At the beginning of this year, I moved to London. They say 30 is an attitude. I’m practising believing I’ve never been better or smarter or more ready for adventures that I am right now. Here goes…here are some highlights of what I've done since and what I'm learning. A year in review.
I've written this for three reasons. Primarily because when I did this last year it was a useful prompt for reflection and it's been even more useful since then to go back and look at the year passed in such detail. I'm guilty of giving myself a hard time for not doing enough. This blog is good practice for me to continually reflect on what I am doing and how it all fits together. This was a big year for me; it was my first year of 'having a normal job', my boyfriend emigrated, I moved to a new city, joined a new team and I launched my new venture #upfront.
Creating this has forced me to reflect and take stock of where and what I have spent my energy on. The majority of this year has been a continuous state of transition which has been really hard at times. Now and always, I want to make it easy for other people to start things. I'm sharing this in the hope that it will add some value to you and the journey you are on.
Thirdly, it's my 30th birthday today. There's a whole other blog post to come on how I feel about turning 30 but as I can't hear myself type because of the noise of my ovaries, for now here's a look at the past year. I’ve pulled out the biggest learnings from each one.
I ran a workshop with Lulu Mickelson at Service Design Network Conference in New York City. Lulu has written a great summary of the session here. We talked about how designers and governments can work better together.
- People will often let you down but this normally leads to you meeting someone new who you wouldn't have met otherwise. I was delighted to meet Lulu and unexpectedly have the opportunity to work with her.
I spoke at Webdagene, one of Norway's biggest tech conferences. This was the biggest audience I'd ever spoken to - over 1000 people!
- It's really healthy to feel nervous sometimes. I absolutely loved sharing the idea of design as a tool for change with an audience predominantly made up of tech and content experts. I also ate the best sushi I've ever tasted and rocked out to a famous Norwegian rock band, having no idea who they were.
I spoke on a panel about design education alongside Mike Monterio, Krystal Higgins and Gerry McGovern.
- Panels are weird. This one was fun because we laughed at ourselves and each other. Then I lost my phone and had to announce it over the microphone which cracked me up.
I ran a session about solving problems at the inaugural Design Academy programme at Manchester Art School with the Design Council. Chloe Eunsung Kim took to the stage to share her own journey and learnings. Thanks, to David Townson for inviting me.
- Arts schools are powerful places. I wanted to stay there and blend into the messy studios forever. Boy, did I take it for granted when I was there at DJCAD.
I spoke at DESIS ireland alongside Emma Southgate: Director of Design and Innovation at Participle and Joanna Choukeir: Social Designer and Chief Operating Officer at Uscreates.
- I'm continually finding it hard to understand how an agency model can make a significant change. Brilliant agencies like UsCreate, Participle, and Snook are working so hard to try and tackle similar problems but inevitably it's hard to work together from a system perspective because of how most agencies are structured.
I made a wee video about my blog and how I use the internet to share my ideas for the audience at the Dundee Literary Festival. Thank you to Mike Press for inviting me.
It felt odd recording this when there was no audience but I really like video as a way of sharing stories. I got some fab feedback on twitter from people in the audience who were motivated to start their own blog!
I taught at Glasgow Caledonia’s design course which was such a pleasure because I had an excuse to come home and be surrounded in Scots.
- A student asked me a question I still often think about - how do you know you are asking the right questions?
- I was absolutely horrified by the way the compère talked both to me and to the audience about diversity and women speakers. If this ever happens again I will take the mic and remind the audience that I do not represent the entire female race. This experience led to me starting #upfront. Thank you to everyone in the audience who talked to me on the day, wrote to me afterward and helped me figure out a way to tackle this monstrous problem. A reminder to Jason, Jon, Matt, Gavin, Mike, Jim, Jon and Ian there are no more excuses. There is now a very easy way for us to all to work together to make stages more diverse. I hope you’ll all join me on my mission to sure what we see in this picture never happens again.
- I also learned that sticking notes on the toilet mirror is a good way to start conversations.
I went to Mumbai with this group of beautiful women. We were celebrating my gorgeous friend Eshani’s wedding. This was an incredible trip that I’ll never forget.
- Colour is spectacular. I wear way to much black.I came home on a mission to wear more colour. This lasted 2.5 days.
- Perspective is everything. This trip made me think about family. marriage, hierarchies, poverty, wealth, capitalism, global warming, food, rituals, love, dance and music more than I have done for a long time.
I welcomed 30 new students from over 22 different countries to the MA I designed at Hyper Island.
- I learned the brand of an organisation can be purposefully crafted but can also mislead and harm the people who matter the most.
I quit and moved to London. I'm still processing what I learned during this appalling time but I do know the truth about organisations like this will come out in time and I won't make the same mistake twice.
- My dad is the kindest person I know and I'm forever grateful for his reliability, love and patience with the fact I'm still not very good at defrosting freezers.
I designed #upfront by sticking this post-it on the front of my red jotter and putting it on the internet.
- Trying to solve a problem you really care about feels amazing. And a wee reminder you do not need logos or websites or money to start things.
I spoke at Silicon Beached. Thank you so much to Matt for saying yes to my random request to invite audience members to sit on stage with me.
- Doing not talking. By trying my idea for #upfront out I understood so much about the problem, the solution and it’s potential. This was a day I’ll never forget. Thank you to Laila, Frankie, Rebekah, Beth, Mary Jane, Lulu, Sue and Leila for sitting down to stand up!
I delivered a masterclass in design thinking for WIRED in Berlin together with Sarah Silfverberg.
- The private sector has all the same problems as the public sector. Don’t be fooled.
I attended the APPG on Sex Equality supported by the Fawcett Society and the Young Women’s Trust. I was representing the wondrous Pregnant then Screwed.
- Jess Philips is awesome. I want to be like her. She's very real. A reminder to never lose my accent. And what the f*** - only 7% of the population call themselves feminists. I despair.
I skyped into the Valencia Global Service Jam. It was inspiring to see the community Alvaroo and Yasmina brought together in a city where there is very little to no design communtiy.
- Duolingo is pretty but it didn’t give me the confidence to say the words out loud in this setting.
I wrote an article about design education which was published in The National Society for Education in Art and Design. Thanks to Joe MacLeod for the introduction.
- Art and Design education is an education that many of the people I admire have. It’s the education that I have. The mantra that’s it’s broken beyond repair is unhelpful. I’m trying to change this conversation to be one about industry and academia working together instead of competing or blaming.
I spent the afternoon with undergraduate design students at Duncan of Jordanstone. We talked about service design and confidence. Thanks to Mike Press for inviting me.
- I learned that everyone has got a story to tell when it comes to confidence. I want to hear those stories.
- I learned that a few men who are respected in the design community think our big problem is art schools aren’t producing enough Mark Zuckerbergs. This bothers me.
Rebekah Cooper shared my stage at Silicon Beached. Afterwards, she delivered her own talk at University of Arts London and shared her own stage. This is the power of #upfront.
- The simplest act can make change happen
I ran a workshop at a masterclass for Dentsu in Poland. It was international women’s day and there was a rose waiting for me at my hotel.
- Jonathan Briggs and I decided to invent something we’d both never done before. This was a great way to show our workshop participants we practice what we preach. Jonathan wrote about it here.
I took part in a panel with Mat Hunter facilitated by Year Here panel. Being around Year Here always inspires me primarily because of the social drive that's inherent in their network. Thanks for having me Jack!
- I learned that there is a need for people like Year Here graduates to 'practice' being on stage so I designed an #upfront offer to work with individuals and teams on their confidence.
I took part in the Service Design TV Show, invented by my good friends Marc and Marcel from 31 volts. You can read more about it and watch my interview here.
- It’s really easy to forget that the fundamentals behind good design are still new to most people. I’m grateful for people like Marc who are starting to create a conversation in the service design community that feels more reflective and critical.
I was invited to speak at the graduate show at Brigham Young University. Thank you so much to Bryan and Janae for inviting me and looking after me so well.
- Perspective. Spending a lot of time with people who have very different beliefs to you is a good healthy thing. This trip definitely burst a few bubbles for me and I met some incredible designers who doing good things. Hat tip to you Camilla ;)
I’m proud to have joined a brilliant (and really timely) initiative, Good Lab, looking at how we can transform how the third sector raises funds. The usual way of doing things isn’t going to solve the big problems charities face - they need to transform how they generate income to solve society’s biggest challenges. They need new models, new platforms, new ways of thinking about where and who their income comes from. Our team have committed to creating £250million extra for the charity sector annually from 2026. I know right?! Scary, important, exciting and BIG. That’s why I said YES and I’m SO thrilled to be working alongside the formidable Eleanor Ford.
- The ambition is huge, our team is small and the potential is awesome. The feels very uncomfortable at times and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done over the past five months. For the first time EVER I can’t really talk about what I’m working on in a lot of depth but it feels very exciting.
- I was a sponge on a mission to learn as much as I possibly could about the sharing economy to share with our charity partners are Good Lab. I learned a lot about blockchain. Mainly that most of it is still theory right now and we aren't anywhere close to understanding it's potential. I also learned a lot about conference design which led to me designing an #upfront offering to work with conferences directly to help design the best conference experience possible.
- It was a pleasure to cheer Immy on from the audience; she wrote about her relationship with public speaking over on the #upfront blog.
I spoke at TedX Dundee about #upfront. Thank you kindly to Ali for inviting me. Thank you to Derek, Ummi, Santiana, Mena and Marta. Mena wrote about her experience here and Derek wrote about his here.
- I learned that it's vital I design and deliver #upfront so people understand and believe it's for men and women.
I joined Work Play Experience as an Associate. What can I say? Adam and Markus are two of my favourite people on this earth so I jumped at the opportunity to work with them more formally.
- I've learned so much from Adam and Markus over the years and I'm in continual admiration of the Global Service Jam community they continue to build and nourish.
I was invited to take over the incremental instagram for one week. Thank you to Michelle for having me. The purpose of this feed is to share stories from women in the creative industries. The women featured before me were from advertising, branding and print so I was really happy to bring a social innovation voice into the mix.
- You can now have two instragram accounts. I have to fight the urge to start instagram projects on a daily basis.
- Michelle wrote more about the project and her relationship with public speaking here.
I spoke at TedX Brum and the power of the sharing your stage. Huge thank you to Immy Kaur for inviting me to be part of it. I made new friends in the remarkable people who shared my stage. Thank you to Monica, Joanna, Audreia, Mario and Demis for sitting down to stand up. Thank you to Andrew, Chris, Dom and Cat for their support.
- I learned so much I tried to write it down and articulate the lessons here. This was by far the best conference I’ve ever been too and I genuinely can’t wait for next years event.
I spoke at Association of Women in Business conference in Edinburgh. Ever single speaker was #upfront and shared their stage which led to over thirty women being on stage. Thank you to Alison and the team for taking a leap and showing others how to make diversity happen!
I learned about a whole new group of people who get value from #upfront that I hadn't previously considered. Most of these women are successful business women; they are entrepreneurs, company owners, freelancers and team leaders. Yet, the majority of them don't apply to talk at conferences and they feel nervous at the idea of presenting anything other than the product or business they represent.
On the 23rd of June Britain voted in a referendum. A vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part - to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 52% to 48%. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting.
- The time leading up to the vote was painful. All I could do was talk to people and wear a t shirt which felt hopeless but I had to do something. I'm grateful for Bethan and her team at We Are Europe and all the designers who responded to my call out for help to support their team. The result of the vote has been overwhelming devastating and I learned that when my grand children ask me what I did to promote the remain vote I'll be ashamed I didn't do more.
I was featured on 30 under 30 inspiring women in Scotland by YWCA. This felt really special because Scotland is still a huge part of my work and my life. There's a gaping hole where my obsession and passion for Scotland used to be that I'm still trying to figure out.
- Scotland is full of bad ass women and I am determined to make friends with Mhari Black this year.
I ran an #upfront workshop wth the year here gang to get them ready for the final pitches. This was a brilliant day and I'm so thrilled to have found a new friend and business partner in the remarkable Lindsay Dukes.
- Our voice is one of the most powerful tools we have and I'm really proud of the impact these short couple of hours had on the cohort.
- When you meet someone and instantly feel like the relationship is going to turn into something special it usually does.
My dear friend and constant role model, Akiko Kobayashi was #upfront and shared her stage during her talk at Creative Mornings. Thank you to Alex and her team for being an #upfront event. Denise wrote this blog about her experience of sharing Akiko's stage.
- I learned a big lesson here; even when you work closely with people you've known for a really long time never make assumptions. Take time to communicate the basics the way you would with a stranger.
Heather Taylor Portman was #upfront and shared her stage at All About People conference in Bournemouth. Huge thanks to the host Andy who will make next year's All About People #upfront too. Thanks to Sandy, Emily, Jessica and Leila for sitting down to stand up.
- This event took place on the same day as I shared my stage in Edinburgh. This means that two women on stage turned into eight women being on stage. Boom!
I was invited to be an 'industry expert' at the RSA Student Design Awards alongside Nat Hunter, Tom Tobia, Nick Butcher and Richard Clarke. Thanks to Rebecca for inviting me. I was truly impressed with some of the student projects.
- I learned that the majority of design students still dream of working at Seymour Powell. This bothers me. We can do better.
I delivered a keynote at Creative Summit in a town called Skelleftea, in the North of Sweden. All of the speakers were #upfront which led to six speakers inviting over thirty people to experience the other side of the stage. Special thanks to Adele, Lara and Dariela for sharing my stage. Congratulations to Lara who made TV with her #upfront story and will present to an audience of over 200 people for the first time at the end of the year. Thank you to Petr for having me!
- I learned that the Head of Innovation at Microsoft thinks it's ok to declare he "likes to take pictures of Asian people asleep" and that you "can't innovate without a beard" during a presentation to a large audience. Disgusting right?
- Too many people are forgetting. We cannot accept this as our new reality. Too few are not willing to ‘wait and see what happens’. Too many are sitting down. It’s time to stand up.
I was invited to visit Fjord in Madrid. Thanks to Andy for the introduction. It was such a pleasure to meet Hector and his team and share some of the projects I'm working on. Thank you for looking after me so well.
- I learned that many designers want to spend more time on socially driven projects and they are trying to figure out how to do this alongside their project work. I think 4 days weeks are one way to make this possible - that's undoubtedly the vital thing that has enabled me to work on #upfront.
- When prompted I talk a lot. I learned that people like Ram are dedicating all of their time and energy to inspire and motivate the next generation of designers and I'm determined to support them in every way I can.
Lindsay and I ran an #upfront workshop for the Gender Equality Accelerator. I was particularly impressed by the diversity of the group and was happy to have the chance to work with them.
- I learned that in a very short time, with the right support, someone can progress from being anxious and unable to make eye contact to presenting to a room full of people loudly and confidently.
We won an award! #upfront won 50% more votes than any other idea in the Age of Confidence competition. Thank you to Ruth Kennedy for encouraging me to apply and thank you to everyone who voted for us.
- #upfront has a huge amount of value to bring to older people too. I'm excited to work with the Age of No Retirement team on this.
The future feels exciting. Mainly because my boyfriend decided emigration wasn't for him and moved back to London last month. My work at the Good Lab is fast, intense and brilliant.
#upfront is continuing to grow and we are working closely with the ninety people who have sat #upfront since January. I'm dedicated to making the world more confident. We're running an #upfront workshop for women in London next month. Grab tickets here. This workshop in creative confidence and courage for the Service Design Fringe Festival is about helping service designers talk about who they are and why they do the work they do. Talk UX in Georgia, Atlanta will be an #upfront conference.
I’m teaching, writing and speaking for all sorts of people in all sorts of places (if you’d like to talk about teaching, writing or speaking talk to me). I’m continuing the design interview series which is on number 39 now. Who would you like me to interview next?
So my question to you is: what are you working on and how can I help you? If I can’t help you I’ll find someone who can. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my birthday and say hello to my 30's.