Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Flesh of The World Needs a Tagline

I went to see The Flesh of the World, an amazing collection of contemporary art last Saturday at the University of Toronto Art Centre. I could pontificate about the art, but it boils down to this: it's free and incredible and a must-see.

That said, I'm a bit sad about the lack of promotion. Part of the challenge is that it's split across three galleries (two locations at U of T downtown and the remainder at U of T Scarborough). The other challenge is that their website lacks a tagline or any other form of simple description to help people understand what the exhibit is all about.

And so, since I love the show so much, I tried to fix the problem. I settled on trying to convey two things:

- the show provokes a wide range of strong emotions
- the show includes diverse, inclusive artwork

There are a bunch of other small improvements the current website could integrate, starting with more images of the art itself. But a tagline, or equivalent entry point for potential viewers, seems like the right first step. Because they can then use the tagline to better promote the show through social media and other channels.

Why did I do this? Not because I'm a marketing genius, a copywriting wizard, or a crackerjack designer looking for a reason to show off. I did this because I was genuinely moved by the artwork I saw. I did this because I'm proud of our city for supporting a collection of art related to the Pan Am & Parapan games that avoided being a room filled with watered down, up-with-people, mush. And I did this because I saw a constructive way of solving a small part of their promotional challenge, instead of just complaining.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Words if necessary, but necessarily a wordy manifesto

Last week I had a pretty decent idea for a personal creative project. I’m not going to give much away, but when I shifted from light bulb to capturing the project on paper, I found myself doing something unusual: I didn’t just puke a bunch of words onto the page. I love using words as a cheap way to prototype an idea, but taglines and paragraphs aren’t always the best approach.

This time out, what felt most natural and appropriate for my web-based creative project was a script for a 60-second video. Understand, however, that I’m not doing a Kickstarter or a MegaGogo campaign. Having an explanatory video for my creative project certainly isn’t a bad idea, but it wasn’t an obvious first choice either.

The reason I mention my script-first approach is that I tend to overlook video due to my print journalism background. Despite all the digital copywriting and content strategy work I’ve done over the past five years, my default definition of content is still words, with the occasional nod to icons and infographics. In my defence, video can be expensive and time-consuming if you don’t want it to look like garbage.

I really enjoyed writing the script, especially because it quickly turned into something playful and fun, rather than yet another mini-manifesto. The script also helped me visually define the tone and style of the project – something that might inform the look and feel of the site design down the road. There’s also an energy and pace to the video that would be very difficult to convey through any other format.

Although it’s far from exhaustive, the script offers a concise project definition: here’s what I decided to do, and why. And, finally, I can take the key messages from the video and use them to develop headlines and body copy. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a 130 word script.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sexist Chumbox

Good news everyone! Conclusive proof that chumboxes are devoid of meaningful content and sexist to boot!

Hot court reporter? That's your file name? Really?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Junction Triangle t-shirt featuring the serpentine streets of Symington and Sterling

I woke up this morning and discovered a tweet of mine was getting some attention.
I have no interest in getting into the hyper-local, non-lucrative, t-shirt business, so here is the jpeg I used to make my shirt. I bought my shirt at H&M and went to Toronto Tees to get it printed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Baby Favela

At first we barely noticed the baby hobos. Their encampment on the edges of our suburb was unruly, yes, but small. Tins of Enfalac heated over small fire pits, the occasional odour of amateur s’mores wafting into our cul-de-sac.

But strength in numbers should never be underestimated, and the babies eventually reached critical mass. They migrated south, from Markham down to North York and then still further, until the toddler tribe alighted upon the Danforth. By then they were hungry for all that they had been previously denied. They squatted on patios, in dive bars. The moment they saw weakness, they would bully or intimidate.

(Inspired by a photo from Rob Elliott).

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Seeking female vocalist for SubPox, Toronto's most Gen-Xcellent 90s cover band

July 30, 2015: Since context is critical, I should mention we found a singer. Feel free to read this anyway.

[After a dozen frustrating Craigslist exchanges, my options were: a whiny rant or this 1,300 word masterwork. Enjoy.]

As is often the case in my creative endeavours, I have formed a cover band entirely ass-backwards. It is now clear to me that I should have first located a female singer and built the band around her. The idea behind SubPox, from the outset, was to avoid "four dudes on stage" syndrome. Reliving my youth by forming a cover band was already somewhat cliche -- I didn't want to compound matters by reinforcing the patriarchy.

But what I did instead was assemble a wicked setlist of hidden gems from the 1990s. Then I found a fantastic bass player and a stellar drummer and we practised until every song was airtight. Only then did I start looking for a singer. My experience with Craigslist indicates that this was not the best plan of attack, because the moment I send a prospective singer the setlist, I never hear from her again.

Since I don't own a time machine, my only option is to work with what I've got. And what I've got is a killer three piece with 10 awesome songs. So allow me to give you a personal backstage tour of our setlist so you can better understand why joining SubPox is the best decision you'll make in 2015.

Song #1: Tractor Rape Chain, Guided By Voices
I've seen GBV play live at least four times, and each concert was nothing short of transcendent. If I had my way, we'd cover the entire album from front to back, but for now it's just "Tractor Rape Chain" -- which has absolutely nothing to do with rape whatsoever, because our band is composed of cool, smart sensitive dudes, not nu-metal mooks who show up 40 minutes late to practice, stinking of pot, lips still moist from the 1183ml bottle of Black Ice 6.1% they just chugged in an alley. (By the way, if you want to sing the chorus as "tractor rake chain," we are 106.1% okay with that.)

Song #2: Sugartune, Sloan
It's no secret that "Underwhelmed" would be more of a crowd-pleaser. But a female vocalist singing about a university guy with a crush on a girl wouldn't make that much sense. Besides, the harmonic lilt of "Sou-ooo-nd" is impossible to resist.

Song #3: Wrong -- Archers of Loaf
The Archers of Loaf were never really interested in making it easy for people to like them. When you call your first album Icky Mettle you're clearly not interested in mainstream attention. But awkward name aside, Icky Mettle is a great album that has aged well. I was tempted to pick their big hit ("Web in Front") but this song is more dynamic and lyrically interesting.

Song #4: Dig Me Out -- Sleater-Kinney
Did you lose your shit when Sleater-Kinney released a new album and started touring after calling it quits nine years ago? If so, our decision to cover "Dig Me Out" should be reason enough to audition for SubPox. The song is objectively and unequivocally amazing. Go listen to it right now. Trust me. If you don't want to join the SubPox-alypse after hearing this song, you clearly hate music.

Song #5: School -- Nirvana
By law, you cannot form a 90s tribute band without covering a Nirvana tune. But it's tough to call anything from Nevermind or In Utero a hidden gem. So we went all the way back to Bleach. The verse riff is catchy, and you'll enjoy cathartically screaming "I'm in high school again" many times over.

Song #6: Reverence -- JAMC
I saw The Jesus and Mary Chain at Lollapalooza in the summer of 1992 because I am an old person, which helps explain why I formed a 90s cover band in the first place. I didn't listen to Honey's Dead beforehand because there was no Spotify or YouTube or even MySpace back then. This meant you either had to physically own music on cassette, vinyl or CD or know someone who did, since mainstream radio wasn't going to play a band called The Jesus and Mary Chain. Anyway, when JAMC started playing "Reverence" I knew something important was happening. That might sound overwrought, but Jim Reid sounded like he couldn't wait to die on a bed of spikes, to die like JFK, to die on a sunny day, while a symphonic swirl of ugly, brilliant guitar noise shoved him ever further into the existential abyss.

Song #7: NYC -- Interpol
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I know that Turn On the Bright Lights came out in 2002. I am not stupid. I have access to Wikipedia. However, I think "NYC" sounds like a 90s tune, and as it so happens, Interpol was formed 1997. Besides, the chorus is ethereal magic, and playing NYC means I get to run my guitar through both a delay AND a reverb pedal, which gives me more joy than you can possibly imagine.

Song #8: Do You Love Me Now? -- The Breeders
If you want to be part of a band that is happy to crank out a pedestrian cover of Cannonball please look elsewhere. I love that song, but SubPox is a far bolder band. Selecting "deep cuts" means we've had to work harder to find a singer, but trust me, the path less travelled makes all the difference.

Song #9: Touch Me I'm Sick -- Mudhoney
To be selfish, this song gives me an opportunity to showcase my mind-melting fuzz pedal. But rest assured, even people who don't like Mudhoney enjoy this tune. As an extra special bonus, this song is referenced in the film Singles.

Song #10: Rebel Girl -- Bikini Kill
An angry, insistent song that everyone should listen to at least once a week to remind themselves of what it means to be alive. If "Dig Me Out" made you interested in joining our band, then Rebel Girl will seal the deal.

That's it. Those are our 10 songs. Perhaps you like nine of these songs, or eight of these songs, but not all 10. Do not despair. Maybe we can still work together.

What if I told you that we have a few other songs we're still trying to debug, like "There's No Other Way" by Blur or "Fuck and Run" by Liz Phair? Would that further entice you?

Might we be willing to drop "Reverence" if push came to shove? Sure. Will we agree to delete the Archers of Loaf? That is unlikely. But we're reasonable people, with stable jobs, open to dialogue and debate.

I will conclude my appeal by mangling what the late Steve Jobs said to John Sculley*: "Do you want to sing Sugared Ray covers for the rest of your life? Or do you want to join SubPox and change the world?"

* What Jobs actually said to Pepsi's John Sculley to lure him to Apple was: "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?" And I know it's Sugar Ray, not Sugared Ray, but I wanted to mirror the quote as closely as possible. Also, if you made it all the way to this footnote, you are an amazing human being.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Gearyfication of Geary Ave has begun

Stuart Berman wrote a funny and smart Toronto Star article about the gritty pluck and changing fortunes of Geary Ave: 
Though located just steps north of heavily trafficked Dupont St., the unremarkable, one-kilometre-long Geary Ave. — beginning at Ossington Ave. in the east and terminating just past Dufferin St. in the west — exists in the no man’s land between downtown and midtown, an area so unconcerned with keeping up appearances that its modern-furniture knock-off stores actually have names like Modern-Furniture Knock Off.
However, as someone who uses and enjoys the Rehearsal Factory, I'm concerned that this article signals the start of rapid Gearyfication.

Or, to put it in language that everyone understands, "Stuart you ho this is all your fault."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Return on Collision: The Tony Hsieh Story

Excerpts from “Tony Hsieh Is Building a Startup Paradise in Vegas” by Susan Berfield published December 30, 2014 in Bloomberg Businessweek.

When Hsieh met Ashton Allen, co-founder of Rabbit!, he called it a “serendipitous collision.” That was in 2010, at a conference in Hawaii.


“We’re maximizing long-term ROC and ROL, return on collisions and return on luck. We’re accelerating serendipity.”


“We’re starting to understand what opportunities there are that could potentially both generate profitability and also a return on collision,” says Maggie Hsu, who’s focused on business development at the Downtown Project.


Now there’s a consultant who advises entrepreneurs. His company is called ROCeteer (ROC, as in Return on Collisions).


Downs says the Downtown Project is considering leasing some unused property to other developers. Hsieh would become a landlord, earning a return on investment if not collision.


“When we first started, we thought we had to invest a lot in residential, we thought we had to build high-rises or lots of small spaces to get a return on collision,” he tells the executives.


“Someone like me, I’m out in a collisionable way three or four hours a day, seven days a week. So I’m worth about 1,000 collisionable hours a year.”


“We did the math on Jake. When he’s here, he’s out about 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 12 weeks a year. So he’s worth 1,000 collisionable hours, too.”

Hsieh began to apply this metric to investments that might not make money for a while. “Say we want 100,000 collisionable hours a year from an investment. That works out to 2.3 hours per square foot per year,” he says, with a slight smile.


“We’re kind of agnostic about what goes into a space. It’s ‘are you going to yield those collisionable hours?’ If not, we can say no without judging the quality of the idea.”

Determining the number of interactions between people and their value had been Jorgensen’s job. He was the collision scientist, until he was dismissed.


A recent public document from the Downtown Project says: “Goal: 10 million collisionable hours per year inside the llama footprint.” Llamas are Hsieh’s talisman; the 60 acres he owns roughly form the shape of one.


The former collision scientist is in an Airstream. Hsieh has one, too.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Year of 2014 for Ryan

My 2014 was better than my 2013. Here are some reasons:

Take This Job and Love It
I began 2014 gunning for a full-time job, but to repurpose Hemingway’s quote about bankruptcy, I decided to go freelance gradually, then suddenly. I was a freelance journalist for about a decade, and by the end of that cycle I was exhausted with the lack of money, the solitude, the irregular hours and extremely irregular payment schedule.

Content strategy consulting is a much different beast. There are client meetings, office visits, collaboration sessions and other social elements. And when I need to concentrate, I have the flexibility to work from home. From January to June I was gradually busy, followed by a sudden whoosh of projects and presentations. By the end of it all I was tired, but also a bit smarter and a bit richer.

Along with doing, I was able to augment my brain by reading:

* Why We Fail (Victor Lombardi)
* Service Design (Andy Polaine)
* Exposing the Magic of Design (Jon Kolko)
* The New York Times Innovation Report
* UXPin Guide to Minimum Viable Products

I also attended UX Thursday, the best $100 I’ve ever spent on a conference.

Adventures in Mid-Fi
In June I found a bass player for my indiepalooza cover band. Shortly thereafter I found a drummer. And by November we were sounding pretty darn okay. More importantly, we’d agreed on a name (SubPox). But then we had to switch drummers (amicably) and the mad rush of December happened. But I feel 99% confident we will play live in the spring of 2015.

Along the way I bought a life-changing reverb pedal and a life-affirming delay pedal. Together they cover most of my guitar noodling requirements. Which means I’m only two more pedals away from not buying any more pedals for a very long time.

All The Pretty Pictures (and Pixels too)
* Hearing Richard Turley, Erik Spiekermann and Andrew Zolty talk at Design Thinkers in early November.
* Enjoying Pulse Room by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in a nearly empty Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal in July.
* Playing all the indie games at the AGO’s Fancy Videogame Party in February.
* Admiring all the kickass KAWS at This is Not a Toy exhibit (Design Exchange).
* Seeing the work of Tori Foster at Pari Nadimi.
* Experiencing Jacqueries on a warn August evening.
* Nuit Blanche-ing with Between Doors plus Everything and Nothing.
* Touching a bunch of fun stuff at digiPlaySpace in the TIFF Lightbox.
* Loving and not loving the Douglas Coupland exhibit in equal measures at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Word Nerd
* I was Handling Editor for an RRJ feature that won third place from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in the “Specialized Business Press Article” category.
* On June 16 I shared embarrassing moments from my Grade 5 diary at Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids in front of many people at The Garrison. In August my performance was broadcast on CBC radio.
* I wrote about hidden gem Black Mirror for Hazlitt.
* My byline appeared in Applied Arts and Report on Business.
* I volunteered a few times at Story Planet, but it wasn’t until I took part in an Alpha Workshop that I really felt useful. Twenty kids collectively develop a story up to the crisis point and then each writes their own ending. The whole thing takes two hours and somehow it works.
* I went to see Guillaume Morissette read at The Ossington and I’m glad I did.

This Content Isn’t Going to Strategize Itself
As I’m fond of mentioning ad nauseam (because I have SEO-whore tendencies just like everybody else), I organize the Toronto content strategy meetup. This year we were able to get Karen McGrane to give a guest talk. She was very generous with her time and insights and I’m grateful I was able to have dinner with her beforehand.

The Other Stuff
* My friends Graeme and Nadine had a second child in February.
* My friends Adam and Bri got engaged in December.
* My friend Chris threw a delightful house party in January.
* I went to the RC Harris Filtration plant during the February long weekend for an ice-tastic walk.
* I had the “SuperBeautys 2” breakfast special during a 28-hour trip to Montreal in July. It isn’t a great year without one of those.
* I quit Facebook on October 11. I thought it would be a three month absence, but I now think I’ll never return to big blue.
* On April 11 I reached peak Galaga at Get Well with a score of 150,650.
* I finally bought a super-slim Bellroy wallet and it was worth every penny.
* I’m now the sort of person who owns a wheelbarrow.