Maybe you’re at the place in your career where you want to be working on things you care about, but no one is hiring you to do them yet. Maybe you’re looking to expand your craft and reach out into the overwhelming world of multidisciplinary design, but no one knows you do anything besides what you’re already known for. Or perhaps you’ve started a smaller side project and, after all this time, it's still not gaining any traction. You might feel like it’s never going to catch on and that you’re wasting your time.
Don't lose heart.
Passion projects can be a great outlet for creativity that’s not quite being satiated in your day-to-day. Or they could scratch that itch to be a part of something you have no other way of achieving—as a sort of ode or a link to something that once resonated deeply within you.
One of the greatest misconceptions about passion projects is that at some point in your career, you’ll be completely unable to work on any. But the truth is, your time is what you do with it. You choose to invest it, like any other thing in life. That’s not to say you should always be working on one. Taking time away from any additional loads of work is just as important as flexing your creative muscle from time and time. Like all things: Moderation is key.
Here are a few things I’ve found particularly helpful in crafting my own passion projects:
Find Something You Resonate With
You’re going to have your whole life to be suggested, directed, and even dictated to the whims of your clients or your superiors. This is a time for you. It’s a luxury you won’t always have the affordance for in every season of life, so take some time while you’re able to do so. This means the subject, concept, and execution are fully in your hands. Think you’re your own best client? Prove it.
This is your chance to do something you actually care about it. Regardless of how impractical it may be. If you’re super into underwater basket weaving, underwater basket weave like everyone is watching. If you do something just because it has mass appeal and other designers will probably like it, that’s a flimsy motivation. Eventually, your preference for other things in life that you actually care about is going to win out.
Find those things that truly resonate with you and do something about it. So you may never be a filmmaker, but you can create something that tells a story you believe in. Maybe you love The Legend of Zelda? Well, chances are, this is going to be better than writing fan-fiction. Make something worth a damn about something you give a damn about. These creations born out of a place of raw, unadulterated passion are a rare and unique window in to you as a person. It makes you more than a “design shop”, it makes you a thinking, sensing, preferential person that’s excited about more than just Pantone colors and ampersands. This is your chance to stand for something more than just craft beer and a crippling coffee addiction. I know, right?
Tune Out the Noise
Don’t be discouraged by the lack of attention something receives; especially in the first few weeks. Chances are, when something is getting off the ground, most people aren’t going to know about it. If you know you’re going to be dismayed by a lack of interaction right out the gates, one of the more helpful things for you could be to turn off comments, likes, or any other metric that could potentially dissuade you from carrying on. It’s in our very nature to crave the attention we think we need. If you’re constantly investigating how many sets of eyeballs or how many indiscriminate thumbs-ups you’ve racked up, you could essentially be setting yourself up to pull the plug early due to a lack of traction. The fact is, things don’t always happen in the timeline you’d like them to seem them unfold in. Sometimes projects park in cyberspace—undiscovered for what seems like an eternity—before ever really finding the right audience. Other times, projects never receive the mass appeal you had envisioned, but that doesn’t make them any less successful.
I’ve had work that never caught on in the public eye that clients have specifically referenced for what brought them my way. Oftentimes, this work was a year or two old; all but forgotten in my own mind. You never know the exact reach of your work. What resonates with a small, select minority could be worth far more than finding success in mass appeal. You’re not Michael Bay. You don’t have to sell something to everybody, just the right somebody. What's more, that someone might only be you, and that’s okay!
Protect yourself from allowing social currency to dictate the impact of your work. That could mean choosing a platform like Tumblr that doesn’t publicly display follower counts and has more social control. Whatever you need to do to do what you should be doing, do it.
Get someone you can trust to hold you to a set amount of work in a set amount of time. Maybe that’s once a week, perhaps once a month. Whatever it is, set a course early and follow it. Spoiler alert: You’re going to miss the mark here or there. Life gets crazy; it’s unexpected and interruptive. The key isn’t perfection, it’s carrying on in spite of the inevitability of fallibility.
But probably the best part about this passion project of yours, is that I can’t really tell you a thing about it. Because it’s about you and what you love. And that’s an awesome thing.
So find something you care about and others might just care about it, too.
Stranger things have happened.