Designing a Birdhouse

Now that I’ve got a few design classes under my belt, I thought it might be interesting to start sharing some of my work here. Today, I’ll begin with a project from last quarter: designing a birdhouse from scratch.

I’d never done anything like this before, so I initially found the prospect pretty overwhelming. But, as you’ll see below, it was actually a lot of fun!

Because an important part of this project was learning about the design process, I’ll walk you through all the steps leading up to the final product.

Step 1: Research.

I started by doing some research on existing birdhouses. What are the essential elements of a birdhouse? How crazy can you make a birdhouse and still have it look like a birdhouse? What’s already out there, pushing the envelope in the birdhouse world?




To expand my imagination even further, I also looked for inspiration in things that were not birdhouses. My favorite thread of research along these lines involved architectural landmarks–what famous structures might look cool as birdhouses? What iconic buildings could I riff on?

Opera House



Images: Cool Hunting // HiConsumption //  Into the Air // // Sydney-City // Declan McCullagh

Step 2: Thumbnails.

Once I was satisfied with my research, I started creating thumbnails of possible birdhouse designs. In this step, no self-censorship was allowed–any idea, no matter how crazy, made its way onto the page. As you can see, I went in a lot of random directions.

Birdhouse design







Open Projector Night

hammer museum open projector night

Yesterday, I went to the Hammer Museum’s Open Projector Night for the first time, and it was pretty awesome.

The event is basically like an open mic night, except for short films. Anyone can submit work–no longer than 10 minutes, in any format–right before the screenings start. Two minutes of each submission are shown, and then the audience raucously decides whether to keep watching or not.

I have to say, after spending over two hours watching short film after short film, the overwhelming feeling I came away with is, well, making films is hard.

Okay, I know that’s obvious, but when you let amateur filmmakers show their work to an auditorium full of people who have no idea what they’re about to see and have no reason to be invested in anything…suddenly, it becomes obvious in a really intense way. Every time a film falters, you feel it. And sadly, nothing makes you appreciate good filmmaking like watching bad filmmaking.

But at the same time, here’s the amazing thing…what is bad filmmaking, anyway? This whole experience reminded me of just how precariously a film can perch between horrifically bad and weirdly good. Sometimes a film can be poorly or bizarrely edited, or totally incomprehensible, or disgusting, and yet…still kind of awesome. That’s the beautiful thing. In the first few minutes of every film (or play or story), the audience is totally game to engage with just about anything you throw at them. (The best description I’ve found of this phenomenon is in Act I of the This American Life episode, “Fiasco.” If you haven’t heard it, you need to stop reading this and go listen to it now.) And the point at which the audience gives up on you is surprisingly far removed–provided, of course, that you don’t bore them. A bad film still has potential; a boring one is dead in the water.

But enough about bad films! The three audience-approved films that “won” last night were in fact quite good:

(more…) is Pretty Cool

The other night, as I was streaming music from Pretty Much Amazing (pretty much the only music blog I know of), gearing up for a few solid hours of design work, I heard this:

And I was blown away. Who was this Katy B? She just turned a One Direction song that I’m vaguely embarrassed to admit that I don’t completely hate…into a One Direction song that I’m unabashedly going to say is pretty much amazing.

Needless to say, I practically tripped over myself to figure out how to favorite it. Quick, Michelle! Before the song ends and its existence is forever effaced from your memory!

At first, I was irritated to find out that Pretty Much Amazing’s streaming player is run by some third-party site called “,” which sounded suspiciously similar to (a site that, unlike Pandora or Spotify, I could never really get into). But I was so desperate to favorite this song that I just went ahead and signed up.

And what do you know? I’m pleasantly surprised. is an online radio app that streams tracks from music blogs all over the web. What an ingenious way to discover new music–and music blogs! I also really love their site design–very clean and modern, but sort of warm and friendly, too. Here’s the front page:

And here’s a user profile:

I haven’t favorited many things yet, but you can follow me here. In the meantime, you know what I’ll be listening to.

14 Books for 2014

Over the course of 2013, I acquired a large number of books.

Some were binge-purchased at the beginning of summer, right before I left New York City (because I knew it would be the last time I’d get to shop at the Strand for awhile). Others were picked up during my subsequent road trip to California, which included lots of stops at interesting bookstores. A few others were discovered when I moved back here, at some really excellent local library book sales.

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to actually reading those books. I blame the fact that I no longer have a daily subway commute, which, when I lived in New York, used to be prime reading time. But I guess I’ve also been sort of preoccupied with trying to figure out the whole career thing. And watching TV.

Now, however, the new year is here–which means it’s time to resolve, finally, to read everything I bought.

So here’s my reading list for this year:

Book photo 1

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been trying to finish this book for awhile now. And by “awhile,” I mean since 2012. But don’t take my slow progress as a slight against Anna Karenina itself, which is every bit the masterpiece of finely observed human emotion that it’s known to be. I’d especially recommend the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition translation, which is so sprightly on its feet, it feels like Tolstoy wrote this stuff yesterday.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Early last year, I started reading Vanity Fair because I was interested in Becky Sharp as an unlikable female character (see also this article). I read the first half on my Kindle, surprisingly enjoyed how funny it was, and then, as with Anna Karenina, got distracted by other new and shiny books. For Christmas, however, I just received this lovely hardcover edition, which is the perfect excuse to bump this one back to the top of my list.


Unbirthday Giveaway

Happy Unbirthday Card

Just wanted to let you all know that Jessica Angeles of Jess Loves This Life is hosting a giveaway this January, during which she will be gifting her readers lots of little goodies…including my Happy Unbirthday cards!

The giveaway is in honor of Jessica’s birthday month, because she wants everyone to be able to celebrate with her, even those who weren’t born in January. Hence, the unbirthday cards. (I knew they would be super useful.)

I discovered Jessica’s blog when she stumbled upon my shop on Etsy (a thoroughly serendipitous occurrence all around). Her posts are honest, sweet, and inspiring–although she’s been through a lot, she still maintains a wonderful sense of courage and optimism. Head over to her blog to learn more about Jessica’s story (and enter her giveaways, of course!).

A Holiday To-Do List

Euclid Street Shop About Photo

Classes ended almost two weeks ago, which means my holiday break is just about half over. Originally, I had planned to accomplish all sorts of Etsy-related things during this time. Here was my to-do list:

1. Research domain registrars.

2. Design cards for Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe even give wedding cards a shot.

3. Redesign shop banner.

4. Complete shop About page.

Instead, here is what I actually spent most of my time doing: