6 Reasons Why You Should Do Personal Design Projects

Dec 18 2009 by Isaac Gube | 51 Comments

There’s a misconception that creativity is always on: that either you have it or you don’t, or that if you produce great work once, you’ll always be able to produce great work.

Now if only that were true, right?

6 Reasons Why You Should Do Personal Design Projects

The truth – and I think most creatives will agree – is that the creative juices that lubricate and facilitate the flow of unique and effective ideas sometimes dries up and you need, from time to time, to refill and ferment those juices before it’s once again ready for public consumption.

One of the most effective ways to inspire creativity, I’ve found, is to do some self-initiated work; its what’s best described as personal design projects.

Whether it’s just sketches, creating a poster, or designing a super awesome personal blog, there’s something to be said about doing things for yourself that really brings out your creativity and nurtures your passions.

Why should you work on personal design projects regularly when you get paid do it for other people?

1. Personal design projects are challenging

Challenging is good. It’s challenging because whether you’re a designer, an illustrator, or any other kind of creative, you’re more an artist than anything else. And if artists have taught us one thing throughout history, it’s that we’re never happy.

There’s always more you can do. There’s always perfection to strive for. This is good and bad.

It’s good because it challenges you to produce your best work. It’s bad because with nobody to tell you stop, you’re more likely to keep working to the detriment of your project. The key is to know when your work is the best it can be.

Personal design projects are challenging

Working on personal design projects is great practice when it comes to testing the limits of your work. It gives you a chance to set goals for yourself even if you think you should keep going. It teaches you about your own work ethic and can test your self-restraint.

At the end of the day, this practice will be valuable in delivering not only on a client’s deadline, but delivering your best work. 

2. They will help you find your personal tastes

They will help you find your personal tastes

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what you find interesting when you’re working for someone else. You always make design decisions for the good of the client’s project. In many instances, it may even be choices that you’d never accept if it were entirely up to you.

Doing work for yourself allows you to focus on what you like since you don’t have to take orders from bosses, clients, and managers about what they would like – or need – you to do. This is very liberating and can propel your work in directions you never thought you could go.

3. They let you reexamine your design style

When you’re working on your own project, you’re not merely concerned about what you will get out of it but also about what goes into it.

Sometimes with client deadlines fast approaching, all you can think about is getting your work done and not disappointing your client. The choices you make rarely get a second glance. This is good for your client (because you didn’t miss the deadline) but bad for you as an artist.

They let you reexamine your design style

It’s important to slow down and scrutinize your work. Are you improving? Are you getting lazier, opting for easier design methods? Is your work behind the times?

No matter what other things you have going on in your work life, self-initiated work helps you develop your inner artist.

4. They’re opportunities to explore new techniques

If you’re a working creative, it’s easy to get sucked into trends and creating stuff that sell. After all, we all have to eat. There’s nothing wrong with trends. However, doing work for yourself lets you step out of the industry’s influences, giving you a chance to explore new techniques and alternative options for your work.

They're opportunities to explore new techniques

You can collaborate with other artists. You can work with new tools. You can try other forms of media. In other words, you can take bigger risks without any real repercussions to the work that pays your bills.

The only real investment you make in your personal design project is the time it takes to complete it. Furthermore, at the end of your project, you’re more likely to come out of it with new lessons learned and new tools to put in your creative arsenal. Win-win. 

5. They let you diversify your portfolio

They let you diversify your portfolio

It’s important to put some personal design work in your portfolio. It shows employers that beyond what you’re able to do for your clients, you have your own style and your own thoughts on design.

When you work in a certain field for an extended period, your work will likely reflect the demands of your client. Pretty soon, all your work will start looking like everyone else’s work. One way to distinguish yourself is through your self-initiated work since it’s work you’ve created to consciously step out of the regular grind.

6. Personal design projects are fun!

Personal design projects are fun!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget why you chose to be a creative: it’s fun, or at least, it’s supposed to be fun.

However, if you’re a working creative, more often than not, all you hear is "change this", "delete that" and "make this bigger" (that’s what she said – beat you to it, ha!).

The critics telling you that you need to do better can sometimes kill all the fun to be had in this type of profession. But that’s the nature of the beast. That’s why self-initiated work is important. If anything, personal design projects remind you that, amidst all the finicky clients and bastardization of your designs, you chose this profession because it gave you joy and fostered your passions.

What do you think about personal design projects?

What are other benefits for working on  personal project? Are personal design projects a waste of your time? Do you set aside some time to work on personal projects?

Link to your favorite personal design projects

In the comments section, link to, and talk about, your favorite personal projects.

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About the Author

Isaac Gube is a photographer, philosopher, illustrator, adventurer, designer, and whatever else he chooses to be on any given day. You can connect with him on Twitter @IAMTHEGUBE or visit his Flickr page to see some of his photos.

51 Comments

Vikas ghodke

December 18th, 2009

Nice article Isaac.

Web Design Mauritius

December 18th, 2009

These are great reasons Isaac. I was thinking about this these past weeks and these have finally convinced me that I should start up on some personal projects. Great post! :-D

Julia Altermann

December 18th, 2009

I completely agree with you, Isaac. I especially find personal design projects useful to try out new techniques and get away from the sometimes boring or ‘not so challenging’ customer requirements. It does help to get the creative juices flowing again and after all it’s just fun.
I just wish there would be more time for it. Following up on this kind of projects is increasingly difficult when actually doing projects or trying to acquire new customers. But you are right, one should get back to some private joys now and then.

Jacques van Heerden

December 18th, 2009

Awesome explanation to the community, you have to diversify your portfolio if you want to get the attention of high ranked clients and brands.

Keep up the good work.

Regards,
Jacques
@An1ken
Creativeoverflow

Benson Mensah-Bonsu

December 18th, 2009

I agree. They are defiantly the most challenging projects to do. I know what’s best for my clients but it is difficult to perfect what is best for me because I always try to push myself.

Chris

December 18th, 2009

I agree, personal projects do so much good for the designer, and not only that it helps you learn, adapt, understand who you are as a designer and your capabilities. There is nothing more that teaches you more than experimentation, or hands on projects over tutorials you found on the web or books.

Callum Chapman

December 18th, 2009

Great article Isaac, I learn most of my new techniques when designing for myself :)

Michelle

December 18th, 2009

Great article! I just finished a personal project myself, a bunch of Christmas card papercrafts. Check them out on my portfolio at http://www.meeshelle.com. I definitely learned some new things!

Enatom

December 18th, 2009

they’re a waste of time, i think.

cusd

December 18th, 2009

i used to that too since i am only a student ;p
crisfx.deviantart.com :D
flickr.com/gochrissey

Ted Goas

December 18th, 2009

And if you have a corporate-type job during the day (where the work isn’t always interesting and creative), each one of you points above is magnified.

Zoe Feast

December 18th, 2009

Excellent points. I think stepping away from your usual design tools for creation really helps too. I like to break from my photoshop/Illustrator and move into something hands on like chalk pastel…and take things outside too. Take a look at the result of 30 blissful minutes I spent in my garden over the summer.
http://www.indigoimage.com/blog/2009/08/eye-of-st-louis-web-designer.html

Jeff

December 18th, 2009

I actually try to find a business or charity that I really, really like but that either doesn’t have a website or has a really bad one. Then I’ll design something on my own and offer it to them for free, take it or leave it. They’re not giving any input (or very minimal reworks) on the design, so it’s a great way of helping everyone involved (including yourself). It avoids the strange situation where clients who are getting your work pro bono are the most critical of it.

Emile Schols

December 18th, 2009

Amen to that!
Great article, I recognize several problems in your article.

People, don’t forget that your PC/Mac is just an instrument to express your creativity. Don’t expect any creativity to come out of your machine. Working with non-digital materials gives you often unexpected view points.

Shannon

December 18th, 2009

These points are very true. I also agree with Emile. Working with non-digital materials can provided opportunities to expand view points.

Also, doing personal design projects can rejuvenate the creative passion to any type of project…aka prevents burn out.

Brian Jones

December 18th, 2009

Great Post – thank you!

Troy Watt

December 18th, 2009

You’ve hit the nail on the head with this article. Thanks for reminding me why I chose this profession in the first place.

Brad - Operation Technology

December 18th, 2009

Good points. This is exactly what I am trying to do in diversifying my portfolio as I have a full time job also. Gotta get the attention of high end clients.

Sneh Roy

December 18th, 2009

So true! Personal projects are not only rewarding, they are the best learning, self-motivational and disciplinary tools out there! Thanks :)

Crystal

December 18th, 2009

Great article Isaac. I also think it’s a great way to unwind, and in a way, help us remember at the end of each day why we do what we do. I’ve done most of my learning through personal projects and self-motivation, rather than working with clients.

Oggy

December 18th, 2009

Great idea! I’ve often thought to myself ‘If only I had a design in my portfolio that looked like this’ so maybe I should just do it, even if it’s not for any clients. Thanks!

Alana Jelinek

December 18th, 2009

Right on! Just recently enjoyed the experience enormously.
Using herbs and organic ingredients I created a “brand” of wonderful spa products and culinary herbs and teas and created packaging and labels for a hodliday art sale some friends were having at their studio. People commented that “this looks like something from Nieman Marcus” and bought my products BECAUSE of the packaging. Oh, and they’re wonderful products too BTW. I’ll add these to my portfolio. It was a wonderful project that I enjoyed all the way to the bank!

See one of my label designs here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/45688674@N02/4196198982/

Highly recommend the holidays as a time to flex those design muscles!

Brian Rhinehart

December 18th, 2009

Just what I was thinking… two weeks left in the year holiday season, yes I believe the time is right to put down the client work and have some fun. Thanks for the article.

Jan Cavan

December 18th, 2009

Very well written article! And I agree with Crystal. It’s a great way to unwind and a chance to just be yourself.

Deepu Balan

December 19th, 2009

You are right Issac… Really Interesting read… Thanks

-Deepu

Smashing Share

December 19th, 2009

Excellent post. Personal design projects are very helpful in personal development.

Isaac Gube

December 19th, 2009

Thanks everyone for your wonderful feedback. This is my first article published here and it’s such a great community!

@Brian Rhinehart: yes the holidays would be a perfect time for fun.

@Alana Jelinek: Congrats! Wow. that looks amazing. Personally, I’m looking to starting my own line of streetwear as a side project. Hopefully it’s as successful as your brand.

@Jeff: What a GREAT idea! it’s like pro-bono design! very cool!

@Emile Schols: YES! you’re right. the computer is supposed to just make designing a little easier not completely take over the designer’s creativity. I’ve always seen the computer as a double edged sword. it’s helpful for creating effects and visuals that would otherwise be very hard to do by hand, but on the other hand it’s easy to start limiting your creativity based on what the machine can do.

@Troy Watt: Thanks! I actually wrote this article to remind myself also! haha.

@Chris: Experimentation. YES! I agree completely.

@Web Design Mauritius: Well you better get on it then! And share with us! good luck :)

Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave

December 19th, 2009

this is one of those wonderful ideas that works from its basic simplicity. I was taught many, many years ago that the only thing to do when “stuck” is to put the project away and play. splash paint, drop ink on paper (or any other surface) and see where it goes–anything unstructured, unplanned, un-REQUIRED!

Noel Wiggins

December 19th, 2009

Great topic, I believe that creativity for clients or those paying gigs can sometimes dry up your creativity, when you design for others, you are more of an investigator, and or researcher, to make sure you understand the clients industries and their target audience and how you can design to connect with that audience.

With personal projects, art for art sake as I refer to it, or gearing up for getting down. Is soley for you, you can explore things you couldn’t do for a client project. Invite re invite and or smash all the rules that you follow in your client work.

This liberates you and frees you for the monotony of designing for the profession, When most of us started designing for the “passion” the biggest challenge to me though is making sure the client work and “emergencies” don’t get in the way of doing these personal projects. you must make it a priority.

Now I am ready to get going on my personal project but wait I got to program the contact for for the client first!

see what I mean

Thanks and Regards

Noel for Nopun.com
a graphic design studio

PelFusion

December 19th, 2009

personal design projects shows what you really want to do and how creative you are

Karla

December 19th, 2009

I TOTALLY AGREE. I work on personal design projects all the time.
Now I need more clients! lol

Osvaldas

December 20th, 2009

If you are able to manage both: client and personal projects, there’s no disadvantage to regret one of them. It’s always more exciting and experiencing to think of your own and fulfill client needs. That makes you universal and better fighter than one-side designer or developer.

Michelle Kondrich

December 20th, 2009

Excellent advice for those just starting out as designers or illustrators but also for those who have been at it for years.

Thanks!

awicks44

December 22nd, 2009

This was a great topic. The idea that personal challenges teach you self restraint is a very good point. A lot of times when you view your work, you know what can be better and change. Its good to strive for perfection, but sometimes you never end up completing the project.

goozer71

December 23rd, 2009

Great Post Isaac, I totally agree with you, the best way to be creative for others is to be with yourself first.
Thx for this great Post!

Seth Etter

December 23rd, 2009

Awesome post, personal design projects are the funnest in my opinion. There’s no worry about whether a good idea you have will fly with the client or not. :)

RobbyG

January 1st, 2010

Wow, great article. I know my own personal design projects are often the most difficult to finish.

Matt Lewsley

January 2nd, 2010

100% agreed. I always enjoy working on personal design projects as there’s no responsibility or pressure of whether or not the client will like it.

Daniel Sykes

January 4th, 2010

Isaac, thanks for the great article.

Teddy Matayoshi

January 4th, 2010

This article is a great read. Planning to do a couple of personal projects this year. Mainly soundtrack/music driven 2 minute animations. Good opportunity to test my Flash and 3D animation skills.

Justin Moore-Brown

January 8th, 2010

Funny how the personal projects are the most fun, yet somehow they are the hardest to complete. We really are our own hardest critiques.

a3u5z1i

June 12th, 2010

“What are other benefits for working on personal project?”
I think it a kind of refreshing for our mind. To create what we want to do.

“Are personal design projects a waste of your time? ”
They are not wasting time. But, it is rather hard to find a good time to do personal projects.

“Do you set aside some time to work on personal projects?”
Very little, but I think i will spend more after I read this article.

Very great post, thanks for sharing :)

Hazel Marie

June 14th, 2010

I agree 100% especially on the diversify paragraph…

sujithra

November 29th, 2010

this is really very useful for who underestimate themself in designing… and this ll also develop our creative skills..

sujithra

November 29th, 2010

100%useful things for students

Kagai Macharia

December 6th, 2010

They are challenging, requiring you to learn new skills. I love the challenge

Neaskol

April 11th, 2011

Nice article man.

Steven Marshal

April 15th, 2011

great Article, Thanks
The construction of a well-crafted, content-rich website requires clearly defined goals and objectives. The website should be targeted to the audience your company is trying to reach…

Kars

May 12th, 2011

Great article indeed! It’s easy to go thinking it has no use just designing stuff for your own, because there’s no money and/or client involved. Now need inspiration for what I would want to design for myself!

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