May 27, 2020

Countdown to UC20: Community Building Partners

Unexpected connections don’t occur spontaneously in a vacuum, but as the result of interactions between diverse elements that includes people and the organizations they create. As we find ourselves two weeks closer to UC2020, we highlight the partners that continue to make this event possible.


Intertrend is an interdisciplinary communication agency based in Long Beach, California and MAEKAN’s partner. For over 20 years, Intertrend has helped to connect brands with select communities including a focus on Asian demographics.

Together with MAEKAN, we’ve hosted the first Unexpected Connections conference, our first dinner gathering “Re-examining Truths” as well as our upcoming UC2020 in early June.

Imprint Culture Lab

Imprint Culture Lab is an incubator and culture lab that aims to connect the cultural dots between segment, market and industry. Over the past 10 years, Imprint has brought together and built a growing network of talented minds and leaders through global culture conferences and interactive workshops.

These conferences have included the Unexpected Connections series of events on cross-platform creativity, which was conceived by Imprint.

Imprint Culture Lab’s diverse membership includes many of our speakers at last year’s Unexpected Connections conference, including graphic designer, curator and writer Kenya Hara who gave a talk on his concept and book Ex-formation, a term describing the focus on how little we know or what we do not know as a jumping point towards curiosity and creativity.

Coming Together

Where Hara’s idea of ex-formation questions our tendency to prematurely declare how many things we’ve heard of versus how well we know them, John C Jay’s “Future of Creativity” encourages us to unlearn what we think we know in order to learn again. As these themes have become increasingly relevant this year, we’re reminded that ideas, however entrenched or widespread, are not permanent and can be quickly changed by new ones.

This year, we’re excited to be bringing a new mix of personalities together to sharing new ideas and new takes on existing ones with Unexpected Connections 2020. This livestreamed fundraiser supports charities that are providing COVID-19-related relief, and will be held on Saturday, June 6.

To learn more about Unexpected Connections 2020, check out the event’s website.

May 25, 2020

Making It Up 124: Quibi and tech post-pandemic

On Making It Up 124, Charis and Eugene talk about the launch, rapid demise, and potential futures of Quibi, the new video streaming service. They also talk about how technology has pounced on pandemic-created opportunities and what the post-pandemic tech appetite and landscape might look like.


00:02:51 Quibi
00:28:46 Home screens


May 21, 2020

Hate Your Voice? The Science of Self-Induced Cringe

It’s no secret that most people don’t like to hear themselves recorded (casually speaking at least), but why is that? Why do we cringe when we hear our voices played back, but don’t have the same reaction to say, looking in the mirror?

The Common Assumption

According to Philip Jaekl writing for The Guardian, the most common reason for why we tend to dislike the sounds of our voice is because, when we talk “we receive both sound transferred to our ears externally by air conduction and sound transferred internally through our bones. This bone conduction of sound delivers rich low frequencies that are not included in air-conducted vocal sound.”

You could liken this to when your neighbors turn up the music too loud (or you do this to your neighbors). You might barely hear the words or most of the track carried through some frequencies, but you most definitely feel other frequencies like the bass coming through the walls and floor. That’s your particular experience of the song, but not what it actually sounds like.

But depending on your recording device, it might not pick up the lower frequencies that make our voice sound “fuller” like those that come from our chest. So what you end up hearing are the higher parts that make you sound a lot different than what you’d expect.

We judge like we think we’ll be judged

That said, it seems there’s more to our revulsion than just the physical aspect. There’s an element of social perception that plays a part. Jaekl refers to psychologists Phil Holzemann and Clyde Rousey, who concluded in the ‘60s that we get disturbed by our voice because of the things we might have implied  even if we didn’t intend to say them:

“The disruption and defensive experience are a response to a sudden confrontation with expressive qualities in the voice which the subject had not intended to express and which, until that moment, [s]he was not aware [s]he had expressed.”

In short, we thought we were signaling certain traits we hoped we embodied, but when we hear ourselves again and all the little nuances we never noticed (you ever zoom in on a super high-def image of yourself?), we’re worried about how we’ll come off to others.

According to McGill Neuroscientist Marc Pell, also quoted in The Guardian article, “we may go through the automatic process of evaluating our own voice in the way we routinely do with other people’s voices […] I think we then compare our own impressions of the voice to how other people must evaluate us socially.”

Words unspoken: paralanguage

To simplify, the things we pick up on and nitpick in our recorded voices are all part of our paralanguage, which is concerned with how not what things are said. These paralingistic features include:

  • Accent
  • Pitch
  • Volume
  • Speech rate
  • Modulation (shaping your voice, such as with a loud whisper)
  • Fluency

If you’ve ever taken issue with your accent, nasality or a speech impediment, they likely are connected to how you worry those features are perceived against what’s considered normal.

Still don’t like the sound of your voice?

You might not always have to hear the sound of your recorded voice all the time (especially unenhanced), but with the increase in online voice chats, there’s a high chance people are going to be hearing your voice through technology that just doesn’t do you justice. What can you do?

  • Reread the above: after all, the version of your voice you don’t like is being distorted by a piece of tech that doesn’t reflect how you truly sound. What’s more is that the resulting discomfort likely is all in your head in that people probably aren’t as critical of your voice as you are (but they’re probably critical of their own).
  • Forgive yourself: your voice is distinct, much like how you physically look. You can certainly take steps to make changes, but the essence is something you should embrace. You can’t change your frame, so why try and change the basic quality of your voice?
  • Thoughtful choices: continuing with the physical vs. vocal analogy, you can make thoughtful choices in clothes that flatter your body type if you wanted to. If you think of the way you speak similar to the way you dress, then you can take more care of that too. Slow down, speak clearly, simplify your words, or experiment with “styling” your voice.


May 18, 2020

Countdown to UC 2020: What's New This Year

Unexpected Connections is back for 2020 and this time with an emphasis on supporting creatives deeply impacted by COVID-19. This year will bring back the familiar spirit of exchanging ideas and bringing people together, but will take place virtually and act as a fundraiser for relief efforts.

What’s Been Done Before?

Unexpected Connections was first held in 2017 as a day-long event realized through a partnership between Intertrend and MAEKAN. 2018 was held in 2018 in Long Beach. The day-long event featured a star-studded cast of speakers from across the diverse landscape that is the creative community. Many of these talks offered personal insights and guidance from industry leaders while others served as organic exchanges of ideas from seemingly disparate backgrounds. All of these talks are available to view on

  1. Julia Huang & John Maeda
  2. John C Jay
  3. Jason Mayden & Jun Cha
  4. David Choe
  5. Yimmy Yayo & Charis Poon
  6. Karen Okonkwo & Jeff Staple
  7. Jennifer Ferro & Lindsay Jang
  8. Helen Zia & Madeleine Brand
  9. Kenya Hara

Not exclusive to conferences and large events, the spirit of Unexpected Connections carried into a smaller gathering in 2019 at Namu Stonepot in San Francisco, themed around“Re-examining Truths.”

What’s New This Year?

This year, recent events have made large gathering understandably difficult but by no means impossible! Unexpected Connections 2020 is still happening and it’s coming up soon at that.

Together with Intertrend, we’re looking forward to hosting another selection of outstanding guests who have honed their craft, been deliberate in their direction and shaped their industries and are excited to share all of that with an online audience. Look forward to talks from familiar faces we’ve featured on before like Decatur Dan, Karen Rosenkranz and Jasper Wong, but also some who are hosting their first UC talks ever like Kristen Kish, Carmen Chan and James Whitner.

But aside from sharing ideas, this years talks will be drumming up support for various causes chosen by the speakers including those that serve creatives deeply impacted by COVID-19.

Why this Matters

“The smallest act in the most limited circumstances bears the seed of… boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation.” – Hannah Arendt

The theme of this year’s even is “It All Adds Up.” It recognizes the power of small changes and decisions, that seem although appearing insignificant at first, can produce unexpected positive results down the line.

The world is more volatile and the future more uncertain than usual. We’re being asked to physically stay in place, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take action. Despite the constraints we feel, powerful change can be made incrementally. We can still make decisions on how we spend our time, attention, energy, and resources. No matter how inconsequential a choice may seem, our consistent movement towards the things we value matters. It all adds up.

So save the date and join us online on Saturday, June 6, 2020! For more information, check out the event’s website and follow Unexpected Connections on Instagram.

We are excited to announce that Unexpected Connections is happening virtually on June 6th.

May 7, 2020

The Shifting Signals — Will We Show Off Differently Post-Pandemic?

If we consider the possibility that everything we do is about status-seeking, do world-changing events like the COVID-19 pandemic shift the signals we try to give off in order to match new values?

The Primer on Signaling

In his breakdown of signaling, Julian Lehr references the book The Elephant in the Brain by Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler and specifically two key arguments that it makes:

  1. That most of our everyday actions can be traced back to some form of signaling or status-seeking.
  2. Our brains deliberately hide this from us and others.

The ‘signaling’ aspect of this dynamic implies that many of our actions have the deliberate effect of showing off with the aim of increasing our social status. Lehr lists three areas to illustrate:

  • Consumption: luxury items or not, we conspicuously certain products and from certain brands to illustrate our values overtly, whether or not we believe in the values communicated. We may wear athleisure for instance, but do we actually care about fitness?
  • Charity: the difference between whether we actually care about the causes we support or at least just want to show we care a lot.
  • Education: despite the widespread availability of (free) knowledge, there is something to be said about the continued emphasis on reputable schools and standardized metrics of evaluation (that might have little to do with actual competence)

Regardless of the specific area, his article makes the case for how we unconsciously strive to communicate certain positive things about ourselves through our actions, however obliquely we might act.

Paying for Amplification

Things get trickier when we start to look at the way we signal through software and other digital channels. We might be able to show off pictures of our new physical purchases on our feeds, but we can’t quite signal as effectively with a web subscription like you would niche magazines, though we suppose you could show how seriously you’re taking cooking now by posting a New York Times Cooking subscription.

Regardless, for most digital experiences where the barrier to entry is the same for everyone, you can only stand out (and it’s assumed you want to) by paying to amplify your signal, whether that means being able to send more or longer messages, getting access to other networks, or even something cosmetic that shows you can afford to seem different.

More Noise on the Horizon?

Ana Andjelic explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has killed the modern aspiration economy — of which signaling undoubtedly plays a big part:“In less than a fortnight, it exposed the vulnerabilities of trading in social, cultural, and environmental capital. ‘Access over ownership’ and ‘experiences over possessions’ make great sense if there is access and experiences to be had.”

The crisis has certainly cut off previous pathways of signaling because going out and living it up with reckless abandon has become shameful when compared to the last decade. Does this then mean that our signaling inevitably shifts its weight to different values to boast about (such as health, generosity, and social responsibility over individualism and going against the grain)?

Will the pathways for signaling shift to digital if the consumption of physical experiences never comes back the same? Could the online landscape start getting a little noisier with louder signals from new beacons that just discovered themselves in quarantine? According to Andjelic, it’s already happening with our decisions to self-distance or not.

The Takeaway

This topic has been one we’ve been mulling over a lot recently. In Making It Up #121, Eugene and Charis discussed the role nature/nurture play in signaling, and whether certain products we consume have inherent signaling baked in through the way they’re produced and marketed. For example, while a high-end hand bag is meant to convey quality and luxury, does this message get lost when people buy it because of an influencer’s messaging?  We’re inclined to think (or hope) that most of what we do is the result of at least some part hedonism in that we do stuff because we enjoy it — and not necessarily because we hope we’re gaining social recognition points in the process.

But since we’re only human, we do acknowledge that there are many things we do unconsciously that are neither right nor wrong, but that something else decided for us. Even knowing that this much is true, is there a way we can act genuinely without signaling?

May 6, 2020

Making It Up 123: Animal Crossing and The Last Dance

On Making It Up 123, Eugene and Charis talk about two ways they’ve been spending their time: playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and watching The Last Dance. They discuss how Animal Crossing is an interesting place for brands to add value for gamers, as well as how The Last Dance could only have been made and aired at certain moments in time to have the impact it does.


00:01:42 Animal Crossing
00:29:50 The Last Dance


April 30, 2020

Save Points — Media Consumption

Our latest MAEKAN Open Office had us discussing the changing dynamics around media consumption including business and personal approaches to evaluating media’s role in our lives.

The Community’s Take

🌟 Jeremy L. weighs on the role of the human factor for media to differentiate: 

“Not to draw too many allusions to Throwing Fits, but I think what they succeed is in the personalities of the hosts. And that’s what kind of lodges in your mind all the time when you think of them. So that’s why I actually put Making It Up as your forefront product because that’s what keeps me coming back, at least maybe even for new people to understand what MAEKAN is all about.”

🎙️ Seth F. emphasizes the importance of transparency in media:

“I think that transparency is really interesting because especially in media, it always feels now like whenever you read bigger media if it was a newspaper or a big website or wherever it’s always someone who owns it that’s got an agenda or the writer’s got an agenda or something. But it’s nice to have something that’s just totally honest.”

📱 Kevin K. notes the changing playing field and competitive dynamics between digital media businesses and influencers that produce media:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how digital media is now not competing with other digital media, but digital media is actually competing with ‘influencers.’ Has [MAEKAN] considered that a playing field? Because it’s different. I know from my experience it’s way different at least on the financial sides. I think on the business side it’s way different to build a business in media and make the media thing as an influencer aspect of it.”

April 27, 2020

User Friendly — Chipolo

What it is

Chipolo is a line of Bluetooth trackers (think plastic discs or card) connected to a smartphone app that lets you track your belongings and find them (and your phone).

What it is

A series of Bluetooth trackers (think plastic discs or card) connected to a smartphone app that lets you track your belongings and find them (and your phone).

How it works

  • Pair your trackers with the app via Bluetooth, which Chipolo claims offers a range of 10m (optimal) and up to 60m with a clear line of sight between your device and the tracker.
  • Find your belongings by ringing them from the app, or depending on the model, by voice via Google Assistant or Alexa
  • Find your phone by pressing the button found on the tracker
  • Temporarily use your tracker as a camera shutter remote

Who could use this

  • The frazzled and forgetful who misplace their keys, phone or wallet often
  • Those concerned with theft
  • Owners of pets, children or equivalent precious equipment
  • People who take an inordinate number of selfies and group photos anyway.


  • Chips: the familiar circle-shaped tag you see in the picture that are water resistant
  • Cards: 2.15 mm-thin cards designed for wallets and passports
  • Partner Tags: the Chipolo app handles trackers from partner companies such as Orbitkey’s short “popsicle stick” shaped tracker that goes into its Swiss-army style keychain.

Pros & Cons

  • App can also treat your phone as a tracker so that it shows up on the same map that displays the last locations of your trackers.
  • The chip is available in a choice of colors and has a replaceable generic battery that lasts up to 2 years.
  • The ability to change (but not customize) ringers.
  • The Orbitkey collabo also has a replaceable generic battery (6-month life) and looks unassuming even if it’s not used on the Orbitkey.
  • The ability for the trackers to work in tandem with your phone so if you have your keys with tracker handy, you can double-tap the tracker to ring your phone.
  • Understandably but unfortunately the most valuable tracker (the thin card for wallets) does need to be replaced after about a year. You can trade in old trackers for a 50% discount on the new one. Your old one can then be sent back for recycling for free through their Renew & Recycle program.
  • There were some instances where clicking the tracker wouldn’t ring the phone as intended.
  • There could be more minimalist or customizable widget options with less padding for the home screen. If these were available in a dark mode, that’d be great too.

Should you spend your hard-earned money on this?

  • Eugene: I liked the idea of making a dumb device smart but I simultaneously questioned the need for this. The better answer of whether you need this should probably be “don’t be absent-minded.” I’ve used the tracker to find my phone a few amount of times.Coupled with the fact I live in a small apartment, I think it’s actually a reasonably good thing to have because most people will have larger spaces than what’s the norm in Hong Kong. But don’t get me wrong, this is purely a luxury.I once got ripped a new one by my wife because we spent 15 minutes looking for my keys while we were in a hurry… only to find them hooked via carabiner on my pant loops. The Chipolo could have saved me there.
  • Nate: Like Eugene and thanks to him, I have the Orbitkey version, the card and the chip. Orbitkey for keys, card for wallet and chip for my neckband earphones. So far haven’t encountered any issues and the lost connection alerts work fine (such as when I leave home without my wallet).I’ve always been interested in downgrading the constant handling of a smartphone in my everyday life to just being something that receives, stores and relays information (including music and essential notifications) to wearables instead. I’d be interested to see how Chipolo could be used with automation apps like Tasker to ring my trackers through a smartwatch or the few buttons on my earbuds.Even for those who want it for its intended purposes, I feel the chips with replaceable batteries would be a practical and fairly affordable way to secure different bags of pricier equipment when traveling.

Got comments, suggestions or feedback? We’d love to hear it! Drop us a message through or our Instagram.

April 27, 2020

Making it Up 122: Artists interpreting science and indie mags navigate the pandemic

On Making It Up 122, Charis and Eugene talk about how artists can be good interpreters of scientific innovation. They also discuss how independent magazines are navigating the pandemic and what kinds of adaptations are necessary.


00:05:21 Art and science
00:33:31 Indie mags


April 20, 2020

Making It Up 121: Signaling as a service and the new MAEKAN membership strategy

On Making It Up 121, Charis and Eugene talk about how our unconscious motives result in behaving in ways that revolve around signaling messages, distribution, and amplification. They also discuss the new MAEKAN membership strategy.


00:01:50 Signaling
00:25:23 MAEKAN membership


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