It’s 5:30am and I’m sitting in my bed with my cat and a cup of coffee...being as quiet as I can because my in-laws have taken over my home. With my morning routine out the window, I figured I would take some time to reflect on my achievements from 2019 and what 2020 might hold for me.
Let's first take a look at some of the higher profile things I accomplished through work.
In early 2019, while working at Gaia GPS, we launched a new onboarding experience for mobile. Previously, we were onboarding users with a series of generic animated gifs of the interface. We upgraded this by giving users the ability to tell us how they intend to use the app based on activity type. This way we help set them up for success when they first use it. More to come on this when I get around to writing a case study on it.
Coupled with the onboarding experience was a set of illustrations. These illustrations solidified and unified the style used throughout the app, creating a standard for future illustrations.
Component Design System
Before leaving Gaia GPS, I converted my design docs from Sketch over to Figma. I also took all the core components and started building out a design component library for them. This is where I first fell in love with Figma.
Allen Institute for AI
UI Component Library
My other major goal was to create a UI style guide for the company and design a component library system to be used in all demos AI2 creates. After creating the foundations of the style in Figma, I proposed ditching our use of Material Design and instead having a look at either AtlasKit or Ant Design as the backbone. After a ton of research from the developers on my team, we ended up choosing Ant Design. I was then able to go in and style Ant Design components to my liking and have the devs implement. You can see the fruits of our labor here.
AI2 Logo Redesign
A very welcome surprise accomplishment was the rebrand of AI2 with a new logo. I say surprise because this wasn’t a task the company had on its roadmap. In my spare time I mocked up some quick ideas for a new logo. I showed them to our amazing Communications Director, and she was able to sell our CEO on the idea of exploring a new logo. That kicked off the whole process, and by the end of the year we rolled out a new logo.
I was also the Featured AI2er on the Allenai.org blog. You can read that article for some insights on the logo design process.
With the new logo in place and the motif starting to take shape, a huge milestone for my team was to create a plan for redoing our website and redesigning our homepage. I am happy to announce that we achieved both and launched the redesign before our annual board members meeting in December.
One other nagging question with this redesign was, how will we treat our illustrations? I ended up going with an outline style to match the lines from our motif. I used colors from the style guide to fill in the graphics and added a bit of an offset.
With all the formal stuff out of the way, let’s get a little intimate and go over some of my personal accomplishments.
Every year in early March, my partner and I spend a little over three weeks traveling in the southern hemisphere. This year we went to New Zealand for the first time...and it blew us away. We spent the majority of our time in the South island and a wonderful week down in Stewart Island hiking, birding, and drinking local beers. Needless to say, we’ll be back. See a heck of a lot of photos from our trip in this photo blog.
Hiking / Peakbagging
Riding the high from New Zealand, my partner and I had our most successful summer of hiking, backpacking and climbing mountains here in the Cascade Range of Washington. We capped off the season with six days in the Enchantments and summited six peaks. The crown jewel for us was finally bagging the long sought-after McClellan Peak. If you’re into stats and numbers, we bagged 30 peaks in 2019. You can see more of our summit stats on Peakbagger.
I’ve now been climbing indoors for a little over two years. Last year I set some goals for myself for both bouldering and top-roping. My goal for bouldering was to be able to climb a V4. I am proud to report that not only did I reach that, I was able to pull out a handful of V5 climbs, and astonishingly, a single V6. As far as top-roping, I wanted to be able to climb 5.11 and I am happy to announce that I was able to flash a 5.11a/b. Honestly, I spend most of my time bouldering so I am not really sure what level I am at with top-roping. Hoping to dig into that a little more in 2020.
2019 was a great year for birding. I increased my life list from 299 to 518. And last year alone I saw my highest number of unique species in one year at 219. Some of the most notable birds are the ones we saw while visiting New Zealand. Not only did I see my first Albatross, but I saw six kinds! I also got to see the endangered Yellow-eyed Penguin and very rare Rock Wren. A Kea even came up and posed for me while I was descending from the summit of Mt Ollivier in Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park.
The biggest creative thing I did aside from my photography was to pick up where I left off on my YouTube videos. I basically took a year off from filming and editing videos. But for some reason in November when the weather changed I cracked open Premiere Pro and started cutting again. I just released the last series of our trip to Patagonia and am now editing the hiking videos I took during my time in Japan. Check out my YouTube channel: Outside & Stuff.
As someone who spends most of his time creating digital things (photos and pen illustrations aside), it was great to finally take the time to start the very involved process of making knives by hand, with only hand tools. This also kicked off when the weather changed, so there is something to be said for bad weather's ability to motivate you to explore indoor hobbies to stay sane. Either way, I am bumbling my way through the process and learning a ton from it. I haven’t made anything decent yet, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I get out from behind the computer and make something that exists in the real world.
Thoughts and aspirations for 2020.
First and foremost is finishing the redesign of the AI2 website. We're talking 40 pages plus. So there will be some heavy flexing on the design side to make a coherent system that scales.
I'm also looking forward to stepping out from behind the computer and into the classroom more. And by classroom I mean conference room. I have a goal to evangelize design to AI2 via company-wide presentations that will teach our researchers and engineers to better harness the power of design in their prototypes and demos.
Last, but not least, I will focus my powers on creating new visual standards for our AI demos. Meaning, make them AI visuals HOT. To be honest, I have no idea what the outcome of this will be, other than it needs to work well and look good!
See more birds. I mean seriously, SEE MORE BIRDS!
Along the lines of birds, there has been this personal project my partner and I have been slowly working on. And that's a birding app. Or as we call it "the birding app". There has been a lot of thought and rough wires done. I would like to get the basic design for it done in 2020.
Climb harder, break fewer tendons. What I love about learning how to climb is how it teaches patience. Climbing progression is not about strength, it's about technique. And when you try to progress too quickly, you injure your hands and end up taking unwanted breaks.
Finish some knives. This is about making time to get away from the routine and spend time in the physical world. There's a lot to be done with my photography and YouTube channel. But I know I will be more satisfied with myself if I make a few knives.
Well, there we go! I've never done a year-end retrospective like this before. I am surprised at how difficult it was to reflect on the past year, coalesce my thoughts, and dig out all the supporting graphics. Here's to hoping that exercises like this will help me grow as a designer and set more realistic goals for myself in the future.
Feel free to leave your goals in the comments and don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe! Or is that just for YouTube, I forget...