UI Breakfast Year in Review 2015

Published December 17, 2015 by Jane Portman
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My dear friend, it’s been an awesome, crazy year! Year full of action, unpredictable turns, tears and joy, failures and wins. I’m very glad to share this long personal story. Grab some popcorn!

For your interest, here’s UI Breakfast Year in Review 2014.

How I Quit Consulting

I started this year as a full-time UI/UX consultant, doing productized consulting for a few awesome monthly clients. The change came quickly.

In February I received an offer that I couldn’t decline: Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers and Jim Briggs were starting Airstory — a new product for writers. They invited me to design their UI/UX from scratch.

It should have been a joy working on this product. They’re the smartest, hard-working founders in the world who care about great design — what can be better! If only it weren’t for one painful coincidence…

Exactly at the same time I received an irresistible offer from InVision to write a book for them by the end of March (more on that below). I accepted it. Plus I had my recurring clients waiting for their fair share of design work!

With sweat and tears, I got through the situation, made a lot of money, and finished the book. But this came at a big cost: one big burnout. All work that came after that didn’t bring any joy. I struggled to get a few days of work done per month.

Meeting Amy Hoy in May was the ultimate deal-breaker. Listen to any interview with her, and you’ll instantly recognize her bitterness about the past client work. For me, she became a real-life example that things can go well without clients, that there is life after consulting.

So without further doubt, I wrapped up all my client obligations by July and started out with products.

The Return to Consulting

As I’m writing this today, the consulting burnout healed. It took a big half-year product journey and a lot of rest. I started taking on one-off UI audits from time to time, and I love doing them. Founders find these audits very valuable, and it’s cost-effective for both parties.

But I don’t do any design work these days — I only give recommendations, and people pay for my product/business expertise, not for the craftsmanship. There are tons of great visual designers out there: let them do the work.

Plus, I don’t cultivate any attachments. I’ve learned that this is a big source of discomfort and frustration, no matter how great the client. It’s very painful to see how client projects spin out of control (stop looking perfect) after the consulting gig is over. Even though my own Correlation program was designed to prevent that from happening!

I’ve slowly arrived at the understanding that any live project implies imperfections, and the large UX picture matters more than neat details. But it still hurts. I’m considering to launch a coaching product for SaaS founders (monthly advisor/creative director sessions), but I’m not ready for long-term relationships yet.

Fundamental UI Design

In February I was approached by InVision to write a book that would be distributed for free to their huge audience. The deal was irresistible!

My part was to write the body of the book, and they would handle everything else: editing, illustration, publishing, and promotion. As a result I would get amazing publicity, a tiny bit of cash, and a hefty number of new subscribers to my email list. The working title was The Principles of Amazing UI Design.

Here’s the whole story described in a dedicated blog post.

The book was finally launched in November 2015 as a free course called Fundamental UI Design. First I was sad that it took them so long, but actually the timing couldn’t be better. I got a whole new big audience right in time, when The UI Audit project already gained traction.

InVision did an amazing job on marketing and promotion. Until today, I keep getting new Twitter notifications. It’s awesome that people have access to such high-quality content for free.

The UI Audit

After I quit consulting in July, I spent a month or so doing research and putting my thoughts in order. My goal for 2015 from the last-year report was “build, launch & maintain a premium course for business founders about the best design practices.” I wanted to transform my expensive consulting skills (only accessible to a handful of people) into an affordable mass-market product which would help many founders at once.

That’s what I was going to do. But the course details didn’t fall in place: I was hesitant about the format, content, pricing, etc.

Then Amy Hoy announced her Ship by September Challenge — and I decided to start with a quick win and write a book by September 15. Calling it a book really makes it a much easier purchase (less money, less commitment, perceived “a quick fix” as opposed to “lengthy education”), while still helping founders with UI/UX design. You can read about my decision-making process in this blog post.

So I picked a name for the book, The UI Audit, put up the sales page, and promised to launch it by September 15 (in about 2 months).

But then life happened. Procrastination happened (more on that in the lifestyle section below). Trips, conferences, family disasters, anything you can imagine.

As of today, the book isn’t finished either. It certainly stresses me out. But after all the work and communication that has been done over the last 6 months, only by now the book’s real meaning has crystallized.

In November I arranged and recorded 6 long interviews with super-successful SaaS founders, and that definitely brought in a lot of new insight. I conducted a bunch of real-life audits and talked to founders a lot.

Only now, in December, all the stars finally came together. Now I have both great productivity and clear direction. Now I know what should be excluded from the book content. Maybe it takes a while for a product concept to mature? I still don’t know. That clearly doesn’t make it a quick win!

The plan is to launch the book in early 2016. You can pre-order your copy of The UI Audit here.

The Independent Consulting Manual

That’s another book project that actually got shipped in 2015. This book was literally published by a Slack room!

I’m a member of a big mastermind group called the Productized Consulting Roundtable. They’re the smartest consultants I know (Philip Morgan, Nick Disabato, Kai Davis, Kurt Elster, to name a few). For this book, 13 of us contributed articles, which resulted in a 390-page tome dedicated to the best consulting practices. Kai Davis artfully executed the launch. I personally wrote two chapters and designed the cover.

To get your copy, head over to The Independent Consulting Manual and use the code UIBREAKFAST for a nice discount.

Mailing List

Growing my mailing list and nourishing the subscribers with high-quality content has been a big priority.

In terms of numbers, this year was a blast! UI Breakfast mailing list grew from 800 to 5,500 readers. It’s a combination of slow organic growth and a big influx of subscribers from the InVision course launch. Can’t be happier about it!

UI Breakfast Podcast

This fall I invited Kai Davis to co-host a podcast season. We recorded 9 new episodes of the UI Breakfast Podcast, and published 4 of them already.

This format is awesome! We recorded two episodes side-by-side each weak, and it was a lot of fun (without any long-term obligations either). We definitely had lot of things to share. We thought of 30 minutes per episode, but it was tough to keep them under an hour!

Just listen to Episode 6: Running a Successful Outreach Campaign. It’s marketing gold.

For new episodes (including one with Amy Hoy), subscribe to http://simplecast.fm/podcasts/1441/rss in your favorite podcast app, or just search iTunes for “UI Breakfast.”

Conferences

This year I traded my MicroConf Vegas ticket for a BaconBiz ticket. BaconBiz never happened this year — but we still got together in Philadelphia for a retreat! In the end of May we spent several days with Amy and Thomas, Kai Davis, Nick Disabato, and a few other amazing friends. It was unforgettable, and even life-changing. They empowered me to quit consulting, after all!

A couple days after that I gave a talk at the Unbounce Conversion Road Trip in New York City (here are the slides). It was definitely very nice, but I didn’t quite feel at home within the CRO community — my heart is always with the founder crowd.

In the end of summer we went to Barcelona for MicroConf Europe. It was splendid! I also gave an attendee talk there, introducing The UI Audit concepts to the founder audience. Here’s the conference recap.

Vacations & Travel

Plenty of cool trips this year, only one real business-free vacation. Should probably do more beach vacations with family. This year the kids stayed at home at all times.

In April, we had a real beach vacation in United Arab Emirates. We savoured all-inclusive perks and devoured fancy cocktails, climbed up Burj Khalifa, went to Ferrari World & the huge Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi.

In the end of May we spent one week in Philadelphia (what a marvelous historical city!) and one week in New York (my old favorite).

In August it was a week Barcelona with their tapas and warm sand beaches (and MicroConf).

In November we went to Munich for 11 days to see Christoph Engelhardt and his lovely wife. Their warm Bavarian welcome felt amazing. We climbed some mild hills in the Alps and consumed plenty of Bavarian food (particularly fond of pretzels and the camembert cheese spread).

Lifestyle & Health

This whole year was dedicated to fine-tuning my body and my spirit. Maybe that’s called a midlife crisis, maybe something else.

I didn’t even identify the burnout properly, because the main symptom was heavy procrastination — when all important things were done at night, in a very desperate state of mind. I also had some very bad sugar cravings and gained some weight (no surprise, considering the lack of sleep, stress, and all the sweets I consumed).

Any mild housework was a pain to start, good thing we had a housemaid then. But it didn’t help the energy level. I took up swimming classes and massage therapy. That didn’t help either. I felt like sleeping in the middle of the day.

That battle was totally internal, because on the outside I kept looking good and cheerful, working, traveling, and doing other normal things. I don’t think my husband ever realized that my problems were serious.

In summer I accidentally got my hands on the Woman Code book which started my journey to a healthier lifestyle. It did a great job pointing out that something was wrong with my health.

So I limited the intake of sugar and carbs, shifted to a plant-based diet with some good meat and fish, adopted a healthy sleep regime, and started exercising for 20 minutes daily. As of today, I don’t adhere to any strict diet. I just follow the concept of intuitive eating, which implies a simple, healthy relationship with food.

These simple activities helped me to gradually lose 18 pounds, and did wonders to my energy levels.

Spoiler: this didn’t solve the procrastination problem 100%. It turned out that hidden problems in family were also there, and subconsciously that must have affected my productivity. No one knows precisely.

But I’m happy that my high spirits are there again!

Family

In January we packed up our belongings and moved to another city 500 miles to the south (with two kids and even the babysitter). We rented a huge house, hired a housemaid and a cook, and had rather serious intentions to stay there for a few years because of my husband’s business.

But life’s fun, and we moved back to our home city in May, which made our 4-month stay nothing else but a nice way to spend winter.

We furnished our new 3-bedroom apartment and moved into it. That was clearly amazing! But life didn’t bring joy… We had a comfortable life in the new home, where I was living on my own with kids, while my husband was spending 5 days a week in business trips.

Then came October. First, my closest grandmother died. Then something worse happened. The details are too private to share. Long story short: I nearly got a shockingly unexpected divorce, but then it all ended like a bad dream with a happy end.

These events are history now, but I lived through some big hell and it definitely made me stronger. I’m no longer naive about certain things in life. I realized that family is the most important thing that requires time and care. I also had great support of the closest friends here online — thank you my friends!

Just a few days before my “divorce” (amazing coincidence) I started working with a psychologist, and have been seeing her every week ever since. My initial goal was to go through that “midlife crisis” — which I never realised was a family crisis. Her presence really helped me along the way.

I find this work very valuable: we deal with existing problems, dig out hidden patterns and uncomfortable “heritage” from my early years. Everyone has these problems, but it takes courage to dig them out onto the surface and deal with them. I’m glad I’m doing this.

As of today, I’m a mother of two awesome boys who are 2 and 3.5 years old, and a happy wife again.

Key Takeaways from 2015

Embrace the change. Nothing will ever be the same. Take any unpredictable change as an opportunity of new adventures. If the old adventure is over, sum up your precious experience, learn from your mistakes, and move on with life!

Invest into your family. It matters! And it’s not a self-supporting mechanism — it takes love, care, and effort. There is no business in the world that’s worth a family.

Take care of yourself. In this crazy world we don’t find time to listen to our body and feelings. We just avoid red flags and keep going. While our body and mind are the most precious, valuable tools you’ll ever have. Nourish them. Don’t kill yourself for anything: it’s not worth the cost.

Don’t ignore procrastination. Of course all humans are born lazy. But if you’re persistently experiencing trouble with getting good, meaningful work done — it’s time to re-evaluate things. Procrastination might be a sign of burnout, health problems, or psychological issues (like hidden tension in family).

Embrace the rhythm of your productivity. I’ve battled procrastination throughout the year, but looking back I can tell it was really productive! All things happen in waves and seasons: your own productivity, writing, product launches, happiness and frustration.

Kick unwanted things off your plate. You’re the master of your own life, so if you really don’t like something — find a way to kick it off your plate. Cancel, delegate, change format. I’m not saying you will particularly enjoy everything in life, but you should definitely work around things that you really hate.

Keep looking for your format. Everyone has his own best format. You too!

If you do products: product success doesn’t necessarily come in form of a SaaS with recurring revenue. If you’re non-technical, it can easily be info-products, or a collaboration.

If you do content marketing: not everyone has to write. You might enjoy podcasting, streaming live video, or building communities.

If you’re a consultant: start with productized consulting and tune your client work to your feelings. It can be actual work, or it can be coaching, advisory sessions, one-off gigs, half-year programs, or monthly sessions. Anything you wish!

Goals for 2016

Let 2016 be the year of products here at UI Breakfast!

Thank You for Reading This

Thank you, my friend, for making it through this huge wall of text. Hope some of this inspires you to change your life somehow, or to write your own year-in-review. I wish you good luck, great health, and high energy in the upcoming year of 2016!

Best regards,
Jane.

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