Designing for Canada

After a decade in the U.K. followed by a short sabbatical, I'm delighted to announce that I'm going to be the first Chief of Design with the Canadian Digital Service, a new initiative by the Government of Canada.

CDS's mission is straightforward: to design, code, build and deliver simple, easy to use, accessible services for Canadians. When I first met the CDS team, I found a passionate, diverse group of people truly committed to placing user centred design at the heart of everything they do. It's one of the many reasons I'm delighted to join the team and lead the design practice.

Canadians expect web services, like Gmail and Facebook, to be easy to use and accessible. There's absolutely no reason why government services can't be the same. The United Kingdom’s success with GDS and the U.S.’s success with the U.S. Digital Service and 18F are proof of this. During my time with the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom, my team and I designed and delivered services that made thousands of people’s lives easier and, in some cases, saved them money. I'm excited and delighted to have the opportunity to do the same here back at home.

Since the launch of CDS this summer, the team's work and the scope of the projects has dramatically increased. CDS is going to be hiring designers of all kinds over the next couple of months. Please get in touch if you're interested in joining the team.

I firmly believe that there's no better opportunity to make an impact through design. At the Canadian Digital Service, you'll work on projects that matter, in an open, transparent, inclusive, and diverse environment, to make the lives of your fellow Canadians better. It's that simple.

In-App Diversity

For the past few years, I've been using Duolingo to improve my French. I've found it really useful and my proficiency in reading, speaking and comprehension has increased dramatically.

Some time ago, Duolingo introduced stylised illustrations of people speaking the phrases (I suspect this was in order to humanise and bring context to the exercises). While these illustrations must have presented an interesting challenge to the visual designers as well as the engineers, the thing about them that immediately stood out to me wasn't the style or the execution.

Instead, it was the diversity.

There are illustrations of women, men, girls, boys, people of colour, people of religion, bodybuilders, twins, punks, skaters, hippies, policemen, lumber jackszombies, astronauts, and same-sex couples.

Just some of the Duolingo characters

Some of the more unique characters

Some of the more unique characters

Some of these depictions must be intentional. In the above image, a character who looks suspiciously like Hulk Hogan proclaims his embarrassment and two women of colour proudly state their love has no limits ( 🌈 ). And if I'm not wrong, that's Riggs and Murtaugh in the bottom left corner.

I absolutely love this. I can't remember the last time I used an app that actually had so much diversity represented in visual form. I think it's commendable in this day and age, to say nothing of the fact that Duolingo allowed their designers the time and the budget to render these characters.

Hell, they even included a bear.


† From what I can tell, the illustrations are the work of Gregory Hartman and are based on a standard template – libraries of heads and shoulders are mixed and matched with other libraries of facial features and accessories. Fantastic stuff.

Portrait Photography

Following up from my previous post on food photography, here's a portfolio of my commerical portraiture work.

Food Photography

For years, I've run a separate domain and website for my commercial photography. Recently, I made the choice to let that domain expire. But rather than let those photos disappear into the ether, I thought I'd publish them here on my blog.

Here's a selection of my published food photography: 

Choosy Icon

Choosy is one of those tiny pieces of software that quickly becomes indispensable. Its premise is beautifully simple: open the right link in the right browser, every time.

That premise belies its incredibly power though. Choosy also lets you set behaviours and customs actions. Always open mail:to links in Chrome? No sweat. Send a link from Chrome to Safari? Easy. The accompanying extensions – for all of the major browsers – make that a piece of cake.

I was introduced to Choosy by George Brocklehurst, a former colleague and Choosy's creator (when he saw me copying and pasting links between browsers). I used it for years and was dismayed when it finally stopped working because of changes in OSX.

The old version of the Choosy icon

The old version of the Choosy icon

When it came time to update Choosy, I happily took George up on his offer to update the icon. The previous icon felt complicated, especially given how simple Choosy is to use. In fairness, the original icon was a product of its time and reflected Apple's Aqua aesthetic with reflections, gradients, and 3D effects.

My goal for the icon’s redesign was to simplify it as much as possible. It needed to feel elegant, simple, and straightforward.

After some thought, I chose to base the new version on one of the original icon’s triangles. This creates a tie between the original icon and the new one. It's a strong geometric element and communicates the concepts of direction, navigation and movement.

Finding the proper balance of the C to the triangle proved to be a surprising challenge (turns out that mathematical alignment was completely visually wrong). I also found drawing a geometrically perfect triangle with rounded corners very, very difficult (I was trying to use the Pathfinder tool to merge circles with the corners of a triangle and then remove the negative spaces).

Eventually, I realised that Adobe had probably solved this problem. A quick Google search later and I used the incredibly simple “round corners” option. ಠ_ಠ 


In the end, I’m very happy with how the final version turned out. A particularly difficult challenge was ensuring that the icon represented well at all sizes – as small as 16 pixels square, for use in the Apple menu bar and as a favicon (the 16 pixel square version actually has a slightly different layout and font weight to render properly).

The final icon. From left to right at 1024 x 1024, 512 x 512, 256 x 256, 128 x 128, 64 x 64 and the tiny 16 x 16!

And here’s what Choosy looks like when it’s running in your Mac’s menu bar:

You can buy Choosy for $10 USD. It’s worth every penny.

Eva-Lotta’s Sketchnotes

Eva-Lotta Lamm is well known for her sketchnotes, beautifully drawn notes taken on conference talks.

Back in 2013, my friend Steve Marshall asked me to speak at the Expedia Summer Symposium. Steve knows Eva-Lotta from their time together at Yahoo!, so I didn’t think anything of seeing her at the evening. Also, I’d just started at Expedia that week and was singularly focussed on delivering a good talk.

I spoke about how wayfinding is an intrinsic part of the human brain’s spatial awareness (memory palaces!), how this should be applied to signage systems, and how it can benefit the web.

A few weeks later, Eva-Lotta messaged me to tell me that her sketchnotes from my talk were on Flickr. What I didn’t realise until April of this year is that, for the fourth time, she compiled all of her lovely notes into a book.

She sent me a digital copy and it’s a great piece, full of lettering, beautiful sketches and genuinely interesting tidbits.

Go and grab a copy!

SuperLocate

In 2013, my friend (and former colleague at Reevoo) Chris Zetter released an iPhone app, SuperLocate. Like all good apps, it solves a problem that he had: how to find the nearest grocery store. 

I volunteered to help with the interaction design and the flow of the user journeys. Additionally, I contributed to the visual styling and the refinement of the app icon.

Overview

The app opens with half the screen devoted to a map view, and the other half a list of the nearby grocery stores. If the user touches the map, the list collapses. This allows the user to pan and zoom the map to refine their search.

Selecting a grocery store from the list brings up the hours of operation, as well as giving the user options for walking and driving directions, and calling the store.

Early Sketches

Sketch for main screen (top) and the About/credits screen (below)

Sketch of supermarket screen (top) showing opening hours, walking and driving directions

Sketch of supermarket screen (top) showing opening hours, walking and driving directions


Main screen

Main screen with listings visible

Supermarket screen

Supermarket screen

Icon design (from left to right): original, revised, alternate revised

The app is simple, intuitive, and a brilliant little side project from a very talented developer. Check out Superlocate (App store link) on the UK App store.

Eames and Delaunay Triangles

Recently, I was experimenting with a new illustration style. Rather than render an object in its whole, I abstracted the representation slightly by using geometric planes. At first, I tried using polygons but the overall effect was jumbled and not quite what I wanted.

After doing some reading about polygons and geometric planes, I eventually came across Delaunay triangulation. The mathematics behind them are fascinating but I was instantly drawn to their application to my problem.

After drawing a couple of simple objects with Delaunay triangles, I decided to apply them to an idea I had for a series of prints. My friend Steve is passionate about mid-century modern furniture and we’d recently had a conversation about the work of Charles and Ray Eames.

With that conversation fresh in mind, I drew the Eames’ classic chairs with Delaunay triangles, wrote a short history of each chair, and had the finished posters printed on a beautiful mocha FSC paper.

The finished posters:

Eames DAW (Dining Height Armchair Wood Base)

Eames DSW (Dining Height Side Chair Wood Base)

Eames DSR (Dining Height Side Chair Rod Base)

Detail of the so-called Eiffel Tower base

Detail of the so-called Eiffel Tower base

Detail of the DAW seat

Detail of the DAW seat

It was only after I finished my prints (and drawing hundreds and hundreds of precise triangles) that I discovered DMesh – a beautiful little piece of software that will render a vector version of any raster images with Delaunay triangles. Oh well. ;)

The Hype Machine II: The New Pornographers

Following up on my previous work for the Hype Machine, I was asked to create a piece of work representing the Canadian supergroup, The New Pornographers. I felt it critical to avoid the obvious connotations of the name so I created a piece of lettering whose aesthetic paid homage to the Rat Pack, the Vegas of days-gone-by, cocktail lounges and luxury.

The final piece


The Process

There were a couple of concepts that I considered for this piece: London tart cards (the postcards left by escorts in London phone booths), Times Square in the 1970s, and cheap ads found in the back of seedy men's magazines.

Times Square in the 1970s

Times Square in the 1970s

Tart cards

Tart cards

Sleazy classified ads

Sleazy classified ads


While sketching out possible layouts, it struck me these concepts and any variation on them were far too obvious. As such, I quickly wrote out a list of adjectives corresponding to my concepts and then tried to think of antonyms.

Classy, modern, and art house stuck out as keywords (classy appeared twice somehow). With these in mind, I then sketched out a couple of layouts before settling on the final piece.

cgovias-the-hype-machine-antonyms.jpg

The Faltering Hearts

The Faltering Hearts, a ukulele trio of women, approached me to design a logo for them. Their previous logos had been clichéd, obvious approaches based on hearts, usually accompanied by overly-decorative typefaces. Considering that the Faltering Hearts are quite a unique group, I suggested a hand-lettered approach to make the logotype feel human, distinctive and warm.

Read More

The Hype Machine: Camera Obscura

The Hype Machine asked me to contribute an illustration to their Annual Zeitgeist. With Camera Obscura as my chosen artist, I sketched a few different concepts, one of which was a highly-illustrative execution with inverted typography (like a true camera obscura).

In the end, I settled on the simpler execution above: lettering which references the pulp magazines and horror films of the 1930s. The application of texture to mimic shoddy printing and some scratch/hashed type helped round it off nicely.