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Why I Haven’t Been Here Much…

First published in January 2012. Updated on December 2012.

I never thought I’d be one of those “good people” who volunteer every chance they got or build a well in Africa or even buy a Snickers bar from a kid on the subway. Definitely not a do-gooder. But I work hard at every job I’ve had and nobody I’ve worked with ever said I don’t bust my ass every time. When I was asked to produce, I stepped up to the plate and hit. Even with a blog I didn’t mean to create, I stayed late after business hours to write a post every so often because I feel like I have to stick to a schedule (even though I don’t really have a “schedule” schedule). I tried to write a post every week and if I slacked off, it’s every 2 weeks.

So what happened this past six 18 months? Let me start from the beginning.

How this blog got started

When I started this blog, the purpose was to try installing and tinkering with WordPress on a Windows box. (And to show my developers that yes, I still got it!) That’s probably why it is called “Red Pepper Flakes” because I didn’t have much thinking behind it.

As you can see, I didn’t get the URL – some flaky-and-now-defunct cooking site had it. I didn’t bother with a logo – I wanted it to be a bit old school with a touch of web-font-friendliness despite being a “creative” person. Plus, I was sick of making logos for the sake of making logos. I like spicy food and I put red pepper flakes in everything so that kind of worked. I’m also known for my quick witted, sarcastic remarks and oft off-color tones which I fired out of my mouth pretty consistently. So Red Pepper Flakes it is and I started blogging .

I wrote about things I found interesting, from design to technology to art to people. There are no rules (it’s me talking about whatever I feel like talking about), no chest-thumping client work (if it’s something I’m proud of, yes, I will gladly put a disclaimer). I thought it should be educative and enlightening at times – where I share my analysis of certain trends in the industry (I do it at work anyway) and share new trends I find interesting. I also like to share brilliant work from talented people – one of those “I wish I did that/I hate you for being so good” moments – as well as funny amusing things people do.

I started gaining traction with certain group of people – designers mostly, or people who think my Industry Roundup series were useful so they don’t have to do the research themselves. And then I got sidetracked. Hard.

Photo: Emily Zoladz | The Grand Rapids Press

Sidetracked

If you noticed, I started writing a post every 2 weeks, then a month, then longer. Of course as a partner at a small agency, you do more when the economy is this dreadful. RFPs kept coming in, proposals kept going out, meetings kept getting set up and we kept churning out great award-winning work. Clients get smarter – and pickier – and everything just becomes more time-consuming. But that’s not it either (I can always take the hard work and pressure from the job – piece of cake).

Something happened in July. I went to bed with my mind churning. You might think it’s about the most menial thing but it was about my dog, a rescued pit bull. And I woke up with the idea for “I’m Not a Monster.”

What is I’m Not a Monster? I’m Not A Monster is a place where pet parents of so-called “mean” dog breeds can show how lovely these dogs are and how much they change their pet parents’ lives.

This project started as part of venting my frustration around having a “mean breed” pit bull. Yes, I live with one of those mean, man-eating beasts. Rosco is a rescue. My husband took him off a man who was beating and kicking him in Brooklyn, NY. He was a 10-month old puppy then and was malnourished. We weren’t planning to get a dog but we are dog people and we just can’t let him stay with his previous owner or surrender him to a shelter.

And like I said, I’m not one of those people who volunteer at the shelters. But I spoiled my dog rotten, from feeding him only premium dog food and treats (I’m plugging my client, Wellness Pet Food, here) to letting him take over the couch and bed.

But when family members heard that we got a pit bull, the first reactions were either “you have to get rid of him” or “you have to put him down” accompanied by horror stories of the menacing pit bulls that mauled kids and attacked for no reason. I had a Rottweiler previously (good ol’ Guinness who passed in 2007) and I have gotten the same reaction. People forget that it’s not the breed, it’s the owner. People who breed and train them for protection or fighting are the culprits who made these large, strong breeds the menace of society.

So that’s how I got started. Just as a “cute” idea to shut the idiots up. Before I knew it, it seems to have a life of its own.

The Monster That Occupies My Life

I didn’t think I’d get many stories from people I don’t know. Of course I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account – that’s just something we do when we create a website, right? And I got a couple of stories from people I know (one is a coworker and another a friend’s coworker). So I thought, I should reach out to other pit bull-type dog owner on Facebook. But I didn’t think that people would respond with such enthusiasm.

Before long, I was buried in stories and my Facebook page grew by at least 100 likes a week. What humbled me is the thank you’s I received for every story I published. It’s as if these pet parents (who mostly rescued their dogs from pitiful existence) have been waiting for I’m Not a Monster to come along. But the most eye-opening experience is to learn the horrible facts these “monsters” endured: Dumped, tortured and murdered. Yup. People hate them. The media? They hate them too.

I’ve learned about the overpopulation issue, puppy mills, shelter overcrowding, Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) to ban pit bull type dogs across the US (well, UK too), tortures, gas chamber mass murders, inhumane heart stick murders, PETA and its lies… The list goes on and on and on… And then I realized I couldn’t just stand on the sideline anymore.

I started using the Facebook page’s reach to educate the public, network animals in need and share rescues needing transports, money, food, media attention…One by one, my nights become hours of story editing, posting news, sharing and networking people to reach out to various shelters across the nation to spare a life.

Yes, a dog’s life.

So I lost sleep night after night for a dog or two. I felt angst going to bed if a dog is not yet taken off the Euthanasia list. I check my Facebook first thing in the morning for updates on these dogs. And yes, I stopped caring so much about which design or trends are cool and worth blogging about. It may be laughable to you, but to me, it’s worth it. And if you’re never on this side, you won’t really get it.

Yup. My life has gone to the dogs!

Meet the first 100 “Monsters” we published in the first 6 months. Watch out. You may fall in love. :-)

p.s. You may not see me here for a while. I may pop up here and there for air. Or you can drop by I’m Not a Monster. :-) As we close the year 2012, we are more than 10,000 strong on Facebook. I also connected with some great people; strong, passionate, determined, kind people. And I thought, wow, this is awesome. To my fellow “Monster” advocates, thank you for being in this journey with me!

Seeing Red: From Coffee Stains to Socks

Meet Hong Yi aka RED. RED is an artist. She likes to paint but not with a paintbrush. And she made a splash recently with coffee stains and socks. Yes, seriously.

In her latest project, she used 750 pair of socks to create a sock portrait of famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou. She spent over three weeks on the project and used black, white and grey socks, stringing it using bamboo sticks and stitching patiently until the portrait emerged.

She was inspired by bamboo sticks poking out of windows in the alleyway with laundry hanging onto them. “To me, that was incredibly beautiful. And the amazing thing is seeing something so traditional in a modern, pumping city like Shanghai,” says Yi.

Why Zhang Yimou, the famous Chinese film director behind Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and the Beijing Olympics? According to Yi:

“Many of his movies reflect the beauty of the Chinese culture, through the use of bamboos and traditional costumes. I thought Zhang Yimou’s portrait done in a Shanghainese laneway, with bamboo and laundry would be perfect for this project.”

 

She ended up using 750 pairs of socks (shirts were too big and expensive) and she found an interesting way to pin the socks together, creating a diamond-shaped piece of skin. “It was interesting to see the different angles of shadows casted on it throughout the day,” she added.

Yi is not new to using unusual objects as a tool for creating her art. In February, she created a portrait of Jay Chou (a Taiwanese musician, singer-songwriter, music and film producer, actor and director) a using nothing but Nescafe coffee stains on the bottom of a mug.

She was inspired by the first in Jay Chou’s song, ‘Secret’ about lifting a coffee cup off the saucer and the last line, about autumn leaves and fragmented pieces. Hundreds of individual coffee stain rings, many of them broken and imperfect like fallen autumn leaves, formed a whole portrait:

“The singer tells a heartbreak tale of a lost romance with a girl from 1979 who time-traveled forward 20 years and met Jay in 1999, and they fell in love. She then went back to 1979 and sketched a portrait of him. My painting is meant to look like a sepia-toned old photograph to capture the essence of this story.”

 

 

The project took about 12 hours to finish. Yi admits that coffee is “quite a challenging medium to use — too little water and the rings wouldn’t form easily, too much water and the rings would blend into each other, resulting in just a deformed pool of coffee. I had to also wait for the lighter parts too dry up before stamping on the darker rings, or else the rings would not be visible.”

As a little kid, she dreamt of becoming an artist. Modestly, she explains how she creates her art: “I like to grab whatever I can get hold of – rocks, ketchup, milk, salt, shirts — and turn them into art. It’s more fun that way!”

Check out her art, like the Yao Ming potrait and the homage to the controversial Ai Weiwei using 100,000/7kgs of sunflower seeds.

You go, Red! Visit her blog, Oh I see Red!

Social Reading: Hey, did you know…

I know I’m not the only one who yet to adopt an eReader. I accept the fact that there are more and more cool devices out there for reading, from Kindle to Nook to Sony Reader to the latest, Kobo. Then there’s a host of social reading platforms, from the Washington Post Social Reader (a free Facebook application that offers a new way to read news — with your friends) to The Guardian‘s Facebook app (which by Dec 2011 was installed by more than 4 million users and drove up daily page impressions by almost 1 million). Google even joined in the fun with Google Currents.

What drives this latest craze? Is it because people like book clubs so much? Let’s define “social reading” first (or L.A. Times more appropriately asked “What the heck is ‘social reading’?”):

Look ahead: The presents have been opened, wrapping thrown away, and for a few quiet hours you’ve been curled up reading the new Steve Jobs biography, a gift from your dad. You find a surprising detail and call to your significant other, “Honey, did you know …?” but because he is busy making dinner, the idea fizzles away as you turn the page.

Or maybe when you get to that passage, with the swipe of a finger you highlight it and email it to your dad, adding a thanks for his gift. Or you click to add your thoughts to a chorus of readers who found that same passage interesting; or you check to see if there’s a link to a video clip; or you find an annotation from the author; or you post it to Twitter or Facebook or Google+, where others can comment on it too.

That’s called “social reading,” and it’s coming to an e-reading app or device near you.1

 

It’s not hard to believe that people want to share what they have read with other people and receive feedback about their thoughts and ideas. Technology is the great enabler for social reading, and the natural place for this activity to cultivate.2 I get it when it comes to news such as the case with Washington Post, The Telegraph and NY Times’ Recommendations. It’s discussion on current events, policies and the market. And it’s “happening right now.” But I guess there’s a need to opine on everything, even when it comes to chick lits, just like in a traditional book club.

Let’s take a look at one of the latest “club”: Copia, which bills itself as a Social Network for Book Lovers. It’s a social media and content delivery platform that brings together content, community and commerce to create an environment where users collaborate, socialize and buy content. Copia is accessible across a broad array of digital devices and platforms including Mac, PC, Android, notebooks, netbooks, iPads, slates, smart phones and eReaders.

With a tagline of “Reading reimagined for the iPad™” Copia wants book lovers to love it (because every book lover apparently has an iPad. Well, except me). It combines everything you love about the iPad with the most advanced social reading experience. Essentially, apps are increasingly being developed to enable users to electronically share thoughts.

Putting my reservations aside, Copia seems to offer lots of nice doodads like featured/most active groups, creation of notes, combining e-commerce & social. In addition to syncing your spot in a book, taking notes and highlighting excerpts, Copia lets you connect with other users. You can view notes that friends have made in the margins of a book, or join Copia Groups (essentially e-book clubs) and share recommendations. Copia has many of its own social networking features, but it also can connect with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.3

I like to note that there are some bright and useful elements in these eReaders & social reading platforms, especially from Kobo and Copia, for UI designers and app developers to consider in a community /application design. It’s definitely a lot more user-friendly if used for eBooks but nice UI for the iPad & Desktop Reader.

Before I end this thought, I’m adding self-publishing factor into the mix. There are many out there as well but I like BookBaby, which throws open the doors to the electronic publishing and distribution world for independent authors, offering affordable short-run book printing with the highest pay-out rate for eBook distribution in the industry.

Now that makes it real interesting: BookBaby not only publishes for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Copia (and distributed by the latest two partners), authors can also create custom-printed version of your book, with your own design! Bookbaby Print utilizes the latest layout and bindery technology, along with the highest quality paper, bindery stock and printing processes to produce books that are guaranteed to delight authors and their readers. Yes, don’t throw this baby out with the bath water!

So does this mean “gone are the days of “selfish,” private reading: reading alone in the bathtub, alone under the covers, alone on the couch, alone in the park, etc.”4? It’s still hard for me to swallow that idea, that reading doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. I really like my analog paper.

p.s. A look at using social reading for education. It’s in the form of collective reading that characterizes early reading instruction, where reading begins as a social experience. Now that’s something I can stand behind!

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1L.A. Times: What the heck is ‘social reading’?

2,4Tame The Web: Allison Mennella – What is “Social Reading” and why should Libraries care?

3Switched: Copia, A Social E-Reading App, Quietly Launches 

 

So Goude: Goudemalion. A Retrospective.

The first-ever retrospective of the work of Jean-Paul Coude, a French graphic designer, illustrator, photographer and advertising film director. You may not know of him but you’ve seen his iconic work.

‘Blue-black in Black on Brown’, New York, 1981

 
Opening at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on Friday is the retrospective ‘Goudemalion’ of the work of Jean-Paul Coude, a defining 80′s artist, art director, photographerand image maker. The exhibition examines the work through the lens of the Pygmalion myth — a humorous nod to his most important muse, lover and the mother of his son, Grace Jones, to whom he is, as he laughingly puts it, her ‘Pygmalion.’1

Goude didn’t like studying; in his own words he “was bad at it.” Luckily he was good at drawing. He began his career in the 1960s as an illustrator for the department store Printemps in Paris. he began his career in the 1960s as an illustrator. In 1964 he became the Artistic Director for Esquire in New York and 10 years later, he joined New York Magazine. It was there that he first met and photographed Jones and became instrumental in honing her public image, exaggerating her androgyny and producing many striking work, including the famous photograph of her impossibly twisted pose used on the cover of her 1985 album, Island Life.

‘Grace revue et corrigée’ (Grace re-visited), New York, 1978

 

Azzedine et Farida, Paris, 1985

 
First published in New York Magazine in 1978, this image is in fact a montage of several photographs spliced together. In the days before Photoshop, this was Goude’s trademark: Using scissors to chop up photographs and then reassemble them, elongating limbs and exaggerating lines and curves. He called this technique ‘French Correction’2 — which is mostly concerned with glorifying and revealing the body, by exaggerating and subliming it. He redesigns the bodies of his models, photographing then transforming them.3

Aside from creating several well-known campaigns for brands such as Perrier, Citroën and Chanel, Goude is also a filmmaker; his film ‘Heartbeat’ traces his eclectic influences and highlights his diverse portfolio which has led to some describing him as a ‘polymath’. What is apparent from the film is that Goude was and is heavily influenced by black American culture and French colonialism — a result of having grown up in a predominantly black neighborhood in France. “I was an illustrator who used to illustrate other people’s fantasy. I naturally became an “image maker,” he says.

Designed by Goude himself, the retrospective is a giant installation retracing his 40 year career. The show is organized into different sections: One a chronological journey from his early days to his most recent work, another recreating the most celebrated moments of his career — special areas dedicated to his most influential projects: Les Galeries Lafayette, cut-up slides, neon furniture, Chanel, and his muses, from Toukie Smith to Grace Jones to Karen, his last muse and current wife.3

Self-portrait, New York, 1982

 
According to Amelie Gastaut, co-curator of the exhibition:

For Jean-Paul Goude, as for those of us who curated the show, there’s not much difference between Applied Art, commercial arts and Fine Arts. Behind each of these lies an artist and his singular and original universe. When the advertising world solicited his work in 1982, he had started his artistic career for about 20 years, and he’s still a major element of today’s French artistic scene.5

 

A highlight of this season’s cultural programme, surprisingly, it will be the first ever retrospective of the work of the now-iconic Goude on the French advertising and fashion scenes. And the perfect opportunity for viewers to gain an understanding of his unique world view.

‘Le Noir’ self-portrait, New York, 1982

 
Visit jeanpaulgoude.com

Goudemalion opens today and runs through March 18, 2012. More info (in French only): Les Arts Décoratifs — Goudemalion. Jean-Paul Goude une rétrospective

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1,2Wallpaper: Goudemalion: Jean-Paul Goude retrospective, Paris

3,5Elle: Jean-Paul Goude Paris Exhibition

4Art Photo Expo: Jean-Paul Goude

Photo credit: Jean-Paul Goode®

BBC 3.0

Remember the brouhaha over BBC redesign last year? Apparently a lot of people are just not loving it. According to the Guardian article Website users give BBC News redesign grief (and anger, and bargaining…), “the responses sometimes look like the five stages of mourning.” A hefty 4,242 comments have been published in response to the well-intentioned posts in the past 16 days, most spitting feathers but some leaving questions yet to be answered.

Although BBC claimed it lived with and loved the distinctly ‘web 2.0′ design for a while now and it’s done them proud, it time to move on and before the end of  last year they resurrect the redesign project.

BBC stated:

We set out to broaden our ambitions; to create a design philosophy and world-class design standards that all designers across the business could adhere to. We wanted to find the soul of the BBC. We wanted something distinctive and recognizable; we wanted drama. We knew whatever we created needed to be truly cross-platform and that we needed to simplify our user journeys.

 

This is where Neville Brody and his agency, Research Studios, comes in. have collaborated closely with the BBC to redesign their online Global Visual Language (GVL) and take the organization and its users into a more compelling digital space. At the heart of the project was the joint desire to bring joined-up cross platform concepts and experiences to users of bbc.co.uk and bbc.com now and into the future.

Here’s their recap:

After four months, countless hours and countless iterations of designs, components, mastheads, footers, polar maps, word documents, PDFs and grids…, this is the latest in BBC’s design philosophy and the latest version of their global visual language styleguide.

The team wanted to create a design philosophy, or a set of values, to unite the user experience practitioners across the business. They settled on nine keywords which we think sum up what we’re about and what they’re trying to achieve:

Modern British
We want to create a modern British design aesthetic, something vibrant and quirky that translates outside our national boundaries.

Current
It needs to feel current and reflect what’s happening in the UK right now, in real-time. We curate a timeline of Britain and create links to the past – to our rich archive.

Authentic
Wherever we are heard we need to sound authentic and relevant, warm and human. We want to reference the BBC’s iconic design and broadcasting heritage. We value the trust placed in us.

Compelling
We engage our audiences with compelling storytelling. Our voice ranges from serious and authoritative through to witty and entertaining.

Distinctive
We stand out from the crowd. We strike a balance between overly templated, cookie-cutter design and beautiful anarchy. We are bold and dramatic.

Pioneering
We pioneer design innovations that surprise and delight. But we take our audiences with us.

Joined-up
We view all services and platforms as one connected whole but deliver experiences that are sensitive to their context of use.

Universal
Our services are open and accessible. Our interfaces are simple, useful and intuitive.

Best
Our ambition is to be the best digital media brand in the world.

 

Armed with the new philosophy, they began creating conceptual designs for various properties: BBC news, homepage, search, iPlayer, program pages and the embedded media player.

Through doing this work we began to distill the essence of a new visual style. Here are some of the key elements, starting with the page grid.

The new grid is based on 31 sixteen pixel columns with two left hand columns that can be split into four, and one wider right hand column, which accommodates the ad formats that appear on the international facing version of the site.

11-grid.jpg

They’re looking to create the effect of interwoven vertical and horizontal bands, making a feature of the right hand column across the site.

12-grid.jpg

Along with the 16 pixel vertical grid they’ve also for the first time got an integrated 8 pixel baseline grid so that they can align elements on a page both vertically and horizontally.

13-baseline.jpg

A key feature of the new GVL is a much more dramatic use of typography. As well as Gill Sans they’ve introduced big bold type in Helvetica or Arial and restricted variations in size so that they have much greater consistency across the site.

14-type.gif

They’ve developed a highlight colour palette for non-branded areas of the site, or areas where the BBC masterbrand talks directly to the audience (e.g. the BBC homepage, search, some of our genre areas). Each color has a tonal range to be used in contrast or in unison with each other.

20-colour.jpg

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The redesign covers a lot of grounds. It goes to show you that it’s not just a “re-skin” as clients like to call site redesigns, which often times gets me going.

A website redesign is not just changing colors and moving things here and there; It’s analyzing the existing website and the interactive landscape, looking at comparable companies within and outside the industry, and exploring potential improvements based on best practices and audience expectation.

If you do it right: It’s not just a redesign. It’s a rebirth.

To read more: A new global visual language for the BBC’s digital services



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