My first 12ish months

Stickers that read - make data part of the web

It's been just over one year since I started at the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It's my first time being a civil servant. First time working for a big organisation. First time being a line-manager.

I've been meaning to write a round-up for weeks, and reading Sophie's first six months finally gave me the kick I needed.

The commute

The thing friends and family always ask about is the commute. I live in Swansea and the drive to Newport takes at least one hour. To avoid traffic, I leave the house at 6am and work from 7am to 3pm.

The drive is actually okay. As long as there is something good on Radio 4 I'm happy. The most surprising thing is that driving is mentally tiring. An extra 2 hours concentration on top of my job can be exhausting some days.

I drive a diesel car, so the whole environmental issue plays on my mind too. I'm kind of hoping the car the will break down soon so that I can get something a bit more eco-friendly (electric? hybrid?) with a digital radio too so I can listen to 6 music.

Or, for the most hipster points, I could catch the train and cycle in-between.

Choosing my own hours

Luckily the job is very flexible. I can always shuffle things around if I need to be at home for the kids or work remotely to get some space.

Every now and then I need to stay late (as in 5pm or 6pm) for a meeting. But, I can take back any hours I build up whenever I need to.


One of my favourite things about the job is that I get to travel. I've been all over the country (London, Wrexham, Manchester).

I've attended or spoken at;

  • conferences
  • cross-government design meet-ups
  • user research trips

Although traveling can be a big strain on family life, I enjoy the time away to focus on things. I usually manage to get loads of admin done when I'm stuck on train. And I love wandering around new cities. It's a good chance for me to be alone with my thoughts and recharge my batteries.

The contrast in wealth has also been striking (between South Wales and London for example). This feels relevant to an organisation that publishes data about employment and house prices.

Meetings and admin-y things

In the past, I've worked as a freelancer working remotely or employed at small design agencies. The amount of meetings and admin-y things at ONS has come as a shock. It's one of the most difficult thing about the job.

As an introvert, I find meetings very tiring. There are very few opportunities during the day that let me recharge. I can almost feel myself getting better at meetings. But more importantly, I need to be better at saying no sometimes. Or planning time in my schedule to recharge.

The admin-y things are usually okay in principle. But to complete each admin-y thing I need to:

  • dig out an email from a some mysterious new department
  • login to a different system with a different password
  • read the massive PDF guide
  • navigate a poor interface
  • give up and ask for help

I'm pretty sure this is an issue across civil service and other large organisations. But as a designer whose job it is to help fix interfaces, it can be tiring to use bad ones. Especially if there seems like there is no way to improve them.

Open data community

One exciting thing for me was discovering the open data community. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who wanted to join ONS, I was sceptical about data. I wrongly (?) thought it was about dashboards, big data and corporations spying on people.

But, I've discovered a grass-roots community of geeks. People who are passionate about the web, open standards and doing work that matters.

The Digital Publishing department

Joining Digital Publishing has been the stand-out highlight of my first year. Digital Publishing handles the ONS website and things like social media.

I didn't know when I applied for the job that I would end up here. Luckily it was Jukesie's old department. Without realising it, I'd been drawn to ONS because of the way he described the culture when he spoke at meet-ups and conferences.

I count myself lucky to be assigned to this team. They're obsessed with users, telling the truth and working in the open. They are focussed on doing work that matters.

Highchair at the table

It's clichéd, but (like many designers) I always wanted a "seat at the table". In Digital Publishing I actually have a seat. I'm expected to contribute to big plan-y meetings. I'm expected to have an opinion on important decisions. This is both amazing and terrifying.

It made me realise that for much of my working life I've been able to hide behind the opinions of bosses and clients. Happy to let them have the last say as they were paying the bills. Now, I'm in a position where the team rely on me to bring the skills of a designer to the team. And help the team meet user needs.

There is nothing holding me back. Again, terrifying. Except my own ability to do a good job (and my ability to say no to things). My plan for the next year is to try and make privileged position count for something. To try and help Andy save the world.