March 29, 2022

Year end

March 31 is the first official year end for my limited company, Open Fields Studio Ltd. The company started in June 2021.

Because I'm a pensions nerd, April is my back-to-school September feeling. So year end felt like a good occasion to write a blog post about what I've been doing and what I plan to do more of.

I left GDS in July after three and a half years there, with the last year and a half working as lead designer (and a stint as head of design, when Stephen was being a dad) on GOV.UK. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do. So rather than find another full time role, I went for an opportunity for a long-ish engagement with a large financial services company alongside the team at Public Digital. And because I love pensions, I thought, let's give this a shot while I figure things out.

The engagement finished early, and I had a brief moment of, oh gosh, what have I done.

Since then I've:

What I've learned

The next year

I started my working life self-employed after falling into managing bands (GoodBooks, Sky Larkin and Sportsday Megaphone - links go to Spotify). It's how I learned what work looks like, and the past 8 months has felt a little like coming home. I've spent a lot of time inside my house (who hasn't?), but I've also had days that feel like the days I used to have when I worked in music, and that I love - in an office for a few hours, meet a friend for lunch, coffee with a client, workshop with another, walk over a bridge to get a train. More of that.

I'd also like to look into some (dog-friendly) studio space in Brighton (or Hove. I'm easy), to mix up the week a bit, ground myself more in the city we live in. Not to mention that I've missed that 20-30 mins of processing time cycling to and from an office.

I'd like to be more deliberate about the work that I do and that I take on. I've been extremely lucky so far in terms of the people I've worked with, so no complaints on that front. I'm still interested in issues around trust, identity, access (GOV.UK Verify and GOV.UK Accounts will do that to a person). I remain semi-obsessed with cycling infrastructure and personal finance. And lot of what I've been doing most recently has been about networks, not transactions - whether of people, organisations or devices. More of any or all of that.

I'm not keen to fill in gaps on teams as a product manager or service designer gun for hire. Less of that. As Rod says, "I suspect that product management’s natural commitment should be 2-5 years, not 2-5 weeks or months." Maybe the way to sum up my thinking on this is that I'm more interested in shorter things where I own the outcome (alongside others), like the GOV.UK Accounts discovery work, or longer things where I consult and help, like what I'm doing with the British Library.

I've been noodling around with the idea of a small design and research studio, and will take some time to suss out what that might be or look like. That means not being full to the brim with client work all the time while I do that thinking. Inspiration from studios and organisations like:

(thanks to Conor for pointing me towards some of these).

I also have thoughts on going beyond Minimum Viable Employer, and I feel ready for those to come into contact with reality when the time is right to expand into employing someone.

And who knows, maybe this will be the year that Checksies grows up.

One way or another, I'll rectify the partner-in-crime situation. Some irons in the fire in that area. And I'd like to do some more mentoring, because I was a decent line manager, and I am conscious of being too internally focused rather than, you know, contributing.

Finally, I stopped playing 5-a-side football a few years ago because the things that annoyed me about my play felt like the same things as when I was 15. Sometimes that's true for me at work, too. So I'm about to start working with a coach; I can't imagine it will change everything, but perhaps I can improve my free kicks a bit. The hypothetical ones, I mean.

It should go without saying but perhaps it doesn't: if any of the above makes you want to have a chat, I'm on or @annagoss on Twitter.