It’s that time of the year when we grab our liquids, get cozy and start reflecting upon the events that have unfolded in front of us. And also attempt to plan for the madness lined up for us in the coming year.
They say you don’t change what already works. So continuing the tradition from the past couple of years, I’ll break down this review into highlights, work & life. Let’s get right into it.
- Continued to grow as a design leader
- Led the rebrand of GraphCMS to Hygraph
- Launched hygraph.design
- Launched a job board & talent network
- Made $8,000 in revenue from Product Disrupt
- Became a Program Partner and started teaching design at Coho
- Invested in 2 startups and started providing design advisory
- Launched a new personal logo & intro animation
- Failed to launch Work Abroad Guide
- Appeared on 5 interviews & podcasts
- Set up a personal workspace
- Started hosting friends for dinner at home
- Traveled & hiked to 23 places n India & Europe
Hygraph continued to grow and so did the design team. We added two more designers to the mix, totaling five mighty designers in the company. Fortunately, the market downturn and the tech layoffs didn’t impact us, as we’ve grown sustainably and intend to follow the same path this year.
The change in the company’s direction and overall team dynamics naturally brought critical changes to my role. I moved away completely (almost) from the hands-on design work and got more involved in strategic work. This challenged me to learn new skills and mature in my leadership role.
The leadership journey is quite lonely and no amount of reading or coaching can prepare you for the emotional trauma it brings. I do my best to support my team in their growth and career aspirations. In fact, if I’m being honest, sometimes I overdo it. But so many factors aren’t in my control, making me sometimes feel helpless. And I feel my work goes unnoticed at times. It’s like the cheerleader’s job who constantly encourages their team but rarely does the team cheer for them.
I’m not complaining, as I knew what I was getting into, but my emotions sometimes get the best of me and make me feel miserable – for lack of a better word.
Side note: I asked ChatGPT to describe this feeling for me, but it couldn’t do it either. It went all therapeutic on me instead.
GraphCMS → Hygraph
We significantly extended our product offerings in the past few years and it demanded a new name and branding to reflect all the capabilities. The idea started taking shape during our annual offsite in Mar 2022.
Soon after we locked on the name, we started working on the visual rebrand. We were in a time crunch and a little tight on the budget, so we decided to do it in-house. And as the Head of Design, it became my responsibility.
I’d never led a rebrand before and brand design isn’t my forte, so I was intrigued by the challenge but was confident that we could pull this off with the support of our design team.
I started by planning a brand workshop to get the department heads together and develop a shared understanding of our new brand. We had no time to spare, so we quickly put the insights from the workshop to use to explore our visual direction.
We’re fortunate in that we have diverse skills on our team. We put them all to good use to create a new brand with the website, messaging, visual direction and reveal videos in just under two weeks. I take great pride in the successful outcome of this project.
Here’s a little thread for further behind-the-scenes on our rebrand.
As a remote team, we rarely get to work in the same room. But when we do, we try to make the most of it. The design team jammed for a day during the offsite to create our little corner on the internet for all things design at Hygraph.
At a small startup, you know there are always 1000+ other things with a higher priority, making it incredibly hard to dedicate time to initiatives like this. But we care deeply about design and want a strong brand voice. So we continued working on the site in the background and in downtime to bring it to reality. We used Frsmer for this and could publish the site without any involvement from anyone outside the design team.
The most significant outcome of this project came in team collaboration. Jamming together helped us identify each member’s unique skills, which proved vital in the rebrand project.
I launched two new initiatives under Product Disrupt in 2022 – a job board with curated jobs for designers, creators & makers and a talent network to help match designers looking for a job with hiring companies.
I’ve written about my thinking behind starting these initiatives here and here. But to sum it up for you – Product Disrupt has built an organic community of designers & makers over the years. So when Pallet came along, it became apparent to use it to provide value to the community by surfacing career opportunities.
So far, 177 candidates have joined the talent network and more than 20 companies have hired from the network.
Product Disrupt doubled in revenue for the second time in a row. I’m grateful for the support you provided to this project that started with my passion for design education.
2022 – Product Disrupt
- Revenue: $8,000 (x1.95)
- Expense: $204
- Total Subscribers: 4,805
- Site Views: 21K
I became a Program Partner at Coho (previously On Deck). I’m passionate about design education, so naturally, I said yes when the Coho team approached me to teach modules on design and provide direct coaching to their cohort members.
Since joining in Mar 2022, I’ve taught modules on choosing a career path, having great 1-on-1s, executing as a team of one & building systems for scale. I’ve also provided direct coaching in numerous 1-on-1s. It has been such a fulfilling experience and I learned more than I taught.
In addition to this, I also provided direct consulting to designers and founders through Superpeer. Always enjoy these conversations.
Investing & Advisory
This year I dipped my feet into the uncharted waters of startup investing and design advisory. Working in the design industry for over nine years, I’ve learned a thing or two about startups & design. So I decided to put those learnings to work at scale.
I made a couple of small investments in Maybe & TagMango through Republic. So far, I’ve followed a simple rule – only invest in startups whose business you understand or those you want to see exist in the world.
Design advisory has been weird. I worked in a tiny capacity with four startups, but none converted into an official partnership. My hope for the coming year is to change that. So if you’re an early-stage startup looking for help setting up your design function, hit me @WeirdoWizard.
I only published one video on my YouTube channel this year – 11 short of my original goal of 12 videos. So yeah, failed by a colossal margin here.
Looking forward – my little sister is helping me out with video editing. She’s already created 7 videos and is on a roll here. She’s Gen-Z, so video editing kinda comes naturally to her.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, I was again unable to ship my other ongoing side projects.
On the Work Abroad Guide, we made steady progress early on and even drafted a plan to do a first release. But life got in the way and the timezone difference just doesn’t help. It’s my promise to you that this year we’ll ship this project, irrespective of its state. You can hold me accountable for this.
And with the other two projects, there was just no time for them. So I’m not even going to mention them here.
Interviews & Podcasts
In 2022, I participated in 5 interviews & podcasts, 3 less than last year.
- Driving Digital Design Resources, Education, Inspiration – Design Drives
- Working Abroad & Creating Side-Projects – Product Stories
- Newsletter on Side-Projects – DesignUp
- File Templates in Figma – UI Prep
- Worthy Five – Dense Discovery
If you know me, you’ll know I’m not into home decor or fancy workspace setups. I spend most of my time online, so I prefer to decorate my online presence.
After we moved into a new apartment and I started recording videos, my wife forced me to spice up my workspace background and got these floating shelves. I’ve put some temporary objects on them for now, but our plan is to replace them with some custom portraits & type posters – designed by my talented illustrator wife, of course.
I like the vibe already. What do you think?
Now that we have a good apartment in Berlin, we have started hosting our friends for dinner and chill nights. Cooking together, dining and drinking have become one of my favorite hangouts with friends. I just don’t like doing the dishes after dinner. It’s like cleaning up the crime scene.
Travel & Hiking
2022 was a good year for travel as the pandemic got under control. I wouldn’t say it’s over, but we’ve found ways to live with it. So I was happy about the amount of travel I managed this year.
I also bought a secondhand gravel bike from a friend, making my daily commutes and weekend getaways active.
- Family visit to India
- Hygraph offsite in Gran Canaria, Spain
- Road trip in Czech Republic & Poland
- Litomerice, Czech Republic
- Hustopece, Czech Republic
- Dursztyn, Poland
- Wroclaw, Poland
- Poznan, Poland
- Day trip to Alt-Kladow, Germany
- Dusseldorf, Germany
- Cologne, Germany
- Road trip in the DACH region
- Nuremberg, Germany
- Konstanz, Germany
- Gurtis, Austria
- Hochheim, Germany
- Bad Sulza, Germany
- Design Matters conference in Copenhagen, Denmark
- Vacation in the UK
- London, England
- Bath & Stonehenge, England
- Poole, England
- Waymouth, England
- Isle of Wight, England
Reflecting upon the year, the theme for 2022 was Settle. I moved into a new apartment in Berlin with my wife and continued with my work at Hygraph and other side projects. It was probably the year I felt most calm and content with my life.
I’m either getting old or getting wiser. Both can be true.
I really don’t know what to expect from 2023, but the beautiful part is that I’m not fazed about it. I’m happy where I’m in life now, and I’m grateful for that.
Congrats! You’ve reached the end of this post. Thanks for giving me your attention. I wish you a beautiful start to the new year ✦
Feel free to drop a link to your year-in-review in the comments below. I love reading them.