government

I made a thing and people are actually using it.

Last week I left the Ministry of Justice. I spent 1 year and 7 months according to LinkedIn’s calculations there trying to do my bit for humanity as a designer. A lot of times it didn’t seem like this was happening. A lot of times it seemed like the policy wonks and the wannabe politicians (why this person exists is beyond me) were racing ahead to the bottom while a comparatively pitiful number of good minded or otherwise idealistic “jeans-wearing digital hipsters with post-it notes” were treading water. This is what it was like for the most of the time. But despite all this, we made things happen. We released software. That’s right, we made actual, working software. Not a PDF, not a mediocre, hard to understand film, and not social media conjecture.

An actual thing I designed not only saw the light of day, but, gasp, was used by actual people - and a decent amount of them to boot. The thing myself and a ragtag band of “strong personalities” (as we were called by those who obviously can’t take a joke or can’t stand people who don’t like faffing about) released 6 months ago so far has been taking roughly 20,000 cases per month of poor people getting legal help, of which so far 1 million Great British Pounds of legal types helping the poor people were billed.

Having spent almost the past 18 years of my life designing things that never see the light of day, this is a pretty damn big deal, and one I struggled to remind myself a lot of times. On top of that, its all out there, and here and here for anyone to use in the world, that is assuming you have an intimate knowledge of Python and want to build yourself a case handling type system. But apparently the UK Land Registry and potentially the government of New South Wales, Australia are going to use bits and pieces of it, so there.

So last week, we showed it to the big wigs and there were smiles and claps all around and then as well as for me somehow as that was my last day. If I had made some sort of speech, which maybe I should have, I would have said that we made a thing that is somehow making people's lives better and that was thanks enough. This is no bullshit, it really is thanks enough. I can count on one hand how many things I’ve worked on that have ever been used by real people and have actually helped them in their lives.

Thanks Tom, Alex, Dom, Ravi, Marco, Andy, Keiran, Peter, Eddie and all the rest.

Why exactly does the UK want a Silicon Valley again?

The info revolution has actually brought the US very little. The country in the midst of battling crippling debt, rising unemployment it can't deal with, and an economy that has largely relative ground to a halt. Yet the bubble around Silicon Valley just keeps on expanding and enveloping what little common sense might be left on the left coast. Here in the UK, there is a slight but quickly fading amount of intelligence around what to do about this internet/innovation/technology beast, business and the government eventually getting its piece of the latter. Most of the talk seems to be about just copying what’s happening in the bubble. This of course would automatically replicate itself into sort of new British Silicon Empire built on software developers in hoodies in overpriced former slums of London instead of tea, textiles and ships. So the powers that be which have no idea in general about the technology and the people building it have decided this is the UK’s way out of the recession from which we’ve never really recovered.

The fact is that Silicon Valley, and what will soon be known as the Third Big Burst when photo apps stop being worth billions, has done very little for the US’s economy besides drive up house prices in small parts of California, New York and a smattering of other hastily gentrified cities. The US did best economically before this alleged ‘Information Revolution’ when Silicon Valley actually made things out of silicon instead of things made out of people talking about themselves.

What I do is not very popular

I believe in using design to solve problems. Real problems, not imaginary ones that might be in some fantistical future. You know, the future that looks like a cross between a shit “Logan’s Run” and Muji. But ones today that are real and are always a product of what happened before. So I can't sell what I do very easily or very well. It won't be in Wired or on TED because there is no bio this or nano that and not a lot of hand waving and oohing and aahing from crowds of powerful people. Instead I work with stuff nobody cares about, or wishes didn't exist, like 800,000 dead Rwandans, old people who nobody ever taught how to use a mobile phone and now doing my bit to try and fix 0.023% of the British government.