So, that was 2020. First of all, I hope that you and your loved-ones are well, that you had something to do this year that brought you fulfillment and a sense of purpose, and that you haven’t been affected too heavily by COVID-19 and the lockdowns that were both financially and emotionally challenging for so many of us.
My mother, for example, “picked” one of the most weird and tough years as the last one running her pediatric practice before transitioning into retirement. And just like her, countless people in the medical sector not only had to fight the virus and their own fears of being infected, but also those irresponsible and disrespectful idiots who seem to think that we are living in a video game where reality and physics are a matter of opinions that can be debated on social media. To all those anti-maskers: You are in the minority and you are wrong. To all the healthcare workers, all those countless people in system-relevant jobs, to all volunteers, and to everyone who just stayed at home and acted responsibly: Thank you! 💚
But as challenging and tough this year might have been, there are also many things that should give us confidence looking forward. Historically, many great initiatives, companies, and movements had their origins in times of crisis. It is when we have to adapt to difficult situations when we focus on what is really important and, often out of necessity, are willing to take risks and make the changes necessary to reinvent the status quo. I will therefore take a look at what I learned or what I believe might be some of the positive takeaways of this year.
UX/UI and Front-End Work
The main focus of my work was once more design and development work for the web. I contributed to several projects either doing conceptional work, interface design jobs, front-end development, or – and this is where I feel most at home – a combination of those areas. I was lucky in that most of my projects were barely affected by the pandemic. Many people I talked to had to fight much harder and some were even let go right at the start of the first lockdown. But with a few exceptions, the Web industry did well overall. And even for those who were hit harder, like shop owners or event organizers, the Web offered ways to compensate for the loss at least a little bit. Just imagine such a crisis in the 1970s or 80s and the dire consequences on a world economy and societies nowhere near as connected and flexible as today.
One of the projects this year included making a site fully accessible that has been online for a few years now. An accessibility audit – done by the unparalleled Joschi Kuphal – revealed lots of things to improve and I learned so much more about designing and implementing accessible solutions for the Web in the process. For example, how important it is that the whole team knows what it takes to make a site accessible. From project management to design to development to content editing – everyone needs to know that a) a11y is a thing and b) what to pay attention to to make the site more inclusive.
In-person Workshops Online Workshops
When it comes to workshops, my year started with a visit of Interaction 20 in Milan for and with the Adobe XDI team. We had a lot of fun together, met many new and also some familiar faces, and I even went for a midnight run through the streets of Milan.
Then, the pandemic hit. Shortly after we had all returned home, Italy saw a first sharp rise of new cases and it became clear that giving in-person workshops would not be possible for the foreseeable future. So, over the course of the following weeks, our team around Andre Jay Meissner developed an online version of our Adobe XD design and prototyping workshops and we have since delivered dozens of “XD Immersive” workshops. I myself ran a total of seven workshops and learned a ton along the way. Not only about how to interact with online audiences and explain design and prototyping concepts live into a camera, but also about the technical aspect of running those online events. Microphones, lighting, cameras, switchers, preamps, and software, for example, are only a few topics where you can spend ~~hours~~ days in the infamous YouTube rabbit hole. But then again: what an incredible platform YouTube is to learn about all those things! My plan for the new year is to continually upgrade my tech setup so that the quality of my audio and video improves even further. Not only for the Adobe workshops but also for my general workshops on modern responsive design (at the intersection of design and code) and prototyping for the Web. If your team would love to take part in such an event, let me know!
2020 was the eighth year that I taught Interface Prototyping at the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design, Kiel. This time, the seminar had to take place via zoom. Just like for other teachers and professors this was a first for me. But although I prefer to be in the same room with the students, it worked out well overall and I am looking forward to the next semester.
I started a writing challenge at the end of May with the ambitious goal of writing and publishing a post every day. As was to be expected, this turned out to be super hard. After I managed to publish daily for about 40 days, the frequency started to deteriorate. I ultimately lost my streak somewhere towards the end of October, when my regular design work just turned out to be more and more time consuming. But still, with a total of 70 posts published on my website, it turned out to be my most productive year in terms of writing yet. Here are some of my most-read articles of 2020:
- How I Structure My CSS (for Now)
- The Thing With Leading in CSS
- Milton Glaser – Ten Things I Have Learned
- Painting With the Web
- My Visual Studio Code Setup: Extensions and Themes
- :focus-visible Is Here
- Lateral Thinking With Withered Technology
- The Curse of Knowledge
At the end of the year, Chris Coyier asked if I would like to contribute to his end-of-year series and so the year ended with my debut article on CSS-Tricks. I answered the question “what is one thing you learned about building websites this year?” with a little love letter to the personal website: Make it personal.
I love writing a lot and to me it feels like 2020 was the year where I truly made writing part of my practice. For 2021, I am starting a new challenge that might fit my schedule a bit better: Publish at least two blog posts a week. We’ll see if this is a frequency that is more sustainable and that also allows for some time to edit the post more thoroughly.
Last year, I started listening to audiobooks again and I continued to do so in 2020. I read a lot for and at work so listening to audiobooks while cleaning the apartment or cooking is a welcome change. Some of my favorite books this year:
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, read by Stephen Fry (!)
- Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang
- Radical Candor, by Kim Scott
- The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley
- Brain Rules, by John Medina
- Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein
- Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo
- Trillion Dollar Coach, by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle
- Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
- Feck Perfuction, by James Victore (Can’t get enough of this one.)
- The Catalyst, by Jonah Berger
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
- Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferriss
- Hell Yeah or No – what’s worth doing, by Derek Sivers
- The Practice, by Seth Godin
- Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark
For my family and me, the new year will bring a lot of change which I am already looking forward to a lot. Next autumn, we will move into a new home. This means that we will have to relocate and settle down in a new environment. But it also means that we will finally have a home that is ours. And I get to set up a sophisticated home network. 🤓 I’ll keep you posted.
The arbitrary date that is New Year’s Day will not wipe away everything that was bad about 2020. But looking forward, I believe that we will see a lot of progress and positive change as a result of the difficult year that was 2020. Humans are now able to develop several vaccines against a highly infectious virus within a year. Remote work is blossoming and people will not want to give up this newly gained flexibility. 2020 also showed us how valuable some things we usually take for granted are. And 2020 showed that the only way forward is to care, to trust each other, and to work together on what is truly important. One of those challenges ahead is to fight climate change. Once COVID is overcome, this should be our top priority. Even small changes matter here.
I wish you the best of luck with everything you do in 2021. May it be a healthy, happy, and successful year for you and your loved-ones. Happy 2021, my friends! 🎉