4 min read

Looking back on a most prolific year

and surprising even myself
Looking back on a most prolific year
Lunar calendar overrun by chaos, Stable Diffusion

It’s December, so you know the drill - I am contractually obligated to do some sort of “year end wrap up.” Over the course of the month, I’ll give you my retrospective on this year’s themes & goals, and I’ll have a few ruminations on the experiences that I think will stick with me.

As a bit of a preview on the themes & goals, one of the objectives I set out for this here substack was to publish twice a month:

  • one longer piece with a singular focus.
  • one shorter rundown with some quick thoughts and a few links.

What ended up happening wasn’t too far off of that. Heading into December, we’ve got 11 focused essays and 10 collections of miscellany - and then on top of that, I also started a weird video series about coffee & creativity which has 3 published episodes already and 2 more in the can.

I feel pretty good about that - not just because of the volume of output, but also because as I compiled the list below I went back and revisited most of what I wrote and feel pretty good about the quality level too.

I’ve had a few people ask me about starting a substack recently, and I have to tell them that I’m probably not the right person to ask about a substack strategy because I don’t really pay attention to things like audience size and engagement. I’m largely writing for my own benefit, with the fringe benefit that it also acts as a bit of a calling card for future work.

So, for context, I looked it up and found a chart of my subscriber numbers. Just under 300 people, with an engagement rate that consistently hovers around 50%. So by Kevin Kelly’s rule of 1000 true fans, I’m 15% of the way there!

Definitely not a hockey stick.

From here on out, it’s just a themed collection of everything I published this year. Because I tend to be all over the place, this groups similar things together…which was fun for me to see how some lines of thinking evolved and progressed throughout the year.

So if you weren’t around all year, give a quick scroll and see if anything sticks out that you missed…and if you were, isn’t it just a wonderful opportunity to curl up with a warm beverage and revisit your favorite edition of Routine Chaos? (Lol, no, I’m kidding. Just click on archive and get on with your life)

Longer Essays

What started the year as a single category evolved quite a bit, largely reflective of the 2 biggest portfolios of work I do. This first group are longer essays on education innovation.

Tools & Resources

The second set of essays turned into more of sharing tools & frameworks that I’ve used in product development and supporting collective creativity. I’ve got a couple more of these already in the works, but these tend to be the most time & energy intensive things that I write.

I’ve really come to enjoy this format this year. I started out the year with a loose recipe for a few easy things I could include because each section would take 5-10 minutes to put together, so I could get a minimum of 3 sections without breaking too much of a sweat. Some of the brief thoughts turned out to be not so brief, but that’s always a good indication that I’m enjoying the writing.

The Pokemon Travelogue

We’ll probably come back to this in one of my year-end rundowns…I did not expect Pokemon to be such a significant part of 2023. The idea that between these 3 essays and the other one above, I’d spill several thousand words and travel several thousand miles for the sake of Pokemon would have taken me by surprise. Alas, here we are. This has turned into a weird endeavor that I’m really enjoying even though it has no clear fit with the design studio at all.

Countertop Chaos

And this has been another surprise. Very transparently, this video series scratches 2 itches for me: as I say in the first video, it gives me a creative project to get me through the dark Dutch winter; and it acts as a forcing function for me to learn some new software tools. Developing a workflow around recording and editing these has been remarkably energizing…I swear it’s not just the coffee. Using Descript has been nothing but delightful, and I’ve felt stimulated to push on my own creativity…something I’m going to discuss in a future installment. I’ve got a plan for 8 episodes. I don’t know if it’ll be anything more than that, but that’s cool.