2018: A Year in Review — Highlights

Each year, I try write these “year in reviews.” Mainly for myself to reflect and possibly read them again in few years. However, often during the holidays, I don’t feel like picking up the computer, so in the end don’t finish task.

So as of now, going forward, I will now try to do these summaries after the holidays, but before my birthday, which is today, January 8.

General work:

  • Got promoted to Principal Designer at Airbnb. While I’m not big on titles, this promotion gives access to the overall leadership group in the company, and makes easier for me to work on and introduce on company wide changes as before. Working as an IC leader can be in someways challenging since you don’t usually control the resources and have the authority. Your influence is determined by the quality of your work you deliver and the reputation you have in the company. The good thing is that since you are not spending time on managing, you will have more time to do that influential work, thinking and find people and teams that share that passion.
  • Airbnb DLS design team grow a lot. We started year with just with me on the team, but then we ended the year with 6 additional designers. This also created some challenges to how to onboard new people and structure the team better.
  • Advised more, within and outside the company. I helped several major projects in the company, as well as helped other companies like Lyft, Instacart, Intercom, Atoms and other upcoming startups around design and design systems.
  • Travelled a lot this year, Gyroscope app reported that I went to 46 cities, in 7 countries, 4 continents. Visited airports 45 times.
  • I read 27 books this year, +8 increase from 2017, +1 from 2016. I mostly read before going to sleep, so my reading tends to be fiction, science fiction. Most read author this year, Peter F Hamilton, and his Commonwealth Saga. Goodreads list
  • Most influential non-fiction book was Deep Work. I have noticed how easy it is to get distracted and how much you need to guard to time in order to do your best work. Cal Newport reminds the importance of deep work and offers practical examples how to make your schedule work for it.
  • Spoke at 3 conferences or events.
  • Wrote only 1 blog post. Working Type — Airbnb Cereal
  • This marks my 6th year in San Francisco, and 3rd year at Airbnb.

January

1. Kensington Palace, London 2. Notting Hill neighborhood, London
  • Spent NYE year in London, after spending the holidays in Porvoo, Finland. This was my first time in London. While I enjoyed the architecture and the history of London, I felt that at least based on this visit, the city is not for me.
  • We moved to a new apartment to Noe Valley already in December, but didn’t really have much time to enjoy it until January. The warm SF January was great for that.
  • At work, I started a project creating a system and design language for our our marketing and landing pages.

February

1. Tiananmen Square, Beijing 2. Team dinner 3. Back alley 4. Modern skyscraper 5. Airbnb China HQ cafeteria 6. Beijing Airport
  • Visited Beijing and China for the first time. Our design system team went there meet with our China team, and to better understand their challenges and how we can better support them.
  • Arriving in Beijing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was surprised how big, new and modern everything was, and how little of the old was left.
  • Gave a talk about Airbnb DLS in an event with 80 Chinese designers at Airbnb Beijing HQ
  • While I learned how differently the Chinese market operates, how the user expectations and product are different, I also learned the Airbnb design we do, is not fully out of place. That in a market where most products look the same and quickly catch up to each other, a service that is different can be a good thing if done in a way that still addresses the users’ needs. In some ways this should be obvious, but doing things differently is always harder to champion for.

March

  • Only a couple weeks after I came back from Beijing, I flew to Helsinki to speak at the Design Systems Conference. I always try to prioritize speaking at conferences in my home country.
  • I gave my longest talk so far, 45mins, what happens when use systems in design and what the future could look like.
  • I enjoyed experiencing the proper winter Helsinki, which I haven’t been able to see in many years. Usually I’m in Finland during the holidays, and usually it’s too early for proper snow and cold weather in southern Finland. My favorite thing in Helsinki used to be just walking by the southern coastline, in all seasons, seeing the sun and the scenery changes.
1. Apartment building in Helsinki 2. Frozen sea and bridge connecting small islands in front of Helsinki
1. Classic Finnish restaurant, Salutorget 2. Frozen sea in front of Helsinki Eira neighborhood

April

On a suspension bridge at Rob Roy’s Glacier, New Zealand.
  • While we were traveling in Japan the previous Thanksgiving, I saw cheap flights to New Zealand, one of the places I always wanted to visit. We book the flights for April.
  • We mostly traveled through the South Island, starting around Queenstown, but spend also couple days in tropical Waiheke Island near Auckland.
  • The scenery was amazing. Bit of a mix of Norway, Alaska and Scotland, but much more dramatic, and condensed. Almost every turn on the road would give a new beautiful sights.
  • Did my first bungie-jump on the original bungie jumping bridge bridge. We drove past it on the second day, and I got persuaded into doing it.
1. Getting ready to jump 2. Safely back down
  • Did a day trip to Mt. Tamalpais near San Francisco

May

  • After 18 months, of working and guiding the development we finally launched the custom typeface, Airbnb Cereal. This was interesting as it was my first time working on a typeface and at times I definitely felt a bit out my depth. Luckily, there were great typographers on our team like Derek Chan and Pablo Caro, who were much more talented in this type of work. My contribution was to make sure the typeface actually worked well, and felt good for UI Design.
  • Wrote about the Airbnb Cereal typeface project and process and commented on the Introducing Airbnb Cereal
  • Ben Wilkins and I also created this little mini-site to celebrate it and show the typeface in action. (Also wanted to test few other ideas around animation, viewport based sizing, and gatsby.js)
  • I learned with this project project how hard it is to see the small differences with typefaces. If you put two different versions with just few letter, everything looks the same. The only way for me was to actually use it, see how the texture, and the shapes felt in design.
  • Attended Google I/O for the first time. Was surprised how large force in tech has become and how wide range services and technology they offer. Apple almost feels small compared to that.
  • Also did a quick visit to Portland to visit our office there, as well as the Gorges.
Falls Creek near Portland, OR
  • Did a quick visit to Los Angeles.

June

  • Airbnb hosted Design System Wednesday, and I made some DLS posters to decorate the space.
  • Gave a talk during SF Design week at the RethinkHQ event at Linkedin. https://vimeo.com/280588008
  • I designed and helped to sell the vision for internal developer platform at Airbnb. This became of the majors projects at the company.
  • Learned to make proper crispy fish tacos

July

1. Neighborhood at 10pm in Copenhagen 2. Old meatpacking area at 8pm, Copenhagen
  • Spent quick 16h in Copenhagen, before flying to Slovenia. We did nice night of biking around the town, during the middle of summer, got beers at different Mikkeler locations
  • Our next stop was Slovenia. We had heard great things about it from our friends and it didn’t disappoint. I was surprised how unique and gorgeus the nature was, how nice Ljubljana was, how friendly people were and there was no crowds almost anywhere
1. & 2 . Ljublijana, Slovenia 3. Tolmin area in Slovenia. 4. A cat 5. Catherine at Hisa Franko 6. Waterfall in Slovenia
  • Did a dinner at the Chef’s Table featured restaurant, Hiša Franko
  • For the second week, we flew to Finland to spend a few days in a lake cottage with my family. This is my favorite way to spend the summer vacation. To wake up each morning in the peaceful countryside, start the wood heated sauna, go swim and row in the lake fish, drink beer, cook, read and walk in the forest. My favorite thing is to row in the lake close to the midnight, while it’s still dusk outside and there is no wind and the lake is calm like mirror. Everything is quiet, and only noise are ones you make or animals.
1. Finnish gin based long drink by Kyrö Distillery 2. The lake calm at midnight 3. Jetsking on a sunny day. 4. View from our Airbnb lake house 5. Old town of the city of Porvoo 6. Porvoo church and town

August

  • Created designs and creative directed a site for the Airbnb Magazine. This is a mini-site that showcases the new issue of Airbnb Magazine
1. Apartment building in Berlin Mitte. 2. A street in Berlin 3. Katajanokka harbor area in Helsinki. 4. Street in Helsinki 5. New buildings across the river in Porvoo 6. My niece’s Christening
  • We ended up getting to do another trip to Finland, since my sister had a baby and we were chosen as the godparents so we wanted to be part of the baby’s christening ceremony.
  • We tacked on a weekend in Berlin, which I hadn’t visited in many years.

September

1. Lake Tahoe in the summer 2. California Coastline in Elk, CA 3. View from an Airbnb in Elk, Ca
  • At Airbnb, I was promoted to Principal Designer role, as the first and the only designer in the company (at the moment). In addition to the design system work, I work closely with our VP of Design in evolving, improving and supporting design craft in the company. The position is part of the overall leadership group, but I don’t directly manage anyone, which allows me to focus full time on strategic and large scale projects.
  • We initially launched Airbnb Cereal without the italics, which we now got completed in September. We don’t use it in the product often, but it’s really nice for Keynotes :)
  • Did a quick visit to Elk, CA in the Mendocino area. We found a great Airbnb by the coast for a weekend.
  • Attended a crayfish party with bunch of Scandinavians at Lake Tahoe.

October

1. Hotel workspace in NYC 2. Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn, NYC 3. Central Park, NYC
  • Visited New York the first time in years. We got nominated and received a finalist award in Fast Company Innovation By Design.
  • At work, I started a team and project to work on some conceptual designs, and new updates on our design language.

November

1. Cholla cacti in Joshua Tree. 2. Airbnb near Pioneer Town 3. Venice Canals, Los Angeles 4. Manhattan Beach, LA 5. Airbnb HQ in SF with a Christmas Tree 6. Smoky San Francisco
  • Early November was quite bad in SF because of the smoke from the forest fires of nearby areas. Although, the smoke here was mere annoyance, it was a real tragedy in the areas affected. Many thousands lost their homes and some even lost their lives.
  • My family from Finland visited California during Thanksgiving. We started from Los Angeles, visiting Venice, Manhattan Beach, made our way to Joshua Tree and Pioneer Town. We ended up in San Diego for the actual Thanksgiving.
  • During Thanksgiving, we ended up getting a car. An old, Honda S2000 convertible. I never have had a car in SF, and this car is an especially fun one to drive. Hopefully this will allow us do my weekend trips in the Bay Area.
Honda S2000

December

  • Gave talk and session on design systems for the Instacart team.
  • Wrapped up the year the my project around evolution of our design language. It was well received by the leadership and hopefully we will some of in the 2019.
  • First time in maybe 15 years, I didn’t go to Finland for the holidays. This year, we decided to do something different, and spent early holidays in San Diego, and then flew to Cancun, Mexico.
1. & 2. White sandy beaches of Tulum, Mexico 3. Airbnb roofdeck in Tulum
  • We stayed in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, and did trips in to cenotes, ruins and to Merida.
  • We did a day trip to Merida. We were intrigued by reading about it in the Conde Nast, and decided to go for a visit.
1. New years day walk in Lands End, SF / 2. Beach at Play Del Carmen / 3. Street in Merida / 4. Me in Merida / 5. Hacienda Xcanatún in Merida 6. Cenote Dos Ojos near Tulum Mexico.
  • We flew back on the NYE, and ran the 2019 in the our apartment in SF.

What’s for 2019

  • I’m looking forward this year, developing more as a leader and taking ownership of major projects.
  • For Airbnb DLS I think we have good team, resources and lot of the groundwork is done, so I think year might one of our best so far.
  • I got my first official mentee at Airbnb, so I’m excited to see how that works out.
  • I aim to write more this year. Let me know what you would want to hear about around design, systems or other topics. Let me know on twitter
  • If you want to the pictures in larger size, or generally follow my travels on Instagram.