Magic beans

Our back garden is fascinating: when you dig in the soil you get the worst stuff coming up, like bottle caps and rusty nails and cigarette butts. But the plants cannot get enough of it.

Check this peony:

growing like WEEDS

growing like WEEDS

I had been concerned that it wouldn’t come back, but nope! Came back bigger and better than before.

Because I’m still a fairly lazy gardener, I like to set myself up for success and plant things that are known to be easy to grown. To whit, scarlet runner beans. But I still can’t get over how awesomely fast they grow.

last week

this week

this week

No skill, planning, effort, or even healthy-looking dirt needed. Giant’s castle and golden-egg laying hen, here we come.

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Week seven: ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Despite my complete lack of experience in website design/content creation/putting things up on the internets that isn’t on Facebook, I jumped in with both feet when it came to actually making this yere design blog.

Which, as I keep going with it, is clearly not the way to go. I’ve been keeping a word doc with thoughts from each week of class [all the wordy posts with week X in the title; posts are getting created & uploaded as I have time for them] but didn’t give too many thoughts to practical stuff like how it will look on a website, or what kind of layout I would like, or even if the layout that I like on the WordPress menu is going to actually work for me.

Fortunately we were partnered for review, so that one of my classmates looked at my first few posts and could offer suggestions for improvement, particularly in navigation. With his feedback, I chose a different layout that offered the things I liked but also (hopefully) made it easier to navigate.

And even with a better/different layout, I still find things to tweak. I’ve edited most of my posts once or twice, thought hard about whether or not another layout might suit better, but will have to just let it go and leave it….and send the link off to the professor to complete the course.

Week six: wireframes ummm what?

I don’t even want to get into how long it took me to realize what a wireframe was. Suffice to say that I did indeed figure it out in time to do the assignment, which was find examples of three different types of navigational layouts and then create a wireframe of one of them.

For anyone who is ignorant like me, a wireframe is a sketch of a website’s layout. Wireframe is a specialized technical word for web design, which sends me down another trip down memory lane back to undergrad linguistics. Specialized technical language helps create communities of expertise and helps people in the same field identify one another and keep non-experts at arms’ length.*

At any rate, I chose a couple of faves: Smitten Kitchen for vertical and Knitty for horizontal. What really struck me was that many websites now have multiple ways of navigation. Which can be useful as it offers the user multiple ways of exploring the site; however, having too many choices can be confusing and ultimately as frustrating as having too few. One more for keep it simple.

In terms of finding an experimental navigational website, I had to turn to my old friend Google because all of my favourite websites are pretty standard navigation.

I then used Gliffy to create a very, very basic wireframe of Smitten Kitchen that I will not add here; suffice to say that I would much rather have the logo guru’s little Moleskin journal to sketch in. And also it’s kind of interesting that you always have to start from a sketch. No one can just produce something fully formed without a rough draft (bar Zeus/Athena). No matter how well-developed it may be in the mind’s eye, there are always multiple attempts and do-overs before it’s just right.

*My definition may be somewhat coloured by my experience of the sociolinguistics class, which may or may not have involved dozing off in the back row/gossiping with a friend.

Busyness: Knitting

I am working on a baby blanket for a friend. It is revoltingly cute, with bunnies that have fluffy tails and everything. It will look like this when it is done:

redonkulously cute

redonkulously cute

It is from Stitch N Bitch: Superstar Knitting, and on the surface, it is a very simple pattern. It is just counting.

I am enraged with the design.

The pattern chart is in a graph, with the little boxes in different colours to make up the bunnies. You count the little boxes to make sure you get the right amount of stitches in each colour and voila! Bunny.

Except when the graph is TINY and my fat fingers cover the little boxes when I’m trying to count them and the rows are too close together to have the numbers on the same side. My bunnies did not look like the ones in the picture. They were misbegotten mutant bunnies. I thought at first that I could power through and it would fix itself, and it became glaringly obvious that they were only getting worse, and it would be shameful to give to someone as a present. A few mistakes you can pass off as wabi-sabi; these bunnies meant that I can’t count.

And so I heaved a great sigh and began ripping back what I had knitted and started from scratch, this time counting everything twice. Hopefully it will be done in time for the baby’s arrival.

Busyness: Cookery

On that terrible rainy weekend at the end of June, it was so cool out I decided to make strawberry jam.

I have fond memories of making jam with my mom and my grandmothers, though somehow my memory tends to omit the sheer godawful amount of time it takes to make old-fashioned jam (that is to say, no pectin). Because to get strawberries, sugar, and a splash of lemon juice to stop being chunky syrup and start being lovely spreadable jam involves a long time of slow boiling. And oh the steam from the boiling water to sterilize the jars! Good thing it was cool out.

While I was waiting for the jam to get to that magical point of doneness, I thought about the concept of done. When I first started cooking in earnest after heading off to university, I begged some favourite recipes from my grandmother – handwritten, and often with cryptic instructions like “boil until it looks right” or “bake until done.” And this drove me nuts. I had no idea what that meant. Ditto bread recipes, with their “knead till stretchy,” and of course jam recipes, with “slow boil” and “gelled” or “set.”

Of course it turns out that all of these instructions make perfect sense – with experience. After making bread a handful of times, suddenly I did know the point when the dough had been worked enough. You can feel it in your hands that it’s stretchy and springy and ready to rise. Same thing with the jam. After a couple of slogs, I could see that it was getting thicker and was gelling on the back of the spoon as I stirred.

And it occurred to me that it’s like anything as you gain expertise, that you get to the point of experience and you just know. So good logo designers know when they’ve got it right and can stop fiddling, and good website designers know when they’ve reached the best user experience.

Me? I doubt that I’ll get there – I’ll stick with jam instead.

jam station

“Strawberry Jam” by Michelle Shocked

Old fashioned strawberry jam

What’s in a logo?

One of the assignments for class was to dissect a logo using the various principles of design as laid out in the text. The logo that I used, Weleda, gave me plenty to work with, with contour bias, anthropomorphic form, biophilia effect, and proportional density.

logo-weleda

For contour bias, the lines used in the logo are gently curved, and thus more attractive and appealing than if they were sharp.

Anthropomorphic form: the outside lines suggest two people bending towards one another; at the top, one can either imagine hands holding or foreheads leaning towards one another.

Biophilia effect: this is less the logo and more on the packaging, which emphasizes the natural ingredients of the products, using pictures of the herbs and flowers that are used.

Proportional density: There are, to me, definitely enough propositions to be interesting. In the shape of the outside lines we have people, and, taken together, an oval or egg, a very natural and attractive form. The suggestion of hand holding/heads bending together evokes togetherness and trust. Inside the oval there is a design that evokes the rod of Asclepius, which in turn generates a sense of trust for the quality and benefits of the product, leaning as it does on centuries of medicine and knowledge.

I found it fascinating to really break down a little design that I see every day and don’t generally pay any attention to, and consider how much work went into creating it. I’ve resolved to be a little more mindful and take time to notice things like this to appreciate the time and effort that someone, somewhere put in.

Busyness: prank crafts

I am a firm believer that gag gifts show love. The more elaborate the gag, the more time (and love) is invested in it. To whit: a friend of mine recently learned how to cross-stitch. She has an extremely photogenic cat. These two things seem unrelated until: Stitch a Photo. And then this glorious birthday present was born:

I never knew there were so many shades of ecru.

I never knew there were so many shades of ecru.

It kind of blows my mind that you can take a picture and have someone convert it into a cross-stitch graph, including the right colours of embroidery floss. Well. Convert using a fancy-pants software designer. A very far cry from olden times when it was more or less freestyling – which also blows my mind. Seriously, sitting down to create this:

so many hours of work in such poor light

so many hours of work in such poor light

Hardcore!