Saturday, February 22, 2014

My first experience with users' needs

The other day, I remembered one of my early jobs. It taught me my first lesson in User-centered design.

One summer I ran the TD summer reading program at my local library. An exciting step up from the job, I'd held for the previous four years shelving books. I was responsible for marketing, budgeting, themed book suggestions and the odd snack time. The role also required I work with parents which is never an easy task, but equally as important as working with the kids.

I took all my responsibilities seriously, especially the budget. My goal was to be on budget, to show my supervisor how seriously I took the job. I'm not going to brag, but I was doing well with the budget. Keeping track of my purchases, story time plans and supply levels.

I even bought budget friendly glue sticks. You know the little ones where you twist the glue out and there's a cap to keep the glue from drying out. My supervisor was upset when I showed her the glue sticks. She'd been working at the Library for a lot longer than me and was a mom who understood what children could do with art supplies.

You know those are hard for little kids to hold on too?

Oh, but they were cheap. I can afford them, they fit into my budget.  I replied.

It didn't take a usability test or a some expensive experiment to know I'd been too focused on saving money. So I returned my original purchase for the larger glue sticks. She was right, little hands need big targets. I've never did research to prove her hypothesis because this happened in the late 90s. Although if you google this issue today, you'll find many blog posts and teacher forums discussing appropriate pencil sizes. Google scholar even points to articles written on this topic from the 1980s. My budget wasn't too small after all to buy useful tools for the kids.

Sencha Blouse project

A friend and I took a course at a local fabric store and sewing workshop called Fabrications. Kathy a talented clothing designer, pattern maker, helper and experienced seamstress lead our course. Check our her work on Etsy.

We spent 6 hours drafting, cutting, altering and learning how to make a Sencha blouse. It wasn't easy. My friend was extremely patient given it was only her third sewing adventure. I chose the second blouse style which meant that we had to make twice as many tucksIf I use the pattern again, I'm going to pick a loose light fabric for the style without all the tucks.

I managed to finish a few days later. All the pieces went together after a few extra hours of finishing work. I hand stitched the bottom hem, found the perfect buttons and even wore it to work one day. 

Almost done my Sencha blouse

Before and after: my mom's childhood dresser circa 1960s

My mother and father gave me a 1960s vintage bedroom dresser before Christmas last year. It had belonged to my mother and hadn't move from her childhood bedroom since the day she picked it out. It's an Ontario made piece, I researched its provenance. And I gave it new life so it can sit in my bedroom until it's ready for the next generation.

My mother recounted to me, that she had selected it because she'd preferred lighter coloured furniture. Her own mother had an eye for dark walnuts, royal blues and deep stains. My mother probably no older than 10 wanted something different and this dresser had just the light finish she wanted. A finish named starlight. Isn't that an awesome name?

Researched the piece's manufacturer, The Hepworth Furniture Co. Ltd. using information from the tag stapled on the back of the piece. The best piece of historical context comes from the Bruce Museum's guide to local furniture companies.


Here's the piece when I moved it into my apartment. The starlight finish had deepened. The veneer was worn, a dark line on the top where the mirror had been removed and a stain where someone (wink wink) had accidentally spilt nail polish. It smelled musty and the drawers needed new stops.


There are hints black in my bedroom which are slowly working to overcome the strong [Ottawa] beige you see painted on the walls. When I researched my options, I decided the piece must be redone in black lacquer. I had no clue what that meant until the piece came back over a month later. I can only describe a perfect fit. If you aren't sure about lacquer, find a black piano near you and that's the finish. It's glossy and shiny. I can see my own reflection in it. You might be able to too.

I had a local furniture refinishing company, Carriage House Ottawa, fix some minor issues and lacquer the piece. They had to apply 9 coats of lacquer. I think the colour and gloss are just right. What would you call the new finish? Black dwarf star? Reflections in evening? Or Piano light? I don't know yet. Mostly, I'm just glad I chose lacquer, had it done professionally and didn't buy something new. I pretty sure my mom will appreciate the final results too.

My vintage reading chair


Here's a few shots of a vintage reading chair I had recovered. Based on the materials and structure of the chair, the reupholster told me the chair was from the 1940s. It also had a Atlas moving tag stuck to one of the legs, but I never found out where it's owners had moved to or from.

Slipcovered and stored in a friend's Grandmother's basement:

Once the chair was delivered. I removed the slipcover. The original fabric had Egyptian hieroglyph characters and dark spots on the arms and seat back. The cushions were filled with latex stuffing. My favourite part of the chair was that the seat cushion wasn't flat, but formed into a mound. Unfortunately, this design feature isn't common on arm chairs these days. It makes for a much more comfortable seat.


I had a dark faux leather fabric added to replace the original fabric.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Halfway to a Tartine baguette

Rise, fold, turn, repeat every half an hour for the next few hours, then shape, wait, bake and cool. 

It's been a couple of weeks since I started working on my Tartine bread experiment. While I wait for my Lodge combo cooker to arrive, I've turned my attention to making baguettes. Whatever happens...I'll be eating homemade bread tomorrow with Jam.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My first bread starter

I finally took the opportunity to mix together a bread starter using my Tartin cookbook. While it's only been a few days and my dreams of homemade croissant are somewhat premature, I'm enjoying the experience. Every morning I wake up to see what state my science experiment is in. I also get to toss most of it out and feed it warm floury goo. It gives off different scents during the day, sweet and young, or stinky and ripe. At some point the book describes how I'm supposed to notice the subtle differences and interpret the starter's readiness. For now I just sniff, feed it and wonder if it will become something tasty in the future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

6 months later: growing the #wxt community

I started sorting all the emails in my inboxes over the past week. I was surprised to see how many emails I had about the Web Experience Toolkit (#Wxt) Codefest and how much activity was taking place out in the community. The Codefest event was awesome, its outcomes are captured online in many places including on Github so I won't add any more noise to these great discussions.

Here's my favourite action shot of yours truly actually working on an issue for a project with a multidisciplinary team. Overall, I had a great time, was encouraged by all the volunteers, community support and shared problem solving. I usually don't have time to participate during events I organize, this time around I did, and it was a welcome change. I'm hoping before next year I'll have replaced myself as co-chair and will have expanded my skill set enabling me to contribute in new ways.
photo by @seanboots

It hadn't dawned on me until today, when my co-chair mentioned it, that we'd spent 6 months planning for Codefest. Wowhad it really been that long?!? Amazing how fast time passes and how much you can accomplish with a couple hundred keeners, two days and a ton of focus.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

My final hours of being 28

In a few hours I turn twenty-nine and enter my thirteth year. I have a growing stack of notes, books and articles to keep me blogging in the coming months. But right now, I wanted to stop all forward motion and take a moment to be aware of all that I've been through, as a young woman, a friend, colleague, sister, daughter and precocious troublemaker. I've noticed that many of the female bloggers with writing I follow online, post letters to their children at special ages and life moments. This isn't necessarily a letter to myself, I wrote one of those a few weeks back on resilience, this post is more a reflection, more of a extended thought about my diverse collection of experiences and how it expands all the time.

It seems like just yesterday I was turning 20, moving to a new province, dating my first boyfriend and learning what it mean to be in a long distance relationship. And not that long ago that I was 14 and had my first job interview. (I still wonder why on earth I presented my own homemade business cards and on the way home spilt hot chocolate all down the front of my brand new interview clothes.) Or feel that only moments had past since I went to my summer camp, attended my first Canadian literature class in high school, my bought my first skating dress, scored that soccer goal, got my driver's license and planted my first acre of garden. 

I often feel I've lost the ability to recall the tiniest details of my memories as I used to be able to and that the clarity of my previous experiences is getting a bit cloudy. I know, I'm still no where near old age or actual memory loss, but there's a lot to remember and it just starts blending together. Despite this I've come to the realization that the important memories always bubble up to the surface of my thoughts. Our brains have ways of helping us remember these moments among all the clutter, tweets, new contexts, city blocks and deadlines, and I find this calming and a bit magical. And of course there are all those VHS home movies, photo albums, digital photos and journals if I ever really wanted to go back there, but I'm okay with my own 29 year old memory box sitting atop my shoulders.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

On being crafty

Last night I finished up a skirt sewing project I started the weekend before. I used the Sewaholic pattern for the Hollyburn skirt with just over 2 yards of light blue cotton weave of some sort. The first three steps were the hardest part and took me the longest to figure out. It wasn't until I started visualizing the finished project did I realize I had created two left pockets. Not the best redesign, so I had to retrace my steps. I finally employed a system of coloured sticky tabs to mark the right and wrong sides of the fabric. I spent the rest of the time redoing and ripping out the third step (also fun was that once I'd figured out the right matching pattern pieces my sewing machine started to have trouble with the fabric feeding mechanism. Anyway after much threading and rethreading, seam ripping, pressing and 2 hours of hemming, I had a new skirt.

My skirt (not perfect) still in need of pressing, but ready to be hemmed.
It might be a touch small...or I should stop making and eating brownies and spend time exercising.

Brownies with dried Tart Cherries
Brownies with dried tart cherries

I know for next time I need a pair of pinking shears, fabric shears and maybe repair my sewing machine. I could get material that has a distrinct front and back, but I don't think I'd get as confused the second time around. Fingers crossed.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Weekend kick off - Brownie success

I picked up my first fully exposed roll of brownie (ISO 400) film from the photography store today. I dropped it off on Tuesday. I've never been so impatient about getting a film back. The photo below is a photo of the negative inverted and slightly adjusted in photoshop. I haven't invested in having the photos printed yet, because I hadn't been certain that they'd turn out. I might have a few printed now that I have confidence that it looks like I've figured out the camera. Anyway, here's to another weekend of adventures in photography, food and whatever you enjoy doing to pass the time.
Locked bicycle, Byward Market  May 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hidden creatures: Japanese fabric

I picked up a fat quarter of this awesome Japanese Fabric called Decoro Spring by Etsuko Furuya.
I love how until you look closely it just looks like a fancy pattern.

On believing in government interfaces

Ok, so...this video is a bit career related for me, and that probably says something about how I spend my free time, especially on a statutory holiday, but stick with me, it's worth watching (honestly).

Jennifer Pahlka's encouragement to get into the billion dollar (USD) government IT space puts government experience into perspective. She focuses on the concept of Citizen Experience and designing improved relationships with government. She also highlights Code4America, it's attempt to capitalizes on possibilities for improvement by combining volunteer time and real world problems with design, development and UX.

Watch for the quote in the middle of the video January 5th, 2011. It will make you think differently.

(This talk was originally given at UX Week 2012)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

On making the most of a beautiful Saturday

Yesterday afternoon my friend Katherine and I went on an adventure to find fabric and food while taking in the fresh spring weather. We wandered through various neighbourhoods; Chinatown, Hintonburg and Little Italy, conversing and stopping to photograph the spring flowers. Fueled by Lemonaide and Ice berry tea, we browsed antique stores full of dining tables and teek pieces. We managed to avoid the rest of the local food temptations on Wellington street in Hintonburg, an impressive feat given the line up.

The only time we were aware of day passing was when we let out a few mid-afternoon yawns and later when our stomachs grumbled to mark the dinner hour. It wouldn't have been difficult for me to have sat down on a bench beside the street, placed a straw hat over my head and taken a 30 minute nap. Sadly, I didn't have a straw hat, though I've added one to my summer shopping list for future outings. I'm certain long weekends were inspired by similar adventures, weather and fine company.

Katherine enjoying our rooftop dinner reward.
Homemade quesadillas, hand squeezed fresh virgin Mojitos and Arugula salad.

During our stroll through Little Italy, I picked up some black polka dot fabric to make Oxford pillowcases for my bed. The fabric had just arrived at the fabric store and the storekeeper said he was having trouble keeping it in stock, so I just had to purchase it. I used a simple pattern found on the a blog by Victoria Peat (Little black duck blogger). To ensure that I was able to complete the project without too many frustrating surprises, I had pre-measured everything, reviewed the pattern instructions several times, made all my fabric calculations, compiled a list for the fabric store and had Katherine double check my steps as I went along. The first pillowcase took me about an hour and the second about a half an hour. I'm quite proud of the resulting pillowcases and happy I picked black fabric, because it hides my wobbly and not-so straight seams produced by my intermediate sewing skills.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brownie film roll 3

Carnival Ferris wheel, Sparks street at Metcalfe Ottawa May 2013
(minor photoshop editing: inverted from negative, cropped)