Side projects can cure our woes

Paul Boag

Personal projects that we run in our spare time can be a great way of improving the kind of work we win and ensuring more of our ideas are implemented.

I recently wrote an article for Smashing Magazine entitled “Work, Life and Side Projects“. In this post I discussed (among other things) the importance for each of us to have side projects.

I highly recommend you check out the post, but if you can spare a couple of minutes I would like to expand on the benefits of side projects.

Could side projects stop us moaning?

Whether we are website owners, designers or developers we all like to moan. We are never happy. In particular there are two areas we like to moan about.

First, we love to complain about the type of work we get. Whether assigned to us by a boss or work that we do for clients, we never get to work on the cool stuff, the stuff that would inspire or excite us.

Second, we are full of bright ideas for the sites we work on but are so often blocked by others on the project. We moan that they don’t get it, that they don’t understand just how cool our ideas are.

I believe that side projects we do in our personal time can be the answer to both of these issues.

Doing the work we love

Jessica Hische is a superb illustrator. However, she was getting bored with the work she was winning. She had a passion for lettering, but she kept winning illustration work and not very inspiring illustration at that.

Her solution was to start a side project called Daily Drop Cap. Each day for months she illustrated a drop cap and posted it on her site.

Examples of Jessica's drop caps

Before long clients started to take notice of her lettering work and asked for her to incorporate it into her illustrations. Eventually, she ended up doing more lettering than illustration and has just completed all of the typography for the upcoming Wes Anderson film “Moonrise Kingdom“.

Screenshot of Jessica's typography in Moonrise Kingdom trailer

This approach works not just for those of us who freelance, but also for those of us who work within a company. In my Smashing Magazine post I reference an example that happened within my own company:

Take for example Rob Borley who works at Headscape. He runs a takeaway ordering site, has his own mobile app business and has just launched an iPad app.

Rob used to be a project manager, but when we saw his passion and knowledge for mobile we created a new role focusing on that.

But, what about our second moan? Can side projects be used to get approval for our great ideas?

Getting approval for your ideas

Whatever our role we often have great ideas for the website we work on. However, more often than not others don’t seem to get it. They think it won’t work or will cost too much money.

In an ideal world they would get us to create a prototype and try out our ideas. However, that rarely happens.

Instead, perhaps we need to put our money where our mouth is. Perhaps we should take on these great ideas as side projects. Not that I am suggesting we build functionality for free. However, we could create prototypes and proof of concepts in our spare time. If we care so much about our ideas, we need to prove them to others and nothing does that better than showing how they work.

If you are a website owner you might feel you don’t have the skills to create a working prototype. That is simply not true. There are tools like Balsamiq or Flairbuilder that allow you to create interactive wireframes. Even Powerpoint or Keynote can be used to create a walkthrough for a website. homepage

No, you shouldn’t have to do this stuff in your spare time. However, if you want to implement your great idea then often this is the only way to make it happen.

Stop the moaning!

I am sure you can think of other stories of those willing to undertake side projects have been able to change their situation (please share them in the comments). We all know this stuff in our heads and yet we still waste too much time moaning about how unfair our current circumstances are. Perhaps instead of moaning we should get off our collective asses and change things.

Now read my Smashing Magazine post!