As designers, when it comes to work-related projects, we often have to make compromises based on limitations out of our control. We occasionally produce work that does not reflect the experience we would personally want to create for the user. Since this happens, it is up to each of us to find a way to fulfill our untapped creativity. One way we can be more creatively fulfilled is to work on personal design related projects outside of work.
In my spare time, I have worked on a variety of personal projects that I care about including a redesign of a website for foster children, a smart-watch and mobile application for diabetics, a homeless administration portal, and a collaboration project involving service dogs for the blind.
One personal project I am currently working on was inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. I was inspired to think about women’s rights and wondered what other women around the world were doing work that I should know about. As we know, any great product needs to solve a problem. For me, the problem was that I wanted the ability to quickly discover multiple profiles of women leading inspiring changes but I could not easily (or quickly) find these profiles. I was dismayed when my Google searches resulted in random articles that were poorly researched and designed or results that had random lists of women, sometimes with no images.
This problem got me thinking about a solution I could design. My idea was I could design a public database (similar to biography.com but with more content) that would feature current inspiring women like Malala Yousafzai, Ellen Degeneres, or Michelle Obama. I could add the ability to search, sort filter, by elements including career type, causes, nationality, ethnicity, age, living status and more. Each woman in the database would have their own profile linking images, social media, videos, quotes, books, and featured articles on the individual.
For me, working on personal projects outside of work that I'm passionate about has been a great way to be creative without the boundaries and limitations of deadlines, budgets, business or development. With these lessons in mind, here are 5 more reasons why a user experience designer should have personal projects outside of work:
1. Approach office work with a fresh perspective
Design work is not always as creative as we would like it to be. In my years working as a user experience designer, I have seen many co-workers (including myself) lose interest with office work because of the unavoidable monotony of it. Working on passion projects after work hours can really help designers revive creativity and regain focus. This newfound passion and focus also leads to looking at our work projects with a new perspective.
2. Freedom to choose what to work on
Unless a designer owns their own company, we don't always have the luxury of choosing what projects we take on at work. And, it is not often that companies will pay their user experience designer to work on anything they want with no guidelines or restrictions - although Google tried a version of this with their 20% time. Also, taking the time to work on a side project can really provide a great mental break from day-to-day office work.
3. Expand our creativity
At the end of most of my projects, I often go through the scenario of what I would have done better, had there been no restrictions. I think to myself, “Let me create a project from scratch; pick a topic I care about, and design something new without any limitations.” This kind of thinking is liberating because without boundaries we as designers allow ourselves to be more creative and are only confined by the rules we create.
4. Discover our sense of self and personal interests
When was the last time we as designers were presented with a choice of working on anything our hearts desired - college? Some of the best design concepts come out of school projects because we were able to pick our topics - which would most likely be something we were passionate about. Picking a project of our choosing always raises the topic: “What am I interested in?” or “If I could pick any topic in the world to create a design around, what would I pick?” For some people answering this question is easy but for others it takes some time to really discover what they truly care about.
5. Maintain a professional and up-to-date online design presence
Whether we are looking for a new job or happy with our current one, the portfolio work we display on our personal websites - Behance, Dribbble, or any other platforms - is important and helpful to demonstrate our current design capabilities. Sometimes when designers are applying for new jobs, we come to quickly realize our current work is all under non-disclosure agreements and we only have outdated work to show. This sudden realization can cause us to not get a job because we end up having to spend time creating a website and making some quick projects to display. Working on passion projects outside of work can save us that time and let us focus on interviewing. The benefits of having a personal project far outweigh the cost of not having one.
Working on projects outside of work demonstrates to ourselves and to others that we are passionate about design. It not only gives us a chance to be creative, discover ourselves, and keep our design aesthetics up-to-date for the world to see, but it can also improve the work we do at the office. As for me and my next passion project, after I finish the projects I am currently working on, I would like to tackle redesigning the entire DMV experience!