Personal projects are awesome! Like sitting in a pile of warm laundry kind of awesome. A successful personal project gives us an opportunity to practice and learn new skills.
For the humans working in the digital and tech industries, everything seems to change and update so quickly that many of us feel like we have to be constantly learning and upgrading our skills. There are many ways to accomplish this including: taking courses, completing tutorials, and attending workshops. These methods of learning often award you with specific new skills that you can show off to all your friends and co-workers, but personal projects take the learning experience a step further.
Personal projects make us solve problems outside our chosen profession. I'll explain why I think this is a super valuable experience.
Many of us would assign ourselves a primary skill set, resulting in a title or profession. For example, I call myself a designer, and I know people that call themselves developers, photographers, or content strategists. When these people with strengths in different areas work together, they tend to make awesome things.
But in a world where skills are increasingly specialized, we have to be careful we don't become oblivious to what other people do. We need to maintain a shared understanding of each other's skill sets so that we know how and when to lean on other team members.
So how do we learn about what other people on our team do? One way is to assign ourselves a personal project.
It might sound counterintuitive to recommend something as solitary as a personal project to help you work better in teams. The fact that you are taking on everything yourself is exactly what makes this exercise so useful.
A recent personal project of my own taught me the value of personal projects. Local Lettering is a blog I started to showcase the hand-painted apartment signage in Vancouver. When I started the project, the initial goal was to practice vectorizing letters. But then I needed a place for these lettering studies to live, so I decided to make a blog.
I probably could've just stuck it into some Wordpress template, but I'm a designer and I have this pesky desire for my projects to look and behave in a certain way. So I dove into the world of development.
After some research, I settled on the ghost platform because it looked simple enough that I probably wouldn't screw it up. I started by customizing their basic theme and many hours of reading tutorials and documentation later, I had a blog.
But the blog didn't seem to be enough. Each lettering piece was painted on the front of a building and had a very strong relationship to that geographical location. I felt like a map view would make the project more interesting so I looked into Mapbox for customizing the map (google maps would not do, it needs to be pretty!)
I used the entire project for one more bonus learning objective – Github. I had heard all this talk of pushing and pulling around the office, but didn't really know what they were talking about. After using Github while creating a new theme for a ghost blog, I can safely say that I now know what 'forking' means.
Working on this personal project allowed me to solve design problems, development problems, and explore new tools that I can now use in other projects. I have a better understanding of how development works and I can better anticipate problems that my designs might create for a developer. I can also speak developer a bit better now, which helps when communicating with my co-workers.
If you are looking for a challenging and satisfying way to grow your skills and your ability to work within a team, I would highly recommend coming up some crazy awesome idea and just make it happen because you can. Bonus points if your personal project results in something that other people like and want to share with everyone they know.