Invest in Yourself

A little while ago I sent out the following;

There were many thoughts behind that message and a bit of a personal story (and telling off) which needed expanding on.

I’ve never been good at prioritising myself over other people or things. I’ve got a personality type where I like to help where I can, and when you’re like that you often forget to focus on yourself. This causes one of the biggest challenges. The time that is taken up when you’re off helping other people limits the time you can spend on yourself.

For the past couple of years, I’ve written over and over again that I need to take a step back and almost re-design and re-engineer myself. I knew I had a problem that needed to be fixed and I most definitely knew that the problem was me and that putting it off wouldn’t fix anything.

So, at the beginning of the year I pledged to myself that things would change. Over the past 4 months I’ve invested more in my personal health than ever before. I’m reaping the benefits. I’m fitter, stronger and healthier than I’ve been in 13 years*.

The investment that I’ve made in myself is both a time and financial investment. I dedicate at least an hour per day for personal fitness, I’ve rewired the way my brain thinks about what I eat and invested about £200/month over the past 4 months. I’ve cut back on the silliest of things I used to spend money on to help me on the journey I’m taking to become healthier.

The benefits and results from doing so aren’t just physical, they’re also psychological. Investing in myself has given me time to think, time to learn and most importantly time to become healthier than I ever have been in the past 13 years.

The next steps are to invest in learning again, for too long I’ve put this off because “I didn’t have the time…”, which is a brilliant excuse for just not doing it. I’ve figured that it is down to being afraid of not being able to learn. It’s madness, true madness. To get through it, I sat and watched my two little girls who can pick up an object without having seen it before and start figuring it out in a matter of minutes, they don’t know what it’s like to be afraid and I’m now happy to follow in a 3yr olds footsteps.

Investing in your education doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at school or university. Our industry is so vast that there’s so much to constantly learn even in our respective fields. Over the past few years there have been so many places that have popped up that you can do your learning, whether it’s reading a book or online at places like udemy, treehouse, codecademy or skillshare, there’s a plethora of places to go.

Try It

By picking any of the things above you’ll start on your own journey, whether you want to learn something new or become healthier in body and mind, you can and will if you just start.

Start small, work towards something and enjoy the ride.

*I’m currently writing up a new article describing the changes and how things have changed which will be with you shortly.

Cleansing the soul with honest design

Back in late 2013, shortly after I joined, I managed to internally recruit Tim Gale on to my team. It was a pretty bold move, Tim was sought after across the company but I was pretty determined and didn’t give up.

I’d known of Tim for a while before joining the company and as we began to talk more internally, I knew our views on design synced up really well which made him a good hire and in reality I needed some help.

Before I joined, lacked design principles and process, but travel industry design as a whole was lacking something even greater.

Time and time again we’ve heard of air fares randomly jacking up because we use a different IP or chose different options in the checkout process, never-mind the dark patterns that we see auto adding you to newsletters when you think you’ve opted out.

What the travel industry was lacking, was honesty, and I believe it still is.

As we began one of the quickest re-alignments of design I’d ever done as part of a team, I took time to speak internally about ‘Honest Design’. If TJ wanted to be different by creating its own honest reviews, then the design in its entirety needed to match this same thinking. I began to jot down some notes, almost guidelines.

  1. Dark patters would be banned
  2. All costs would be displayed to the customer so they could make an informed decision
  3. We wouldn’t use ass-backwards persuasive design
  4. We would help customers as much as we could based on their needs
  5. The designed experience wouldn’t stop at checkout, a customers journey would be with us until we never saw them again

We accomplished a few of the above, but as time drew on, it was made apparent that the industry is full of low margins and a fight against all costs to get those bookings in anyway possible. With the increase of ‘meta sites’ (comparison sites), against the likes of companies with their own deals with hotels it’s a literal fight to the death.

Instead of focusing on honest design and helping customers by focusing on their needs, you see travel businesses fixate on sticking with dark patterns and odd tactics to get bookings.

Travel isn’t the only industry either, I’m using that as an example as it’s the industry I’ve been in for the past 2 years.

Now, I’m from a commercial background, I run a conference, I’ve written proposals and pitched for work, I fully understand that money has to come in.

But I sincerely and truly believe there’s a better way to go about things.

My inner-self has never felt compelled to fight the sales fight, it’s just not me. And with that I needed to cleanse my soul, I needed to put effort into something which is far greater than myself, to help others.

It’s one of the reasons I’m starting a new role with the DigitalDWP team this coming Monday. I was incredibly skeptical of whether government would ever allow the GDS to achieve anything when they started but it became clear early on that they were making significant progress and I’ve been a fan of GDS since. Their design principles should be required reading for all.

The soon to be leaving but current Head of Design for GDS, Ben Terrett, wrote yesterday;

Every designer should work in the public sector. Being a civil servant and using your talents to help the people in your country is an honour. In an industry so often obsessed with novelty and persuasion, government is a chance to do real design work.

That’s something I believe in and something I’m going to begin next week.

If what I’ve written above resonates with you, we’re hiring, come and join us.

It’s time for something new…

tldr; I’m leaving and joining one of the services.

On Thursday I’ll be walking out of the office for the last time to have a long awaited week off before starting afresh elsewhere.

2 years ago I knew absolutely nothing about travel, although it was one of the verticals I’d identified that I’d like to work in. When the opportunity came knocking I took hold of it as tight as I could. As a designer, you can look at the entire travel landscape and everything in your gut tells you it can be done better, more user-centered based on user needs.

Over 18+ months, my team and I created and a niche new package holiday site for customers traveling to Dubai. Not only that but my role changed dramatically over the time I was with the company. I started off as Head of UX, before moving on to Head of UX & Product and ended up somewhere around the role a Chief Product Officer would be doing.

I got to work with a team packed chock-full of some of the most talented humans you’d ever want to work with. I went from managing 3 team members before maxing out at about 14 or so at one point and learned a lot in doing so.

And all  while this was happening I successfully launched and ran the third Industry Conf which went better than my wildest expectations.

But, it’s time for a change. I’ve spoken for a long time about learning again, getting right back into the thick of it in the practical side of design. It’s where my heart is at and is of course my core skill set. At Industry this year, I closed the conference by talking about doing something worthwhile with our careers, we’re only on this earth for a relatively short timeframe and there’s no point at all working on something that you’re not entirely happy with.

We’re also in a bit of an employees market right now, there is a lot of work floating around in various different verticals. I mentioned at Industry that whilst you may be working within an agency doing client services work, it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck there if you want to try out product based design. We can do and have the skills to do whatever we want to put our minds too.

Something New

I’ve looked up to the Government Digital Service and their work on and their other services for quite some time. They seem to have nailed a lot of things in a lot of areas and most importantly they’re changing government from within by focusing on user needs and not what government wants. That last bit makes me want to run around in circles doing some kind of happy dance.

DWP Digital

The GDS are in the process of giving autonomy to a range of their services, one of which is the Department for Work and Pensions also known as ‘The DWP’. I’m incredibly excited and honoured that I’ll be joining Ben Holliday‘s DWP team mid-August in Newcastle. There is a lot to do over there and the DWP cover more things than I’d ever imagined, it’s not just pensions.

It’s time for something new, it’s time to make a difference for the people that need it the most and I’m really looking forward to it.

Offscreen gets better with age

I own every edition of Offscreen magazine. From its inception, I’ve followed Kai’s progress with it and looked forward to reading every single edition. I was sat yesterday reorganising my shelves and realised as I flicked through them that I began re-reading parts of them that I’d read before.

I noticed that as I was reading I was getting just as drawn in and excited as the first time I read them. It’s a rare thing to go back to some content and enjoy reading it for a second and third time, but that’s exactly what was happening.

That’s why I own every Offscreen. It’s the fact that the content gets better with age, like a fine wine, I guess.

We are not all equal

As we design and build products you can often find yourself believing that your customers and users are just like you.

They use devices, hardware and software just like you. They navigate websites just like you. They are just as savvy about the web, just like you.

In actual fact our customers are generally nothing like us. You can begin to ascertain just how different they are through user and customer research.

Let me give you an example of how different things really can be.

At, we sell hotel rooms online. We also take hotel room bookings over the phone but a lot of our business is done online. I keep a constant open communication channel between the customer care team and myself as it helps me understand our customers, their needs and even their frustrations.

One day, not too long ago, we had someone make a hotel booking. Shortly thereafter, the customer rang our customer care team to ask if she could have her booking confirmation sent to her in the post. The customer requested this as she didn’t have an email address for the booking confirmation to be sent too. She didn’t have an email address, at all. She had used her grand-daughters email address of which she didn’t/couldn’t get access too and nor did she have a printer to print the confirmation off. She needed the confirmation within two days and she was about to start travelling.

This specific customer had used a search engine using a specific search term, landed on, navigated through the site and made a booking. Yet this specific customer in question was yet to get an email address because the amount of internet usage didn’t warrant the creation of one.

So remember, the next time you think “users do X” or “users would never do that”, remember we are not all equal.

Design Team Ethos

At the beginning of 2014, I began to build out the design team beyond a single person (me).

I gained an awesome team-mate, Tim Gale, who’s been with me on the journey ever since. We sat down and created a design process as traveljunction never had one previously.

We were very particular about the process and it was quite exhaustive, something that worked pretty well as we revamped nearly every area of the product over the course of a few months.

The additional thing we worked on as we drilled away at the process was a 5 point ethos that Tim, myself and any person who joined the team thereafter would be held accountable to and work towards. A few months later and we grew again and added Kate to our team.

Our Design Ethos

The aim was to keep it short and on point, to include things we truly believe in and to push ourselves to become better at what we do on a daily basis.

#1 – Never assume

We will never assume that anything we do is right, we’ll only hope that we’re less wrong than before so we can progress in a measured manner.

#2 – Collaborate Always

We will never work in silos, even if we’re working on different parts of traveljunction at the same time, we’ll collaborate in an effective manner to get the best out of the product. More heads are better than one.  It’s far too easy to silo yourself.

#3 – Visuals do not come first

Visuals do not come first at traveljunction, aesthetics don’t make a bad product good. Usability and experience do, focus on those first and the aesthetics later.

#4 – Open, Honest Communication

We’re a team and great teams communicate and are open and honest with each other. When the going gets tough, when the product is under heavy critique, if we stand by shoulder to shoulder we’ll do ok. Ego’s are left at the door.

#5 – Process is King

We’re well aware that sometimes things can get challenging, but if we trust the process we’ll end up at the place we’re wanting to be no matter how long it takes. Trust the process and everything else will take care of itself.

Constant Improvement

Many of the points above could be used for different types of teams including engineering teams. We’re always looking to improve in our own little individual ways and having something to look at is comforting. Our process has changed over the years, but the ethos stands firm.

Big Thanks go to Tim for working with me on creating both the ethos and process.