Season one of the Clearleft podcast

The Clearleft Podcast has finished its inaugural season.

I have to say, I’m pretty darned pleased with the results. It was equal parts fun and hard work.

Episode One

Design Systems. This was a deliberately brief episode that just skims the surface of all that design systems have to offer. It is almost certainly a theme that I’ll revisit in a later episode, or even a whole season.

The main goal of this episode was to get some answers to the questions:

  1. What is a design system exactly? and
  2. What’s a design system good for?

I’m not sure if I got answers or just more questions, but that’s no bad thing.

Episode Two

Service Design. This is the classic topic for this season—an investigation into a phrase that you’ve almost certainly heard of, but might not understand completely. Or maybe that’s just me. In any case, I think that coming at this topic from a viewpoint of relative ignorance is quite a benefit: I have no fear of looking stupid for asking basic questions.

Episode Three

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year. A case study. This one was a lot of fun to put together.

It also really drove home to just how talented and hard-working my colleagues at Clearleft are. I just kept thinking, “Damn! This is some great work!

Episode Four

Design Ops. Again, a classic example of me asking the dumb questions. What is this “design ops” thing I’ve heard of? Where’d it come from?

My favourite bit of feedback was “Thanks to the podcast, I now know what DesignOps is. I now also hate DesignOps”

I couldn’t resist upping the ante into a bit of a meta-discussion about whether we benefit or not from the introduction of new phrases like this into our work.

Episode Five

Design Maturity. This could’ve been quite a dry topic but I think that Aarron made it really engaging. Maybe the samples from Bladerunner and Thunderbirds helped too.

This episode finished with a call to action …with the wrong URL. Doh! It should’ve been

Episode Six

Design Sprints. I like how the structure of this one turned out. I felt like we tackled quite a few angles in less than 25 minutes.

That’s a good one to wrap up this season, I reckon.

If you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes work that went into each episode, I’ve been blogging about each one:

  1. Design Systems
  2. Service Design
  3. Wildlife Photographer Of The Year
  4. Design Ops
  5. Design Maturity
  6. Design Sprints

I’m already excited about doing a second season …though I’m going to enjoy a little break from podcasting for a little bit.

As I say at the end of most episodes, if you’ve got any feedback to offer on the podcast, send me an email at

And if you’ve enjoyed the Clearleft podcast—or a particular episode—please share it far and wide.

Have you published a response to this? :


The first season of the Clearleft podcast concluded this week, and in what feels like a rare event these days, I need to have a little rant about what I heard.

Jeremy first mentioned recording a podcast a few years ago. Back then his idea was to interview everyone who had previously worked at Clearleft. The company recently celebrated its 15th birthday and seeing as so many smart people have passed through its doors during that time (I somehow managed to sneak in), this sounded like the basis for a fascinating show.

One of the few silver linings of lockdown was having extra time at home to do things that had long been put off. So it transpired with Jeremy’s idea for a podcast, and I jumped at the chance to be involved. Not only would this be my first appearance on a podcast, it meant I could achieve the full set of lockdown clichés: bake banana bread, get back into running, record a podcast.

The resulting audio turned out to be a little different from what I was expecting. Rather than a self-indulgent chat with former colleagues (something I’d still dearly love to hear), Jeremy produced a season of six episodes that investigated digital design in 2020, with current and former Clearlefties were called upon as expert witnesses. I spoke about design systems in episode one.

Besides an expertly crafted episode devoted to a case study on Clearleft’s design for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year website, the remaining episodes asked the following questions:

Many of Jeremy’s guests were refreshingly honest, candid and understated, as you might expect for a podcast originating from the UK. I particularly enjoyed Jon Aizlewood’s contributions; in many cases he said precisely what I was thinking. But on other occasions it was hard for me not to be triggered. Especially when many of the above topics have been popularised by companies operating out of that damned peninsula.

The episode on design ops was especially galling. This is a topic I was vaguely dismissive of already, but even more so upon learning that the discipline grew out of a need for Facebook to scale up its design team.

Given the corrosive impact their products have on society, the economy — on basic reasoning, even — why on Earth would you want a design team to operate like Facebook’s? If you were to measure their success by anything other than Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth, this is a group of designers that have unquestionably failed.

I find it hard to comprehend why we should listen to corporate designers and others who have chosen to work for companies so intently concerned with scale. Especcially when they so often appear blindsided by the unintended consequences of their work.

Their approaches are sold with an implicit understanding that they should be adopted because they’ve worked in large teams. But do they even follow their own advice? Spotify doesn’t use the Spotify model, and as we learn in episode five, InVision have yet to use their own design maturity assessment – even though they’re pitching it to other design teams!

With echos of design’s subjugation reverberating across all six episodes, this first season inadvertently told the story of how my profession has been captured by a desire to serve business interests above all others, while being disarmed by its tendency for introspection and a need to be recognised.

Can digital design redeem itself? I hope so. Maybe in the next season of the Clearleft podcast, we’ll find out how.

# Friday, August 14th, 2020 at 8:30am

Previously on this day

5 years ago I wrote dConstruct 2015 podcast: Chriss Noessel

So much geekiness in one podcast episode.

6 years ago I wrote Anab Jain at dConstruct

The line-up for this year’s dConstruct just gets better and better.

7 years ago I wrote August in America, day ten

Sierra Vista, Arizona.

10 years ago I wrote Clarification

A spec by any other name would smell as sweet.

13 years ago I wrote Reflection

Balancing my time between activism and just being me makes me a complacent zealot.

17 years ago I wrote Brighton Bloggers

Even though I’m on holiday and I should be spending all my time swimming, sunbathing and eating tacos, I just couldn’t resist doing a bit of design work.