The reality is that design is a job. And with every job, you must follow the rules established by others and design within the constraints of mandatories and guidelines. You are not afforded the ability to believe in magic or act upon the impossible. Side projects — or what I like to call passion projects — are ultimate opportunities to make what you love without such constraints. This freedom exudes the unexpected, creates new challenges outside of the routine and produces nuggets of creative innovation that in any other situation would have been impossible.
There have been many books and articles promoting the importance of independent projects. Projects that are fueled by passion and executed away from the office on one’s own time. The average day-to-day job may at first prove challenging, but it quickly becomes a vacuum prohibiting new ideas, exploration and innovation. A self-guided project untethered by requirements, testing, science and other variations of logic is what is needed to set your creativity free. With passion projects you will be totally free to explore your creativity in different ways, doing things you always wanted to but never had the chance. You are the only one in charge of deadlines, so you can work the way you want to better deliver what you have in mind. Taking on self-initiated projects greatly accelerates trade skills, expands your superpowers and allows you to pioneer new possibilities.
The image above is a glimpse at the character development process for a personal passion project. It is an independent, side-scrolling video game inspired by my 3-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter. The narrative features a main character who starts as an infant, eats, farts, learns and grows to survive as an adolescent with each level the gamer overcomes. The journey of making this game has not only brought me closer to my kids, but has challenged my design in ways that traditional graphic design practices have not. Game theory, childhood psychology, character development, interactive narratives and 3D interaction design are all challenging endeavors that have expanded my skill set. I continue to be amazed on how it greatly influences my thinking as a designer.
In short, I believe passion projects like this are the secret sauce for achieving mastery of your trade and gives you the edge that leaves others in the dust.
“On one hand I talk about the importance of having a good work/life balance, and yet on the other I prefer to hire people who do personal projects in their spare time.”
– Paul Boag, Work, Life and Side Projects
Here are a few important take-aways:
- This is intended to inspire new ways to explore unharnessed creativity. It should not be taken as a revolt against or replacement for Design’s purpose and the benefits of Agency processes. See Monteiro’s Design is a Job.
- With freedom comes responsibility and therefore taking on passion projects are not for everyone. A lot of designers can’t work without the structure and management of an agency guiding them to completion.
- Passion projects provide designers with a chance to experiment and learn new techniques that your day job may not allow. They also provide you with the opportunity to widen your skills into new areas and roles.
- Passion projects don’t just benefit your employer, they benefit your personal career. Doing something outside of your job that is different from your daily routine will ultimately set you apart and give you a unique and often indispensable value.
- Passion projects should not be confused with freelance projects. With that said, I see no reason why you couldn’t get paid for work as long as the stakeholder paying you doesn’t influence your creative independance.
- Find your passion and what works for your life. A passion project is done outside of normal “day-job” hours and therefore can significantly cut into your personal life, obligations and responsibilities. Communicate your passion with loved ones and include them in the process. Find balance by recognizing the overlap in life, work and passion.
Make design your life.
(And life, your design.)
– Keith Yamashita, Fifteen Things Charles and Ray Teach Us