Recent Acquisitions – Autumn

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Everyone does an ‘autumn favourites’ video, and though it may have become common I cannot hesitate to do one myself. Autumn is my season; the scent of the leaves as you walk—very briskly—along the sidewalk, the warm ceramic of a latte mug, and the feeling of nothing to do as you hide beneath the wool blanket on the sofa. Autumn is best.

Products mentioned, in order as they appear in the video. Continue reading “Recent Acquisitions – Autumn”

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Microsoft.com Redesign


If I were to list the most-visited websites in the world, Microsoft.com would not have came to mind. Surprisingly, it ranks 41st in the world. Despite that, I have always felt as if Microsoft.com was more confusing than anything—much like Windows—in its attempt to serve all needs. I imagined a more focused website.

I finished this design last December, and as it so happens, Microsoft has recently given its website a sprucing-up which brings it closer to my vision. The world is an odd one, indeed. Nevertheless, I thought I would post this anyway.

Goals

I sought to design a simple website that managed to bring cohesion to Microsoft’s many brands. They have many brands—Windows, Office, Outlook, Surface, Xbox, Skype, Groove, etc.—that all feel distanced from one another. Apple manages to make everything feel a part of the grander Apple brand; Microsoft fails to do this, so much so that it is often easy to forget Microsoft has so many useful, different products. A website cannot fix ingrained culture, but it can help visitors better discover Microsoft’s disparate offerings.

Important Points

  • There is an assumption that visitors are either looking to learn more about products they do not own, or find support for products they do own.
  • The website is designed in three sections to support this: Explore, Microsoft, Support.
    • Explore provides links to each product category.
    • Microsoft is a link to the homepage.
    • Support provides support links to each product category; all documentation is centralized.
  • A persistent, consistent header lines the top of every page.
  • There is a primary focus on marketing to the consumer.
    • Demographically neutral imagery is used as to not be exclusionary.
    • Politically neutral content is used as to not be divisive.
  • Microsoft.com is accessed by millions of visitors, each with a different level of comfort with technology and all running a wide range of devices.
    • Plain and simple design was important: white background, dark fonts.
    • Arial was chosen for its ubiquity, friendliness, and compatibility.
    • No fancy CSS is used in order to ensure fast load times and consistent performance on a wide range of devices.
    • Site design is kept logical and simple so as to be compatible with localization, and accessibility tools.

Details

Designed in Pixelmator for Mac.
Fonts: Arial; regular, bold.
Colours: #FFFFFF for slider text, #303030 for charcoal text, #0676D7 for call-to-attention, #CBCBCB for secondary slider text, #EFEFEF for header tab backgrounds, #000000 for header and footer text.

Blog Milk Shop Themes

I have been a dear fan of Blog Milk Shop for a very long time, but I must say the latest collection of themes is wonderful. While they have always been a tad quirky in design, this new batch seems to me the perfect balance between ‘personality’ and ‘professional’ (with a smidge of minimal no nonsense mixed in for good measure).

Warhol was my favourite upon my first scroll through, and only after putting together the screenshot did I notice why: It looks so similar to my blog! Naturally I have been using a Blog Milk Shop theme for a good while, but I heavily customized it with custom CSS and a few edits to the HTML. I suppose we are subconsciously attracted to things, even if our conscious does not quite know why. You may call me biased, but Warhol is a beautiful theme *wink*.

Sans—Lumina is right up there with Warhol; simple and yet so professional. I quite enjoy the thin lines around the top navigation and the lack of titles on each post.

Themes are a wonderful starting point in creating an online presence. With a bit of customization—changing colours, the fonts, maybe the spacing—you can very quickly develop something unique to you.

Blog Milk Themes are available for Blogger now; WordPress versions of each theme are up for preorder.

Best iOS Apps of 2015

This time last year I was dabbling in a bit of Android business, but that ended in misery. Since then I have been toting around my iPhone 6 and I have to say it is my primary device. I use it far more than my iPad mini and a tad bit more than my MacBook. That being said, the release of the iPad Pro has made me wonder if I could pull a Federico Viticci and ditch the MacBook. I recently acquired the updated Apple Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader so now I can even import photographs from my camera straight to my iPhone or iPad. It’s magical, though it does look funny. Despite all of that dreaming I will await the more powerful apps the iPad Pro was designed to foster and ‘make do’ with my iPhone and iPad mini.

Below are the apps that have made my 2015 just a bit easier and more fulfilling. Some are new releases, others are new discoveries; all are somewhat essential to my routine. I hope you find a few new ones to introduce in yours!

Bloomberg Business

I always have to stay current with the news, and Bloomberg Business is my favourite way to keep up with the economy and politics. From an editorial perspective the articles are well-written, concise and unbiased. The app itself is simple without big photographs wasting space.

Snapseed

Not exactly a new app but a new app to me, Snapseed is a wonderful way to edit photographs. The Selective feature is my favourite as it allows for brightening of regions of a photograph. I use it to brighten shadows in flat lays. More exciting is its ability to merge the edits you make with the original photograph in your library rather than creating two separate copies (the original and the edit). After Snapseed the photograph is off to VSCO, but nobody needs another list with VSCO on it.

Photoshop Fix

Unfortunate for me, yes, but my skin is less than flawless. Photoshop Fix makes it easy to eliminate blemishes and slim facial features if the angle of the photograph is a little unflattering. Rather than blurring blemishes, Photoshop Fix recreates the area pixel-by-pixel. That means instead of those random blurry patches all over your face it will look as if you just had naturally wonderful skin in the first place.

LiquidText

My college professors assign several PDF readings every week, and though they are optional I always enjoy reading them. LiquidText is the most innovative app I have come across for annotating documents. You can quickly scrub over words to highlight and tap to type notes. When you pinch the document you get a compressed view. Basically the app eliminates everything you didn’t annotate, enabling you to just see what you found important. When you are working with heavy research papers on the economy this feature is incredible.

Crystal Adblock

Ad blocking was controversial this year after it became possible on iOS. Crystal is my favourite app for the task. Ads have become far more vicious in the last few years, and I find myself spending far more time on blogs now that their ads are not cluttering the content. It is my hope that publishers and advertisers get the hint and start to act more ethically in the coming year, but until then I would almost say ad blocking is essential to the experience and your privacy on the Internet.

Evernote Scannable

The paperless world is still far away, but Evernote Scannable helps inch me closer to that utopia. I am not a fan of Evernote itself as I find it bloated and cluttered, but Evernote Scannable does not require an Evernote account to use. My favourite thing about the app is that it does not just take a photograph of documents, but it automatically crops and edits them to look just like a scanned document. I use it to keep records of my visits to the doctor for insurance, shipping invoices and receipts for warranties.

Stocard

While the built-in Wallet app is fine, Stocard is a real treat. It lets you scan all of your loyalty cards and quickly access them in one app. This way I have all of my loyalty cards—and I do have a lot of them—in one place rather than the supported ones in Wallet and the rest in their own apps. Stocard is so simple that I have even convinced my mother to use it, and she loves having the plastic loyalty cards in her wallet.

Instapaper

Perhaps my most-opened app on any of my devices, Instapaper is where I save everything that I have ever read on the Internet. I was a Pocket fan but found their website to be a little pokey and the typography just a bit off. My only quibble with Instapaper is that all search functions are disabled unless you pay for Instapaper Premium. All I ask is for searching by title, Instapaper people.

Flipp

I hate ‘sales’ and flyers. What I really want is for companies to offer steady, constant and fair prices. Until companies take the hint from Apple and Muji I will need Flipp. With Flipp, local flyers are available in one app ready to be clipped and added to your digital shopping list. New this year is their Coupons feature which automatically matches the best coupon to the best in-store price of a product to get you the best price available.

Feedly

On top of Bloomberg Business I subscribe to about twenty blogs ranging from beauty, skincare, interior design, food and technology. In all honesty I wish Instapaper and Feedly merged together and I could have one place to read and store everything, but alas; no. Feedly is just a super simple way to read everything that I subscribe to, because manually checking-up on blogs is a pain and Bloglovin is just not my cup of tea.

Notes

Closing up the list is the built-in Notes app on iOS and Mac. It is what I am using to write this post, and it is where I have been dreaming up a few future projects. The new version that debuted with iOS 9 and El Capitan adds image support, lists with checkboxes, and limited text formatting. Now if only they would get rid of that horrible patterned background.

Getting Serious With Feedly

The blogging community is obsessed with Bloglovin. A loyal user for years, I always found it hilarious the ends people would go to just for a ‘follow’ on Bloglovin; people are vicous with the prospect of garnering a following on a new social platform. Hellbent on followers and hearts, reblogs and likes, favourites and retweets; that is who we are today. I don’t see any correlation between having a tremendous following meaning having tremendous content, and though I guess there are numerous celebrities who break this conclusion the fact remains; the content comes before the people come.

Bloglovin prides itself on allowing people to follow their favourite blogs, but their interface says something else. The app for iOS uses thin sans serif fonts which hurt readability, and on Android the app is a trifecta of bad taste; bad fonts, dated design, and memory guzzling. I wanted to try something new, so I hopped on the Feedly train and my what a gorgeous train this is.


Bloglovin makes it easy to export your collection of feeds (here), and Feedly even respects categories you may have created. Perk of having Android for a week: I downloaded the OMPL file and uploaded it to Feedly all from my Note 4.

Feedly has an app for the web, iOS and Android. Their ‘organize’ feature allows easy categorization of feeds, and I quickly unfollowed a great deal of blogs I had impulse-followed. Feedly offers many customizations in terms of how posts are displayed, the colour of the interface, and fonts used for content. I am quite in love with their grey theme, because nothing is better than grey (except navy…camel…maybe black…alright I love all of them). They offer integration with Instapaper which is my favourite tool to keep track of everything I have read over the past several years.


Reading on the web app happens in a card which slides in from the right. You can customize the sharing buttons on the top, a nice touch. I have found the rendering to be excellent, something I can not say with Bloglovin which would often strip away important content from blog posts. Manger is a blog I don’t mind reading in the simplified view, but for blogs where the layout is just as important as the content—something like Park & Cube—the web view is a tap away.

The Android app is equally wonderful—by far more reliable than Bloglovin and Flipboard—as is the iOS app for iPad.

This year my goal is to use social media less, focusing on the quality rather than the volume. That means following less curators and more creators, learning more and really understanding alternative perspectives. I suppose I have grown out of Bloglovin. If you try Feedly, here I am. I encourage you to try creating, learning, and understanding what someone else has to say this year.

Film or Digital: The Peachy Leaves of Autumn

Every time I take a photograph, I wonder how it would have looked if it had been taken on film. With digital, you are given endless opportunities to edit and alter the photograph so that it no longer looks anything like that given moment. They say with film there is authenticity, that digital can never be anything more than imitation without soul, but now that I think of it; how was film authentic? Did the colours of the film we used genuinely reflect the scene? One peek at the many film photographs taken by brilliant creatives on Flickr (remember Flickr?) and you will see my point.

Digital, then, simply gives us the opportunity to better represent that moment by editing the image itself to have a feeling. For instance, I love to warm up images taken in autumn because I find autumn the warmest, coziest season. The trees are subtly showing off their desaturated tones of red, yellow, orange and brown. Warm drinks from Tim Hortons and Starbucks are in hand, and a toasty, wool sweater is worn. The image, unedited, would never reflect that; those things that I feel are lost in the image when you see it.

Every photograph has a different personality, and a story unique to itself. I think taking a bit of risk when editing your images is important. I have finally let go of the urge to edit all of my photographs to look the same, as for years I applied the same procedure after shooting any image: desaturate, bump the contrast, squash highlights, apply N1 filter on VSCO Cam. Now I realize that the world around me isn’t all the same, and in every moment I am feeling something different.

Take risks with your camera, and in life. So far I have the first one down to a science, but I have faith the second is not too far away.

Photograph: Taken in Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto on my iPhone 5s. Edited with VSCO Cam.