For whatever reason, while I’ve not hesitated to write tech/business think pieces or IT tutorials on my personal blog all these years, I’ve never written a simple year (or decade) in review post.
2019 was my first full year at Google, and on the Material Design team. It takes about a year to figure out what you’re doing at Google, so 2019 still felt very much like setup for bigger things to come later.
We did launch Material’s dark theme, aka dark mode, at I/O. We call it dark theme because that’s Android’s preferred nomenclature, but of course most of the industry still calls it dark mode. I tried and failed to make “dark themode” happen, though really, I’m trying to get us all on board with calling it dark appearance or dark color scheme. (Here’s a Google Design article about dark theme applied to Google’s products, and a tutorial about using Material’s dark theme in a Figma project.)
I don’t really hate them, but let’s just say they have never once been as simple, lightweight, and outcome-oriented as authors like John Doerr and Christina Wodtke claim they are. But I think the time spent on getting our 2020 priorities right will pay off — we’ll see how I feel about them at this time next year.
When I’m at parties here in the New Jersey suburbs, I like to blow people’s minds by telling them Google owns/occupies multiple city blocks of Manhattan office space—and yet we have so many Googlers that we’ve had to move some of us into temporary spaces while new spaces are being finished and others are being renovated. Mid-year my team was relocated from the main Google building on 8th Avenue to a temporary WeWork space 2 blocks away:
So there’s no longer a cafeteria mere steps from my desk, but Google and our site leads have tried to keep things cozy regardless:
Fortunately, I also still have access to these views at the main building:
Last Spring I started teaching an orientation class for new Googlers (“Nooglers”) about inclusive product design, covering general topics (a11y, i18n, business arguments for inclusion) and how they’re especially important at a company of Google’s global scale. I also had some opportunities to do 1-1 mentoring with some more junior PMs from inside and outside Google. Teaching and mentoring new and junior folks has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job and I’m looking forward to doing it more next year.
Late in the year, I discovered that one of our many office perks is on-site, subsidized personal training — I started a new fitness program right before Thanksgiving, and I’m hoping to keep it going through 2020.
The highlight of the year, both speaking- and travel-wise, was giving the opening keynote at Web Directions Product in Melbourne. (Someday I’ll finally share an article/post version of that talk. 😅) This was my first full conference talk, and first international trip, since my daughter was born. It went over pretty well:
Just saw @ddemaree give a great talk on the craft of product managerment at #product19.— Peter Merholz (@peterme) August 1, 2019
Begged the question: like we have varieties of designers who work together, should we recognize varieties of PMs that collaborate? Expecting one person to do everything is unreasonable.
I also presented two short “box talks,” one on using design systems and one on typography, as part of Material Design’s presence at Google I/O in May. And in October I dusted off the design systems one, about applying Material Design to products, at Google Design’s SPAN conference in Brooklyn.
I’m hoping to do more speaking at a few product or design events in 2020—if you want me to speak at your conference, please reach out!
For the tenth year in a row I visited the Bay Area for work three times, in January, May, and October. This was something of a light year for work travel, though not my lightest. (I only visited SF once in 2015, the year after my daughter was born.)
Apart from inter-office travel for Google, this year I visited 6 cities: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; San Antonio, TX; Lakeside, OH; Rhinebeck, NY; Cape May, NJ; and Walt Disney World in Florida (technically its own two cities, neither of which is Orlando). All of these except Melbourne were family vacations.
Melbourne was far too short of a trip; it came right after my daughter’s 5th birthday, and we had a new puppy in the house, so I chose to only spend 3 days in the city (plus almost four full days of travel). In addition to the conference itself, which was wonderful, I went on a walking tour of hidden laneway bars, saw the requisite sights like Flinders Street Station, and enjoyed good company and hospitality from fellow product/design folks.
I stayed at a beautiful little apartment-style hotel called United Places in the South Yarra neighborhood, a bit of a hike from the conference venue and CBD. But it was a lovely hike, and I came home after my talk to this lovely note and treat:
Last March we made our first family Disney trip, and we discovered we are Wilderness Lodge people.
June is still little and doesn’t love rides, and my wife Jody has chronic back pain, so we kept our park itineraries pretty chill, with lots of slow dark rides (Journey of the Little Mermaid, it’s a small world, Na’vi River Journey), photo ops, and character meals.
We’re going back in April, which means I got to spend a chunk of 2020 on one of my new favorite hobbies—planning upcoming Disney vacations. (I booked our hotel in June, 10 months before the trip, and all our meals in October, 6 months before.) There’s a real, deep metagame to booking Disney trips that I keep meaning to blog about.
Despite tons of people on Twitter complaining about it, I still fly United; my flights to and from Australia were enough to get me gold status for the first time ever.
I seem to be alone in this, but I really like the iPad-driven food service at EWR’s Terminal C.
Family, or: The Dog
Probably the biggest thing that happened this year was this little guy joining our family—we got a French bulldog puppy, who we named Johnny Cash.
At least for the first few weeks, raising a puppy was about as hard as taking care of a new baby. But now that he’s older (8 months) we’re finding our groove as dog parents, and Johnny is settling into being a snuggly, playful little sausage.
My other family members had a good year too. My daughter June turned 5 and started kindergarten, and my wife Jody turned 40 and made us all awesome Infinity Stones-themed sweaters:
All in all, I feel like 2019 — as action-packed a year as it was — flew by fast. Things that happened last January still feel like they happened last week. At the same time, it also feels like some parts of the year have gone on forever. The ongoing trash fire of U.S. politics, for one, but also nicer things — for instance, we’ve only had our puppy since July but it already feels like he’s always been part of our family.
I’m hoping the good parts of this year linger a bit longer in my memory, and the bad parts that are almost certainly gonna happen (hello U.S. election year 😑) fly by.
In 2020, I’m hoping to keep up two habits: blogging, and working out. Both are things I used to do a lot, but fell out of practice.
We’re going back to Disney World in April, mostly to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge tbh. But this year my kid is old enough for, and more excited by, some of the classic rides like Haunted Mansion.
As stated, I’m hoping to attend and speak at more events, meet more awesome product & design folks, and ship some great work with my Material Design colleagues. Last year Material added team members and an office site at Google Munich, which I’m hoping/planning to visit at least once this year.