We chat patterns, prototypes and recent projects with GDS designer, Harry Trimble
Many people embark on their daily commute sleepy-eyed and in search of a seat. But for Harry Trimble, the journey to work is an opportunity to build HTML prototypes or write blog posts. He credits a mixture of luck, enthusiasm and paying attention with helping him land his job as a designer at GDS. Although he spends 60% of his time in front of a screen, the role is a collaborative one, where alongside a multi-disciplinary team he helps to collect and test solutions to design problems. He talks us through some recent projects and learnings.
Designer, Government Digital Service (2015–2017)
Designer, NHS, (2014–15)
Designer in Residence, Design Museum, (2012–13)
Designer, Freelance, (2011–2015)
MA Service Design, Royal College of Art (2013–2015)
BA Design and Craft, University of Brighton (2008–2011)
How would you describe your job?
I’m a designer on the patterns team. Patterns are solutions to common design problems. I help collect and test these before publishing them as code and guidance that other designers can copy and follow.
What does a typical working day look like?
I work between 10am and 6pm. I usually have breakfast with my housemate George, who’s a freelancer. Then I travel from south London to our offices. If I get a seat on the train, I’ll build a HTML prototype or edit a blogpost. My time is typically broken down into two week blocks called sprints. In the first week you draft something and in the second week you test it with users.
I take turns with a software developer and a product manager making tea for the team. Typically my day is a mix of prototyping, commuting, meetings, planning and discussing design decisions with my team. Ideally there are more decisions and trying things out than the other things.
How did you land your current job?
I saw a meet-up about design and public services advertised on Twitter. I went along and got chatting to my now boss. We had met previously, when they came to talk to my masters course class. At the time they said we should “chat about jobs”, and I followed up with a few Twitter messages and emails. So a mix of luck, enthusiasm and paying attention I guess.
“Helping open-source design in government is an ongoing mixture of technology and design culture.”
Where does the majority of your work take place?
Most of my time is spent at our offices. But also in other people’s houses, businesses, schools and in government departments, where we test prototypes every few weeks. I probably spend about 60% of my day looking at a screen. The rest is spent listening to people or getting over-excited and speaking over them by accident.
How collaborative is your role?
My team is pretty much all non-designers: developers, user researchers, content, product managers, delivery managers – so quite collaborative.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable is helping to improve public services. The least enjoyable is going to meetings you don’t need to be there for. I get frustrated by things not being improved faster.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Helping open-source design in government – it’s an ongoing mixture of technology and design culture. My team is building an online library of design patterns. Not just to find and copy patterns. It’s for designers all over government to add work for others to reuse. It’s the opposite of what you often get taught at design school – that copying is bad. My job is to help define the tasks the library helps people do.
What skills are essential to your job?
Thinking through making. Structuring an argument on how things should be designed. Understanding constraints. Explaining design decisions. Being enthusiastic.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A MacBook and iPhone 5c (all covered in stickers); Sublime Text to edit code; GitHub to share code and Adobe Illustrator to draw things. I blog quite a bit too; either on gov.uk or Medium.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A production designer for films.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I did craft, then user research at uni. The first taught me about prototyping and communication, the second taught me how to listen and observe people better.
What were your first jobs?
My first job was serving drinks at shareholder meetings. I didn’t get paid properly as a designer until my mid 20s.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
I stopped worrying if my work was original.
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
The NHS gambling clinic. Working there was nothing short of humbling – both in terms of the users I met and the reality of trying to redesign services for them. I also lost a lot of ego there and became more pragmatic about what to redesign.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Finding out about constraints like technology and organisation, and working with realistic materials, be it silicon rubber or HTML.
“Follow your interests, but you need to eat too. Discover something that lets you do both.”
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I messed up at the NHS: we designed and built a service that users never got to use. That department of the NHS then outsourced all of its website. Meaning it’s really expensive and slow to deploy even the simplest of changes. If I worked more closely with the developers deploying the service, things might have been different. You need to work closely with everyone who delivers a public service, otherwise it won’t happen.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I won’t lie – it’s different. Although I’m technically a service designer, I don’t directly work on public services. I make things like patterns for other people to design public services. But my job is more technical than I expected, which is good as it means I get closer to delivery.
Could you do this job forever?
Designers should see their ideas through to delivery. GDS is giving me experience of that, but I won’t be here forever. I’ll continue working on public services as that’s what I enjoy most – maybe working on education services.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Becoming a senior designer, where you lead design of multiple services. Beyond that, starting and running a service. For example I’d like to start a start a school from scratch.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a designer?
Follow your interests, but you need to eat too. Discover something that lets you do both.
This article is part of a feature on Government Digital Service.
Harry is now a designer at design studio If.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography by Ryan Evans
Mention Harry Trimble
Mention Government Digital Service