I aim to shape products, interfaces and services that mediate meaningful dialogues between people, systems and their environments within everyday life.


As an avid traveller, I’m a seasoned user of flight search aggregator tools to find the cheapest and most convenient flight that fits my requirements. Tired of scanning through tables of text, I was delighted when I played around with the user-friend Hipmunk, a new flight search tool that visualizes all the flight results in a timeline that makes it easy to read, understand and manipulate.

First off, I love that I can constrain the search to only Star Alliance network since I’ll only fly those airlines to maximize my Aeroplan points.  Once the search is performed, the basic information such as price, airline(s), departure/arrival airports, number of stopovers, stopover airport, flight duration, and departure/arrival times are all colour-coded, organized and displayed in the timeline. Exact details are shown in a popup when you select an individual flight. It hides flights worse than others, decreasing the amount of visual clutter to sort through. In addition to the ability to sort by price, stops, arrival/departure times and duration, Hipmunk can also sorts by agony, which co-founder Adam Goldstein describes as

..a combined function of price, duration, and number of stops—basically the total agony you’ll experience in your butt and your savings.

The draggable departure and arrival times on the visual timeline is not groundbreaking, but it’s definitely a refreshing alternative to the existing flight search engines.

And finally, I gotta give brownie points for the awesome name.

via FlowingData


Axis Maps produced a gorgeous series of typographic maps illustrating geography through typography. The works appear as a typical maps viewed from afar, but close-up details reveal only words comprising the landscape. As described by the creators:

Created as a labor of love, these unique maps accurately depict the streets and highways, parks, neighborhoods, coastlines, and physical features of the city using nothing by type. Only by manually weaving together thousands upon thousands of carefully placed words does the full picture of the city emerge.

Some more interesting typographic posters at Ork Posters


Europe’s cultural, ethnic, religious, and political diversity naturally leads to its various nationalities developing stereotypes of the Others. Graphic designer Yanko Tsvetkov created a series of entertaining maps to give us an idea of a few countries’ perspectives of their neighbouring states.

It’s interesting to note how these stereotypes typically reveal more about the country (or our perception of the them) that is doing the criticizing.

Europe according to Britain

Europe according to France

Europe according to United States

Via FlowingData


Newsweek provides a fascinating interactive visualization that compares the rankings of the world’s best countries by economy, politics, health, and quality of life.


One of my favourite bands, Arcade Fire, has collaborated with Google and writer/director Chris Milk to create an experimental video for their song “We Used to Wait”. Made to play in Google Chrome, The Wilderness Downtown starts off asking for the address of your childhood home and then becomes in an incredible audio and visual experience that uses choreographed browser windows of varying sizes popping open or closing and displays animations of digital flying birds flying from one window to the next and a pair of feet running along a street. All of that builds up to a climax when images of your street and childhood home are blended into the video, creating moments of surprise, delight and nostalgia. Self-reflection and sentimental thoughts are triggered near the end with pause allows you to write a message to your younger self, after which animated trees sprout all along your old street.

Using HTML5 technology, the collaborators have created a technologically impressive and creatively piece of work to create an awe-inspiring audio/visual experience.


I came across a great article talking about interaction design as a high-level problem solving process that can take on a strategic role in organizations and society. Designing interactions has gone beyond simple input/output interfaces; it engages in holistic system design in which the individuals, organizations and technology involved are understood and considered.

Designing the interactions people have with other people, with organizations, and with systems is both a simple and a complex undertaking. Simple in that the mechanics of an individual interaction can be well-defined and articulated. The problem, and the solution, can be narrowed down significantly. Indeed, so simple can interaction design seem at times that the discipline is often collapsed to a plane of request-response interfaces that sit between the participants—the design of a web form; the layout of an ATM machine; or a ticketing booth for a public bicycle share scheme […]

This simplistic view of interactions and their design, is not the only view, nor the most appropriate. When designers apply their more holistic lens to the design of interactions it becomes clear that the practice is a much more complex and deeper undertaking […]

As designers of interactions broaden their perspective and take a higher level view of the problem, they simultaneously make another transition: they stop solving interaction design problems and begin solving problems with design. And it is in taking this step that designers—of all types—begin to play a more strategic role in the organisations and societies for which they work.

Source: Core 77


The places people experience in a city differ depending on whether they are tourists or locals. Mapping geo-tagged photographs illustrate the distinction between tourist shots (red) and local shots (blue) in Montreal. These maps tell a narrative of one’s journey through a city through either the eyes of a local or tourist, highlighting the varied points of interest of each group. And indeed, they are usually quite representative of people’s expected patterns of movement.  More city maps here.

Source: Urban Photo


A visualization mapping of how different cultures across the globe attribute different meanings to colour. Not only is it interesting to compare the differences in how colours are perceived, but also how certain attributes or values carry meaning in a culture or not at all.

Source: Information is Beautiful


A fun tag cloud of my delicious tags. Generated by Wordle.


I will be taking part in a group exhibit running from May 14 to June 12, where I’ll be showing a few pieces from my ongoing Intersection of Memory series. Opening reception is tomorrow night, so hope to see you there!


May 14 – June 12, 2010

Opening Reception: Friday, May 14, 6pm – 10pm at Twist Gallery

Twist Gallery is pleased to present it’s first photographic exhibition featuring work by photographers Dianne Davis, Andrew Myers, Sabrina Maltese, Clare Samuel, Mimi Cabell, Michelle Li and Sarah Burtscher. These 7 photographers create work that offers an array of personal reflections on nostalgia, the vernacular, and one’s sense of home. Whether critical, intimate, or introspective these artists delve into both their own personal memories as well as cultural memory, creating visual manifestations of them and transforming them in their work . The result is an interesting mix of photography that insists upon the importance of remembrance and memorialization.

Twist Gallery
1100 Queen Street West
(416) 588-2222

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 6pm

Twist Gallery is a 5000 square foot social event and art venue located at 1100 Queen Street West in Toronto. Twist Gallery showcases emerging and established artists, exhibiting a variety of contemporary art practices, as well as hosting various cultural events.


Images from the 2nd annual Toronto Cupcake Camp event on May 2, 2010.


Interesting visualization of the tragic oil spill.

via VisualEconomics

Also, check out Boston.com’s The Big Picture for imagery of the devastation.


Just how fast is the new Google Chrome? Faster than a flying potato, sound waves and lightning!


Today I encountered the a problem where simplifying isn’t quite so simple. When is it necessary to reduce elements and when do you need to add elements to maintain clarity and usefulness? My meeting today with a colleague engaged in this discussion that involved a lot of Photoshop experimentation regarding a special use case of our application. At this point, we still have not decided on an appropriate design, but I happened to just come across an excellent post, Simplicity isn’t that simple.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “less is more,” overused, and here the author sums up the complexity in designing for simplicity.

This may seem overly philosophical, but as my co-author, Josh Porter, said recently, “Simplicity is much more than the trite “less is more” we so often hear. Simplicity is… about clarity.” And clarity comes from constant refinement.

John Maeda’s First Law of Simplicity states: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. Refinement that is thoughtful, calculated, and whenever possible and appropriate, based on data is one of the fundamental tools of any designer.

via 52 Weeks of UX


A humourous, yet useful guide to selecting a typeface.

via julianhansen.com


This month’s Toronto edition of the UX Book Club focused on Thoughtful Interaction by Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman, who take an academic and theoretical approach to discussing the field and practice of interaction design. Most of us at the meeting found the writing to be a bit dry and that it jumped from one thought to the next without diving deeper to expand into details of the topic.

We had the pleasure of having one of the authors Erik Stolterman join us via video conference for an engaging Q&A and discussion session. The discussion covered topics such as: how thoughtfulness and reflective thinking makes one a better design practitioner, reflection in action versus reflection on action (the words of David Schön), explaining a rational design process to a junior designer is not what you actually DO, good design versus efficient design, and the importance of making a good case for the design process.

Related to the field of interaction design specifically, Stolterman brought up these interesting comments and ideas for further thinking and reflection:

  • interaction design does not have a long tradition as other design fields such as architecture or industrial design so it ends up borrowing a lot of theory, language, and  studio/critique techniques from other design areas, yet because interaction design is more future thinking and is constantly changing, is has become more open/collaborative, theoretical, and intellectual-based than its other design counterparts
  • future work will shift from software to the physical world of products and spaces – what kind of material will we be working with in 10 years?
  • ethical considerations come into play in how will we influence public and society as a whole; in designing the future world and its behaviours, norms and activities we must consider a social- and cultural-specific context
  • “deception of the small steps” refers to continually adding more interactivity slowly into our daily lives. So where will these small steps eventually take us? And what are “natural” and acceptable changes?


Charting the Beatles is an ongoing project exploring the music by the Beatles through infographics. The series of visualizations take data from secondary sources like sales statistics, biographies, recording session notes, sheet music, and raw audio readings to illustrate the song keys of each album, the band’s working schedule, and the ways in which they self-reference their songs, etc. They’re really beautiful and draw you in to read the all the details. This detailed tracking reminds me of Feltron‘s data-tracking of his everyday routines. Via information aesthetics.


elleli.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/How-Bogota-Streets-are-Numbered-and-Named_small.png” alt=”” width=”112″ height=”141″ />

Source: wikipedia

Colombian cities and towns are mostly organized on grid plans, where streets running north-south are known as Carreras and streets running east-west are Calles. Other types of streets include Diagonales and Transversales. Street orientation is quite simple as they are numbered sequentially.

The most interesting aspect is their addressing system, which consists of a series of numbers in the form Calle 23 No 5-43, for example. This address refers to the building on Calle 23, 43m from the corner of Carrera 5 toward Carrera 6. Given any address, it’s possible to accurately pinpoint any place using this format, making it one of the most precise addressing systems in the world. Quite an easy and practical wayfinding system.


I just read an interesting article by Adam Richardson that responds to Donald Norman’s view of design research. Although Richardson a

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grees with much of what Norman says, he disagrees with Norman’s statement of the role of design research as being fundamental to incremental improvements to already existing solutions but useless for creating innovative breakthroughs. For example, technological inventions such as the airplane, automobile, telephone, radio, television, computer, personal computer, Internet, SMS text messaging, and cellphone were technological revolutions in which design research did not play a role. Richardson points out that in the inception of these breakthroughs, formal design research as we currently know it did not exist. However, he points out that a form of design research was employed in order to determine a particular user need and to develop and evolve the technology to meet the need.

I agree with Richardson’s rejection of how Norman defines design research as user research:

Design research has many definitions, but within the product cycle, it consists of studies aiming to understand the activities, desires, and needs of the people for whom a product or service is desired. Design researchers use a wide variety of methods, but all of them, whether it be ethnographic observations, systematic probes, or even surveys, questionnaires, and focus groups aim at one thing: to determine those hidden, unspoken needs that will lead to a novel innovation and then to great success in the marketplace.

Design research has a much broader scope that not only encompasses user research but also technological research and market research, which provide a more comprehensive understanding of problems leading to more insightful and compelling solutions. One interesting and important point that Richardson makes is that designers need to find a balance between analytical research and inspired creativity. If focused too much on user research and finding evidence to back up every single design decision, we lose opportunities in discovering those inspirational ah-ha moments.


I’m starting to get back into some fashion photography, which I had started about 4 years ago. This shoot was inspired by the vibrant colours of birds and set in a forest by my house. My sister did a great job of the fashion styling.

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Clockwise from top-left: Golden-Breasted Waxbill; Indian Blue Peacock; Buff-Bellied Hummingbird; Red-Throated Sunbird.

More pictures on Flickr.


The CASCON conference wrapped up last week so here’s a bit of a summary of a few more interesting talks and workshops I attended.

Technology of Google Wave

Alex Nicolaou, Mobile Engineering Manager at Google, presented an inter

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esting keynote about Google Wave. He introduced the concept and the idea behind Wave for those who were not familiar with it. He talked about some cool product features I didn’t know about such as grammar-based spell check that can be implemented for various other languages (and perhaps even for programming languages?), uploading photos to create a shared album and access control to different parts of the Wave and private annotations. In terms of platform, robots and gadgets can be added to and embedded in Waves for added interactivity and extended functionality.

As someone who has previewed Google Wave and had been initially confused with the entire application, I posed the question: The current email platform is very simple and easy to use, but using this new paradigm of combining chat, email and Google docs all into one, there seems to be mixed reactions so far. How does Google envision the widespread adoption of the application when the user experience is complex and confusing?

Alex explained that Google didn’t predefine specifics on how one can or should use Wave. Since it does so many things, there are many possibilities in the patterns of usage and behaviours that will emerge. The most interesting uses would be the unexpected activities that were not initially designed for that can arise. I later found a site that lists a wide variety of possible use cases in different contexts, so it will be exciting to see what can come out of Google Wave.

Sensor-Based Support of Clinical Contexts in Hospitals

This engaging workshop was conducted by Mark Chignell, director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Toronto. He introducted the use of sensors as a tool in facilitating smart interactions to understand context and situations of our environment so that humans can work smarter, not harder. Smart interactions for health care is significant because of the criticality, complexity and richness of data within the sector. For example, using sensors to identify problematic clinical contexts can provide decision support, simplify tasks, and improve doctor/patient interactions. We had a guest scientist/physician, Dr. Jacques Lee, from Sunnybrook Hospital participate in the discussion, which was quite valuable in understanding the current processes and problems and gaining feedback about idealized scenarios and user study evalutions presented by IML researchers.

Dr. Lee presented an interesting topic that he specializes in: sensing and preventing delirium in the emergency department (ED). Delirium is an acute brain failure that is preventable, common, and is yet easy to miss and lethal. Approximately 30-35% of patients develop delirium as they remain immobile in the ED, but many of these patients are sent home because the condition was never detected by the doctor. Delirium can usually be detected by sensing abnormal extremes (hyperactivity or inactivity) and by testing direct cognitive tasks. Accelerometers attatched to the thigh or behind the ears to sense hyperactive motion are possible solutions for indicators. Questions of practicality and acceptance then must be considered including the visual appearance and obtrusiveness.

Overall the workshop delved into some interesting discussions between designers, researchers, healthcare specialists and technologists regarding the future of sensor-based technologies that can be used to improve current healthcare processes and human-computer/human-human interactions.


La semaine passé, j’ai reçu une invitation pour essayer Google Wave que Google a récemment introduit. On dirait que c’est le nouveau mode de communication et collaboration en ligne, avec l’objectif de révolutionner la façon dont on envoie des courri

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els. À présent, les courriels restent simples et utiles dans nos vies quotidiennes, mais il y a quelques problèmes : il y a beaucoup de copies et versions du même courriel qui sont créés et envoyés pour chaque destinataire, on ne peut pas intégrer des contenus de richesses comme des vidéos, des diaporamas, ou des cartes, on doit faire des citations manuelles pour répondre à une partie d’un message et finalement, il n’est pas facile à envoyer une réponse privée à seulement quelques personnes dans un groupe message. Par suite, Google Wave traite une conversation comme un document en direct où toutes les participants partagent une seule copie de ce document. Ce concept permet tous les participants de se collaborer dans le courriel en temps réel.

Après avoir essayé Google Wave, j’étais tellement confus avec l’interface utilisateur. À mon avis, je trouve ce nouveau paradigme de combiner Gmail, Google Docs et Google Talk ensemble un peu déroutant parce qu’au départ, on dirait qu’il est comme une messagerie instantanée glorifiée et les chaînes de conversations sont désordonnées et ne sont pas linéaires. Cet outil est encore en avant-première et n’est pas très pratique, mais afin qu’il soit adopté si répandu comme les courriels on doit chercher des situations intéressantes dans laquelle on peut l’employer.


Today was my first day at IBM’s CASCON conference featuring talks and workshops from industry leaders and academic researchers.

Computing for a Smarter Planet


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conference was kick-started with a keynote session by Martin Wildberger from IBM Canada speaking about Computing for a Smarter Planet. As the world becomes smaller, flatter and globally integrated, companies are adjusting their business processes to fit into this transforming ecosystem. As a result, technological solutions are providing businesses innovative and strategic ways for social change.

Wildberger describes our world as becoming instrumented through RFID and ubiquitous technologies, interconnected by networks, process chains and horizontal integration, and intelligent as we collect more data and information. The more data available can provide new insights and thus new intelligence to spur a process of innovation for smarter work, smarter food, or smarter telecom to name a few.

An interesting example discussed was the idea of smarter cities, in which we can incorporate sensor technologies through the infrastructure to make cities cleaner, safer and more efficient. The use of ubiquitous technology can effectively change social behaviours: traffic congestion and pollution in Stockholm was greatly reduced by automatic charges based on flow and time of day, acoustic sensors and recorders in Chicago allow police to triangulate the source of a gunshot, and drivers looking for parking in New York City can be immediately notified of the location of a free parking spot.

Notification Design in Collaborative and Social Networking Environments

This workshop looked at technology as interruption in our daily lives. Joanna McGrenere from UBC presented her research on notification design in the Jazz collaborative development environment before we broke into small groups to examine and discuss instances of notifications in technology, systems and devices. Phone rings, emails, and calendar reminders are obvious examples of notifications as are less noticeable forms such as seat belt signs, PA systems, traffic lights, microwave beeps and elevator floor signs to annoying examples like fire alarms and alarm clocks.

So when does notification become interruption and when are interruptions considered disruptive? We determined that notifications interrupt when they make us stop one activity to attend to the notification. Phone calls and alarm clocks are interrupters while seat belt signs and traffic lights are not.

In terms of the level of disruption that these interruptions cause, it depends on the context of the situation in which we find ourselves, the content of the interruption and how valuable it is to us, how much control we have over the situation, and the frequency and duration of the signal. A false fire alarm is then considered a huge disruptor as it has no value to us, forces us to evacuate a building, and continually signals off loudly for an extended period of time. Another big disruptor occurs when software/OS updates take full control of our system and we are left twiddling our thumbs in front of the screen until it has completed.

The subject of the new Google Wave came up in regards to its playback concept, in which the non-linear collaborative discussion can be played back see how the conversation unfolded in context.This could be an interesting platform in which notifications can be eliminated; rather than receive notifications every time an update has been made and by whom, users can now simply access the conversation whenever they want and still remain in the know.


La semaine passée, j’ai fait une courte présentation sur l’avenir du Canada en 50 ans en focalisant au sujet de la technologie.

Je vous présente mes idées en commençant avec une histoire moderne en bref, puis je me suis concentrée sur les idées de

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l’information, la communication et la sécurité. Je vais parler des conséquences possibles de l’avenir fondé sur les tendances courant. Ma présentation commence premièrement avec la situation négative, puis suivi de la situation positive.


Dans l’histoire moderne d’humanité, nous avons observé beaucoup de changements et progressions technologiques qui sont responsables de la transformation de notre société et le monde entier.) En général, ces progressions technologiques ont un aspect positif et un aspect négatif.

Par exemple :

  1. La presse typographique de Gutenberg est considérée comme une révolution d’informatique qui propage et préserve la connaissance. ette connaissance encourage l’individualisme, mais en même temps, à cause de cette révolution d’informatique la censure est devenue plus stricte.
  2. Les téléphones relient les personnes à longues distances ensemble, mais ils peuvent être aussi sujet d’être sur l’écoute (« tapped »).
  3. La radio et la télévision ont permis les émissions et l’éducation répandues, mais peuvent être aussi soumis à la propagande.
  4. L’internet nous permet de communiquer avec n’importe qui à travers le monde, mais toutes les communications sur le World Wide Web sont des messages qui peuvent être lus et tracés.

Surtout, dans les dernières décennies, le progrès technologique est composé de l’internet, les téléphones cellulaires, les télécommunications sans fil, les télécommunications au temps réel, les conférences par vidéo, la collaboration à distance, etc. Ces nouvelles technologies sont devenues omniprésents (partout à la fois « ubiquitous ») et nous permettent de relier avec les autres à travers les frontières géographiques.


Au présent, il y a beaucoup de modes de sécurités et surveillances qui nous protègent. Beaucoup de pays ont déjà introduit les passeports électroniques et le Canada va les suivre en 2011. Ces passeports incluent une puce informatique (« computer chip ») avec une photo numérique qui contient l’information biométrique comme les empreintes digitales et des scanners du visage et de l’iris. Dans l’avenir, le gouvernement peut implanter des traceurs aux corps de chaque personne pour les traquer partout et autour du monde.

A cause de l’influence politique des États-Unis sur le Canada pour la surveillance et la sécurité vis-à-vis du terrorisme, la société canadienne va devenir un monde pareil à celui d’Orson Welles dans son livre 1984 où les citoyens sont toujours sous surveillance. Tout nos détails et informations personnelles et tout ce que nous faisons – soit les communications, soit les conversations, ou même des habitudes comme nos modèles de mobilité et chaque mouvement dans nos maisons – seraient surveillés et enregistré dans une base de données ( « database ») massive.

Dans ce monde de conflit, les caméras sont omniprésentes pour exiger le contrôle social. Avec les dangers de bioterrorisme et les maladies, il y aura une augmentation de télécommunication au lieu des rencontres personnels : le résultat de ces événements est une diminution du contact humain et des individus deviennent plus isolés.



Dans 50 ans, la technologie omniprésente et la réalité augmentée sera intégrée dans nos vies et nos environnements quotidiens. C’est-à-dire : toutes nos tâches et actions vont être plus facile à faire, plus accessibles et plus pratique.

On peut vivre dans une société sans argent physique où on peut simplement porter une carte électronique comme un portefeuille numérique. Avec cette seule carte on peut choisir le contexte pour l’usage, soit une carte de crédit, soit une carte de santé. Quand on fait des achats, on peut simplement sortir du magasin et le totale des achats serait déduit automatiquement de notre compte en banque avec la détection d’un portefeuille numérique.

La connectivité de peuples par la technologie encourage la liberté de l’information, l’inclusion et l’égalité. Dans ce monde toutes les personnes peuvent communiquer avec n’importe qui, n’importe où, dans n’importe quelle langue avec une traduction de langage au temps réels.

Parce que la technologie sera moins chère, elle va être disponible à tout. Mêmes les pays en développement peuvent offrir leurs citoyens les téléphones mobiles ou les portables pour leur permettre de se communiquer et de s’informer. Dans l’avenir, cette connectivité permettra à ces personnes d’être plus éduqué et productive et d’avoir plus de possibilités.

Alors, en 50 ans, il n’y aura plus les inégalités sociales et nous serons tous relié avec l’un à l’autre.



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last” src=”http://michelleli.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/deadbeatblast.jpg” alt=”deadbeatblast” width=”160″ height=”241″ />Torontonians came out in droves last Saturday for the 4th annual “free all-night contemporary art thing” that ran from sunset to sunrise. It’s spectacular to see such an event bring out so much people and liveliness out to the streets during the wee hours of the night to experience city-wide art exhibits. Projects ranged from the playful and participatory to the haunting and mysterious.

Of course, this type of creative happening also brings out spontaneous activities unplanned by the city: buskers with fire and chainsaws, collectives encouraging group gatherings in the middle of the street, and my favourite, an awesome 8-bit musician by the name of deadbeatblast performing electronic music using the sounds from playing GameBoy and Nintendo games.

Unfortunately in the 6 hour span I was out, I didn’t get the chance to see all the exhibits on my must-see list and completely had to skip out on an entire zone. It’s become a victim of its own success — meaning huge lineups and massive crowding. Some projects had up to 75 minute waiting times, such as the fantastic Space Becomes the Instrument (but quite worth it in the end.) In total I probably waited around 2.5 hours in lineups, which was a horribly inefficient way to spend my time.

Below maps the highlights of my evening from 10pm to 4am.


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