Harry Cresswell

2019 in Review

With 2019 almost over, it’s time to reflect on what have been another busy 12 months. This is a chance to take note of my successes and failures and pinpoint potential areas for improvement. I’ll do so by asking three simple questions:

  • What went well this year?
  • What didn’t go so well this year?
  • What did I learn this year?

If you’ve ever read Atomic Habits by James Clear, then these questions will sound familiar.

By reflecting on these questions I hope to better understand where I need to focus my time and energy in the year ahead. Life moves fast and I find time and time again that slowing down is the best way to stay ahead.

What went well this year? #

Ok, let’s start with the good stuff that has happened this year.

Work #

This year I’ve been lucky enough to work with a select few clients who allow me to work on the things I’m most interesting in and learn new technologies whilst doing so.

I built two new websites I’m particularly pleased with – SeedTribe Hub and AIN Jobs – both using a new tech stack (React, Gatsby, GraphQL and Sanity). I’ve learned much more about programming in JavaScript in the process.

I really wasn’t expecting to pick up basic React concepts and GraphQL so quickly. Testament to the Gatsby and Sanity docs and the many Slack channels I’ve joined this year. Everyone in the Sanity Slack Group and in particular Knut from the Sanity core team have been incredibly helpful.

Newsletter #

I had a good year with my weekly newsletter which I published consistently, only missing four weeks due to holiday. I’ve started to notice the impact of this commitment. Although the number of you subscribing is still modest that number has increased substantially. I haven’t done much at all in the way of marketing, so I’m pleased so many of you are enjoying it.

Ash was kind enough to Tweet about it and several of you have emailed with positive feedback and questions. I’ve no doubt it’s been a great way to connect with other designers and developers and start conversations about common interests.

In Detail #

Last year one of my intentions was to move In Detail forward and together with Beanie and Luke we’ve successfully done that.

We made a big decision to pivot the business model by narrowing our focus to helping our clients collaborate with designers to design bespoke engagement rings. It’s was a bit of a no brainer, as this is what most of our clients are coming to us for help with. It just took some courage to drop the jewellery box content which we’d become well known for and change direction.

Our transition was heavily inspired by a simple idea – ‘do one thing and do it well’ – which we borrowed from a concept called goal dilution.

With the business modal simplified, we have clarity in our focus and a clear direction for our content. The business now feels more aligned with our current values concerning consumerism and the environment – buy less and make what you do buy last a lifetime.

Health #

This years been a good year for health. Since last year I’ve doubled my number of runs and I’m now tracking all my sessions. Alternating run days with yoga days has reduced the strain on my body and keep my knees happy. By tracking sessions I can now spot where I’m doing well and where I need to focus more time and effort.

I also started climbing again which feels good. It’s fun to solve problems unrelated to design and code for a change. For me climbing creates mind space, it’s calming and methodical, which I like. I’m sure it must improve capacity to work in some way too.

On that note I continued to meditate most mornings. I’ve no doubt meditation helps with focus and improves my ability to think clearly, particularly in more stressful situations or when I’ve had a lot on my plate.

Travel and family #

In February I spent a few days in France skiing with my dad and sister. It’s not often we spend time together so it was a real treat. We also took a family trip to Corfu in the summer which was a lot of fun. It’s the first time we’ve all been away together since I was small.

Rebekka and I took the van to England for a road trip and headed up to Northumberland and The Lake District. I have to admit, after initially feeling slightly underwhelmed by the idea of a holiday in my own country I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. England is a magical place, full of history, incredible people and beautiful landscapes. I’m proud to call it my home country.

Finance #

I finally paid off my student loan. I should have done it years ago but kept putting it off. It feels good to be debt free.

Because of this I also took the time to set up a self invested personal pension (SIPP). I’ve realised how important it is to think about your future when you work for yourself. After all, nobody else will do it for you. With the power of compound interest it makes sense to do this stuff sooner rather than later. The more time you have the more your money can make.

Dark Sky Collab #

Matt and I collaborated again on the latest Dark Sky release. Really pleased with how this one turned out. It’s been 8 years since we first joined forces for Black Rainbows EP and we’ve worked on pretty much every release since.

Matt’s music is the source of so much inspiration and I’m proud to work on this project together with him. It’s given me a platform to think more conceptually, work with complete creative freedom and do something totally different from building websites, for a change.

What didn’t go so well this year? #

Now for the things that didn’t quite go to plan.

Writing #

I wrote a fair amount this year but didn’t publish much of it, particularly in the way of articles. I felt the pressure to replicate and improve the writing I had some success with in 2018.

I also began thinking more about the impact of my writing. I questioned the quality of what I had written and wondered if I was just adding to the noise with transient words of little value.

Overthinking can hold you back but at the same time I feel it’s important to be responsible for what we put out into the world and make a conscious contribution for the right reasons.

I felt more comfortable writing short technical notes that do away with design opinions. It’s felt more like keeping a wiki and they’re much easier to write. I’d like to write more about design in 2020 but most likely from more of a technical/coding perspective.

Courses #

I dipped in and out of a few courses but didn’t get fully into anything, so I want to make this a priority for 2020. This year felt busier than most and because of that I found less time for structured learning.

To start the year on the right foot I picked up Beginner JavaScript by Wes Bos which I hope to use it to fill the gaps in some of my knowledge, particularly on ES6 and practice building more with vanilla JavaScript.

I also bought Advanced React Bootcamp on Scrimba for the same reason. Although I’ve been working with React quite a bit this year, some of the more advanced concepts still leave me scratching my head. This is something else I need to work on in 2020.

German #

I thought having a German girlfriend might help me pick up the language relatively quickly, but it turns out it’s far more difficult than I had anticipated. Potentially more so than JavaScript, for me anyway! I found the basics pretty easy but the conjugations and incessant changing of words caused by the article completely throw me.

Although I’ve stuck with my daily 30 minutes of Duolingo this year, I need to work on my understanding of the grammar and find an environment where I can speak more.

I didn’t make that happen this year so I’m planning on finding an online tutor, perhaps from Preply to help me out. It seems more realistic than going back to to the classroom to study as it takes up less time in the day. Either way I’m committed, my progress is just much slower than expected.

Type design #

It’s not been a great year for my side project Type Services. I haven’t worked on the project at all this year and I’ve been trying to pin-point why that is.

I realise that perhaps I’ve moved on from the style of type I was creating and feel the world of variable fonts and type designed for screens is more where I’m at. It’s certainly more in line with the rest of my work.

With that it feels like a good time to re-align my aim for the project and evolve it into something new. I think about typography and type design a lot so I’ve no plans to stop designing type, I just think a new direction might help reignite my passion for it.

Networking #

I’ve never been a great one for networking. I’m quite happy spending time on my own which can be both good and bad. This year was the first time I’ve felt like my lack of networking might be holding me back.

I’d like to get out there a bit more next year by joining a Meetup or making at least one industry event. I plan to make more of an effort in 2020 and hope to meet more creative folk in the real world.

Social media #

I’m a big fan of Twitter but I still can’t seem to make a habit of posting regularly. It always comes as an afterthought and I rarely feel I have anything interesting to add to the conversation. Like a lot of things I’m sure this is down to my own lack of self confidence.

Generally I find it helps to plan content ahead, but with social media that somehow feels a bit contrived and not spontaneous enough. Perhaps some form of scheduling could help. Or some sort of content plan where I stick to sharing helpful tips and leave it at that.

I’ve found my feet more in Slack channels this year. I feel more comfortable asking questions and helping others in that format. Perhaps that’s because it feels slightly more private and less like the whole world is watching.

What did I learn in 2019? #

Technical skills aside, next I’ll outline some of the helpful ways of thinking I adopted this year which I feel have made a big impact to my progress.

Simplify to avoid setbacks #

Some of my biggest setbacks came from complexity. I spent far too much time fixing things like broken dependencies, trying to write monster articles then loosing interest, or using too many different tools that I didn’t actually need. That really held me back.

I learned that by making things as easy as possible it’s far more likely you’ll achieve your goals. Often this comes from simplifying your process, taking on less obligations or focusing on fewer things. It’s well worth taking the time to think about what you can Subtract in order to improve.

With this in mind I made a number of big changes to my design and productivity workflow. I switched to Figma for UI prototyping, which allowed me to ditch 3 tools in Sketch, Invision and Abstract. I also jumped on the Notion bandwagon which replaces Evernote, Airtable, Trello and Pocket. Notion, is literally an all-in-one tool, it’s fantastic. Because of these changes I’m now far more focused and productive and I save money too.

I also went back to basics with my build process, replacing Gulp in many of my project starters with NPM scripts. In the case of Hugo I switched to using the built in assets pipeline. I’m trying to think more consciously about dependencies and whether they are absolutely necessary.

This has reduced the number of issue I’m having. It’s saved me time as it’s made my build times quicker. And it’s allowed me to focus more on doing stuff and less on fixing things. Taking the time to think about ways I can improve my processes instead of jumping in with little thought has been invaluable.

Consistency is still the key #

Consistency is an amazing thing. Whilst its importance is arguably be over played in UI design, it’s incredibly powerful for making improvements to your daily life and work.

Most of the improvements I made this year – particularly in my health, my newsletter and through learning new skills – were down to one thing, I was more consistent. I kept track of my habits and workouts in Notion and kept an eye on areas I was falling down so I could make improvements. A little bit each day definitely seems to go a long way.

The power of inversion #

Inversion is a powerful mental model which I’ve begun using more consciously. The idea is you turn a problem on its head, start with the desired outcome and work backwards to find the solution.

This is a great way to remove obstacles which may be standing in the way, and avoid obvious stupid mistakes. Often it starts with the simple question – ”what is my goal?” Then, consider the question - “what is preventing me from achieving this goal?”.

Thinking about what you want to avoid can be more effective for making progress than simply asking asking yourself – “what can I do to solve this problem?”

You are what you eat #

It’s been a long time since my body has felt as good as it has this year. I’ve spent a lot of time on my health and my diet and I’ve finally started to master what I need to put into my body and how to look after it properly.

For me, much of this is based on the gut. IBS has plagued me for years, but since discovering the power of fermented foods, by reading Gut and Cultured Food for Health, I’ve started to get a hold of these issue.

The 3 K’s (as I like to call them) – Kimchi, Kombucha and Kefir – have been a real game changer. And whilst this might not work for everyone they’ve certainly helped me. I only wish I’d discovered this stuff sooner.

In 2020 I’d like to spend more time learning about fermentation and giving it a go myself.

2019 in numbers #

Now for the numbers. I wish I’d recorded more but it’s not always easy to keep track of everything. Here’s what I have managed to keep track off this year.

Health stats #

  • 104 recorded runs
  • 217 recorded yoga sessions
  • 33 hours and 92 minutes meditated
  • 9,580 press-ups
  • 131.5 recorded minutes in a headstand

Work stats #

  • 48 newsletters sent
  • 4 articles published
  • 12 notes published

Learning stats #

  • 18 books read
  • 56 hours of German on Duolingo

Environment stats #

  • 23.87 trees planted via Ecosia
  • 18 trees planted via donation to TreesforCities

Travel stats #

  • 6 countries visited – England, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Greece (Corfu)

Recommendations for 2019 #

Final words #

This was my second time writing a year in review and once again it’s been a valuable exercise. It’s helped me to put my foot on the brakes and take stock of my accomplishments or lack thereof. In some way or another it’s helped me better understand myself, in terms of what I care most about, what no longer serves me, where I can improve and where I should focus my efforts.

I referred to my 2018 in review throughout this year, using it to keep tabs on my progress. In 2020 I hope to do the same with this one, using it to move more consciously through life, make better decisions and practice gratitude wherever possible.

To that end I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has helped make this year a great success, I’m grateful to you all. Wishing you all a very happy new year and here’s to the next decade. Thanks for reading!

Weekly Newsletter

Braintactics is a weekly roundup of articles, tools and tips for product designers and front-end developers. I send it every Friday morning.