Living Patterns

Image from Urban fabric/form comparison: Spacing Toronto

I have no experience in theory like Urban morphology and as the post from Spacing Toronto and newspaper Toronto Star suggest, a Canadian city called Mississauga is “trying to create a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown”. The above image compares a really small slice of major cities around the world. I like the patterns and they no doubt speak to the heart of the city, but they’re also very misleading too. It’s a mistake to read too much into planning like this. My only living experience within the context of the above cities is New York. Most of Manhattan is fairly navigable once you get the hang of the streets and avenues. Sure it was planned to some degree but it doesn’t speak to the people that actually live there. There’s a certain “drive” for lack of a better cliché that really makes people who they are in New York. I don’t have a ton of friends, but the people that I like to call them that make the city much more interesting once the awe of the buildings slowly fades away. Urban planning can’t make those relationships. I suppose that speaks to things being over designed in general too. Urban density vs urban sprawl also suggest different living patterns too. Both have their issues but I don’t think one can replicate the other with much success.

Waking up early again

Daylife - I'm now the Design Director there

When I turned thirty a couple months ago, I never had any regret about hitting that milestone. I’d had a good run up to that point – there’s been a lot of opportunities in both personal and professional life that has always kept me interested. I thought I was ready for more of a challenge professionally, as the saying goes you should be careful for what you wish for. The night I turned thirty Tamara surprised me with a party. At first it was a little scary b/c it was so unexpected, but it was also a lot of fun. At the time I didn’t realize that my career would follow the same unexpected surprises after that night.

There was a couple reasons why I moved to NYC – on the surface it was to work specifically with Renegade, but it was also about the experience of a Canadian living in NYC with Tamara. As first jobs in NYC go, Renegade was a great place to work when there was a lot of work and the people that they had were curious and lived with the same attitude. But things change and Renegade made some deep cuts – and I was included in that. It happens, you move on – when I blogged about the experience I was humbled with all the people that tried to help me. Both from people I knew and people I didn’t. About a week and a half later I found myself working with Hillman Curtis. I was pretty excited – who wouldn’t be? During this time of thinking about finding my next career path I also had another big thing to think about. I was going to be giving my first design talk in Saskatoon – where I’m originally from. From all the different things going on with my career I kept having to re-write parts of the talk. Like I mentioned I was pretty excited to work with Hillman – unfortunately it didn’t work for either of us. The simplest thing to say is that it wasn’t the right fit.

So two days after leaving that I was in Saskatoon trying to explain publicly about what the hell happened. There wasn’t much that needed to be said about the work situation – in the end I thought the talk went pretty well – I’ve even kept up a dialogue with some of the audience up until now. So I get back to NYC without a job, deal with Visa stuff once again and I have to prep myself to start talking to a lot of people. But I ended up not having to that many people. Before I had accepted my previous job I had been talking with Tom Tercek at Daylife. We’d had some interesting discussions about how the net could work. He invited me to come help Daylife with a couple small projects to get a sense of how I worked and also for me to see if I would fit into their culture. What is Daylife? My simple idea is that if you’re one of those people that read both the NYT and the WSJ – this news site is for you. Daylife finds interesting news stories and then makes connections from other papers, but also visualizes the cast of characters in the story too. The functionality and the engineers behind the site make the information great. The only issue from my POV is that it’s not the easiest or nicest thing to read online. That’s where I’d like to say why I’m there. I’ve been named the Design Director of Daylife and may goal is simply to make Daylife a site that a news explorer would want to use. It’s by far the most exciting challenge that I’ve had the opportunity to consider so far. When I was in school many years ago it was extremely easy to wake up early – I was happy to be learning. I haven’t really had much time to sleep since starting with Daylife, but sleep is not being missed at the moment.

From my experience so far, companies that have a curious person leading makes it easier to believe in what they’re about. It also makes you want to kick a lot of ass and do something that’s worth putting your time into. I’ve been really fortunate to work along side Upendra Shardanand who was the person that conceived Daylife. Being able to pick his brain on a number of different levels is exactly why I want to be in NYC. I can’t say a whole lot about what will be happening in the next couple months with Daylife – but it’s going to be fascinating and a lot of fun. Stay tuned!

Notes from the Seed Conference

I’m not sure how I’ve never come across the notes from Mike Rhode’s moleskin until today from the Seed conference, but just in case you haven’t either – HERE they are. They’re visual but even better they’re to the point. Mike also wrote down his notes in a blog post where he explains a bit of his process. “I didn’t try to capture everything said during yesterday’s event, since others were probably doing that. Instead, I took time to listen and analyze the talks, distilling and capturing the main ideas I was hearing. By doing a bit of on-the-fly processing, it forced me to boil down what was being said, then express it in ink on the page in a way that would be meaningful to me and to others who might read my sketchnotes later.”

All the pages resonated with me – but from a standpoint of pushing yourself to the next level, Jim Coudal’s stuff seemed to speak to me most. “Be curious & Choose people on their taste & Don’t be afraid to fail”. It’s hard to argue against that, whether your a designer, photographer or even a chef I think…

Around America in 2.0

Around America in 2.0

Fridays are good for a lot of things, especially for catching up on web videos that you may have missed during the week. Around America in 2.0 is a series of one man’s adventures across the US. Going from city to city Matt Danzico is filming people who pick him up and drive him across the US. He started in September and is hoping to complete the trek in 80 days. At the moment the website says that he’s in El Paso, TX. It also mentions that he’s stuck there and is looking to get to San Antonio by Saturday, so if you’re in that area you might want to get in touch with him.

Around America in 2.0

From a travel standpoint, it must be quite the balancing act trying to figure out a schedule to get from one place to the next. I’ve enjoyed the videos that I’ve watched, but was confused about the map. I’m confused b/c he doesn’t have a map on the site and the days that he’s wanting to be in each city. On the video there’s a quick clip that I’ve shown, but it’s really general. If I were Matt, I’d create a new static map, show the route and have the dates of arrival. It might make things easier for him to get from point A to B.

Thanks for the fyi on the site Liz

The Matrix Chart (2 x 2)

NYC to Seattle to NYC 24hr Trip

vino volo chart

The Approval Matrix - New York Magazine

I found myself in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) last night heading back to NYC on a red eye with a couple people from work. At Vino Volo in the airport, they had an interesting way to indicate how the wine would taste. They’ve created a small matrix with four categories; Bright, Rich, Light and Brooding. Each wine that they serve is marked with a dot to the corresponding flavour. As I was tasting a sample from the taste of Spain, the matrix reminded me of something else – the Approval Matrix – New York Magazine

Redesigning a City

Yellow Arrow

“If you were to rebuild your city from scratch, how would you build it differently and what would you keep the same?”

I’m almost a week behind with this post, but better late then never. Last Friday at likeminds, there was a new spin added to the international meet up of minds, talking and drinking coffee. There was a question posed and people from Amsterdam, Atlanta, Bristol UK, Copenhagen, Dallas, Jacksonville, Jakarta, Kansas City, LA, London, Minneapolis, New Orleans, NYC, Seattle and Imaginary City all posted their notes to the likemind wiki in response to if you were to rebuild your city from scratch, how would you build it differently and what would you keep the same?

My New Favourite Site

My new fav. site

News and news stories on the net are like the never ending story. Those websites are constantly updating information on a minute per minute basis. I remember not that long ago when the New York Times, Time, CNN and even the CBC redesigned their sites. With each of those advances I thought that things were going pretty well. With the redesign of Newsweek I think people’s viewing choices got a lot more advanced. There’s so many smart things going on that it’s hard to pin point any one element. This is one of the first magazine sites aside from New York Magazine that I would want to spend a lot of time with reading online. Now that the stories look interesting enough to make me want to read them, when will I have the time too? If there was one feature I would now love to have for the Newsweek site, it would be the capability to click on the story and have it read to me as I work on my laptop. It would be an interesting combination of reading and listening. For me to want to listen to the story, it would first have to look interesting enough for me to want to pay attention. Words along won’t do that, and neither would sound if I can’t get into wanting to read it with the design of it.

According to Mediaweek, the design people responsible were creative director Amid Capeci and magazine designer Roger Black consulting. The people behind the redesign were Newsweek’s Creative Director Rolf Ebeling and the Wonderfactory. I can only imagine how many people actually worked on this to bring it live…

Today is Blog Action Day

Heading Towards the Mothership

Today is Blog Action Day, from their site the description goes as this. “On October 15th – Blog Action Day, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind. In its inaugural year, Blog Action Day will be co-ordinating bloggers to tackle the issue of the environment.”

I thought it might be interesting to compare living in Canada vs the US in terms of how easy/hard it is being Green™. When I moved to NYC, one of the biggest changes that could be considered green (though in terms of practacality rates very high too) was getting rid of the car. Honestly I can’t imagine driving a car in Manhattan. That doesn’t mean I don’t take a taxi from time to time, but after considering all the money that goes towards gas, oil and waste to keep a car on the uptake, it makes you wonder if there isn’t a more efficient way. I haven’t lived in that many Canadian cites, nor US, but if you don’t have a good and safe public transportation system it will be impossible for someone to not live with a vehicle. Since I live in NYC and don’t own a car, I give one point to the US. Along that same line I used to walk to work every day in NYC, so another point for that. Recycling is an interesting concept in NYC, it doesn’t really exist even close to what I was used to in Canada. It was so easy to recycle paper, glass or bottles that to celebrate it as a Green concept seems kind of silly. Part of the issue in Manhattan is that it’s an island. Is it easier to just have everything placed in a dump truck as opposed to a separate vehicle for each of the mentioned objects? So one point to Canada on recycling. I used to live in a house, now I supposedely live in a Green building. I’m not entirely sure about what that means aside from energy efficient lights and windows, but something is better then nothing eh? Another point for the US. Houses take a lot of upkeep, while it seems like there’s less waste when you have a group of people living in the same spot. Awareness is another interesting question. I don’t know if this goes back to Canadians taking for granted the recycling is just a good idea, but I think there’s more people down here being aware and trying to do something then ever before. So I’ll give a point to both countries. I suppose I could go on and on, but my Green comparison exercise is highly biased. If anything, I don’t think there’s a big of a difference between the two countries as some would think.

Interview with a Cookie Designer

Photograph by Aasulv Wolf Austad

Sure, we all like eating cookies but how often do we actually wonder who designed the cookie that you’re enjoying? Recently I came across cookie designer Mischief Mari Cookies website The cookies looked pretty good and seemed like there was a lot of thought and care put into what she did. So I emailed Mari Pfeiffer and asked if she would be interested in talking to me through email about her cookies, the way she designs and other things edible. Below is the ensuing conversation… If you’re one of those people that would prefer to read this interview on paper, you can download a pdf of the interview HERE.

And if you find this interview interesting, check out my other interviews at

What goes into designing a cookie from scratch to the final icing? A lot of planning. A lot of back-breaking, labor-intensive work. Once I’ve decided on a design, then I have to make sure I have the ingredients. I always start with the icing, a simple white royal icing made of confectioner’s sugar, water and meringue powder, which I make the night before I start any new project. The next morning, I pull out the ingredients for the dough, and once my butter has reached room temperature, I mix everything together, roll it out, chill it, cut it and bake it. While I wait for the cookies to cool, I divide my icing into small batches, color each one, pour them into parchment paper cones and start decorating. Depending on the complexity of the design, I’d say that it takes between four and six hours to complete the whole process.

How do you decide on a color pallet? It really depends on the design, but generally speaking, my approach is to not use colors normally associated with the images I create. For example, last Christmas, I made square cookies with blue and yellow trees on them, and I used blues and pinks as the tree ornaments. My dog cookies, as you’ve probably seen, are in bright shades of blue, orange, pink. I guess I like the unexpected.

Do you make your own colors? About half of the time, I do. A friend gave me a color wheel not long after I started decorating cookies, which has been very useful. Gel paste coloring, which is a highly concentrated form of food coloring made for edible decorating, comes in very standard colors like red, blue, yellow, green and black. Those colors are fine, but I’m always more interested in making something different, unexpected. I use the color wheel as a guide to making different shades of each color.

For the shapes of the cookies, are all cookie cutters the same or are there different quality types? How do you decide on a shape? There are several kinds of cutters. I’m not deeply picky about what to use. Copper is the most durable and beautiful, and I buy one of those a year. Why one? I’m building a collection that will represent the animals in the Chinese Zodiac. So far I have the Sheep, the Rooster, and the Pig.

There are also aluminum tin cutters, and these are probably the most common. They are usually pretty inexpensive, and I like these the most. They cut very well, and the variety of shapes available is endless. They require a little more care, since they can rust.

Then there are plastic cutters, which are pretty good, too. They are the easiest to care for in terms of cleaning. I have a few of those.

I decide on a shape after I’ve decided on my design. I imagine it’s similar to the way a graphics designer works. I have a space and I need to figure out how to fill it, how to make it appealing to the eye and how to convey some kind of feeling or message in that space.

Are some shapes easier to work with than others?
Absolutely. The more intricate a cutter is, the harder it is to use. A few years ago, I was at Williams-Sonoma looking for a new tablecloth when a box of animal cookie cutters caught my eye. Naturally, I forgot why I was in the store and came home with just the cutters. I couldn’t wait to try them out. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it was to cut those shapes only to break off a lion’s leg or an elephant’s trunk in the process. It took quite of bit of research and a few more trials before I got it right.

How does the look of the cookie affect the taste? For me it doesn’t. It’s essential that the cookies taste as good as they look. In 2002, when I was starting out, I tried numerous recipes for both the cookie dough and the icing before I got the right the combination. Friends and family acted as taste-testers and gave much needed feedback on each cookie. The biggest problem was the icing: royal icing is very sweet, lacks a distinct flavor, and hardens to a rock-like consistency. But the recipe I found and use is just right.

What’s the typical production time on a run – how many would you usually make for an order? I usually make a baker’s dozen (thirteen) at a time. But I’m such a nice gal that I often throw in extra cookies.

Are there other cookie designers that you look at for inspiration? There are a few cookie designers whose work I look at and wonder, “How on earth did they do that?” A good example of this is a guy named Gerhard Jenne, a German pastry chef who owns the Konditor & Cook bakeries in London. He wrote a book called Wacky Cakes and Kooky Cookies that blew me away the first time I read it. His work is filled with color and whimsy and his book taught me that mistakes or imperfections can be part of the overall design. This is wonderful advice, because when you work with perishables like icing and cookies, you can’t really erase what you’ve done. Though I hate to make mistakes, I often use them as an opportunity to try something new or go in an unexpected direction. Some of my best work has been the result of a few mistakes, like my blue dachshund cookie. As I was finishing him up, I ran out of black icing and had only pink left. That’s when I decided to give him pink toenails and have him stick his tongue out. In terms of new materials, what’s green that you’re considering? A lot of them are still in the early stages and aren’t ready for production yet. Often they’re being created in someone’s garage in middle America and are still being tested. People are reading about the materials, but they don’t work yet. It’s confusing for us b/c they’re available.

Where else do you look for ideas?
Actually, most of my ideas are born from stories. I’m a writer – a freelance journalist, copywriter and screenwriter – and usually I get my ideas for cookie designs from the stories I cover, from people for whom I write, from research I do for my screenplays or from my own personal experiences, and I chronicle most of how those ideas germinated in my blog. Years ago, my older brother and I went traveling through Indonesia where I saw and ate a hammerhead shark. When I heard that the area where we had traveled was hit by an earthquake last year, the memory of that trip gave me the idea of creating a cookie with a hammerhead shark.

When and why did you decide to do this as a business? In 2002, I gave cookies to everyone and anyone whenever I could to promote myself. One friend took some of my cookies to another friend’s party, and another guest, a very powerful and successful lawyer, called me the next day and asked me if I could make some for his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. He wanted me to make a set of decorated letter cookies that spelled out a rather, ahem, raunchy message. I did it. He paid me. That was my first sale. (Oh, and by the way, he married that girlfriend).

At the time, I was working at a film festival and writing a screenplay on the side, so I didn’t have time to make a go of this as a real business. Then I lost my job, and with the blessing and encouragement of my husband, I worked on my screenplay full-time and took freelance reporting assignments when I could. Occasionally, I’d get some cookie business. I always write my stories at the public library because it’s quiet and there’s no internet to distract me. Before getting down to writing, I’d procrastinate a little by reading books about starting a small business or cookbooks and learned a lot about the business side of the pastry business. I also visited a Small Business Association center where the volunteers gave me a lot of advice; I talked to professional pastry chefs and bankers and came to the conclusion that if I were to make this a business that could support me, I’d have to really do it full-time, hire employees, and so on. I love baking and decorating but for now, not enough to do it full-time.

Where do you want to take your business? I’m going to keep my life the way it is. I am still a writer first, a baker second. And as I get more writing assignments, whether reporting or copywriting (and I’m starting negotiations for a possible screenwriting deal), I have less time to devote cookies. I’m also in the process of making some massive changes to my website that will better reflect all of the things I do (writing, baking, storytelling), so I’m very busy with that. I hope to get the new website up and running before the holidays hit, because that’s always a busy time. As a one-woman shop, the baking has been a very seasonal occupation, really. And honestly, if I added up the hours I put into baking and decorating, I’m certain my hourly rate would come out to less than minimum wage. I don’t know any chefs – cuisine or pastry – who do what they do for the money. It’s competitive and as I said before, labor intensive. And not worth it unless you do it full-time.

Thanks for doing this!

Photograph by Aasulv Wolf Austad

Thank You

Looking at Bridge Stairs

It’s only day two of my unexpected holiday, but in a lot of ways I’ve never felt better. The amount of support from people I know and others that I didn’t know until yesterday has been really appreciated. Between the comments on my blog and flickr, to private emails of encouragement, it really means a lot – thanks. I should be back to my regular blogging schedule very soon : )

Below is an interesting quote that was on the bottom of one the nice emails I received, I kind of like the intention behind it – maybe you will too.

Don’t tell me you want a bridge, show me the canyon you want to cross.
J Mayes

Walking on the High Line

High Line Tour

High Line Tour

High Line Tour

Walking on the High Line Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the the floor will be the next time it opens to the public full time. The High Line Rail Yards were open to a small number of people that signed up for a walking tour that was part of Open House New York. Taking advantage of one of the only times that this availability has been granted I signed up ASAP which was a good thing b/c it sold out immediately. I’d seen a couple images of the above structure before and heard a presentation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro about their plans, but for the most part my experience came from walking below it to work.

Although the walk was brief at only four blocks (starting at 34th Street and ending at 30th Street) and taking thirty minutes there was more then enough to explore and see. The varying degrees of claimed and unclaimed natural habitat was fascinating. At the start of the walk the rail lines were visible with a strong foundation of rock and wood, but about a block down it changed quite quickly to more natural habitat of grass and twigs. For the last three blocks the density of the grass changed, it varied between dense to thin, wild flowers and rail lines sticking out. I think it was during the third block were the path was almost all fine golden like hairs of grass. It was quite a contrast to the usual dense green grass that calms people in parks around New York.

High Line Tour

But as quickly as it started the trip came to an end. Another contrast was seeing how stripped down the line has to go to clean it up. As the walkway veered one way to walk down to the street, we could see to the right of the High Line a part of the pathway that was getting cleaned. It simply looked like a road underconstruction, which in fact is what it is – though a more optimistic description should be a work in progress. In 2008, part of the most southern part of the High Line will be open which will give a taste of what’s to come.

I have a number of images of the walk on my flickr set HERE.

What to see at Open House New York…

P.S. 260

This upcoming weekend is Open House New York, an annual event where the public can visit private and public buildings and other areas that they would otherwise not have access too. Last year was my first opportunity to get inside some of the places that were part of the event. I was really looking forward to this years offerings though I’m now disappointed to see who’s not on the list. I would have luved to see Frank Gehry’s IAC Building and Foster and Partners Hearst Building. Unfortunately neither of those nor the P.S. 260 (which is pictured above) is available. On the plus side I did get one of the lucky spots on the High Line walking tour that sold out almost immediately. Last year it seemed like there were so many options while this year I’m still at a loss as to what to see. If you have any suggestions please let me know!

Living through a lens


Offbrand posted a timely comment on people living through their lives digitally. At the last concert you were at, how many people were recording the concert via a phone or camera? The post You are what you document is brief, but the first response from someone that works at Nokia is quite telling. Tom Jenkins comments “The web services that have exploded into mass use are those that get the interconnections right. Putting a photo album online is easy but being able connect this content with manually and automatically added associations: people, tags, places, etc is not just where the cutting edge software engineering is but also the most socially rewarding sharing. Whether it be one-to-many (facebook) or one-to-mass (youtube) people want to be seen doing cool things and spend a lot of time projecting a version of there lives online.” and “As far as ‘I am what I document’. This is no more acute than with my most geeky friends who will add a constant trickle of content: images to Flickr, status to Twitter and Facebook, last played to LastFM throughout the day, everyday. It is clear that this is done consciously to raise their social visibility, from letting their Mum know what they cooked for tea to making and keeping a name for themselves professionally.”

If you’ve been following DesignNotes for any amount of time – you’ll have noticed that I’ve tried to shift away from just posting a link about something that’s cool, to evolving it to be more about my observations on design related life. How people take it in is still a matter for debate…

Running around Gotham city shooting type



I managed to survive my 30th Birthday on Saturday, though since then I’ve been incredibly busy. I spent the first half of my birthday hanging out with other fans of typography and the typeface Gotham with Tobias Frere-Jones who was leading an AIGA NY tour titled Alphabet/City. When I finally catch my breath I’ll have a post on the fantastic experience. Here’s my experience about the walk… Until then you can see my photos on my flickr set and I would recommend visiting the Hoefler & Frere-Jones Blog where there’s a collection of other peoples photos and comments about the experience.

Daft Hands and a kick to the gut

I just got back from the Simon Waterfall talk for D&AD and POKE at Advertising Week. I’ll post some of my notes sometime soon, but for now I’ll leave this Daft Punk Hands video (Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger) that is Daft Hands that he showed. The second video is just a kick to the gut that a friend from work passed on to me yesterday. Happy viewing…

Life Takes Visa Series

Life Takes Visa - Get your game on.

I caught a nice set of posters walking around the Meat Packing District last night from Visa. There’s a number of different scenes that are illustrating how “Life Takes Visa”. Minimal writing supports the strong images that are fairly easy to quickly recognize – from paint by numbers to the above sports idea. Check out the series on my flickr site at

I’m not sure if this was designed internally or by an outside agency – if you happen to know who did this, please let me know.

Black Toothpaste

Charcle Toothpaste

Charcle Toothpaste

At a recent Likeminds a friend came by to say hello and gave me a cool looking box. Not really knowing what it was, I held it in my hands admiring the type in both English and what I’m going to assume was Korean (not sure) – she then exclaimed it was black toothpaste. Black toothpaste? Interesting idea though I’m not sure how it would take to my mouth. This morning I tried it for the first time, the experience ended up being less pleasant then I first thought it would be. I was fine seeing the black stuff on my brush, it wasn’t until it went into my mouth when my stomach started to turn. Near the end I barely could brush my tongue and when I spit it out to rinse I felt a bit queezy. In the end though my mouth did feel clean, but I’m not sure if the weirdness that I felt would be something I’d want to do again. Sure my review is a bit negative but I’m happy to have gone through the experience – thanks Kathy.

Some notes after hearing Anthony Dunne

Last Wednesday night Anthony Dunne gave a presentation at Parsons the New School for Design. Described on the postcard for the event, Anthony Dunne is a professor and head of the Design Interactions Department at the Royal College of Art in London and a partner in the design practice Dunne & Raby. Below are a couple images from the Dunne & Raby website that struck me as memorable and worth mentioning afterwards.

Is this your future?

Is this your Future?: The teddy bear blood bag is a bit disturbing to say the least – but it sure is an image that you won’t forget. The image is part of “a collection of hypothetical products and 3 photographic scenarios explore the ethical, cultural and social impact of different energy futures. The Energy Gallery, The Science Museum, London (For children between 7—14 years).”

Compass Table

Compass Table: Such a great idea, place a bunch of compasses inside a table and watch what happens when you move it around a room. “Its needles twitch and spin when electronic products are placed on the table’s surface”. Comments from the people using the table: “It seems to be a bit obsessed with the radiator. (Arabella) and It’s not just like a vase that you get bored of. (Diane)”

GPS Table

GPS Table

GPS Table: The table had a screen and GPS system inside it, if the table wasn’t positioned correctly it would say it was lost on the screen“This Globally Positioned Table displays its exact position in the world.” and comments from the people living with the table “We don’t tend to attribute human feelings to our furniture. (Lorna) I’m not quite sure why I was shocked. I thought “Bloody hell, the poor thing’s lost”(Dick)”

Anthony’s talk was intended to stir debate on a number of fronts that design does not usually do. Most days design is sold as a commodity as opposed to a thought process to challenge social, cultural or ethical issues – a role usually left for art – though in the context of his presentation seemed appropriate. On a more practical level, I certainly became more aware that if designers added more human touches or visible cues to inanimate objects, how people interact with them would change – probably for the better.

New trendwatching audio blog from the CBC

Spark on CBC Radio One

I was happy to discover that one of my favourite radio announcers is back on CBC radio with a new program called Spark. I first heard Nora Young while she was doing DNTO (Definitely Not the Opera) many years ago. When I was in high school and eventually design school, I would listen to DNTO on Saturday afternoons while working on projects. There was such a variety of stories about media culture that it had an influence on me trying to be aware of broad number of interests that would later help me as a designer. She eventually took some time off and passed the show on to Sook-Yin Lee. Most radio announcers sound good, but a great one really brings out the passion of what they’ve learned and pass it on to the audience – and Nora is one of those few that does it successfully.

From the CBC website for Spark, here’s their about: Spark is a weekly audio blog of smart and unexpected trendwatching. It’s not just technology for gearheads, it’s about the way technology affects our lives, and the world around us. What’s a Spark story? Wikis in the workplace, Guitar Hero in your living room, or why the new trend in design is the trailer park. Spark is more than a radio show, it’s a conversation that happens on the air and here on the Web. Spark is something you and the Spark team build together. Maybe you have a hot tip for a story we’re preparing. Or maybe something happened to you that would make a great story. Join the conversation by checking out the blog for the stories we’re working on and leave your comments. Get your voice on the air by leaving us a message. Spark: tech, trends, and fresh ideas.

Go to the Spark website to download the podcasts of the 27 min show at

My interview with Unlimited magazine about job networking

Unlimited Magazine interview

Quite a few months ago I was interviewed for the inaugural issue of the Canadian magazine Unlimited. In the article I talk about networking, blogs and how I ended up in New York. You can read the entire article here: No Schmooze, You Lose – Getting to know the right people is crucial to land that out-of-province dream job. Below in an excerpt.

Michael Surtees still can’t believe it some mornings. When he walks out of the apartment block where he’s been living for more than a year, one of New York City’s iconic landmarks, the Flatiron building, stands sentinel kitty-corner. Surtees, 29, was a graphic designer at Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology until July 2006, when he and his wife, Tamara, loaded up a U-Haul and drove five long days to Manhattan. Surtees had landed a coveted website design job with the Renegade Marketing Group, a firm with clients such as Panasonic and DoubleClick (the company behind all those streaming internet adds that pop up when you’re Googling).

He’d been eyeing a move to New York for some time, but it wasn’t luck, or even skill, that nailed Surtees the chance. It was networking, with a decidedly modern twist. Surtees had been laying the foundation for career advancement pretty much since he graduated from the University of Alberta with a bachelor of design six years ago. First, he got involved with the design community in Edmonton through the Graphic Designers of Canada, eventually taking over as the association’s president. In that role, he often invited prominent members of the graphic design and advertising communities to come and speak to members in Alberta. Many of the speakers were from cities such as New York and Vancouver, where there are more opportunities for designers. “That sort of built me a small network of people,” says Surtees.

Networking, like other forms of communication, has undergone a major evolution in the past decade alongside the explosion in communication technologies. Surtees made a point of frequenting online design forums to get his name out into the design world beyond the confines of Edmonton. Blogging on a professional subject, he says, “gives people a sense of who you are and what you stand for. It’s a lot easier to get in the door if someone has read your blog.”

It helps, of course, that advertising, design and marketing companies habitually rake through profession-oriented blogs looking for talent. Surtees set up DesignNotes at, where he posts his thoughts on everything from design to book reviews to his search for a pet weimaraner. Last January, he recalled his feelings prior to getting the gig in New York: “Everyday as I walked near the river valley in Edmonton I really wondered if I was ever going to have the chance to find a better place to design, or had I basically hit a really low ceiling where I was working at the time.’

Surtees has a tracker on his blog, which allows him to see the ISPs of people reading and posting. Only about 20% of visitors find him randomly through Google. Most are looking specifically for graphic designer blogs – the very people he wants to reach and get to know. In June 2006, set to take a holiday trip, Surtees posted a message on his blog asking for tips on New York sights. One reader, Noah Brier, recommended a useful guidebook. That led to further e-mails between the two men. Eventually, Brier, who works for Renegade, offered to set up a meeting for Surtees with Renegade’s creative director. Surtees had lined up a few other job interviews on that New York trip, but things clicked with Renegade and he was hired.

Surtees had hoped that blogging would lead to connections exactly like his conversation with Brier. But that wasn’t his main aim. Networking strictly to mine people for better job opportunities will eventually reveal your true colours, he advises. “If you go in with the idea that you’re just going to be friends or talk with a person to get a job, you won’t really meet very many people,” he says. “If you are really genuinely interested in them, and there is a connection over shared interests, then people are more than willing to help you as much as possible.”

Got lists?


I came across Listphile this morning going through delicious. I knew it was something for me to explore further once I started watching the demo and there was the mention of lists, atlases and databases. A list could almost encompass anything, let’s pretend there’s a geographical component – Listphile makes it incredibly easy to add your data and create a personal visual database that you can either have the option of others to add to, or just yourself. It’s a fairly simple and painless process to explore other areas of the site. I’ve taken a number of screen captures and placed them on flickr to show how the site works. The only thing that I think could be tweaked is the home page. If you’re already logged in as a member there could be a better presentation that combined the lists page and other personalized features. Maybe have a bunch of info buckets that I can drag and drop in the order of my liking like Newsvine does.

Type Training

A Typographic Walking Tour

September 29th is a special day, not just b/c it’s my thirtieth birthday but b/c if you’re in New York you can be part of the AIGA’s Typographic Walking Tour lead by Tobias Frere-Jones. It should be three miles of type heaven if you’re one of those people that sees type as something more then just letters and numbers. On the Hoefler & Frere-Jones website there’s a Google Earth download of the walking route. Space is limited so sign up asap at AIGA/NY.

Review Copy: Taking Things Seriously

Taking Things Seriously

Taking Things Seriously

Taking Things Seriously

A book like Taking Things Seriously could have gone badly pretty quickly. Invite a bunch of people you know to submit a story about an object that inspires you. Ask enough people and soon enough you have a book. If you’re into name dropping it gets to a point where you don’t follow the stories as much as seeing who was and wasn’t invited. The thing with this book is that it really doesn’t feel like that. The objects and stories come off geniuenly, not as a contrived “look at how clever I am” etc. story example.

The write ups are longer then a sound byte but less then a huge commitment of time to read. The intro explaining how submissions were accepted helped frame the context for deciding what got in and what unfortunately did not. Some pieces of inspiration are quite funny while others are moving for more somber reasons. If anything, it will make you look around your own surroundings and make you ask yourself what inspires you?

McFLY 2015 & Kanye West & Def Jam Holland

McFLY 2015 project: delorean1

McFLY 2015 project: delorean2


It’s been almost a month since I last mentioned anything that had to do with the McFLY 2015 project. Today I received a couple photos through email that show the inside artwork of Kanye West’s Graduation album which features Kanye’s mascot bear rocking the McFLY 2015’s and standing next to a DeLorean. Interesting stuff and no, I’m not part of the project aside from mentioning cool things like this…

After the Future of Design Talk

The future of design

Of all the design lectures that I’ve been to, Mediabistro’s The Future of Design was above average though I think the title was slightly misleading. The invited guests were Etienne Fang, Rie Norregaard, Elizabeth Pastor, Leslie Wellott and moderated by Chee Pearlman. If anything the talk was more about design process and less about how designers are going to be working in the not so distant future. For those in the audience that weren’t expecting such a process driven talk, it may have been information overload. Of course that’s not a bad thing if you’re one of those people that’s tired of just seeing the slide show of a designers greatest hits. The panelists were all articulate and didn’t always agree with each other, though I started to get the sense that they’ve read the same books on the idea of design, been to similar conferences and visited the same websites. Rie seemed to be the most hands on in terms of designing in the digital world while the others were much more on the defining the design problem and passing it on to someone else to execute. Personally I think those positions should be merged, but in a world of specialists that’s often not the case. I also thought it was telling that a couple of the panelists were not originally designers when they started their careers. Another feeling that I got as the talk went on was that if I had spent a couple hours on each of the speakers respective sites, I may have got the same amount of content. Each person backed up what they said, but it also felt that it’s the same thing that they’ve spoken about a hundred times before. Technology was briefly spoken about (I think I heard myspace mentioned once), but I never got a sense of how they’re taking advantage of the time we’re in now and how that’s going to effect things down the road. Maybe that was where the role of the moderator could have dug a little deeper. There was the standard audience questions about “how do I get a job” and honestly I can’t remember what other questions were asked. I didn’t leave disappointed though at the same time I wished the talk was less about an ideal of design and more about where they’re taking design.

The perfect book to read in the bathroom if you’re a designer

the metapolis dictionary of advanced architecture

With definitions for words like negotiate: Today, the architectural project is not designed, but negotiated... and Net, the: The net is where fragments are seized, and where the rest is assiduous. The net also encompasses the roads, the paths that are crossed, the vegetation that surrounds them, the earth that buries them. in the book the metapolis dictionary of advanced architecture, it’s hard to argue that this is the perfect book to read in the bathroom if you’re a designer. That’s why I had to pick it up tonight at the Strand while walking home.

Love to Hate Sites


We all have sites that we luv to hate, so why bother visiting them? Is it b/c we like torturing ourselves??? We know it’s a bit unhealthy to go back to the places that causes us pain, yet we go back. Well worry no more – just go to and get some web 2.0 therapy. Just place the url of your favourite hating site and check out the arsenal of options you have…

via swissmiss

Shifting Design Positions as it Evolves

Michael Surtees

After reading Kevin McCullagh’s Core 77 article Design is changing in myriad ways. Are you? I started making a number of connections to other posts that I’ve come across lately. Kevin writes “game changers map out future opportunities by exploring the interplay between their current know-how and potential new applications for it in a changing world” and he goes on to explain how this is done. That statement was preceded by explaining in detail about how design has always been in flux though today the evolution is creating multidimensional issues that didn’t have to be considered at any other point in history. For those designers that see their work as a matter of communication and not as an offline vs. online thing, this article speaks to their transitional ability already. If you grew up on print and remember the days of Linotype Kevin’s article is worth purusing.

But it would be arrogant to think that designers are the only people going through a crazy transition today. How about photographers? Two posts from Alec Soth’s blog are worth checking out. They both have to do w/ him questioning the quality or lack there of of photographs on flickr. Is there more originality going on w/ product shots on eBay? The first post is titled Where are the great pictures on Flickr? and the second is Shore, King & Street Fashion

Dave Gray illustration

And the last of the connected posts is from Dave Gray illustrating the Generalist and specialist approaches. I typically swing towards the idea that the generalist approach is the way to go, but then I wonder if anyone can truly attain a level of greatness if you’re good in a lot of areas as opposed to being the best in one?

A relevant design and research site

serial consign

I came across a new favourite site today, and ironicly I found it through a comment here on my blog. Serial Consign is a design and research site written by Greg J. Smith. Aside from relevant topics to me like social networking and how information is distributed today, the tone is intelligent and understandable. One of the ways I measure interest in something is how fast time flies and not realizing how much time has gone by. I gained a couple hours tonight reading the site.

Another interesting thing to note is how the site is programmed. It’s powered by Drupal which makes me wonder about WordPress. Yes, WordPress is what I’m using here at DesignNotes, but I’m starting to find that the system for pages, posts and sidebars to be limiting in how I will evolve DesignNotes.

Map Passion




I picked up Esopus on Sunday after I saw an article about a guy that draws a lot of maps. Some of these maps take years to make while others are a lot quicker. Whether the map is drawn on a roll of paper or a 8.5″ x 11″ sheet, there’s a lot of thinking behind them. It’s too bad that there isn’t more about Neil Greenberg online or in print. What’s fascinating about Neil is how his day job and passions intertwine – he runs a transit system and schedules buses. That knowledge becomes apparent when he describes his dream city and contrasts that with his city that has many things wrong with it. If you’re interested in maps and how stories are told by them, check out Esopus at your fav. mag. shop.


Mark A. Jackson, Photographer Treeplanting

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

+ Mother Teresa

Living on an island for even a short period of time can do strange things to the memory. While I’ve never tree planted in Canada, looking and reading the photo essay from Mark A. Jackson brought me back to an idea that I almost forgot about. See it for yourself at

Two new’ish websites for designers


It’s starting to get difficult to keep track of all the websites that I should be going to on a regular basis. Keeping that in mind, between updating sites that I want to like my blog, flickr, delicious and sometimes facebook, it seems like a new site that comes into play is going to take some constant little nudges to get me interested in. There’s two new targeted web sites to designers called design:related and Design Float that I’ve been looking at for a month or two. I’m not at the point where I would visit them everyday yet, but I’m starting to lean that way…

Like a lot of social networking sites, they live off of members inviting other members. That’s not always the case but when I look at how I joined facebook or design:related it was both from invites from other friends. It’s a bit of a trust thing, but also if someone else is experimenting with it maybe I should too. I think design:related has a lot of potential. The interface is extremely well though out and I can find out information quite quickly. There’s one biggie that I’m still on the fence about, and that is their stat measurement. It shows the number of views publicly of different sections that members have visited. I’m not sure if that’s entirely a good thing or not. For sites like Digg it’s a good idea to show the number of votes (and like Design Float too, but I’ll get into that in a moment). The site is still in Beta format and I expect that as more members join, a pretty tight community will build around the inspirations section. The job board looks promising too. Like I mentioned above, I think the interface is pretty clear which will be important as it becomes larger with members.

Design Float

Design Float is kind of like Digg, but for designers. I’ve never been a huge fan of Digg for a number of reasons. The popular stuff tends to always feel the same and if it’s so popular why would I bother talking about it – there’s already enough people looking at the said item. At this point I’m not feeling the same way with Design Float. I really like how they’ve broken the categories up, no easy feat when describing design things.

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