Goodbye 2021. Hello 2022. I thought this might be the year that things would start to go back to normal. With more people vaccinated perhaps we’d get closer to something resembling normal?
Despite all the oddities caused by COVID, this was an exceptional year for me. My girlfriend, our dog and I moved into a fantastic house in a great neighborhood. Product Notes had another record-breaking year. I did excellent professionally.
This is the eighth annual review I’ve done. You can check the archives and find my years in review from 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. Historically, I’ve used these reviews to discuss the things I’ve built and overall how productive I was during the year. However, in recent years it’s been less about that and more reflecting on my life in the last year. This review will continue that pattern. I’ve organized my thoughts into a handful of topics below:
A website and brand for my girlfriend
My girlfriend, Holly, is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and has spent the last several years working in various clinics. This year she decided to take a leap and start her own practice, Flip Therapy. I no longer take on freelance work, but I did offer to do branding work and built her a website when she was ready.
Historically, I would have built a WordPress theme for her to use. Unfortunately, WordPress isn’t what it once was. It gets more confusing and difficult to use with every release. I can’t see myself building a new WordPress site anytime soon. Holly’s website was built with Webflow.
Honestly, Webflow is a fantastic tool. WYSYWIG editors have come a long way since Dreamweaver. For a small business website with relatively minor updates, it was perfect.
She’s got a full caseload of kids. The next major step is to try and find a place for her clinic. Unfortunately, other than being supportive that’s not something can really help out with.
Designing an icon set
I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit this summer when I designed a custom icon set for Salesloft. The timing was fortunate. One of my teams had just released a big project and the other team was largely focused on backend work. This gave me some free cycles to try something different.
It took a significant amount of time studying icon sets to understand what made one good. While I ended up with something that looks and feels different, many of the principles were borrowed from IBM’s UI icons. In my opinion they are the most well-thought out icon sets.
Surprisingly there are a large number of poorly designed icon sets—produced by publicly traded companies, whose names I won’t mention. They tend to be inconsistently sized, antialiased (from stroke or sizing) or have varying levels of detail. It’s surprising.
After starting from scratch 6 times, I finally ended up with a result I was incredibly pleased with. The Salesloft icon set contains 292 icons designed to work at 16px and 24px (although they will be sharp at any multiple of those). While our design system hasn’t been made public yet, I hope that I’ll be able to share more this year.
Some of my favorite icons from the set are pictured above.
Along with this set I also designed a tiny typeface, which I call Alphanum Micro. Each letter and number can fit into a 3px by 5px space. While it’s not ideal to use type within an icon, Salesloft uses it to differentiate similar filetypes.
Something else unique about the set are the globe icons: Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. I drew these by taking images of globes, shrinking them to around 12px and tracing them. Now that Salesloft is operating globally these tiny indicators may come in handy.
There are so many cool things about this icon set. Perhaps, this topic deserves it’s own post.
I lead Salesloft’s product design team as we took marketing’s brand work and applied it across all of our products: Cadence, Conversations, Deals, Connect and Mobile. It was was probably the largest and most demanding project I took on this year.
There were a lot of challenges. The largest was the color choice—green. On one hand it’s a brilliant choice. There are very few green software companies. With SidePrize I encouraged us to choose a very different brand color to stand out. However, there is a reason there few green software companies. Green is a notoriously difficult color to work with in product design. It clashes with other system colors and causes issues for those that are color blind.
If you think of a brand that is green—Starbucks, Spotify, Shopify (strange they all start with an S)—the interfaces for those products actually use very little green. Most of them are dark gray with green as an accent. Those products also generally have a handful of functions people use occasionally. Salesloft is a platform tool. It’s information dense and our customers use it for around 6 hours each day. Because of that it’s really important that we deliver an exceptional experience.
Designing features so that the product felt like Salesloft’s brand, while making sure it was accessible was a challenge. However, the rebrand work has been extremely well received by our customers.
There is still work to do though. A good portion of the application is green and appears dull to many of our color blind users. The design systems team is looking at theming, which would allow us to serve color blind variants of our components.
Bought a house
Purchasing a home was significantly more difficult that I imagined. For six months it was essentially a part time job. I learned a huge amount and have some tips for those currently looking for a home—I’ll put that in a separate post though. I am so glad we finally found something. We absolutely love our home and neighborhood.
Because our home has a basement, I put down rubber flooring and purchased a power rack. It’s been 18 months since I last lifted weights. I’m very weak compared to where I was before the pandemic. But getting back in the routine has been so good for my mental and physical health.
There’s things to tinker on. Our house was built in 1925, so there’s a lot of charm to it. One of the best things are these beautiful old doors and mortise locks. Some of them don’t shut particularly well though. After watching a number of YouTube videos, I’ve started taking the locks apart, cleaning, oiling them and fixing the locking mechanisms. YouTube has some fascinating lock restoration videos—if you’re into that sort of thing.
I’ve also discovered this zen thing with yard work. I put my headphones in and listen to an audio book or podcast and mow the lawn or blow leaves. It’s oddly relaxing. I love it!
We fostered two puppies
This November we fostered two puppies, Munchie and Mangia.
We got them when they were only a few weeks old. I remember the first night Holly brought them home. They each only weighed 3 lbs. Holly fed them so much that they became round and couldn’t sit without rolling over. Honestly, I was a little concerned that they might pop.
Munchie had Parvo and needed to quarantine until he tested negative. That meant we had daily poop disasters for a couple weeks. When he tested negative they got to play with our dog, Remi. It was a chaotic couple of weeks in our house, but it was a ton of fun.
Munchie and Mangia were sweet puppies. It was difficult for us to let them go, but I’m glad they both went to good homes.
Product Notes kept growing
Revenues grew a fair amount this year. It has easily been my most successful project. I’m fortunate that my interest in writing about consumer product design has turned out to be lucrative.
Historically, I’ve strived for a few comprehensive reviews and comparisons. In the last year my mindset has changed though. I’m going to publish a larger number of less formal reviews. The formula is pretty simple—what’s good, what’s bad and who should consider the product.
Why the change? Well, it’s easier and keeps me writing. Part of the appeal of moving from a blog to a forum was that it got me writing more because it didn’t need to be perfect.
Something else interesting happened this year. On multiple occasions I’ve had friends and co-workers send me a message that they found a comment or review I left on the internet—not realizing that I manage and am the primary contributor to the site. It’s pretty cool.
In December I completed Salesloft’s Leadership Exploration, Application & Development program. LEAD, as it’s known, is a 6-month leadership program geared towards managers and senior-level ICs.
Much of the program was geared towards learning about ourselves and how we communicate with others. The program helped me better articulate some things that I knew about myself.
For example, I carry a lot of weight because of my ability, drive and tenure. Because of that I need to be careful how I approach group discussions and design reviews. When I speak first it influences others who may have responded differently. It may discourage dissenting opinions—I can be a difficult person to disagree with.
The program and my capstone presentation with both more difficult than I expected. It was an all-around great experience though.
Thoughts on 2022
My current routines are top of mind right now. The pandemic changed a lot of the habits I previously had, now that things are better it’s probably time to re-evaluate my current ones.
It’s cliche, but I need to get back to the gym. Until about a month ago the last time I worked out was March of 2020. Previously I worked out 3 or 4 times a week. Luckily now that I have a home gym, I’ve already started to get back in that routine.
I’ve always had a difficult time keeping up with people. I get laser-focused on a single thing and it everything else becomes noise. I need to start sending old friends and colleagues an email or text message every now and then. I think having some sort of system could help me. I’m unsure what that looks like right now though.
More time for books. I used to listen to a ton of audiobooks while commuting—what used to be a 20 minute walk from my condo to the office. Maybe a stop at the grocery store on the way home. Now my commute is from my living room to our spare bedroom. Not a lot of audiobook time in that commute. I have started to fit it in while doing yard work, working out or shopping for groceries. So it is slowly starting to come back.
Also, some podcasts. Recently, I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Supernova in the East. It’s basically a course in the last 100 years of Japanese history. It’s absolutely fascinating.
I think that’s about it. I wish you all a great 2022!