Jeffrey Aaronson deux

Jeffrey Aaronson

Below are some of my notes from visiting “Maybe it’s You” by Jeffrey Aaronson a second time.

  • iPod shuffle may be hard for older people to understand if they’ve never used a digital player before
  • the word drama would come occasionally in the personals – as in looking for a drama “free” relationship…
  • some personals were long, others one sentence
  • if you were to read the personals online, the listings would probably suit the person behind the writing visually though you would have probably imagined someone else; confusing I know
  • two or three really stood out, the ones that really had a relaxed sense of humour that were more like a journal entry tended to be the most interesting to hear
  • nothing too sad
  • more could have been done with collateral stuff: I would have liked to have seen a screen capture of the original craigslist post and names of the people beside the photo
  • only was able to listen to 60% of the pictures, I’ll probably visit one more time

iPod Shuffles Beside Art

Jeffrey Aaronson

Aside from the fascinating photos, the exhibition by Jeffrey Aaonson was notable to me for another reason. Beside each photograph was an Apple iPod Shuffle that contained a sound file. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to listen to any of them. Jeffrey had contacted people through Craigslist personals of people that didn’t have images with their ads. The sound files were of the people reading their personals descriptions. I had never seen an inexpensive mp3 player used in that fashion before. While seeing something on the art wall like that could be considered a gimmick, I don’t think it was. Comparing the interest people had in front of these works listening intently, and comparing that with some of the video installations that required the viewer to use headphones at other art openings, this was a much easier way to keep someone interested.

If you’re in NY, “Maybe it’s You” by Jeffrey Aaronson can be viewed at the Kashya Hildebrand Gallery at 531–539 West 25th St., New York. I know I will be heading back this Saturday to hear what was being said.

UPDATE: I put up a couple notes from my second visit at

Pretty Serious Fun with Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova in NYC

I think it’s safe to say that most people have seen the commercial that has Maria Sharapova starring in NYC. Maybe you’ve even started humming the song “Pretty”. It’s a really fun piece of communication that does hit a serious note near the end. It appeals to a lot of different groups for various reasons. As you’ll often hear, if you try to please everyone you you’ll probably not reach anyone. But with her ad I don’t think it’s true. Obviously males are excited to see Maria in a commercial, for females I’m going to guess that a lot of them are used to being gazed at. Attention is one thing, but you also want to be taken seriously. The end of the ad hammers that point to the wall. Plus at the end you’re cheering for her.

That leads me to last night. I was lucky enough to see her play her first game at the US Open. Continuing on the “fun” side of things, she had a great outfit that was a nod to NYC. “An elegant black Audrey Hepburn cocktail dress adorned with shiny crystal beads” was the commentary from the NYT. The back followed her hair which I thought was pretty cool too.

Just like her ad, I thought her outfit followed the NYC theme really well. Have fun while kicking some ass. Or in a more staged theme: part one was the commercial, part two was the outfit and I’m going to assume that part three will be her winning the whole thing. That of course is yet to be determined.

Likeminds 2

John, Micahel, Eric, originally uploaded by GuyBrighton.

Aside from moving to NYC for work, one of the reasons why I wanted to move from Edmonton was to have the opportunity to take part in things like Likeminds. It’s a pretty simple concept that you can do anywhere of course. You just get people together from different backgrounds and open up the table for talk. Why this was different for me was that it offered a fresh environment. Here’s a clip from today and you can check out updates for the next one at

One of the people that I met was Eric who has a site at that is intended to help entrepreneurs connect with each other for help. Again based one two simple but very smart concepts: 1. I need help starting or growing a new business and 2. I want to help new businesses

3 Likeminds

3 Likeminds, originally uploaded by nbrier.

If you’re in NYC tomorrow and feel like waking up early, there’s the second happening. From the website of the same name:

who: people like you.
what: an opportunity to enjoy coffee and conversation.
when: friday, august 25 at 8am
where: sNice, 45 Eighth Avenue, at West 4th Street, NYC (yahoo MAPS)
why: because drinking good coffee with likeminded people is fun.
how: piers and noah thought it might be a good idea.
questions: ny — AT —


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For almost a week it’s been pretty hot. I’m really not used to the type of heat that NYC is getting these days. Having lived in Edmonton for almost the last ten years, one day of hot that NYC is getting would probably be welcomed. But that novelty is starting to wear off on me.

It was painful to walk to the first corner today, and after that I had about a mile to go to get to work. While the heat was irritating, that wasn’t the issue. It was the fact that I couldn’t stop sweating. How people don’t sweat in this city and I do will be something I hope to discover soon.

But with the bad comes the good. Two nights ago as I was getting a wrap to eat near my apartment in Chelsea, a nice thing happened. As I made my way towards the door, the person behind the counter told me to pick up a water from the front of the store – gratuit. Slightly stunned I happily took the water.

The same thing happened again tonight, but inside my apartment. Once I got through the doors, we were give water again. While my first week has been pretty good, it’s getting better.

Today’s Inspiration

Walking Around

As I watched the video clip from PSFK asking the question of “Where Do You Get Inspiration?” it got me to think about my first real full time week in NYC. As much of a cliché as it is, NYC would be where I’m getting my inspiration from. But maybe not for the same reasons as you think. For me, there are so many talented people here that you have to always be striving to get better. No matter how good yesterday was, today you have to be smarter, faster, more observant, and listen better than you ever have before. Then there are the people on the street. 99% of the people are wearing interesting clothes, they’re not always nice looking but in their choice of clothing it tells a story or pattern of action of where they’re at in life. There’s also the visual culture out there too that makes you rethink concept, typography and execution constantly, but I can talk about that design inspiration another day.

How I rate food

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At Cafeteria, originally uploaded by Michael Surtees.

There are a couple things that I live for, great company and food – ok I like a couple other things too, but I’ll save that commentary for another time. I’ve had the chance to eat at a couple nice places in NYC since arriving on Saturday. I think it would be boring to just give straight reviews on what I liked and disliked, which service was ok and who really impressed me. So instead I offer a way of reviewing food my way.

All the food has tasted good, so that explanation about the flavours doesn’t really mean much. However if I found myself telling Tamara that I would come back for the exact same thing again – that meant it was really good, while if I mentioned that I would come back to try something else it meant the food was ok and the service saved the experience for me.

So where would I go back? Bar 6 for the Steak Frites and calamari, Cafeteria for the Fried Chicken and Waffle, Elmo with the company of Melissa and Ben, and French Roast with Caren for talk. I would visit PT212 again, but I would try something else other than their sushi.

We’re Here

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Tamara and I made it to NYC from Edmonton in 5 days and drove about 2,500 miles. We’ve got a pretty nice place in Chelsea at the Caroline and are really looking forward to meeting up with old and new friends. Once I buy a new usb cable I’ll start posting pics from the trip. After I decompress I’ll have lots more to share with regards to what is on the sidewalk.

Best, Michael

The Question

The Question

It had to happen sooner or later, that just dumping a link on my blog and mentioning “it’s interesting” wouldn’t be enough. Now that I’m in the final countdown (for instance this is the last Tuesday that I’ll be working in Edmonton) in moving to NYC, I’m just about ready to move on with my blog. It started as an experiment, not really sure what to expect. Last Christmas I had a lot of time to think of where I wanted to take things, both with my career and my blog. I felt that it was time to move on from Blogger and perhaps with the name design*notes. I changed blogging platforms to WordPress and if you noticed the url of this blog it doesn’t say design*notes but sidewalkpressed. It was one of those small reminders of where I wanted to get to. When I finally moved to NYC the name of my blog would change.

I walk a lot, it’s one of those things that give me a chance to clear my mind and just think. During one of my long walks over Christmas time I wanted to come up with a name for my blog that didn’t have the word design in it, and something that would allow me to grow outside of publishing digitally. When you have the means and skills to communicate in an infinite number of ways, why should you hold yourself back? I liked the word “press”, but it wasn’t enough, I didn’t want it to be locked down in the world of publishing. As I bounced a lot of ideas around, I decided to keep things simple. Like I mentioned I walk, and that’s usually on a sidewalk – nothing too deep, but it gives things a bit of context. In the end I felt sidewalkpressed put a lot of the elements that mean something to me through the expression of ideas. In a long winded manner, design*notes the name is coming to an end. As a heads up I will be putting it to bed once I start walking in NYC. This blog will be known as sidewalkpressed in less than ten days.

The content isn’t going to change that much. I’m not a big fan of reading stuff from people when it gives tips about rules on designing or web interaction or whatever. I’m not going to go “I’m the expert and this is the way it should be” type of attitude. But I will try to put more time into writing about thoughtful experiences that were memorable to me. As my philosophy goes “see to think, think to design, and design to live” it won’t be like I’m not talking about design, but the life that makes up design.

On a side note I have to share one of the funnier e-mails I got from Vancouver about me moving to NYC. I’ve paraphrased a bit, and taken out some stuff, but you’ll get the idea. All I can say is that some people sure know how to write…


That’s fantastic. You talented little fucker. I’m jealous. Take me with you!!!

No, seriously. I hate you. I’m going to go kill a kitten in an evil ritual to put a design voodoo curse on you. The moment you arrive in NYC you’ll get creative block until you invite me there. You’re screwed. 🙂

Alright, alright, alright…congratulations. You’re a talent mofo and deserve a break like this…

I’m relocating to NYC!

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I’m relocating to NYC!, originally uploaded by Michael Surtees.

Yes, it’s true – I’m moving to New York to work at Renegade Marketing. More to come as I can collect my thoughts…

A great conversation with Tina Roth

If you are lucky enough to notice design work that just makes you stop everything and appreciate it for what it is, you can empathize how I was hit with Tina Roth’s design. I was introduced to her through her photographs in flickr. Daily I’m fortunate enough to see images that she chooses to share.

Interested in the person that takes those images, I checked out her web site. It took less than a moment to recognize some of the design that she is part of. Visual thesaurus is a tool that I have benefited from, and if you haven’t – you need to explore it. Interested in more I asked her for some time. While preparing for a presentation in Seattle for the AIGA Currents 9 and preparing for a wedding on top of a mountain she took time out to respond to my questions. I hope you enjoy what she had to say as much as I did.

michael surtees: Growing up in Switzerland – did you always know that you wanted design?

tina roth: Yes, pretty much. How very swiss of me though, to briefly consider enrolling into business school ‘to study something serious’. Luckily my ‘inner voice’ was broadcasting “Don’t do it” really loud. Phew!

ms: What was it like to go to design school at the university of munich and ecole des arts décoratifs, in geneva? How where the programmes structured?

tr: I took a one year introductory program in art and design at the Ecole des arts décoratifs in Geneva. I was introduced to and trained in all the technical creative skills such as drawing, sketching, perspective, color, form, photography, working with 3D, illustration and so on. It was a rigorous program and I am glad I went through it. After that introductory year I had the possibility to move on to the 4 year Graphic Design Training but I decided to switch schools. I always knew I wanted to be able to freelance during my studies which would not have been possible in Geneva. At the Ecole des arts décoratifs you had to attend class every day, 8 hours a day and if you missed a class you had to bring a signed note (!) the next day, with an explanation. The university in munich took a far more liberal approach; you had to get a certain amount of credits but none would have ‘marked you in a red book’ if you missed a class. The school system in Munich gave me exactly the freedom I wanted. It allowed me to freelance a lot. I experienced the ‘deadline and money driven work environment’ of small design shops but also had the chance to be experimental and playful with my assignments at university – a perfect mix. I tremendously enjoyed the final thesis project which we got to pick entirely ourselves; I decided to create a photography/text book on the ‘Beauty of Every Day Life’.

I had never before been so consumed and fascinated by a project. Looking back I keep thinking: what a luxury to be given an entire semester (approx 4 months) to work on one single project. (sigh)

ms: were there designers that inspired you as a student?

tr: At the time, there were no big names I could have mentioned as being ‘my big inspirations’. I would expose myself to a lot of different work and be impressed by it, but I was never really the type that wanted to get to know ‘all about the designer behind it’. Also, keep in mind, those were the days where you actually had to go to a library to learn about a designer, what a concept! I sometimes envy the graphic design students today, as it is so easy to view thousands of designer portfolios online.

I vividly remember visiting an exhibit showcasing David Carsons work. I was truly fascinated by his ‘freestyle graphic design’, even though it was clear that it wasn’t for me. I always had the gridded-white-space-driven-swiss-designer in me. Now, I can clearly say, that Josef Müller-Brockmann’s work was, and still is, one of my biggest influences.

ms: Did you work in Europe before moving to NY? What were you doing.

tr: Even though I never had an official full time job before I moved to NYC, I feel like I did. As I mentioned before, the schedule at University in Munich gave me a lot of freedom. In those 4 years I freelanced for several studios. One of them kept me particularly busy with print projects for hotels and sports gear companies. I also took on freelance projects on my own, mostly corporate identities. I also had the chance to do quite a bit of illustration work; one of my favorite pieces I did, was for ELLE magazine germany, a shopping guide for the center of Zurich.

ms: Were you more interested in print or interface after school?

tr: I can definitely say that I’ve always been intrigued by the possibilities and challenges of interface design. But then again I could simply not be without a ‘dose of print’ every now and then. I let Goethe’s words speak for me: “Two souls dwell, alas! in my breast!”

ms: What was your motivation for moving to NY.

tr: In 1998 I did a 3 month internship at Bussedesign ( in San Francisco and on my way back I stopped in New York for 3 days. I was bitten by the ‘big apple bug’ within minutes of arrival and upon leaving, I was determined to, at some point in my life, call the big apple my home.

Right after graduation I packed up all my belongings, put everything in storage and flew to New York. The stars must have been aligned, as I managed to find an internship, 12 hours after I got off the plane. And a few weeks later, Matthew Waldman, the head of the studio offered me a fulltime job (+ work visa). I was very lucky and still thank my ‘internship and work visa angels’ to this day.

I keep thinking back to what my english teacher in college once told me: “Tina, you should move to the States, you’d be so happy over there.” I remember just shaking my head and laughing it off; I had no idea how right she was.

ms: Was it hard to adjust?

tr: No, not at all. New York is fast, so am I.

I was happy to finally have found a place where I didn’t feel like I had to constantly slow down. Switzerland tends to be a little bit on the slower side, which can be a good thing, but, growing up, I felt like I was on the ‘fast lane’ with cars driving slowly in front of me. (You are not allowed to pass by cars on the right on swiss highways, so, if someone’s driving slowly ahead of you, you’re stuck.)

Moving to New York, crossing the atlantic, has definitely broadened my horizon. Living in a different culture, speaking a foreign language, makes you realize that there’s more than ‘one way’ of approaching life – life, in all its various aspects.

Just to give you a few examples on what amazed me, when I first moved here: Buying a cup of coffee to go? Oh my, what a strange idea! Or the concept of dating, as you have it here in New York, it does simply not exist in Europe. One thing that I just could not understand; how in the world, could one only start working at 10am? In Switzerland you’re in the office by 8am, sometimes even earlier. The overall shopping mentality here in the States is definitely one of the differences that struck me the most. I felt to me, as shopping (and returning things) was almost considered a hobby. Swiss store opening hours make that impossible: stores close down at around 7pm and even as early as 5pm on saturdays. And, now take a deep breath; NO shopping on sundays and holidays whatsoever!

ms: How did you end up working and Plumb Design (and Th!nkmap), what were you doing at first and how did your role evolve?

tr: Plumb Design knocked on my door in summer of 2002 and asked if I would like to join their team. I didn’t need much convincing, knowing of their visualization software called Thinkmap and their excellent reputation in the interactive field. I joined their so called ‘blue team’ in summer of 2002.

I knew immediately that this was a good move; the projects were challenging and divers, right off the start. I got to develop the IA and the overall design for e-ticketing platforms:::, multi-lingual investor relations sites, national educational resource sites, …, and most of all complex thinkmap applications.

Over the time an increasing percentage of customers have been looking to Plumb Design for visualization solutions that leverage the Thinkmap platform. This change, along with the development of the Visual Thesaurus product line, has led Plumb Design to fully commit to a product strategy centered around Thinkmap. In spring 2004 Plumb Design changed its name to reflect focus on its Thinkmap visualization products.

For those who are not familiar withThinkmap; Thinkmap is a dynamic, data-driven visualization technology that helps end-users navigate and understand complex information.

During this redefining phase, I was put in charge of all creative: the re-branding of the company, the Visual Thesaurus and customized Thinkmap-Applications. Also, they started introducing me as their ‘Design Director’.

This change from services to product company proved to be incredibly interesting; no more clients – what a concept! All of a sudden, we were ‘our own client’ and had to set our own deadlines.

I enjoy the broad range of responsibilities at Thinkmap, as I am in charge of ‘simply all creative’. At the moment, I am mostly working on projects related to our Visual Thesaurus, these range from interactive (interface, websites, email campaigns, banners…) to print (packaging, advertising, t-shirts, posters, postcards etc)

I tremendously appreciate having the opportunity to be building a brand, the brand of the Visual Thesaurus.

About 2 months ago I was at a small gathering of friends and was discussing the Visual Thesaurus with one of my designer friends. A fellow next to us, turned around as soon as he heard ‘Visual Thesaurus’, and with a big smile on his face said: “What? You are the designer of the Visual Thesaurus? I am a subscriber and I LOVE it! I use the tool to brainstorm!” He went on and on and I was just simply thrilled to have run into one of our subscribers/customers. How exciting!

ms: How do you typically work on a project (process), and does the process change between electronic and print?

tr: How much time do you have – that is quite a question!

Of course, there are the basic ‘research, creation, implementation, testing phases, but I won’t bore you with that.

Working with many talented designers over the years, I’ve noticed how everyone has a different way of ‘creating’. It has always fascinated me to see how designers approach their projects. I’ve noticed that I clearly fall into the category of the ‘intuitive designer’. I don’t sit down and theorize and rationalize first. Instead, I make a few sketches and brew a few ideas in my head, then, I sit down at my computer and ‘get going’. I just follow my instincts and see what happens. It usually works.

ms: What are you currently working on? How’s MoMA?

tr: At Thinkmap, I am currently working on different marketing materials for the Visual Thesaurus. We also have two more products in the pipeline; I can’t say too much! Sit tight, they’re exciting!

I am temporarily working at the MoMA for two days a week, as a consultant. MoMA approached me about 3 months ago and asked me if I’d be interested in redesigning their current intranet. How could one turn down such and exciting opportunity? It’s a wonderful project that allows me to really see behind the scenes of this fabulous institution.

ms: Do you consider yourself as more of an interface designer, print designer or both?

tr: Definitely both! Whenever I get to talk to young or aspiring designers, I keep telling them to try to keep a broad portfolio, a broad skill set. Employers are eager to hire designers that offer ‘one stop shopping’.

ms: What are you currently reading, listening to and looking at?

tr: reading:
I just finished The Brand Gap” An excellent read for anyone interested in branding and how it actually works.

And I just started: “Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer” I can’t say much yet, it looks very promising. The many extraordinary illustrations in the book made it worthwhile purchasing already.

looking at:
Wedding bands : )

listening to:
I am currently enjoying the latest album of a swiss band called Lobith. Their music is a wonderful mix of pop, latin-lounge and a hint of jazz.

ms: How did you hear about flickr?

tr: My former Thinkmap coworker and good friend Red deLeon ( introduced me to the world of flickr. Yes, he won many instant karma points for that.

ms: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

tr: I absolutely admire Alec Soth’s eye and overall aesthetics.

ms: Tina, thank you for your effort and time, it has been a great opportunity to talk with you. Merci!

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