Every Designer should have a Side Project.
As a designer, therefore, a creative and impatient mind, you need constant change in your life to be more creative. We need to be challenged frequently in order to stay fresh on our ideas. And, sometimes, we can get caught up by our daily work routine, automating some tasks and slowly damaging creativity.
There are some ways to avoid this natural process and it usually involves to force your brain to step out of the routine and break the pattern. I like to say that the best way to do that is finding yourself a Side Project. One can argue that just by having a hobby would do the trick and yes, it can do it as well but, sometimes, you need something more challenging than a hobby, you need to feel useful, that you are working on something that can develop news skills and should, be related, to what you do as a designer.
Potencialize your creativity
If you work with creativity, you should know by now that to be even more creative and to have more ideas you need to step away from what you are doing and let the mind work for you in the background. Sometimes ideas come out of nowhere but in fact, it just your subconscious trying to solve a problem for you while you are doing something else.
Let’s have a look at David Lynch explaining where ideas come from:
New ideas will come just by being exposed to different things, just by the fact you took your brain out of its comfort zone. In order to keep your “creative freshness”, you need to live your life, experience things.
The most important thing here is to allow your mind to be constantly challenged with new things so it remains fresh and always open to the unknown.
What I’ve learned with my own side projects
Right now, by the time I’m writing this post I’m currently involved in 5 side projects. For some people that can be a lot, but for me, it still manageable, as long as they don’t require my work at the same time.
Having a side project constantly keeps me out of my work routine and constantly allows me to develop/improve news skills.
Although I have all those side projects, I would like to go back to one that had a big impact on my career. A project that was initially supposed to take 3 months but it took more than a year. A project I was proud to have started and finished even though it came with some physical and mental consequences.
I’ve learned so much with it that it opened a whole new career path for me that I could choose to pursuit if I want to. The project I’m talking about was my first attempt to do a mobile game, Tamaringo.
Back in 2014, I was working full time on an advertising agency as a Digital Art Director. The workload was intense and I was working too much and mostly doing some very automatic tasks. Basically, I wasn’t being challenged enough.
At that time there was a boom of apps and mobile games and lots of successful stories about apps just having thousands of downloads and people starting companies because of them. Then, I decided to follow the trend and make my way into the mobile game business and that’s when the idea for a side project came up.
I joined forces with a friend and former co-worker to start developing our first mobile game. We had nothing to lose, we had our jobs to support us and this felt like a fun escape from advertising and a possible plan B, in case the game was a success.
I don’t want to go in details of the whole process of creating the game but I’ll highlight some of the things that I learned with this experience.
Creating a mobile game that is good enough to be competitive in the market is a full-time job.
It’s very important, when choosing a side project, that it is by nature, smaller than your everyday work otherwise, it will become a nightmare until you finish it.
We didn’t know enough about games except on how to play them.
We thought just by being a gamer it would be enough to create our own product but there was a whole new world that we had to immerse ourselves in before we start doing anything. Now, we have a lot of knowledge about the process and the business of creating and publishing apps.
We learned the true concept of burnout.
Like I mentioned before, this was my biggest mistake, taking a full-time job as a side job. Of course, that would have some consequences on our mental and physical health. The end of that year we ended up so exhausted that we just wanted to end the project and finally have weekends and some free time for ourselves again.
Designing the UI of a game is not the same as designing an app.
Designing an app is very different from designing a game. There are lots of things that need to be taking into consideration when you need to use the interface while playing. You need to design it with constant motion in mind, always trying to predict where to place some elements in a way that doesn’t damage the gameplay.
It’s not just about design, you need to understand the business and how to market and publish a game.
We had to learn everything you need to learn to design and sell a game. That learning process gave us a lot of insights but handling all those things while creating it forced us to focus on the actual product and neglect the only thing we were both experts on it, marketing.
You always learn something…
After almost a year in the making, we had a game published at the App Store that sold around 200 units ($0,99 cost per unit), mostly to friends and family. It was a success and failure at the same time. In the end, we acknowledged that the game was visually beautiful but it was not fun to play, therefore, nobody would keep playing it for long. It would never be able to compete against Angry Birds, for example.
No matter the outcome, you will always learn something in the end, whether is throughout failing or winning. Now, I know a lot more about the game industry, the process of creating and publishing a product to an AppStore. Besides that, I improved significantly my designer skills by creating the whole UI and doing the game design for it. That wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t decided to go on this journey and start this side project.
If you are still with me on the importance of having Side Projects and you want to know how to start, keep reading.
How to find a side project
Sometimes its gonna be helping a friend with a project, sometimes you can spot a need that needs to be addressed. Ideas can come from everywhere, you just need to find something that can drive you to work on the side.
In my case, very often, my friends and colleagues have some ideas and they share them to me. If they are very interesting and can challenge me in different ways I have a hard time saying no. You can always find time for something that is going to bring some joy in the making.
Of course, if you have many side projects at the same time that can be a problem if they all require your attention at the same time. So, be careful not to have way too many. And, always start small, so you can learn how to manage your time well and then scale up.
So, keep your eyes open for opportunities, they can come from everywhere and everyone. But, if you are eager to start something soon, you could start by reading this post down below. I hope it helps.
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