I really enjoyed writing last’s year in review as it was a good way to assess the year and look forward to the next one. Naturally, here’s one for 2019!
A decade in review #
As we ring in the new year and new decade, it seems like a good time to for me to look back at the last year and decade and take inventory.
In 2009, Em and I left Philly where she had lived for over a decade and I had lived for most almost two decades to try on New York as one of our first big adventures as a married couple.
I left a dream job at Happy Cog, turned down a dream offer from Facebook, a took another dream job at Big Spaceship. (And yes, I know how privileged I am to have any one of those things, much less all three. I don’t take any of it for granted. I have nothing but extreme gratitude in my heart for all of those opportunities and do my best to pass it on and provide the same opportunities for as many others as possible.)
On this day in 2009, I awoke to 7 missed calls from my Mom, saying my Grandma passed away peacefully in her sleep. I miss her terribly every day, but the hundreds of memories I have of her make me smile every time I think of her.
In the decade since, we’ve moved back to Philly with renewed fervor for the city, quit my band, created two spectacular daughters, started an agency, started (and left) a podcast, wrote a book, started (and left) a SaaS product, ate some delicious food, and traveled around the world.
I live an incredibly blessed life, and I guard it relentlessly.
Here’s what’s happened in the last year.
Em and I celebrated our 11th anniversary in 2019! We were going to throw a big bash called the Mall Ball—get it?—but then we realized that it would really stress out these two introverts to plan and throw a giant party and that we’d much rather travel together. So we spent a long weekend in Cuba instead!
Kids & family #
Overall, our family had lots of fun adventures together in 2019. Sidda and Charlie are now 8 years old and 6 years old respectively. There’s lots of interesting things to share about them, but I’m also increasingly more inclined to keep their personal details private. Suffice it to say that the older they get, the more I’m enjoying being their dad. And the more the four of us grow together,the deeper and more interesting and exciting our family relationship gets. It’s easy at times and difficult at times, and I’m lucky to be a part of all of it.
We got a dog! This is our second try with dogs: we had to give our Rottweiler puppy to a friend after not even a week as we discovered our family was allergic. We also had cats this time last year, but same deal: allergies meant we had to give them away. We tried fish too, but they died.
But Max is a Yorkshire Terrier, which apparently is a hypoallergenic breed since they have hair (not fur) and don’t shed. We’ve had him for a little over a month now without any major issue, so it seems like he’s a keeper.
As someone who didn’t have pets growing up and is kinda afraid of dogs, it’s definitely an adjustment. Since I shut down my apprenticeship last year, my office is usually pretty quiet and lonely now, but Max is a great office buddy. He gives me lots of reasons to step away from work every so often to play. I do wish I could entertain him more than I do. He mostly sleeps all day, but for a puppy, I’d imagine he’d like to be more active.
Health, wellness, and self-care #
I’ve been drinking a lot more water this year, thanks to always having my HydroFlask or Coca-Cola tumblers filled with ice water nearby. I thought this would help me drink less soda, but alas, I’m still as addicted to cola as ever. (IT’S SO DELICIOUS.)
I’m happy to report that I’m still playing basketball regularly, an average of once every two weeks. An ankle sprain about 2 months ago has put me out of commission recently, but I’m slowly getting back into athletic activity again.
One thing I’m really happy about is that I’m eating at home more now. I really enjoy cooking, but very rarely do I block out the time to do it. So, I end up defaulting to fast food a lot. Over the last 6 months, however, subscriptions to meal services Tovala and CookUnity have got me eating quick and delicious meals, and I’m also saving a little money every month too.
I finally got laser eye surgery this year. TL;DR: if you can deal with a first few hours of inconvenience, it’s awesome. Almost one year later, I’m really loving the little things, like forgetting to bring contact solution on a trip or worrying about a contact lens getting bumped out while playing sports.
I wanted to get my second tattoo this year, but it didn’t happen. But! It’s definitely happening in 2020. I have the appointment already booked, and bonus: my brother and I are gonna get the same one together.
I started therapy again this year after about a year-long break. It’s been helpful at times, but I think I need to be clearer with myself (and my therapist) about what I want out of it.
This year, I read:
- Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, by Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn
- Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin
- Storm Front, by Jim Butcher (abandoned)
- The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (abandoned)
- The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier
- Superman: Dawnbreaker, by Matt de la Peña
- The Case for a Creator, by Lee Strobel (abandoned)
- The Kingdom, by Emmanuel Carrère & John Lambert (abandoned)
- How Will You Measure Your Life, by Clayton M. Christensen
- We are Legion (We are Bob), by Dennis E. Taylor
- The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle
- The Power, by Naomi Alderman (abandoned)
- Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne (abandoned)
- The House of X and Powers of X series by Jonathan Hickman
- Blitzscaling, by Reid Hoffman (abandoned)
- Stan Lee’s Alliances: A Trick of Light, by Stan Lee & Kat Rosenfield (abandoned)
- A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking (abandoned)
- What You Do Is Who You Are, by Ben Horowitz (abandoned)
- How to Be Less Stupid About Race, by Crystal Marie Fleming
- Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (abandoned)
- Make Time, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
- Lost and Founder, by Rand Fishkin
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (abandoned)
- Run Studio Run, by Eli Altman
- Company of One, by Paul Jarvis
- Expressive Design Systems, by Yesenia Perez-Cruz
- Laying the Foundations, by Andrew Couldwell
- The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber
- Where Good Ideas Come Free, by Steven Johnson (currently reading)
- The Circle, by Dave Eggers (currently reading)
I gave myself a lot more permission to not finish books this year. I think this comes from a combination of 2 things:
- In I Buy More Books Than I Read, Shawn Blanc says, “All I care about is getting one good idea or story from that book. If I get that, then it’s worth it to me… A life- and business-changing idea for $10 or less? Sold.”
- Audible has a very generous return policy: “If you’re unhappy with your book, you can return or exchange it easily as long as it’s within 365 days of the original purchase. Our exchange policy is risk-free. It allows active members to take a chance on a new narrator or story without losing a credit. Our ability to continue to offer this benefit is dependent on our members using it for this purpose only.” Because of this generosity, I return audiobooks liberally while being conscious about whether or not I’m abusing this policy, but I also purchase audiobooks liberally too. This kind of policy feels like it’s coming from a company that respects its customers, and I’m happy to reward that kind of company with my business.
This year, for both work and personal reasons, I got to visit:
- Chicago, IL
- Austin, TX
- Seattle, WA
- Breckenridge, CO (first time)
- Los Angeles, CA
- Havana, Cuba (first time)
- Boston, MA
- Scotland (first time)
- San Jose, CA
- Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (first time)
- San Francisco, CA
- New York, NY
- Orlando, FL
All of my international trips this year were the first times in each of those locations, and were all leisure trips with Em and friends. I had already previously been to every U.S. city I visited this year (except Breckenridge). There are a lot of places in the U.S. I haven’t been, and I feel myself getting the itch for an road trip around the country. Perhaps that’s in the cards for the next few years.
Videos & photos #
In last year’s review, I mentioned that I had “caught the video bug” and that I’d be posting a lot more videos this year.
I did shoot a lot more video this year, but I didn’t really post many because, well, they suck. I’ve been shooting a lot more videos with my DSLR, mirrorless, and GoPro, but I don’t like any of them. And geez, editing takes so long. I’m not sure that I’m willing to put the time in to get good at this. I’m not completely writing it off, but I’m also not exactly enthusiastic about it. I do have a few ideas for online courses I’d like to make, so perhaps that’ll be the motivation that gets me over the hump.
On the other hand, I did have a lot of renewed interest in photography this year. I think the change started last year when I attended the f/8 Photography Workshop in the Faroe Islands. The weather conditions and subjects made it ideal for taking great photos, and I learned so much from the great instructors about both editing and shooting.
This year, I took two online courses that I found through Instagram (I’m such a sucker for Instagram ads):
- Photography for Beginners, by Josh Dunlop at Expert Photography. I learned to shoot in a high school photography class on a manual camera that was either my mom’s or came from a flea market, which gave me a decent enough understanding of the mechanics of shooting. But I never really practiced enough to get really good at it. Even though a lot of this course was review for me, it covered all of the gaps of things I missed in the transition from using a manual camera to a digital one over the last 20 years.
- Photography Academy, by Tim Shields. I really love Tim’s simple approach to teaching photography. He explains things slowly and thoroughly without coming off patronizing or like he’s dumbing it down. He suggests that there are only two things important about photography: getting sharp images and getting proper exposure. His courses are about many different but still simple ways to achieve those two goals.
In my shooting even while taking these courses, my images improved dramatically. As a designer, I’m pretty experienced at taking even the worst images and making them look good. I realized that the photos I was taking weren’t good; I was just good and making them look good afterwards. But with the tips I picked up over the last two years, the images coming out of my camera start at a much higher level, so I’m working with significantly better source imagery, which is candy for a designer.
Unlike my video work, I’m able to create photos that I really like, which incentives me to shoot and post more. I created a little site where I’ll be posting my photos, and you can also follow me on my public Instagram account @danmallphotos dedicated to my photography journey. I’m excited about doing a one-day workshop in the Canadian Rockies with Jeff Barlett in a few weeks and am determined to take a few more trips like this throughout the year to practice photography even more.
Sole man #
I added a few sneakers to the collection in 2019:
- Nike Acronym x Air Presot Mid “Multicolor”
- Air Jordan 1 High FlyEase “Black Toe”
- Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG “All Star — Chameleon”
- Air Jordan 1 Mid SE GS “Newspaper”
- Nike SB Dunk High Pro (Parachute Beige/Ale Brown/Black)
- Air Jordan 1 Mid S (Black/Yellow)
- Nike Adapt BB Basketball Shoe (Black/White/Pure Platinum)
- Nike SF Air Force 1 Shoe (Muslin/University Red/Light Concord/Muslin)
- Nike SF Air Force 1 Boot (Dusty Peach/Dusty Peach)
- Nike SB Dunk High Pro (Black/Iguana/Baroque Brown/White)
I did 18 speaking-ish/teaching-ish things in 2019, including:
- An Event Apart in Seattle, Boston, and Denver
- Owner Summit, Epicurrence, Artifact Conference, Dribbble Hang Time, Asbury Agile, Smashing Conference
- I finally got to do some local events this year for organizations like Bluecadet and PhillyCHI
- I did a few AMA sessions for Designer News and the Design Systems Slack Community
- Brad Frost and I taught our designer + developer collaboration workshop in Philly, Austin, and NYC
- I appeared in podcasts and videos with and for Awwwards about tech, Design Driven about the product design process, Ditching Hourly about value pricing 7-figure design projects, and Level Access about the intersection between design systems and accessibility.
In 2020, I’ll be at a few An Event Apart shows, the Awwwards conference in Toronto, and Creative South, talking and teaching about collaboration and design systems. If you’re at any one of these events, please come say hello!
2019 was a big year for me in regards to SuperFriendly. We worked on so many cool things, including:
- An enterprise design system for a major airline
- Khan Academy’s 2018 annual report
- A site for the return of Artifact Conference
- Branding for The Healthy, Reader’s Digest’s foray into health
- On the Line, an online resource from Toast to help restaurant owners
- A few other others that we can’t talk about or are still cooking
I made a lot of changes regarding the work I should be doing (and not doing) and roles that I should be playing (and not playing). I wrote a bit about that elsewhere and will no doubt be sharing more in the near future as it unfolds. 2020 will be major for SuperFriendly.
- My mom retired in 2019 after 43 years of being a nurse. Happy retirement, Mom!
- I was “randomly” selected for screening at airports 5 times in 2019.
- I wrote 14 blog posts in 2019. That’s up from 11 in 2018, 5 in 2017, 12 in 2016, and 11 in 2015.
- I’ve collected loyalty and credit card points for years. In 2019, I started spending them, because I realized that I probably never would.
Part of what I love about writing a year in review is that there are things I don’t realize until I look at them in aggregate. From writing this, I can see that I read more, wrote more, and learned more this year than I have in previous years. I’m really excited about that because one of my goals for 2019 was to create some space for myself. I didn’t know until writing this sentence, but mission accomplished.
This year was a recharging year for me. I’m ready to see what that does for me in 2020.
It’s been a heck of a year and a heck of a decade. Best wishes to you and yours, and here’s to an amazing 2020!