experiment must stop, requires further questioning, or needs a second iteration in order to gain better insights.

This should've been mentioned before, but I'll say it now: It's also important exercise to monitor your biases and thought process. Everyone has them. Whether you're an engineer, cognitive science, or design background, what one considers "aesthetically pleasing" will tend to vary from 'kinda cool' to 'brilliant.' Knowing your biases will help you manage them - so you don't end up with an annoyed tone when subjects don't "get" your design at all.
By now, a pretty concise target and direction should be apparent and its refinement that takes that "pretty good idea" into "elegant execution." At this point of high iteration and beta testing, I also consider all the points of implementation: Acceptability, marketing, remaining funds, and time schedules for release. It's vital that the design withstands the test of time (or again, if it's designed to be destroyed, that it does so within an accepted time window). It's also important to keep the client in the loop, especially during these preparations before launch. The client should be made aware to the risks involved for each decision to be made at this point, reducing designer/project manager responsibility and merging responsibilities to disperse risk to the proper parties. One man alone should not be taking the bullet for a failed project. Everyone is responsible for the decisions made at some point in time.

Reflection is key to growth. At the end of each project cycle, I make time to write down the strengths and weaknesses I encountered. Here, I discuss how my team can grow from these points (perhaps pairing a professional with someone who's animate to learning something new) and taking a few days off to reboot for the next project.

It may be just my IT side speaking, but I see the field of design as very much like computer science. Programming languages changes all the time, but so do expectations and user needs. It's up to the practitioner to stay up to date with tools, build a repository for best practices, and adapt for constant change. Only then can the 'thinker' meet the 'designer' at the end of the tunnel.

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