A Question About Side Projects

My father is always working on side projects. When I was growing up, he spent weekends building a new shed or deck, fixing the garage door for the thousandth time, or designing a new workshop for himself.

In hindsight, these projects were very specific: they were all large and time-consuming, they began on paper, they often involved learning new skills, and they always required building something with his hands.

It’s that last detail I’ve been having trouble rectifying over the past couple years. Like my father, I’ve spent a lot of time working on side projects. They’re long, time-consuming projects that I do during breaks or quiet periods between client work. They always involve learning new skills.

But they rarely, if ever, involve building something with my hands.

Like my client work, all of my side projects are digital. My father doesn’t build things for a living, so his side projects are an escape. I don’t know if mine are the same thing.

As an industry, we (particularly digital designers) tend to struggle with the echo chamber. Our ideas and creativity feed off each other, and become very self-perpetuating. Our work becomes homogenous.

And most people in our industry recommend side projects as a way to attract potential employers and clients, even though — in that regard — these side projects are actually unpaid spec work.

I’m guilty of digital side projects — I’m working on a huge one right now — but I can’t help but wonder if we’ve collectively missed something.

Would our industry be more rewarding, fulfilling, and creative if we all stepped away from the screen and made tactile side projects that required us to make something with our hands?

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March 21 2016 in Work