(Originally written for Loviv, December 2012)
I am no stranger to utilizing personal projects to fill in gaps where I feel my skills are lacking. It’s probably one of the most proactive approaches you can take with your design career! Getting comfortable with assessing your strengths so that you can beef up your weaknesses is a beneficial asset to bring to any table, so I thought I’d take some time and list out some ways you can go about supporting your portfolio with personal projects.
1) Are you a little logo designer with big dreams of web design? Now’s the time to play in a new world!
There are few things as freeing as personal experimentation. I love using this free fall of creativity to help me approach a new, and possibly daunting skill, that I’ve always been envious of in others. I’ll take inspiring images or projects, and try to replicate some of them for my own personal experience. In many ways, this approach is exactly the same as collecting inspiration for clients, it’s simply you that is the client now. Pull images that inspire you, and focus on why they inspire you. What is it about the particular things you’ve selected that pushes you to learn the new medium? Keep this in mind as you bumble through the road blocks– because there will be some! But using something personally and artistically inspiring will give you a better boost to enduring the learning curves. It also will give you a wealth of knowledge not delivered in straight-shooting tutorials, and thus actually giving you experience within that given medium. A total win-win!
2) Explore a new industry. A lifestyle designer working on a grunge-y sports campaign, a children’s book illustrator venturing into fine art installations, and so on.
Similar to 1, but slightly more sticky in approach, using personal projects to branch into a new industry solidifies your passion and determination in your field– regardless of industry. When you produce quality work on your own volition it speaks volumes to employers, contemporaries, or even just passerbys interested in the creative process. Whether you want to really work in a new industry or market, or just want to feel what trying on someone elses shoes feels like, it is a wonderful trick to get you to “see the other side”. I often played around making ‘faux brands’ in various markets just to see if I could. I am someone who loves a challenge, and trying to master an aesthetic through just superficial means can definitely be one! It also will prepare your design muscles in the off chance that someone in a foreign market stumbles on you. You’ll have something to woo them fairly quickly, that’s for sure.
3) Attract a new client, industry or market through the work you’d LIKE to do, but may not be creating at this moment.
This is an excellent route to take if you’re in a day job type setting. Many designers get stuck in the trap of creating work that’s being asked of them, but not paying any mind to the type of work they’d actually enjoy doing. Or perhaps the designer stuck in a role of ‘clean and corporate’ during the day, but craves bold, edgy excitement for the long-term. You connect these two ends with personal projects that act as ‘ the ideal client bait’. If you’re currently designing in a style that makes you sick to your stomach, or bored to death– whatever the case may be, take your free time to research and explore a variety of visual styles that you DO like. See which ones you connect with, and which ones become too arduous to work through to make it look half way decent. The more you explore for exploration’s sake, the easier it will be to flow in between various styles and aesthetic choices. By creating more you-aligned work in your free time, you’re also speaking to employers that while you can handle any design style in the 9-5, you’re so passionate about design that you cannot stop yourself from learning and growing. I bet anyone on the receiving end of THAT conversation would have a smile on their face.
There are endless reasons and methods for using personal projects to help you along your career path. What are some ways you’ve incorporated personal experiments into your work and portfolio? Any pitfalls and/or successes that you’ve seen? Id love to hear about it!