Year note


Nate Langley
Dec 24, 2019 · 6 min read
An image from our ‘What is Design?’ showcase. the slides says ‘The final visual execution is a small part of design’.
  • on a personal level, 2019 has been incredible. The birth of my son Arlo and we doubled down on our house in Manchester. Every weekend is a perfect, warm family bubble. It’s wonderful. A nice counterbalance to work right now.
  • Arlo is 4 months old as of writing and I’ve already learnt something from him: smile more. Arlo is the smiliest human you would ever meet. He smiles at me, his mum and sister, nan, grandad, neighbours, the man in the shop, the big issue seller, the hairdresser. It doesn’t matter who you are, he is ready for you with one of his democratic smiles. But I’ve noticed something: smiling at people makes people want to be around him. 2020 is the year I smile more. Turns out smiling, whether you want to or not, is good for you too.
  • feeling a lot older, tired and cynical than I did than this time last year. Looking back at my week notes at the end of 2019, they were full of optimism for the new year and what we were achieving in. A year is a long time in technology and transformation. We are more in demand within the business as we ever have been. But with this success comes it’s another set of problems: scrutiny, proving our legitimacy, context switching, politics…
  • 2019 was the year I got into my personal and professional development. I made sure that every week (apart from holiday weeks) I took myself aside and reflected in these notes. I enjoyed this and felt like it was helping me articulate my thoughts and learn. It’s good to look back now and see how far I’ve come. Right now, it’s easy to look into 2020 with trepidation. If I didn’t have my week notes to help me remember that there’s always a bigger picture and it’s a journey, I would be feeling a lot more down on myself.
  • I also read a ton of books on professional development. Some highlights: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, New Power, Content Design, Design as an attitude, The Checklist Manifesto, The Winning Mindset, Making of a Manager, Why I’m no longer talking about race with white people and Novocene. I stopped noting on my week notes which book I was reading at the time. I won’t do that in the future as that’s been helpful to recollect and recommend. The only fiction book I read this year was The Fifth Season and it was sublime.
  • in March, I transitioned into my new role as Principal Designer. As of writing this, I haven’t settled into the new role. My main responsibility is the design output of the Membership, Causes, Community and Venture product areas (known as CMO — don’t ask). But also leading the interaction design community. It’s a large area of responsibility. By the time of writing this, I’ve moved away from Ventures (apart from pastoral duties) and looking towards consolidating this into a more manageable pile in 2020. Even though I recognise this was a lot to take on, I can’t help but see this as a failure. I knew this job would be hard, but not this hard. But, the words of Yoda: ‘the greatest teacher, failure is’.
  • the toughest part has been trying to figure out what value I’m adding. Sometimes I feel I could take the rest of the week off and no one would notice. I am invisible until a product manager needs a design contractor.
  • as my ultimate responsibility is the design output of the product team and these teams produced the best work of 2019. So there wasn’t a lot for me to do in terms of pushing design (which was 2018’s theme). But this, in turn, created a different challenge — work was being created in silos. Trying to get designers to share and work out in the open is hard at the best of times. I then ended up feeling like a pain in the arse. Going into a designers workspace forcing opinions on them because they weren’t running open crits, and there had been no show and tells. In 2020, I need to think of better ways to do this.
  • Because of the insecurities I’ve felt in my leadership role, my design contribution has suffered. It’s been tough as it is balancing the ‘doing of’ design with the ‘leading of’ design. But when I’m not being a good leader I find the resilience well a lot dryer when trying to justify design decisions on my work.
  • having said this, some of the designs I’ve done in 2019 are the best of my career. Shame most of it won’t see the light of day 😅😭
  • I should take some of my own advice. Recently, I spoke to another design leader about their perceived lack of value. I related that as one climbs the corporate ladder your cog gets bigger. This means the feedback loop of your value is harder to see. Likely bullshit though.
  • halfway through the year, I got asked this question: ‘How does everyone see your impact as a designer?’. I’m sad to say I still don’t know what the answer is. At the time I fretted that I would like to be a contributor as well as creating the space for design to happen. I know Katherine thinks about this often and has found a balance. It feels that I can’t do both well right now. I will muddle through this problem in the first quarter of 2020 and see what works. Otherwise, I fear I will have to pick.
disappointed but not surprised
  • 2019 was also the year I got my legitimacy questioned. Working in a retail organisation and coming from a digital agency background it’s easy to see why. The unconscious, unsaid bias in stakeholders that I’ve never worked for a big 4 retailer. Or the direct challenge of my digital credibility (‘well, so and so worked for google so they would know how to design XYZ’). I’m disappointed that I still have to do this with some of my Digital colleagues though. In 2018 I had to prove to stakeholders that design was more than colouring things in (still am ✊). But this year it seems like I’m not the only one wrestling with what a design leader does. Get in your box designer!
  • the main lesson from all the above is: this is all on me, now. This is no one else’s responsibility. It’s not my bosses’, it’s not my peers, it’s not my team. It’s me. If I don’t see the value I’m bringing, it’s up to me to figure out what the value is and where to place it. The people who hired me trust me. I’ve fallen into a trap towards the end of this year; blaming others for my situation and looking up for help. That’s not what I’m paid for. In 2018, I went about doing what I thought was right until someone told me otherwise. In 2019, I asked for permission. I wrote my principles this year and I should damn well live up to this one: you are responsible.
i know who i am
  • anyway, that’s me done for 2019: a year of highs and lows. 2020 will need to be the year I figure this shit out. I’ll be moving these week notes off of Medium from the first week of January onto my website. You can check in with my whining for the next year there, starting with what goals I want to achieve.
  • Don’t worry I’m still optimistic, I just won’t be bounding into 2020 like Tigger, which I did this year. I still believe in the change we’re doing, but I’ve found it more mentally challenging than usual this year. This Tiger’s grown up. Have a wonderful break and see you in the New Year. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum.
Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade