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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
- How to Design for Your Worst Client: You.
- Feedback. The Creativity Killer.
- 7 Things Web Designers Hate Hearing from Clients
- Related categories: Project Management and Graphic Design