Ben Holliday

2016 – End of year review

This year was the toughest of my career so far.

I’ve managed to steer our design team through a considerable amount of change at DWP Digital (previously, Digital DWP) after most of our leadership team suddenly moved on to take over at the Government Digital Service in August.

I’ll be honest, it’s not been easy but it does feel like things have finally settled down towards the end of the year.

I’ve been pretty open in saying that I wouldn’t still be working here if I didn’t believe in what we were doing. It’s important that we now continue to take user-centred design seriously, delivering services designed around the needs of users.

This year I’m proud of the team work that has delivered GOV.UK services like Apply for an Access to Work grant and Apply for a Budgeting Loan. In the meantime, other services we’ve worked on continue to go from strength to strength, like the now award winning Check your State Pension.

All of this should still only be the start. There’s so much more to do and, despite everything, I can say that our design team is in good shape and very much up for the challenge in 2017.


Like last year, I’ve spent much of my time on the road.

This year my health hit a low point for a few months and I had to learn to step back and do less. It’s been hard but I’ve felt much better for the last few months, almost like myself. You can’t underestimate (and I did) the energy it takes to make things happen and to keep a large team together when they’re all spread across the country.


I really enjoyed the Leading Design conference run by Clearleft. It was a chance to meet other design leaders facing similar (and sometimes even greater) challenges.

My other (non-speaking) conference highlight this year was probably the Meaning conference in Brighton. This was simply for the diversity of speakers and ideas – I’m still thinking about ideas and conversations I had throughout the day.


I’ve continued to read a lot of books this year. It’s become part of how I think. Having made my way through most of the summer reading list I shared, I’ve now got another growing list of unread books to start with over Christmas and into the New Year.


I did some speaking again this year. A highlight was being asked to give my first keynote. Mark and the team from Service Design in Government, have just published the talk video. It brings back some mixed feelings as I was really sick for most of the conference week. That said, I had spent a lot of time thinking about and preparing the talk, so in I was glad to get through it.

At the time I published a blog post about one of the main themes in the talk, asking: Is it transformational?. I’ve also written separately about the main outline of the talk: Service design and everything else.


Over the last few years I’ve started to write and publish blog posts more frequently. As it stands, in 2016 I’ve written and published 52 blog posts (more than ever) and have also contributed to a number of other posts for GOV.UK. I’ve also learned a lot from my writing and publishing experiment this month.

A few months back I pulled together many of my previous blog posts into a playbook for easy reference. It was really designed for myself, but it’s been well received.

My favourite blog post that I’ve written this year was about design leadership: Supersized. Making design work in large organisations. I also spoke about this at a number of conferences and meet ups including Glug Reading and UX Oxford.

Design sprints

I had a great experience working on a number of design sprints this year. There was a noticeable shift in focus as we’ve begun working more closely with DWP Policy, and collaborating with other government organisations like PolicyLab.

People and teams

I’ve been privileged to work with some great people again this year. I was sorry to say goodbye to Tom Adams and Helena Du Toit who were both significant leaders as we’ve built our design team.

At Digital DWP we now have distinct teams and emerging leaders working across Service Design, Interaction Design, Content Design, and Front-end development. I believe this a reflection of the maturity of the work we’ve been doing and with the right support this should pay dividends for the organisation.

Looking forward to 2017

I have a couple of talks planned for next year that I’m looking forward to. These should be announced soon. Beyond the immediate future I’m not sure what the rest of 2017 holds just yet.

But, before we get there I want wish everyone reading this a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

Keep going!

Footnote: All the published videos of talks I’ve given are here – the slide decks of talks are here.

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my blog posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also follow my regular updates on Twitter.