2023 in review
It’s that time again, when I like to dedicate the first blog post of every year to looking back on the year that’s just been. Much like Chris said in his post, this is more of a recap than a list of highlights. That’s not to say that 2023 was a bad year — far from it — but it was certainly one of the more challenging ones from a work perspective.
Without a doubt, my year was dominated by the writing, illustrating, and designing of my forthcoming book, Universal Principles of Typography, which will be published this April. Although I’d started writing the book in 2022, the bulk of it was written in 2023, followed by the actual illustration and design portion of the work. Creating this book permeated all parts of my life and I probably mentioned it to every single person I interacted with. I’m sorry if that was you.
The “challenging” part essentially came down to three things: the book’s dominance (which required me to give up on client work), my Google contract ending after Q1, and us having committed to getting a new kitchen (a decision made in more stable financial times). But it also taught me a valuable lesson about how much I’d been taking the well-paid work for granted, and indeed my ability to get work. This also neatly fed into an ongoing question around what it is I can and want to do.
But, overall, 2023 was great, and I’m so thankful for that. My dominant memory of the year as a whole is that I spent loads of time with my kids, especially during the various school holidays. But I’m mindful of putting photos of my kids on the internet, so let’s find some other things to write about:
I mentioned on an Instagram story (tap through this highlight) that I’d settled into a new routine: spending every Sunday morning working on the book from a café in Bristol while Thea attended a theatre school. This continued for the first half of of the year.
In February, in an attempt to hit my “50% text” deadline for the book, I took myself off on what you might describe as a writing retreat. It only lasted one day and was less than an hour away from home, but it’s something I look back upon now with a very fond memories. Essentially, I stayed in a shepherd’s hut in the back of someone’s garden and just wrote and wrote and wrote. And it worked! I fully intend to write a dedicated post about this, because honestly it was one of the best parts of my entire book-writing experience.
In the middle of February, we got Benji — a rescue dog from a shelter in Cyprus, who we’d been in the process of adopting for several months. After a pretty epic journey to the UK, he finally made it to us, and has essentially been snuggled up on our laps ever since. And, thankfully, he and Ozzy (who’s now 12) are the best of friends. In many ways, 2023 was the year of Benji.
Oh, and Benji’s name was the kids’ idea, by the way. It was that or “Toothpaste” so you can see why we settled for the former.
All on my lonesome, I drove over to Cardiff to see Gojira, supported by Alien Weaponry. It was a great gig.
In March, I taught my Typography Masterclass for SmashingConf for the first time. 5 × 2.5-hour sessions, spread out over weeks. It was pretty intense, but I loved it, and met some really nice participants in the process. I also discovered how handy it is using an iPad as a secondary display.
Emma finished designing the hand-lettered logo I’d commissioned, and I decided to put it on some new business cards. Yeah, I know no-one does business cards these days, but I felt like it deserved to exist in the real world somewhere.
Music-wise, 2023 was a pretty quiet year, both for me as an artist and also for my label, but March was my / our first output: a four-track compilation called V/A Three, to which I contributed the track ‘Hour’.
At the end of the month, I flew over to New York to attend Kinference, the spiritual successor to Brooklyn Beta. It was so good to see so many internet / conference friends in real life. Shout out to Doc, Daniel, David, Jessica, Craig, Josh, Matthew, Matthew, Ben, Michael, and Yaron! Probably way more.
As Q1 came to an end, so did my contract with Google. Although I needed to look for work, I buried my head in the sand for a bit and we spent one of the first weeks of April holidaying in Cornwall. It was such a great trip, and the cottage we stayed in — which I found via Cornish Hideaways and was way cheaper than you’d get on Airbnb — was beautiful, tucked away down a grassy track.
Really I could just fill this post with a tonne of Cornwall photos, but again: kids on the internet and all that.
After we returned from Cornwall, we went to Gifford’s Circus again (I can’t recommend it enough, and I don’t like circuses).
Earlier in the year, we’d decided to get a new kitchen done, and everything finally kicked off in May. We spent a couple of weeks living around all of the new furniture that had to be stored in the living room, and we turned the spare bedroom into a sort of temporary kitchen thanks to a microwave. It was total chaos while the old kitchen was destroyed...
... but the new one was totally worth the hassle.
For Sam’s birthday the previous year, I’d bought her a voucher to go wine tasting at a local biodynamic vineyard, and we went along for a tour on a beautiful spring day. Tasting the natural wines while sat in the vineyard, where they’re produced in an entirely closed loop system, was pretty amazing.
Also in May, I spoke at AllFlows in Milton Keynes — a new event run by the people behind MK Geek Night (which I’ve spoken at in the past). It was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed the talk given by Jennifer Estaris, who works at ustwo Games. She spoke (amongst other things) about Alba, a game I immediately went home and bought for our Switch, knowing that the girls would love it. (They did.)
In June, I decided I couldn’t keep quiet about the book any longer, so did an announcement post on social media and a blog post here on this site. The kids got chicken pox. We put various solar-powered lights up around our garden.
Threads launched in July, and despite my general skepticism of Meta, I signed up straight away and I have to say that I love it. (A few months in, and it — along with Mastodon — is the X / Twitter replacement I needed.)
With the school summer holidays (and therefore plenty of childcare) approaching, it became clear that there was no way I’d hit my book deadline if I was also juggling client work, so I made the difficult but inevitable decision to not seek out more work until the summer was over, and instead dedicate all of my non-childcare hours to finishing the book. At the time, this made me incredibly anxious, but in hindsight, the extra time spent with the kids over the holidays made it totally worthwhile, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Lauren visited from LA and took this nice family photo:
Having gone to Cornwall in the Easter holidays, we decided to keep our summer trip pretty minimal and opted for a brief camping trip in Wales in August. We didn’t realise quite how short it would be, however: camping in 40mph winds is rarely a good idea, but definitely not a good idea if the campsite is on a clifftop overlooking the sea. After a disastrous (and, at times, kind of scary) night, after which almost the entire campsite had vacated, we decided to head home and book ourselves a consolatory trip.
So, towards the end of the summer holidays, we took a trip to Yorkshire (photo at the top) and stayed in a beautiful (and sturdy) cabin in the middle of the woods right by the moors. Truly idyllic. But a three-day trip was way too short and we’re all desperate to return.
With the kids back in school in the first week of September, I flew over to Freiburg to speak at SmashingConf.
It was so nice to return to the city, see a bunch of my European friends (shout out to Marc, Tobi, and the whole Smashing crew) and I even got to have dinner with Francis, who I’d not seen IRL in years.
The label Indefinite Pitch released a split single from me and Mechanist, to which I contributed the track ‘Close’.
Also in September, I launched my podcast, Hello, type friends! I’d been saying that there was another project that was “typographic in nature” for a while, and had even recorded most of the episodes at this point. The launch episode, with Jessica, seemed to go down really well.
Not long after my birthday in October, I cut my hair! I’d deciding to grow it long in early 2018 because I’d always wanted to have long hair, but never been brave enough to see it through that awkward, Darth Vader helmet kind of phase. I persevered and had it properly long since around the end of 2019, but, given that I was mainly just wearing it up in a man-bun most of the time, it was time to go short again by October 2023. I haven’t yet regretted that decision.
Sam and I had our 10th wedding anniversary in 2022, but in 2023, we celebrated 20(!) years of being together, and took a bottle of bubbly out to a spot in Shropshire we’d originally visited when we first started dating.
Around that time, I launched the second episode of Hello, type friends! With Dan.
Client work finally got back on track in October, too, and I started working with The Type Founders on a new website for P22. This would be the first of many collaborations (I’m working with them right now, in fact). More soon.
November was a very musical month. With some financial security restored, Sam and I decided to buy something we’d wanted for a long time: a piano. Just a digital one, of course, but with 88 fully weighted keys — one that felt proper. I also treated myself to a little Orange amplifier so that I could play electric guitar in the house again.
I finally got to meet Luke (who I’ve now been working with for a while on the Mote-Evolver cover art) in person, over dinner with Sinead and Charles. Then, a few days later, Sinead, Charles, and Paraorchestra opened the new Bristol Beacon with an incredible show, and Sam and I got some great seats.
For Sam’s birthday, I bought her an accordion and some lessons. I’d actually bought this before we decided on the piano, but hey. Lots of instruments in the house now!
I launched the third episode of the podcast, this time with Erik.
On the last day “working” day of the year, I attended Table Talk, a very small event organised by my friend and former business partner Keir. It provided a much-needed dose of inspiration for the new year.
In the week before Christmas, Sam and I try to make it as special as possible to get the kids (and us) properly excited for the festive season. This year, our pre-Christmas week of fun included seeing the lights at Stourhead, visiting Lacock Abbey (and eating at a gorgeous pub from the 1400s), and visiting the roman villa at The Newt with Jamie and family.
Some other bits
A personal highlight was the audio messages Ty and I frequently sent (and continue to send) each other via iMessages or Instagram DMs. I’m not sure who started it, or when, but recording little snippets about what we’ve each been up to has been a really nice way to communicate — and become friends — at a distance. And, because of this, I’m so grateful to Ty for effectively becoming my audio diary throughout the book writing process.
I deeply regret not having managed my annual “wilderness day”, which I talked about a lot in my 2022 and 2021 recaps. There’s no excuse, but somehow it just didn’t work out. However, I’m hoping to rectify that by getting one in very early this year (it’s scheduled for this Friday, in fact) in the hopes of doing another later on in the year.
At some point in the summer holidays, I lost my 500-ish day Duolingo streak, and that triggered a big lull in my commitment there. It picked up again eventually, but I’m disappointed that I let it slip. I also let meditation slip, and opened Calm less and less as the year went on. I also barely jogged the whole year. Bloody shameful.
But I watched 68 films in 2023! Some highlights: The Banshees of Inisherin, Wonka, The Creator, One Cut of the Dead, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem, Swan Song, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, You Won’t Be Alone, Hostiles, and all of the Mission: Impossible films (none of which I’d actually seen before). I rewatched quite a lot, too, like Edge of Tomorrow, Bo Burnham: Inside, Blade Runner 2049, Annihilation.
Lastly, I want to once again mention the newsletter, which really grew in 2023. When I say “grew”, I don’t just mean in number of subscribers, but more in that it’s become a real focus for me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, in many ways, it was my favourite thing to work on last year. I still struggle to articulate exactly why that is, but thank you if you’ve subscribed. I very much appreciate it, and I’ve got big plans for it this year.