Let me paint you a picture.
I’m sitting here in my pyjamas, on the final day of the year and the decade, eating the last of the Christmas truffles, and feeling somewhat self-conscious about the self-indulgence of writing a year in review.
I’m thinking back over the past 12 months and feeling a mix of pride, sadness and a good dose of “what the hell just happened?!”.
Political events aside (I’m still technically a civil servant until 3 Jan 2020), it’s been a heck of a year work-wise, and I wanted to take a moment to look back and capture it.
So here we go…
I did lots of collaboration
This one reads like a bit of a “misc”, but the common thread in all of it has been the joy of collaborating with people I really respect.
Some of my favourite collaborations this year were, in roughly chronological order:
- prototyping and testing a new version of the GOV.UK Prototype Kit docs with Debs Durojaiye and Rosie Clayton both of whom are awesome and I wish I’d got to work with longer
- running GitHub training for content designers with Nick Colley and turning that into this handy guide on proposing content changes using GitHub
- becoming Adam Silver’s official unofficial articles editor and helping him to publish some excellent articles - my favourite of which is the most recent Building trust as a designer
- planning and running a cross-government workshop to explore design system contribution and assurance with help from the brilliant (and patient) Simon Whatley
- working with the Design System team, as well as Adam Silver, Amanda Kerry, Frankie Robero, Gemma Hutley, Mike Owen, Nadia Huq and Simon Whatley and others from across government to get 6 new patterns published in the GOV.UK Design System
- and most recently, just in time for this review, working with total legend Caroline Jarrett on reviewing some chapters of her upcoming book
I launched this website and discovered the joy of self-publishing
I started blogging on my own platform (thanks to Adam who built this site for me) which has made a huge difference to my motivation and confidence in putting my ideas into the world.
I wrote 9 articles in total, of which my personal favourites are:
- Handling example copy in design systems
- The myth that design systems solve easy problems
- Communicating inclusively beyond our products, services and users
I also published 18 weeknotes which I’ll carry on with in 2020.
I did a tonne of talks
This year, for me, has definitely been the year of the conference.
I hadn’t done much public speaking before but this year I had the pleasure of giving a number of talks, and building my confidence as I went. In 2019, I spoke about:
- Building a design system for everyone at Frontend North East with Tim Paul
- Design Systems documentation at Patterns Day and NUX8
- Enabling contribution to the GOV.UK Design System at Level Up
- How design systems can promote accessibility at Curio Conference
I find public speaking challenging, but I also really enjoy it and I’ve learned a lot from practicing.
I’m hoping to do more speaking next year.
I watched a tonne of public speaking
One of the nice things about speaking at a bunch of conferences this year, was that it meant I got to attend a bunch of conferences this year. I’ve been really lucky to see some brilliant talks and, though I can’t mention them all, I’ve learned something from all of them.
Some of my personal favourites were:
- Ignacia Orellana’s fantastic talk on designing the service behind the GOV.UK Design System at Upfront Conf which she gets extra points for delivering with a broken arm; I had the pleasure of not only watching Ignacia talking about this work, but also doing this work and it’s fair to say that in both cases, she absolutely nailed it
- Ollie Byford's excellent talk on inclusive forms which took us through a fictional GOV.UK service to give a fascinating, funny and incredibly detailed account of the work GDS puts into making services accessible
- Inayaili de León’s reassuring and affirming talk on 5 things that aren’t true about design systems at Patterns Day
- Emil Björklund’s wonderful talk, also at Patterns Day, in which he took us on his journey of Meandering towards design systems
- Vimla Appadoo’s talk at NUX8 on redesigning design in which she asked us to consider our shared responsibility to design ethically, focusing not just on our outputs, but how we get there
- Chris McCrudden’s talk at Curio conference on being less shit which was as funny as it was thought-provoking
- the only talk this year that made me actually cry, given at Curio by photojournalist Miguel Amortegui who talked about using photography to empower people to tell their stories in the very worst of circumstances
10 more blog posts
After a few conversations earlier in the year with people who were struggling to get blogging, I decided to launch an experiment, called 10 more blog posts.
With the help of some very kind people (Lauren Currie deserves a special mention for helping me get set up, and so does Dave House for designing the stickers), I set it up as a buddy system, using Twitter to partner people who wanted to write a blog post, with people who were keen to support them, whilst learning more about the post’s topic.
At my last count, the initiative had generated 18 blog posts, many of which were written by people who’d never blogged before.
My workload towards the end of the year meant that my intention to properly analyse the experiment and plan next steps fell somewhat by the wayside.
But I’m still really proud of what those of us who took part achieved, and I plan to follow up as soon as possible in the new year.
I left GDS :(
Without doubt the biggest event of this year has been my decision to leave GDS and, for the moment, the Civil Service.
Working there for the past 3 years has been hands down one of the best and most impactful experiences of my life. I met so many incredible people in my time there, many of whom I think will be friends forever.
My time at GDS has shaped who I am, personally and professionally, and helped me to understand what matters to me.
I’m immensely proud of the work I did with the GOV.UK Design System, and grateful for having been given the support and encouragement I needed to do it.
Even though it was the right time for me to go, it was a difficult decision to make.
But that’s been made a little easier by the fact that…
I landed an exciting new role for 2020
I’m going into 2020 as a contractor. I wanted to try it out in the hope it would give me more flexibility, more time and resources to spend on the things I care about.
I felt sure it was the right move for me, but that didn’t stop me from feeling pretty terrified when I handed in my notice with nothing to go to.
Luckily, I landed pretty much the best role I could have asked for to kick-start my contracting career: Product Manager for Babylon Health’s design system.
I’ll be joining them in January and I cannot wait to get stuck in. I’ve been introduced to some of the team already, and everyone I’ve met so far has been utterly lovely.
I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into a new challenge.
Happy new year
So that brings me to the end of my self-indulgent year in review.
A lot of great things have happened this year, and a lot of not-so-good things that I haven’t covered here). Without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing about 2019 has been the people.
If I’m feeling a bit low, my Dad always tells me to hang in there, because you never know when you might meet a person who will change your life. And this year, I’ve met many.
So to everyone who’s been a part of my year, whether you’re mentioned directly here or not, an enormous thank you for being you, and a Happy New Year. Here’s to 2020.