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Kai Wang

Writings

Around Iceland

Iceland is just a gorgeous land to visit. The vast landscape, the stunning waterfalls, the rustic looking Icelandic horses, the wonderful array of exotic food, and the Aurora Borealis can quickly exhaust words associated with describing beauty.

I got to visit the island nation with a couple of friends in March. We rented a camper van stacked on top of a truck, and travelled around Iceland. You can probably drive the entire go around in less than a day, but why would you.

We parked, and slept next to a waterfall with the moon in the backdrop, eating Top Ramen. For a country with a small population, the infrastructure is fairly complete. Yes, you will be crossing over plenty of single-lane bridges, but you can count on showering in hot spring water. And yes, the driving conditions can get pretty bad, where your path is almost completely blocked by the snow drift, but there is almost always a swimming pool even in the smaller towns. Sure, the cost of living may be expensive, but you get to eat whale (common minke whale) in one of the two countries where it’s legal to (the other being Japan).

Iceland is one of the countries that you can’t quite get enough of in one season. I will be visiting again to check off the rest of the things I didn’t get to do this time around (i.e. scuba diving in between the 2 tectonic plates?!).

Link opens to photo page on Flickr.

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also available on Flickr.

Poster for BCCC Welcome Night 2014

The theme for this year’s Welcome Night is ‘Freedom’. Using John 8:32 as the backdrop scripture, I used an image of chain to underline the contrast of freedom and being shackled.

Image through Creative Commons.

“The Most Difficult Thing I have Ever Done”

I was going to Tanzania, and I really wanted to try to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. It just look so picturesque in the post cards, and I know I will regret it if I didn’t at least try.

Getting to the place where I can start climbing was part of the fun. After flying into Dar es Salaam, I took the 8-hours long bus ride to Moshi, a small town near one of the entrance to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Rather than booking in advance, I started looking for a climbing company after I got into Moshi. I was fortunate to find one that is affordable, and will start climbing in a couple of days.

The entire trip of ascend, and descend took 6 days. During this time, we were hiking for about 5 to 7 hours each day, to get from 6,000 feet to 19,000 feet.

It was an unique experience, and a challenging one. Technically, it is not a difficult climb. The difficulty is in how our body responds to altitude. I started experiencing altitude sickness from day one. And despite going poler, poler (slowly, slowly). I was struggling.

The day of summit proved to be the most daunting. Opting to wake up at 5am, instead of at midnight, I hopde that I would be acclimatized to the altitude enough to climb. With a combo of migraines, I did not get started until it’s past 6am. And for the next 9 hours, my guide, Max, pumped and encouraged me, as we go from 15,000 feet to 19,000 feet.

Halfway through the climb, I was stopping every 10~ steps or so for a short break, vertical or horizontal. The idea of giving up started to creep in, but was quickly dispersed by my guide who kept checking my O2 level to make sure I was not in any danger.

We were the last person to reach the peak that day. I did a couple of video recordings, one for my parents, and one for a friend who was going through cancer treatment. Everything after that was a blur.

The climbing group I was with. We had 12 other porters with us, to help with our gears, who are way ahead of us.

Calling it a night just ahead of the Barranco Wall.

I’m the one on the right.

When we finally got to the top.

Walking on the cloud on descend.

The greater the reward, the higher the cost. Upon descend, I was drained – both physically, and mentally. I do not recall ever being challenged this much. I left the experience, feeling like I finally have a better understanding of ‘perseverance‘. Without Max, I would not have made it to the top.

It was definitely the most difficult thing I have ever done, it reminded me how weak my mind could be. But in the end, I was glad that I did it.

I have wrote about my experience on Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora.

Solitude is Regenerative

There was a talk by Ben Fullerton back in 2010, that had the following quote:

“Solitude is in fact, generative…”

In between the jobs, I had a couple of weeks to spare. I decide to seek out that solitude. I took a 50-hour train from Chicago to San Francisco, before renting a car to drive back up to Seattle, through the majestic Redwood National Park, the still Crater Lake, and the

Getting acquainted with the train, and the many faces that will become familiar to me at the end of the 50-hour trip. Some of whom I will sit with at 6am in the morning to watch sunrise, as we sped past the landscape around us.

The dining car was actually more pleasant than I thought. And it’s out of necessity, as it’s the main source of food for many who did not bring a 3-days supply of granola bars.

It took about 4-hours to get from the Golden Gate bridge to the Avenue of Giants, where you are surrounded by tall Redwoods. It’s nature’s cathedral. And as it’s the off season, it’s all quiet once the few cars zoom by.

Heading North, I went inland, and got to Crater Lake. At 10am, with the road freshly cleared. I was one of 10 people looking beyond the crater. The lake is crystal clear, and the only sound you can hear are your foot in the snow. You cannot get more still than this.

Before getting into Seattle, I stopped by a small town along the coast in Oregon, Newport. It had a great seafood place, and a beautiful lighthouse. And if you are lucky, you might be able to spot a whale or two in the horizon.

The weeklong trip gave me plenty of time by myself, to appreciate the beauty of nature, and to be with my own thoughts. I’m often disappointed at my attempts to create epiphany. But towards the end, it doesn’t matter quite as much. I was just glad to have done the trip.

Redesigning Church Bulletin

This past summer, we decide to take our 6-year-old church bulletin, and redesign it.

The redesign involved the reshuffling of information that was previously laid out from a tri-fold design, to bi-fold design. The new design allows for easier folding of the bulletin with better accuracy.

Additionally, the new layout presents a more accessible content – user can refer to the flow of the program without having to flip and look at the program.

Each week, we will either use images that we have created, or ones under Creative Commons as the “cover image” for the week’s bulletin. These images are often ones related to the week’s themed sermons. This way, the reader can be better engaged to the service right from the beginning.

Before

After

Tweaks has been over time in order to increase readability.

Capstone Private Show 2012

It’s that time of the year. Private poster presentation of the semester-long capstone project with our our faculty to get enlist some final feedback.

Cards for Good Friday and Easter/Baptism

Each year, at BCCC, as do many churches around the world, we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection during Good Friday and Easter service. This year, I decide to design a pair of post-card size cards to be given out for the service.

They both measure 8.5cm x 12.2cm.

The cards were designed in Photoshop CS 6, and printed at FedEx using 65lbs paper.

New Orleans is Pretty

Spring break for a graduate student meant shorter trips and less crazy locations. So we picked New Orleans.

Yes, it has it’s party side. Bourbon street goes wild every single night. And the city parties 1 out of 3 days as one of our guides revealed to us there are 153 festivals in the city every year. That’s probably 100 more than most of us get out of our city.

Nonetheless, the city is filled with culture. It’s imprinted in the architecture, the art, the food and the people.

As we get older, we have come to realize why adults like to go to places with good food. Our taste bud had a gratuitous 4 days of fried, fresh, BBQ-ed meat and seafood. That’s worth the 28 hours drive to and back from Indiana.

I love the people, each of them have a character that is undeniably unique and characteristic. It’s not hard to find people opening their mouth and sang beautiful voices, or an old lady giving us a hug as we venture into the first African-American church we have been to. We truly felt like we are been welcomed like a guest.

I love the idea of the Spring Break, not because I can choose to stay home and catch up with the latest Modern Family or even studiously prepare for when the break is over. It is because it gives us a break from what we thought is our life and have the opportunity to appreciate life as it is.

With the predominance of work in our lives – the source of our anxiety and stress alongside fulfillment and enjoyment, we can sometimes mistaken that as Life. It’s not, life is about life. As the cliche saying goes, taking the time to smell the roses.

The 4d3n New Orleans trip was that rose for me. Excellent, excellent rose.

What Linsanity meant to a Designer?


Source: @anthonyalsop

Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin.

Whether you like it or not, that name must have popped up everywhere you look, in all sorts of forms: videos, photoshopped image, memes, analysis, infographs.

I want to say I’m not caught up in all the raves and hypes, that I’m just appreciating his skills. But then I will be lying. He’s a great guy, humble and professional. He’s a NBA player.

There is one thing that others have identified as his weakness: the number of turnovers. I don’t quite remember the stats, but it’s the most turnovers in a number of games since the start of NBA.

Yet, he kept on balling. And that says a lot.

Courage and Readiness

To me, as a designer, that is design courage. He had the courage to continue playing the game in his own style despite the errors that in other situations may have relegated him to the bench.

It also says a lot about his readiness to step up when given the opportunity. His passes, his dribbling, his 3-pointers were all ready when needed.

Think of it this way – his passing is like our wireframing, his dribbling is like our sketching, his 3-pointers are like our concepting or prototyping.

Would we, as designer, have the courage to stand up for our design, and step up when given the opportunity?

It’s a good time to ask these questions, since like Jeremy Lin, I’m also looking for a job.

Look Left

Sometimes we take for granted the simplest things in life. Like crossing the road.

A few days into my Manchester (UK) trip, I start to get really frantic whenever I cross the road. Should I look right, left, right, left and right again? I find myself turning my head multiple time to make sure, absolutely sure that I’m not getting run over by an English driver.

It was horrible.

And then I arrived at Dublin, Ireland. And I’m instantly relieved.

This ‘TURN LEFT/RIGHT’ visual cue helped to relief my cognitive overload. I no longer have to have those tiny stressed out session each time I crossed the road.

This is an evidence for good city planning. The director from Urbanized would have love this small detail.

Design on Demand

Recently, these bicycle repair stations start to sprung up across the IU-Bloomington campus. It has all the basic tools that you may need to repair your bike like wrenches, screwdrivers among others. There is also a basic pump attached to the side.

The repair station is structured so that you can hang up the bike during repair.

I’m not sure what prompted the university to install these stations, but it’s probably safe to assume that there was a demand.

Bike Repair Stations – design on demand.

Complimentary

Complimentary
Complimentary food

Complimentary
Complimentary free drink

Services provides complimentary services. Product provides complimentary products. It gives them a little edge over competitors.

Money aside, it’s these little surprise that brings delight to the consumer.

No More Clipboards

If you have been to an AT&T store in the last 6 month or so, you will notice that in place of a physical clipboard is a “Please sign in here” booth.

It’s basically an electronic sign-in system that asks for basic information for your visit. The system also lets you see where you are in the line and what others’ in front of you are here for, probably giving you a better gauge on the wait time.

Now an interesting thing to note is that, despite having the system in place, the rep on the floor still have to interact with customer who’s coming in the door.

It’s more of an addition than a replacement. And I think it’s organization and feedback adds to the store experience.

3 Day Pass

Insert This Direction / This Side Facing You

In addition to the standard arrow, the added phrase give the instruction another degree of dimension.

*CTA = Chicago Transit Authority.

Good Ideas Elsewhere: Candy Chang

Candy Chang is becoming one of my favorite artist. I first came across her works with the Tenants’ Rights Cards. And she was also in Gary Hustwit’s new film Urbanized where her works in New Orleans were shown.

I really like that she’s a DO-person, that her works, all if not most of them, are participatory that involves people. Here are a couple of things that she has spotted on the go:

Free Maps in Helsinki, Finland

Just push the button and out pops a handy guide and a welcoming feeling.

That’s the feeling you want your tourists to have.

Have Sticker, Will Eat


Such a great idea! I have never flew with Emirates before, but I have heard of their great services. This is another step up. It’s small details like this that makes a difference.

Needs


Designers talk about needs and wants – how much is too much?

I was just in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last week. And at this intersection there are 12 traffic lights too many. Utilizing minimalist design here may seem to be ideal, but could have just an opposite effect of confusing the drivers.

So the question now becomes, is it always bad when there’s 12 traffic lights at an intersection?

Fix Ups

We all need fix-ups sometimes, whether temporary or long-term.

If you could move…


Where will you choose to go?

Highlighting


Color can add layer of dimensions to what may otherwise look like a flat surface.

Urbanized

Today I attended the MOVE session of the Urbanized Summit, and was sitting in close proximity with Urbanized‘s Gary Hustwit without realizing it until it was too late (we were in the IMA cafe).

The Urbanized Summit

It was a marvelous summit/conference. Not that it was anything out of this world, I’m sure everything discussed here had in one way or another entered the mind of the organizer, the panelist or the attendees. But it was the collective effort of gathering people together for a half-day event that focused solely on improving the city for better (Indianapolis in this case).

One phrase that stuck with me was during the panelist session of MOVE, a discussion in regard to moving people around the city through mass public transit. It went something like this,

“grown up cities should provide transit for its people to compete with other grown up cities.”

It make sense right? That the city should attract and retain talents and one basic question in relation to people is, can your city get the people to their respective jobs?

Anyway, it was a good exposure for me despite having close to zero prior knowledge in the area of architecture or urban design.

Urbanized: The Film

Then came the last part of the trilogy1 by Gary Hustwit – following the success of Helvetica and Objectified, both excellent excellent documentaries about type and industrial design.

Gary had amazingly managed to capture a majority of what it is about a city – all the social phenomenal, and squeezed all of that into an 83 minutes film and presented it in a clearly articulate way that people get it2.

I understood that cities are not just cities of steel, concrete, etc. it can be crafted, it can be designed. And like someone mentioned in the film, you can’t simply copy what other cities are doing and try to reenact it, it’s not gonna work. You have to design something that works for your city.

I love the initiatives of people taking up jobs that the government was suppose to do. That the goals are noble.

After the train left and the screen darkened, I have come away having learnt something – that city should be carefully designed, not for novelty, not just for coping with economic development, but for the people. Because, for the same reason as the quote above mentioned, city should be able to attract and retain talents in ways that can further benefit the city. Compromise can come easy with large number of people and limited number of resources, but short-sightedness can be potentially costly in the long-run.

And finally (paraphrased),

It should be parked cars that protects the cyclist not the other way around. – an architect from Copenhagen


  1. Trilogy includes: Helvetica (2007), Objectified (2009) and Urbanized (2011)
  2. My girlfriend who is a music major had no prior knowledge about cities or urbanization got what the film is trying to express & really enjoyed it. That’s good design.