2nd January, 2011

That was the year that was

I’d been hesitant about writing a review of my 2010, partly because it is something I’ve avoided each year, and also because I had such a brilliant and eventful twelve months that I hate the idea of appearing arrogant or self-indulgent. Ultimately, I decided that this would be something I’d like to reflect upon at a later date, or might be of use to someone else. So for those reasons, I think it’s justified.

So, from a professional perspective, 2010 was unlike anything I’d imagined. As the year began, I was firmly in place helping to run Erskine Design, the company I’d co-founded back in 2006. Twelve months ago, I had no firm plans to move on, but looking back over the year I can honestly say that this was the best decision I’ve ever made.

It was a year where I finally began to make the most of the opportunities that come my way, and put myself first. You could say I was rather selfish through 2010, and I think that was long overdue. It was a year when I finally began to travel, see more of the world, and also overcame some ongoing health problems by facing up to them, seeking advice, and in turn made my daily life a better and more enjoyable experience.

Right. I guess I’ll do this month by month, and see how it goes. If you’re still here, I’m impressed—and thank you.


Following several months of procrastination, exploration, and desperation, I finally settled on a direction and redesigned, rebuilt, and relaunched this site. I was truly overwhelmed by the response, especially as I considered the somewhat eccentric idea to be a risk. Aside from a couple of days of petty resentment from certain quarters, the redesign continues to serve me well and it’s made a few year-end top tens, which is nice. In fact, I think this site has a playboy lifestyle all of it’s own. Good luck to it.


Aside from a trip to Liverpool to do an evening talk (whilst heavily medicated and a bit drunk) for Speak The Web, this month was marked by my decision to resign from my own company. Probably the bravest decision I’ve ever made, the process was horrible, as I tried to work out all the pros and cons, dealt with some criticisms, and faced up to the realisation that some people just aren’t made to run an agency. I cried a few times, and sought a lot of advice. I genuinely had no idea if I’d sink or swim, but as I wasn’t entirely happy, I had to make a change. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait very long to realise I’d done the right thing, and I’m thrilled that I’m still very good friends with everyone at Erskine.


I realised that to many, I was “off the radar” at Erskine, folks probably assuming I was too busy to consider other challenges. So, two days after I decided to go out on my own, the offer of a lifetime came along. I am not allowed to say what it was, or who I worked with, but I was finally off to the United States, spending three days in New York and a week in Austin, working on an incredibly ambitious project for one of the globe’s top ten companies, alongside many designers you’ll be very familiar with. I pretty much fell in love with New York right there, and the States in general. Most importantly, my freelance life was off to a killer start, and I could feel all the stresses and strains slipping away. Phew.

That month, as well as setting up everything I need for freelancing, I also posted my nine-part Process Toolbox series and my big Bauhaus essay. I ended the month with good friends in The Netherlands, back in wonderful Leiden, and a couple of days in Amsterdam, including a trip to see Ajax at the arena. By now I was really chilled.


More good work arrived, including projects for Campaign Monitor, Woo Themes, and a redesign of the ExpressionEngine site. I was already back in touch with real front-end design work, the kind of projects I truly adore, but had not been able to work on for the last few years. It felt so good, and spending days in Photoshop and the browser helped me get my mojo back very quickly. Those projects all subsequently launched over the coming months, and I was delighted to be working on smaller yet more rewarding collaborations.

I recorded an hour-long audio book about the business of web design for Carsonified, and was utterly thrilled to speak at the first DIBI conference in Gateshead, spending time with great friends old and new. I began to form the backbone of a talk that I rolled out in various forms throughout the year, around a subject I’m very obsessed with. The video and slides are here.


I spoke at Future of Web Design London (about the future, funnily enough) and helped with the design clinic in the afternoon, which was very rewarding. I also wrote the preface to Hardboiled Web Design this month, and consider that to be one of the best things I’ve ever written. Not nearly as good as the book itself however. Mr. Clarke should be very proud.

I did a fun interview for the Standardistas whilst on a plane to New York, where I ended the month falling in love even more with the greatest city on Earth. I attended my first Beer Friday at the legendary DUMBO studios where I have been made to feel so at home.


As the month began, I found myself in San Francisco for the first time. I was there to speak at EECI2010 where I hit a load of developers with a skipload of design thinking. I walked to the Golden Gate Bridge and back, and visited Alcatraz. All in all, I met so many amazing people and I had so many memories to collate from the trip that I could only manage a ginormous list.

I ended the month at Glastonbury Festival (my first visit since 2004) and returned to implement some adaptive layouts to this site thanks to some great work from Aaron Gustafsson. This later resulted in a .Net Awards Mobile Site of the Year nomination that I was very embarrassed about, seeing as my site only really worked on the iPhone.


This month was supposed to be about trying to enjoy the Summer, and taking advantage of my new routine. However, I got incredibly excited about something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and spent three weeks preparing, researching, planning, and scheming ahead of the big launch of New Adventures in Web Design. Hopefully the first of many events I’ll organise under the New Adventures brand, this first conference sold out within three months, and I’ve got folks visiting from all around the world this coming January. To say I’m nervous is probably true. To say I’m excited is cold hard fact.


A quiet month, enjoying what little sunshine we had, seeing friends, fixing the house. I spoke at my first online conference, The Business of Web Design, which was worth doing, but not having the benefit of audience feedback meant it just felt like I was talking to myself. I’ve vowed never to do an online presentation like that ever again.

I also found a brilliant publisher for an ambitious new book, which I started writing around this time, but admit it’s tailed off a bit of late. It’s still on the agenda though. Promise.


The month began with me in Brighton for my first dConstruct where I did a full-day workshop to a room of thirty people. I was really nervous, and presenting seven hours of content is daunting. Still, it seemed to go well, and the main conference day was wonderful. One of the best events I’ve attended.

Next, I was off to Belgium (specifically Hasselt and Genk) to speak at the Sneak Preview event in a wonderful redeveloped old mine. Naturally, I drank a lot of beer with good Irish and Belgian friends, and sort of fell in love with Belgium.

I was supposed to then go straight to Iceland to speak at IceWeb, but owing to an urgent operation on my throat, I had to pull out a week beforehand. I’ll always love Iceland, having lived there for a time, so hopefully I get back there next year.

Towards the end of the month, I was back in The Netherlands for the second EECI2010 of the year. It was a thrill to be there as an attendee and not have to speak. So, I drank a lot, which clashed with my medication. Bad form, but nevertheless it was an incredible week, again with some brilliant friends.


This month was all about my third trip of the year to New York for Brooklyn Beta, a friendly web conference organised by my good pals Cameron and Chris. I ran a workshop on the first afternoon, with people like Jason Santa Maria and Jonathan Hoefler in the front row, which was scary. This was another opportunity to finally meet so many people who seemed to only exist on Twitter, and although the two weeks was heavy on my liver, I have to say that this event stood out as the best conference of the year for me. I also fell hook, line and sinker for the borough of Brooklyn.

Not much else happened in October, I did a Q&A for .net magazine, but not much else. Maybe I did some work at some point, for a change.


I popped up to Hull to present at HD Live, and then I drove to Belfast as it was finally time to sell my Datsun. It was upsetting to let her go, but a car like that needs love, and I just don’t have enough to give.

Anyway, whilst in Belfast, I attended the second Build conference, which is almost the best event I attended. Almost. So very close. Andy puts on one hell of a show, and it was a joy to just sit back and enjoy fine talks, drink lots of Guinness, and (yes, you get the pattern now) see good friends old and new. I think I finally met every geek I ever wanted to meet thanks to the events of 2010. I’m so pleased that computer geeks actually go out and socialise these days.

I popped to London for my second .Net awards, which was slightly odd this year, being in a noisy club. Still, it was a pleasure to be asked to judge this year.

Dan Benjamin invited me to do a Pipeline interview, which was an honour, and went pretty well. I may have also done some work this month. Maybe.


On the first day of the month, I trudged through snow, and was forced to get a taxi from Nottingham to Heathrow, but eventually ended up back in New York (for the fourth time of 2010). I found a tidy little apartment in Park Slope, and just spent the week hanging and drinking with Greg, Travis, and numerous others. Work wasn’t really on the agenda, so we just explored more of the city, and enjoyed a few gigs in Manhattan. We also enjoyed another epic Beer Friday in DUMBO. It goes without saying that after four visits in such a short space of time, my love for NYC was by now becoming more like stalking.

I was invited to write again for 24 Ways, and put a ridiculous amount of effort into an article that I’d wanted to write for a long, long time. The response was good, and you can read The Articulate Web Designer of Tomorrow if you wish.

Finally, as Christmas approached, a couple of us travelled down to Bristol for the Mildbunch Party, staying in the shittiest hostel I could ever imagine. Never again.

And so, Christmas and New Year brought the usual festivities, and despite an amazing year, I’d have swapped it all to have my Dad with us for Christmas. Three years now, and if anything it’s getting harder. Still, the booze and crap telly makes it easier.

And so to 2011

I don’t make resolutions as such, but I’m hoping for more of the same in 2011. The main task is to make sure New Adventures runs smoothly and is a great success. I have 650 people coming to Nottingham because I promised them a great show. That is some responsibility, but I’ll do it. Maybe more events will follow too. I’ll also have something special to share with all of you after the conference.

I don’t want to do too much presenting in 2011, but I’m already down to speak at Interlink (Vancouver), Build (Belfast), and something forthcoming in the Netherlands. I have to remember to say “no” sometimes, and make sure I don’t overstretch myself.

I’ll try to keep writing the book, and I’ll aim to be a better designer. I’ll hopefully read the enormous pile of books on my desk, and I may even try to get back into illustrating and drawing as that sort of failed last year.

Above all, I’ll continue to consider myself fortunate. I work very hard to be happy, but what has happened since February 2010 has been a revelation, and throughout the forthcoming year I’ll take the time to appreciate it more, enjoy life even more, see more of my friends, and make sure I take everything in.

Anyway, I’ve blown my trumpet for long enough. If you’re still reading, I salute you.

Oh, and I also wrote about my year in music if that interests you.

Prev / Next


If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to my Internet of Natural Things letter, and maybe grab the RSS feed. Thank you.