Reboot.

It’s time.

Make no mistake, 2016 has been the worst year ever and as I write this I’m nearly half way through one of the worst weeks.

I’ve been managing to write snippets on Medium when I’ve felt able, but there’s been nothing of substance here for so long and I felt like I couldn’t even begin to write anymore.

So what do you do when something stalls or becomes frozen?

You switch it off and on again.

So this is the reboot, the thing you do when you want to get going again and I’ve got a lot to say.

Management is great leadership

I don’t like the term manager, I never have.

It has an air of dictatorship about it and goes against what a leader should be.

Don’t get me wrong, I think on occasion you do have to manage situations and generally this is when something has gone wrong.

Good managers are leaders, and as Simon Sinek said;

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Leading is a bit like being a parent

I was asked once what my thoughts were on leadership. After taking a few moments to consider my answer, I replied;

“It’s much like being a parent, you must give them the confidence to do things they’d not ordinarily do, provide them with the room to learn, mentor them along the way and put your foot down when necessary.”

Those sit at the core of being a good leader. There are more things that sit on the periphery but let us focus on those core pieces.

Give confidence

It’s hard for some to do a good job when they don’t know they’re doing a job in the first place. It takes nothing to instil some confidence in a team or an individual and it can improve morale immeasurably.

Give people the confidence to try new things, do something they wouldn’t normally do and use their initiative instead of being oppressive.

It’s a bit like throwing them in at the deep-end for the first time without their arm bands on but standing at the edge of the pool ready to dive in whenever they need you.

Providing the room to learn

Overwhelming your team with workload is bad, overwhelming your team with workload and not letting them have a few days off for professional development is madness. There is no value in stopping them from learning, there is an exponential value in giving them the room to learn new skills or expand on the ones they already have.

Whether it’s internal training, external training, workshops or conferences – showing your team that you care about them and their professional skills enough to provide training time for them is immeasurable.

Mentor

This is linked to some of the other items. There are is only a finite number of people that you can mentor at any one time. It takes time to teach and support a mentee, so you need to make sure if you are going to mentor that you block out a specific amount of time to make sure that both the mentee and yourself are getting the most out of the arrangement. Mentoring is a two-way street, the mentee has to have the willingness to to engage in the process as much as you need to make sure that you’re not letting the mentee down and putting things off with them.

Mentoring can cover a range of different elements, whether it be relevant to a mentee’s work (practical), career or professional development. The passing of knowledge generally happens face-to-face, I’ve always found that having a mentee close to you in your environment can help a lot as they’ll pick up things on the periphery.

Put your foot down when necessary

Occasionally things go a bit haywire, it’s the old adage of giving someone enough rope. When the time comes you will need to put your foot down. You can do this in many ways, but if you want to do it right, be direct and firm with a hint of empathy and feeling for the situation.

Understand the possible outcomes but there should be no ambiguity when you deliver your message.

Help your team to think of the bigger picture

Enabling your team to think of and see the bigger picture provides a good viewpoint. Even if it’s a limited view of a roadmap, it’s always positive for a team to see where you’re headed.

Additionally, enabling your team to think of the bigger picture as to why you’re doing what you’re doing also can add confidence to them. It’s a matter of providing context

In closing

As a leader, you’re an enabler. It’s your job to be that shit umbrella, to enable people to do their best work and get everything else out of the way. It’s your job to help them to become better.

It’s your job to give a damn.

Hello you. Hello you, this is me.

Hello you. Hello you, this is me.

That’s how we started every phone call, it was our little game, one which we’d done since I was a teenager. We both used to laugh and get confused on who had to say what.

That was my Dad, my best friend.

My best friend passed away on Friday 8th January.

I never imagined what loss would feel like, but have found it is deep and reaches right down in to the pit of your soul.

It’s too soon to even have many words, it’s too soon to think about it, it’s too soon to lose him.

I miss him, my Sister misses him, we’ll always miss him.

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 traveljunction.com, 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, traveljunction.com 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 traveljunction.com and joining one of the GOV.uk services.

On Thursday I’ll be walking out of the traveljunction.com 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 traveljunction.com 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 GOV.uk 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 traveljunction.com, 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 traveljunction.com, 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.