All throughout my long career as a web designer I’ve had side projects. These side projects keep me sane when I need it the most. Buy why do they?
Why do I love my side projects?
Building websites for clients can sometimes be frustrating. You position everything in the optimal places, elegant amount of white space, subtle use of just two or three colours. Everything is clear, easy to find and easy to read. Some clients however like to take control and ‘improve’ the pages. By the time its finished the pages are full of red text on green backgrounds, gifs of cats (because EVERYONE loves cats, right?), Comic Sans as the font and so on. No matter how hard to try to tell them why it’s a bad idea they insist that’s what you do. This is a great example of how a web design goes straight to hell.
This is when I need my side projects the most. I’m embarrassed by the end result I handed to the client after their ‘improvements’. I upload their version of the website and then fire up one of my side projects. It’s my way of getting back to a project quickly where it looks and functions as the user expects it. This is a website where comic sans and photos of cats have been banned for life. Without being able to do this I am quite sure I would lose my sanity.
I like testing new techniques
Back in the day I would come across something new on a website and I wanted to know how they did it. I used to strip the code and CSS rules out and re-create them on a blank page to work out how they did it.
These days I always have side projects in the back of my mind. Nowadays I come across something and I think “that would look really good on X page’ and I can try it. Anyone who’s ever worked with jQuery will know it has an uncanny knack of making sure only a few of the scripts will work if you leave everything default. jQuery scripts seem to rejoice in conflicting with each other so this is a good way of testing them in the real World where you always have more than one script.
Side projects are good for clients
Several times I’ve had a client ask if I can do something for them and I’ve already done it on my side projects. I like trying new things, I like adding new techniques. It keeps my skills fresh and up to date. If I’ve already done the testing and grunt work on my project it will take less time on theirs.
Your passion shines through on personal projects.
In 2004 I created my first side project. It took a while to decide what it would be but in the end I went for shore fishing because it is something I love doing.
Torbay Fishing was launched in 2004 with just a few pages which included guides on where to fish in Torbay, a couple of fishing rigs guides and the tide times. I had no idea back then just how big and popular it would become.
It now has between 20,000 and 30,000 hits per month and dominates most of the main generic search terms on search engines. I’m always tinkering with the pages, the design and trying things before I replicate them on other websites.
My first responsive site was this one, my first basic web app was on this one, my first gallery was on this one, the first time I tried A/B testing was on this one. It has always been a lab rat for my clients but also for me to keep pushing what I can do.
It has grown into a monster but it is still the site I go back to most days. Because this website isn’t a clients I don’t have to worry about sales, revenue losses or anything else in the same way.
I couldn’t be a web designer without having side projects to bring my sanity back. I wonder how many others feel the same? Comment on Twitter and let me know what you do.