designtrack Journal


Christopher Murphy

For the first time in a long, long time I’m excited about my work and I’m facing the next 24 hours with anticipation. That makes such a difference to the day ahead.

If you start the day with a sense of excitement, what faces you is not a day of drudgery, but a day of delight. Instead of the hours dragging by, they disappear and you want more of them.

I don’t intend this to sound grandiose, but I feel like what I’m working on at The School of Design is important. If not to the world, then to me.

The Library feels like ‘a life’s work’. It’s a mammoth task, gathering ‘everything I’ve learned’, but if it can help others, it’s important. One of my students at The School of Design sent me the following message this morning:

I was perusing The Library yesterday and there’s so much good content in there.

This is incredibly encouraging and it’s motivating me to continue adding content. It does, however, leave me facing a conundrum. Should this content – a design × business library designed to help designers become self-sufficient – be:

  1. Entirely open access, helping the maximum number of people possible; or
  2. Should it sit behind a paywall, for the benefit of students at The School of Design.

The teacher in me says: open access, but then… How do I make an honest living? ¹

Access to design education is prohibitively expensive – in the US and UK, certainly – and that excludes a great deal of people. ² That’s a problem. The design industry is a community largely comprised of the privileged few. How do we fix that?

That’s my mission.

What’s your mission?

I occasionally find workshop attendees rolling their eyes when I talk about the importance of a ‘mission’, as if all mission statements are utterly vacuous, dreamed up in the C Suite. ³

That’s a shame, because – as I stress to my students – defining your mission and building your business around it is one of the best ways to guarantee success.

My mission is so, so important to me. It has grown considerably during my time on Propel. Where I am now in relation to where I was at the start… the two points are so, so different. The journey from A → Z has been life-changing, and I don’t use those words lightly. ⁴

It’s hard to put into words the massive change I’ve been through, driven by everyone on the team at Propel: Chris, Ian, Kate and, the mastermind behind it all, Tristan.

My mission at the start – to improve UX +/ UI education by embracing digital tools – seems in retrospect ludicrously low-level. I’m now trying to build the best design school in the world. (I know, that sounds like no small undertaking, but shoot for the stars….)

The Propel mentors have helped me to challenge myself, encouraging me to: question my assumptions, test my limitations and, most importantly, ask: “What’s the biggest impact I can have?”

That’s why my mission is bigger than UX +/ UI, which is too thin a slice of the design industry to make the difference I hope to make.

The 300

In what remains of my lifetime, I have ~300 students left to teach.


That’s three cohorts of nine students per year, over the next ten years. (I’ve rounded up, because I have a tendency to offer to help others (and no matter how often I remind myself to say no, I forget)).

At that point, when I’m 60, I plan to call it a day and – like my mentor from afar, and friend, Ed Fella – become an exit level designer. Teaching, far from being easy, is incredibly difficult. It’s also tiring. I’m putting all of my effort to the 300.

When I think of it through that lens, those students are incredibly important: They are picking up the torch and – I hope – running with it. They are identifying their own mission.

Where they run is important. I’m helping them, in a small, but important way, find their direction.


(1) One option that’s been rattling around my brain is to – perhaps? – seek sponsorship? There are many, many businesses – like MailChimp, for example – that rely on a thriving design- × business-driven culture and if The Library can be supported in some way, they benefit. (Perhaps?)

(2) I’m working on a longer essay exploring the cost of education, following an important discussion one of the students sparked off in The School of Design Slack.

(3) This perception isn’t helped when C Suites are often guilty of dreaming up bullshit missions, because someone told them they had to. Worse are the empty values that are bolted on to businesses by marketing departments who should know better.

(4) I wrote about this life-changing journey in an essay called ‘Massive Change’. 3-5,000 words I lost due to a sync issue with Tot.

Do not use Tot: its sync isn’t sync; it has no document conflict resolution, a basic, indeed critical, feature of text editors that work across platforms (macOS, iPadOS and iOS); and its developer is discourteous.

Above the implementation layer.

Christopher Murphy

The last week has been a rollercoaster: designtrack is no more. Meet: The School of Design. I purchased (for a modest princely sum) and it’s in the process of making its way to me, I hope.

The School of Design has fundamentally shifted into more of a ‘Human-Centred Design Thinking’ school. UX +/ UI is now only a small part of it (where at the start of this journey, at designtrack, it was all of it).

We’re focusing on teaching the thinking skills that will be required for designers to thrive in a world with increasing numbers of digital products.

I think the rise of #nocode will increasingly remove a lot of the need for lower end ‘implementation layer’ designers (i.e. people who ‘push pixels’).

Webflow will do for mid-level digital design projects what Squarespace did for low-end brochure sites.

It will remove the need for designers at the mid- and low-ends.

On top of that, outsourcing – to lower wage economies – will make it very difficult for freelancers and micro-studios to compete. The salaries in the US vs UK vs India are vastly different, because the cost of living is vastly different.

A lot of work by large multinationals, that I consult with on strategy, is outsourced to India. User Researchers, Strategists and Digital Product Designers establish the framework of what will be built, then it’s contracted out to India.

It’s hard to compete when you’re competing on price. Someone will always undercut you (and if they haven’t undercut you, you’re the one at the bottom of the stack who has undercut the rest.)

Commodityville is not a pretty place to make a living.

Finally, ML and AI are moving into the implementation layer and machines will soon hoover up most of the low-end, repeatable work. As we’re constantly reminded: The machines are coming and they will replace a lot of repeatwork.

In this kind of environment it’s critical to learn the thinking skills that sit above the implementation layer. That’s what we’re focused on teaching. I can’t thank our first and second cohort of learners enough, they have helped me to understand what’s required.

To thrive, you need to understand the relationship of product design, service design and experience design. All three are increasingly intertwined. You also need to have a grounding in branding, pricing, positioning… and an understanding of business.

Lastly, as if all of the above wasn’t enough, you need to know how to tell stories. Humans are storytellers and the brightest brands understand that.

All of the above – everything above the implementation layer – is what we’re teaching at The School of Design.

If you’d like to know more, our next cohort starts in September. Get in touch and I’ll happily cover what we teach and put you in touch with our students.

What’s in a name?

Christopher Murphy

In addition to The School of Design (which used to be called designtrack) I’m working on a series of digital products. This is part of a strategy to diversify my income streams in order to build an antifragile business.

One of the products I’m working on is a workshop and a product marketing system, that introduces the idea of Growth Design (1) for startup founders and product-focused micro-businesses.

I’m working on it with my friend and sometime collaborator, Mr Ben. The problem at the moment is that it doesn’t have a name, and without a name, it’s hard for us to reference amongst everything else we’re working on.

One of the other products I’m working on – which is, in a way, related – is a beautifully designed content marketing system, created by digital product designers for digital product designers. This product is called ‘Vessel’.

We can reference it quickly, because we can say: “Could you spare me five minutes to talk about the prototypes for Vessel?”

Vessel (Formerly, Vehicle)

Vessel started life as ‘Vehicle’. I contacted the two designers who are designing and building it with me – Jasmin Winiarski and Hope McIlroy – to inform them that ‘Vehicle’ was just a working title, something to get the ball rolling.

There was something about the name Vehicle that didn’t quite fit. To start with, I couldn’t help but think of a car emitting pollution every time I referred to it (that’s not a concept I’m happy with at all). But the name served two purposes:

  1. It gave us a ‘working title’ that we could refer to amongst the other day-to-day work we’re doing at Mr Murphy Ltd..
  2. It helped the product to feel real.

Point number one is useful, it cuts through the noise, acting as a shortcut to the project and a shorthand for the concept. Point number two is where the magic happens, however.

When I’m teaching or running workshops for professionals, I often refer to the power of visualisation. Athletes use visualisation to pre-imagine a race. They see themselves at the very moment they cross the line, winning the race. All in their mind.

Vehicle might not have been the right name, but it got us to the point of creating a beautifully designed skeleton system you could ‘pour content into’, which is where the idea of a Vessel came in.

Untitled (Goose Game)

I wouldn’t recommend using ‘untitled’ as a working title, it doesn’t have enough to hang on to. My forthcoming podcast with Fabio Basile is currently called #untitled, we chose that because my other podcast with Adam Procter is called #uneducators, but #untitled just isn’t cutting the mustard.

We need a name – and fast – because the quicker we settle on a name, the quicker everything feels real (and the quicker everything feels real is the quicker we start building in earnest (and the quicker we start building in earnest is the closer we are to launch!)).

So, what is ‘Untitled Goose Game’ and why is it untitled? The game is a puzzle stealth game, developed by House House and published by Panic, purveyors of beautiful digital products.

According to the team behind it: The game’s unusual name came from a last-minute decision when submitting an entry for a games festival. The team enjoyed the festival and the name stuck.


Sometimes when you conjure up an idea for a name, it doesn’t sit right, but over time it settles into place and grows on you.

I remember the moment when Lee Munroe pitched the name Lookaly to me, during an office hours meeting. Lookaly was an online business directory that allowed users to rate and review businesses. My reaction?


No matter how much Munroe explained to me that Lookaly was a portmanteau, a mashup of ‘look’ and ‘locally’, it just didn’t sit right with me. However, a few weeks later – after having heard it repeated in the studio countless times – Lookaly soon started to feel right.

So, it pays to live with your name for a while. If it isn’t right, you’ll know and if it is right, it’ll grow on you.

In Closing…

Don’t waste hours and hours and hours trying to think of the perfect name for your product. That time is far better put to good use, actually building your product.

If I had a pound for every beautifully wrought name that never made it off the drawing board, I’d be an incredibly wealthy individual. The riches that flow from imagining, designing and building products accrues to the makers, not the talkers. Give your product a name – you can change it later – and you’ll make much faster progress.

Always give your projects a working title. Do so and they’ll feel more ‘real’, just the act of naming your project will help to bring it to life.


(1) I first learned about the term ‘Growth Design’ during one of our Founder Firesides with Andy Budd, of Clearleft. Budd mentioned Lex Roman – who I believe coined the term – and I was hooked.

I was never wildly enthusiastic about the term ‘growth hacking’. In stark contrast to the original meaning of the word hacker, it’s subsequently taken on a less positive aura. As such, the term ‘growth designer’ very much appealed to me.


Christopher Murphy


As Aristotle once observed, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” If you make an effort to become aware of your weaknesses you can, at the very least, begin to address them.¹

I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone who’s met me that – as my grandmother use to say – “I like the sound of my own voice.”

When I’m mentoring a learner in an office hours session, I’ll barely pause for breath, because I’m trying to get across as much information as possible in a short space of time.


One of the skills of a truly great teacher is the ability to listen, so that’s something I’m working on. Like any skill it takes time and practice to master.

On that note, while researching my previous essay on language, I was delighted to discover Einstein’s formula for success in life:

A = X+Y+Z

In 1929, Samuel Johnson Woolf interviewed Einstein for The New York Times Magazine. Einstein’s formula for life emerged as a by-product if that interview. As Woolf noted:

It was time for me to go and as he saw me to the door I asked him what he considered the best formula for success in life. He smiled, that same awkward bashful smile and thought for a minute.

“If A is success in life,” he replied, “I should say the formula is A = X+Y+Z, X being work and Y being play.” “And what,” I asked, “is Z?”

“That,” he answered, “is keeping your mouth shut.”

It’s fair to say that I’m working on Z (and I suspect I always will be).

1590511680 · 54.705140, -6.178487


  1. You’re doubtless aware of some of your weaknesses, but there will also be weaknesses that you aren’t aware of. If you’re to grow as an individual it’s important to identify those weaknesses so you can begin to address them.

    A 360° Review is a useful tool to help you pinpoint the areas that you need to work on.

    In 2008, whilst undertaking a postgraduate programme at Belfast School of Art, I had to undertake a 360° Review and the lessons I learned about myself were fascinating.

    A dozen years later I’m still working on the weaknesses I identified. Had I not undertaken the 360° Review I wouldn’t even have been aware of those weaknesses, let alone started working on them.

A win vs. a negative net present value.

Christopher Murphy


I’ve been thinking a great deal about the use of language, how it shapes the perception of a brand and how I can improve mine.

I don’t mean my habit of swearing¹, I mean my habit – acquired in academia? – of defaulting to complex language when simple language would communicate more effectively.

My teaching style centres around a show don’t tell approach, so here’s an example.

Earlier, while I was writing about the cost of advertising and its role in promoting your business, I wrote the following:

It pays to experiment and refine your advertising strategy over time, weighing up your return on investment. Inevitably, some of your advertising will result in a positive net present value and some of it will result in a negative net present value.

What was I thinking?

This language might look smart – “I know what net present value is!” – but it’s really quite obtuse (or, to use a simpler word: stupid).

The term ‘negative net present value’ might look sophisticated, but what it means is ‘a loss’, and – to be frank – many readers will be at a loss understanding the point I’m trying to make.²

It’s really quite embarrassing to admit this, but I think this point is so important to hammer home, that I’ll happily embarrass myself to underline it.

If your writing requires effort on the part of the reader to decipher you need to revise your writing and simplify it.

Good writing is clearly written and easy to understand. That doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. You can articulate complex arguments using simple words. (And, vice versa.)

The mistake a great deal of writers make – especially academics – is they over-complicate matters through the use of intentionally unintelligible language.

Why on earth would any do that?

I often find with academics that they do it for one of two reasons:

  1. They’re engaged in an environment where ‘this is the language that’s expected’. Their logic is: “If everyone writes in a particularly over-wrought way, then I must write that way.” (No, you mustn’t.)³
  2. They lack confidence in their thinking, so they mask the weakness of their arguments with a multitude of multi-syllable words in the hope that their discombobulation (3) will divert attention from their stupidity.

Truly intelligent people understand the importance of clear communication, they strive to make things easier to understand, not harder.

As Einstein famously put it:

The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.

As Alice Calaprice notes in Einstein’s General Theory of Writing: “[Einstein] wrote the way he would have spoken, without pretensions.”

This is what the best teachers do. They put learners first, communicating as clearly and unpretentiously as possible. Do that and you maximise the opportunities for all, writing in an inclusive way.


  1. Try as I might, to curb my swearing, I’ve yet to manage even a few minutes minus what my mother calls ‘choice language’. I suspect I’ll always swear. I’m enthusiastic about what I do, and that enthusiasm manifests itself in frequent exclamations: “That’s fscking incredible!” or “That’s a fscking disgrace!”

    One thing I did do recently, however, was use Apple’s system-level text replacement feature to map fuck → fsck and all its attendant variations.

    Given my fsck journal has existed for seven years, I’m surprised I didn’t think of this sooner.

  2. Investopedia: “A positive net present value indicates that the projected earnings generated by a project or investment - in present dollars - exceeds the anticipated costs, also in present dollars.”

    You can, of course, use £, €, ¥….

  3. This is a case of falling into a trap because ‘everyone else is doing it’. As I’ve noted before, there are no rules.

    In academia, it might seem that there are ‘rules’ like this. However, some of the most respected academics are successful precisely because they’re ‘breaking the rules’ and writing in a clear and easy to understand manner. (Cal Newport springs to mind, for example.)

Everything I've Learned

Christopher Murphy


One of the benefits of being on Propel is that the programme features access to a vast array of ‘perks’. One of these perks is $1,000 in credit towards Notion’s Team Plan, which I’m delighted to have just received.

A number of my final year students have been using Notion – for note-taking and project management – and I’ve been meaning to put it through its paces. I now have no excuse.

Notion – if you’re unfamiliar with it – bills itself as an ‘all-in-one workspace’ allowing you to write, plan, collaborate and get organised. Their startup case study – featuring Cocoon (itself fascinating) – summarises this snappily, billing it as, “Your startup’s operating system.”

Given my mission – to put world-class education within reach of all – I’ve been experimenting with using Notion to create a wiki that collects everything I’ve ever taught, linking ‘knowledge fragments’ together.

I think there’s something in the idea of sharing two decades of my teaching materials for free, but selling ‘learning pathways’ through that content.

Put simply: The content would be accessible to all, but I’d sell my services as ‘a navigator’ to take learners through this body of knowledge.

Taking this idea further, I’d be able to gather everything I’ve ever worked on – interviews with other designers, for example – and make it available in one, centralised resource.

I’m still toying with this idea – especially after my meeting with Atto on Friday – but I think there might be something in this.

The Rollercoaster

Christopher Murphy


This morning, I woke to an inbox full of emails. There was one, in particular, I was looking for.

Scrolling through the list, I found it.

We would like to thank you for your time and effort in submitting the Concept Grant Application Form and for presenting to Techstart in January 2019.

Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that your application has not been successful.

At that moment, I was – as you’d expect – hit with a wave of disappointment. I’d put a great deal of effort into articulating my vision for designtrack.

This application for £10,000 of support was intimately integrated into my spreadsheet, perhaps a little too intimately.

The problem – as I later discovered during the feedback – was that the problem I had articulated, whilst interesting, hadn’t been innovative enough to qualify for support.

The feedback Techstart provided was fantastic, identifying weaknesses I needed to address if I were to be successful.

The startup journey is – like the Kickstarter journey – a rollercoaster of intense highs (being accepted onto Propel) followed immediately by intense lows (being unsuccessful).

I’ll share more of the lessons I learned in a future post, but the lesson I learned is that I needed to build an emotional bomshelter (as my Masters graduate and Get Invited co-founder, Kyle Gawley, once told me).

Lesson learned.

What’s the simplest tool you can use?

Christopher Murphy

The Simplest Tool

Ask yourself: What’s the simplest tool you can use? Use that and don’t overcomplicate things. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my first fortnight on Propel.

This message has been hammered home over and over, in particular, during my office hours sessions with the mentors. Ship, test, iterate (repeat).

As a designer, I’m used to: sketching a page; developing wireframes and userflows; creating high-fidelity mockups; building a prototype; and, finally, coding everything up in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. (Or, more accurately, working with a third party on the code part of the equation.)

This is a time-consuming process – too time-consuming – and it doesn’t help me to test my thinking or my assumptions.

As I start to develop designtrack, focusing on customers and pricing models, I’m embracing off-the-shelf tools that I can use to build ‘just good enough’ prototypes so I can test my thinking quickly. This is saving me time and leading to better data to inform my thinking.

It’s incredible, there are a multitude of tools with very shallow learning curves, that you can use to publish content and test it on your audience. The following tools – which are either free to use or have free, unpaid tiers – have been lifesavers for me.

I built the following (unfinished) landing page using Landen during Monday’s landing pages workshop. It’s good enough to trial my messaging and, at this stage, good enough is all that matters.

Being on Propel is encouraging me to rethink my processes, which has taught me a great deal. When you’re at the beginning of your startup journey it’s important to shift your focus from ‘finished’ to ‘fast’. Fast is what matters.

—Christopher, @fehler

Destroy Today

Christopher Murphy

Destroy Today

As I noted in my first post, I have a tradition of starting a new site with minimal styling. I was delighted when Chris McClelland – one of Propel’s mentors – highlighted Jonnie Hallman’s Destroy Today raw redesign.

Hallman is a friend of mine (and an incredibly talented one, at that). Many years ago, I collected him from the airport in Belfast, when he arrived for the final instalment of Build. (I have fond memories of that time.)

I don’t know how I missed his redesign in the open, but needless to say, I was delighted when I saw it. As Hallman put it, in his opening post:

Rather than fall into the trap of writing serious, heavily-edited, long-form blog posts, I’ll try my best to keep these short, frequent, and to-the-point.

His aim is to spend no more than a quarter of an hour per post. I suspect – given that I’m documenting my journey on Propel – that timeframe might be a little tight for me, but I will endeavour to post frequently and keep my posts focused.

As Hallman concludes his opening article: “I already feel like I’ve written too much. Keep an eye on this space, and keep me active if I start to slack.”

I’d urge you to do the same: If I forget to post, feel free to give me the nudge I need.

—Christopher, @fehler

Hello, World!

Christopher Murphy

Hello, World!

It’s been a time-honoured tradition of mine to launch any new journal with a short ‘Hello, World!’ post. In that post, I set out my intentions and outline what I hope to achieve through this particular body of writing.

I’m also known for embracing a raw, minimally styled approach when I’m focused primarily on content. The primary benefit of this approach is a focus on content first, design second (if, indeed, I focus on design at all).

I’m excited to be starting my journey into 2020 as one of 5% of applicants who were accepted onto Ignite’s Propel pre-accelerator programme, to develop my new startup, designtrack.

I’ll be maintaining a journal here, noting lessons I’ve learned on the programme, so I can return to them later. (I have a dreadful memory.)

This journal is largely a personal affair, but others may find some value in it. If that’s you, I’m glad you find the content useful. Feel free to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Starting a startup is like getting a ticket for a rollercoaster ride: you have days where you feel that nothing the world can throw at you will shake your beliefs; but you also have days where you find yourself questioning everything.

I’ll be honest: I’ll share the highs and the lows of my startup journey. Through honesty, I hope to document what it’s like to embark on a new venture, one where you are simultaneously filled with determination and doubt.

If you’re following along, I hope you enjoy the journey.

—Christopher, @fehler