It’s late. The lights are off upstairs. I creep up the stairs to our bedroom. I quietly walk round the darkened room. My hand feeling for the bedpost at the end so I can work my way round to my side of the bed. I try to walk lightly, hard when your natural steps are thuds, and more so stomps after a long day.
I slowly sit, slide onto the bed, and under the duvet. I close my eyes.
“What have you been doing until this hour?” my wife says. She’s woken. She’s seen the bedside clock. She knows it’s gone 1am. She sounds surprised. She shouldn’t be. Late ones are a long habit of my career. There’s usually one a week. Sometimes there’s two. Very rarely there’s three. Never four though.
A night as late as this is usually down to work. During the week it’s never leisure that drives this.
Some days there’s just not enough waking hours, is there? There’s stuff to do.
Agency life trained me well.
The perennial “going the extra mile”, because the agency beast needed feeding. There was always deadlines. Deadlines needed to be met. Nobody wanted to say to the clients “No” or “Can it wait?” or “We’d need more time for that”. And the time we had with everything in the mix? Just about enough to do enough. A good job? Rarely. The best we could? Rarely. That mattered. And that slack was between 5.30pm and 9am the next morning. And there was no overtime; Just the monthly wage.
But there was the other stuff agency life teaches.
People doing the same thing stuck together, working together, fucking up together, fixing it together, learning together, and supporting together. That sense of community that just happens – and leads you to just expect that wherever you work.
Work is a grown up thing. Money has to come from somewhere to pay those bills – and those staff who have their own bills. Doing good work keeps that arrangement flowing.
Work is a grown up thing. But work can be fun. Actually work should be fun whenever and wherever possible.
Ideas sell, but you have to have an idea that works for it to sell. Think of the audience.
It’s alright to be a geek – and get paid for doing geeky things. With other geeky people. You can be amongst your people.
The past few years I have been out of the agency game. I gave up chasing the “senior roles” to just concentrate on designing.
And I enjoy it. I cannot complain about the work I do.
I have been lucky enough to work in government full time, on government services. I am lucky enough to be working full time on patient-facing digital NHS services. I am also doing this for the best possible recipients: The People.
I am lucky enough over the past couple of years to be in places that go about their way of designing how I want to.
And being part of that cross gov design community reminds me of being sat in the design studio at Brahm during the first nine years of this century: Working with people I trusted, admired, challenged me, consulted me, and there’s a few I call good friends. It’s everything community should be.
There’s things that can be frustrating, that we considered in agency world, we had in agency world. The idea of trying to have and contributing to a more lasting, self-sustaining culture (as much as one can). Higher wages. Not having to battle with the type of IT we experienced five years ago. (And five years ago seeming an age back.) Why are things as complicated when they don’t need to be?
But still, years after leaving the agency game, I try to ghost into bed.
Still I usually wake my wife.
Usually I face her scorn. She’s grumpy because I have woke her. She’s grumpy because I am doing time I don’t get paid for. She’s grumpy because I did not go to bed at the same time as her. It’s not a badge of honour.
But here’s the thing: The mission.
Instead of the demands of the clients of agency land, there’s the demands of the people we do this for: The public. They need things to be better. The future needs things to be better. Public expectation and the public purse paying demand that timescales are shorter than longer, sooner rather than later. That public sector work takes longer, is more complicated? Well, we’ll just have to try a bit harder. There’s usually a day a week where’s there’s not enough time in the day to do what we want, to meet our goals.
Anything extra we can do to keep us on track, yes.
Anything extra we can do to make the work even better, yes.
Anything extra that helps us get to where we are going faster, yes.
These things matter. The mission matters. And I am on it, with others. Those late nights, those things I am missing out on? The impact of this work will be worth it, won’t it? Won’t it?