Every designer and programer needs a side project. I believe it is essential to have another project you can turn to whenever you are stuck with your main project. Especially when you are at a startup where you work on the same product every day, you sometimes need to do something completely different to get the creative juices flowing again.
Besides for inspiration, side projects can also be a great for learning new skills. You can experiment with what ever new technique, programming language or new pieces of software you want because there is no pressure. You can just play around. And that is exactly when you learn the most.
I would even argue that employers should encourage employees to have a side project and work on it during office hours.
What you are looking at right now—this blog—was my side project. Every day I am working hard on Gibbon. Luckily I can always switch between working on the website and the upcoming iPad app design, but I still wanted a fun side project. Mostly because I was dying to try out two new pieces of software; Sketch and Cactus.
Side projects, where there is no pressure and you can just play around, are super important to learn new skills and to get the creative juices flowing again.
Sketch is a great new vector design tool. Ever since Jonno Riekwel (an early adopter & Sketch evangelist) tweeted about the advantages of using Sketch instead of Photoshop I wanted to try it out. But why didn't I do it earlier? Good question. Probably because I was afraid of the steep learning curve you inevitably have learning a new piece of software. I felt like I couldn't afford wasting time learning how to use this new tool while whilst I have to produce designs for Gibbon.
For this blog I used Sketch to create the logo. I usually don't like to design logo's, but for my own little website I was willing to make an exception. I already had something in mind where the W and B combined formed a cross. Luckily Patrick Ward created an excellent learning flow on Gibbon about Sketch so I started out with learning the first few chapters before diving in.
Almost every evening for about two weeks I learned a few chapters and played around with the software. I have to be honest, I hated it in the beginning, but after a lot of trial & error and some emergency help from Mariusz Ciesla over Skype, I love it. From now on Sketch will be my main design tool.
As a designer I always found it frustrating that if I wanted to launch something for myself I still needed my coding buddies to help me out. But with Cactus I can do it all by myself. It uses Django templating for simple websites like blogs and portfolio's and because of its example projects it is super easy to get started. Throw in your own html/css, hook it up to your Amazon AWS, click deploy and BAM. Website launched.
I played around, learned a lot and got my creative juices flowing again. This side project has been perfect. Back to my main project; Gibbon—Playlists for learning.