What I’m celebrating 🎉, learning 🎓, and finding challenging 🚧 this month.
New year, new… well, slightly revised… format! Each section is now a topic. It includes something I’m 🎉 celebrating, 🎓 learning, or 🚧 finding challenging. Or a mix of all three — which is what usually happens.
The power of diverse teams
- 🎉 Celebrating my relatively diverse HMRC team! Last week, we were co-designing our digital service with an operational team. They process child benefit claims and are vital to the success of this project. Top Tip: If you want to up your game as a designer, consider staff and their needs as important as your customers or users. It will be a game changer. And you’ll learn from the expertise and experience of people delivering your service! But this can be a difficult collaboration to get right. As digital teams, we are making changes to how operations work and interact with users. This is stressful and worrying, especially if staff are not included in this process. It can be difficult to understand why the digital team are proposing something, and to decide if it’s worth the risk any change brings. Communication, different training, and different jargon are at play here. As well as how organisations are set up and the silos this creates. But it’s also about a key value designers add to any project. We know not only how to design, but how to design for others. Although it involves some skill and reflection to do it well, most people can (and do!) design for themselves. It’s easy enough to understand what you are trying to do and what you need to do so. To design for other people and their weird and wonderful worlds is much much harder. Designers do this with the help of user research. It provides a glimpse into other people’s lives and interactions with a service. For lots of reasons, mostly bad ones, it’s not always possible. When we were discussing and designing last week, we didn’t have research or evidence to show what we mean. But building on our personal experience, we knew the current journey and content won’t work. What helped us was the diversity of the digital team. Telling our stories helped operations understand why the proposed change is important. And it was much easier to relate to us — people they know and work with instead of potential users or abstract scenarios. Of course none of this is a replacement for good user research. But it can help make the case, and steer things in the right direction. Seeing the power of diverse teams in action like this felt like magic! My colleague Shiv-Rani wrote more on this here.
Routines and Ruts
- 🚧 This year I found it hard to return to work after the winter break. Not work actually, but my desk and screen to be more precise. I can’t help but notice how much the ways of working in design have changed over the last five years. I’m still coming to terms with design being desk work. With sitting 8+ hours, and focusing on screens. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there. And I’m struggling to make enough space for reflection, creativity, and joy in this set up. This has been accelerated by the pandemic and a focus on remote work. But I’m not sure it’s strictly a remote versus in person question. In fact, there are lots of things I don’t miss about in person design work. Copying handwriting from forever moving post-its for example! Plus, remote and hybrid work has opened up a huge range of possibilities more inclusive of my body and lungs. I don’t think it’s a junior versus senior designer thing either. Or a difference in clients and employers. The nature of the work seems to have shifted. I can’t quite figure this out, and I want to understand it better for myself and for leading and supporting teams.
- 🎓 I’m learning and relearning how important making is to me. Making things I care about with others. Imagination. Collaboration. Building, growing, designing. Especially as someone coming into design from elsewhere, and remembering the shift. This is the stuff that got me hooked, that I found so different and addictive as well as challenging. I sometimes lose sight of this. If I’m not strict and deliberate, almost none of my working hours involve these activities. Which feels ironic, as good design is not possible without these things. Being aware of this is helping me to be more deliberate in how I organise my work day, and what I ask of others.
- 🎓 Being more disciplined around my routines is helping too. Breakfast away from the desk, music, movement, daylight, breaks. A tidy space with lots of colour, art, and plants. Attending to small pleasures each day. Firmer boundaries around travelling and meeting time. Making sure I sleep well and enough. Nature. Scheduling joy and adventure in for the next months. (Scheduling adventure! What a combination of words. Now you know I live on the wild side!) None of this will be a surprise. So here’s your reminder: Taking care of the fundamentals consistently beats any productivity hack or year plan! It’s also hard work, but I’m getting better.
- 🚧 Vision boards and year reviews mushroom on my social feeds each December and January. And I love the idea of people being more deliberate with our time, work, and life. Taking a moment to review and edit what serves us and the people around us. But it can feel like a lot of pressure. Like you’re not doing enough, don’t know enough, don’t have enough figured out. Like you need to come up with all the answers right now, before the year is out. In what is already a busy period of celebrations, expectations, and social time for many.
- 🎉 So I’m celebrating not doing any reviews or resolutions! Winter is important to me for a different reason. It’s time to retreat, to be gentle, time to be at peace with uncertainty. Katherine Winter talks about this in her beautiful book “Wintering”. Instead I take time to plan my year around my birthday in June. I usually have a few days off, and it’s only me reflecting and learning and plotting. Less comparison, less pressure. Spring or summer will be in full swing, and a new year is starting for me. It feels like a much better time, and I’m grateful I stuck to this schedule. Despite the many interesting and intriguing planning templates I’m seeing!
Well some planning.
- 🚧 On that note, I have lots of gripes with the concept of planning. The past years have brought at least a taster of unpredictability to most lives. And more awareness that being in a position to plan is a privilege. There are lots of reasons for this. For me, these are chronic illness, fluctuating health, and fluctuating life expectancy. And sometimes money, family, and nationality. These will beyond doubt complicate any attempt at year planning. And your mood when browsing everyone else’s year reviews and vision boards! Even if I could — especially now that the above points are more stable — I was never convinced a plan is actually helpful. Is the life I want to live plannable? Reliable? Predictable? Or the career I want to have? Doesn’t it sound a lot like wearing a too tight jumper you cannot quite feel cosy in? And what would a plan look like for someone with little exposure to good examples growing up? With a whole host of labels generally seen as incompatible with success or happiness?
- 🎓 I’m still looking for the right balance as I’m untangling these questions more. Over the last years, my life has been more stable when it comes to geography, financial wellbeing, and work. And that stability has been a welcome change. Still, I want to listen when the universe unexpectedly knocks on my door with a new suggestion. I want to continue seeing opportunities around me, and saying yes. I want to be playful with my life, and invite in adventure and exploration and wildness. At the same time, I know I have learnt a lot and know myself better. With settling into a new decade, my thirties, it’s time to be more deliberate. Saying no as much as yes. Being purposeful about my values, my priorities, and my work. Not least to protect myself and set boundaries around my time and energy. I loved talking about this with my mentor. As overused as this word is, it was empowering to hear the perspective of a woman older than me. Grateful to Mission Include.