The Importance of Side Projects

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When working for a larger company, one with the required parameters and group decisions, creativity becomes structured. The freedom from either an owned business or school project falls flat, and the life of freelancing colleagues seems increasingly more desirable. However, the earlier situation can be used for its benefits. The stability allows for time to experiment with other projects without the pressure of making a living or an immediately sellable product. There is a sense of pure ownership that could be absent from an official job. With this time I have developed my writing, which has progressed naturally, influenced my daily work in footwear and earned a greater respect from colleagues for my enduring dedication.

I would say many, if not most, designing footwear for a medium to large brand have their own side projects or freelance work. With numerous individuals coming into the industry via another field - illustration, apparel or industrial design - their undressed interest could sit elsewhere. This is completely normal and the natural inclination to explore interests further, or in whatever direction, should be encouraged. Designers are never easily satisfied because work of any kind is an extension of their personality, and we designers want to make sure that it is represented in the most accurate way possible.

Side projects have been a personal pursuit since starting at a major company, and more so moving to Europe. They have ranged from personal travel blogs to articles for official publications. The transition between “personal” and “official” took years, especially as I write on trains, at night or on the weekends. The idea that journalists sit at a mysterious desk landscaped by discarded papers, empty coffee mugs and office widgets never applied to my scenario. Writing before and after the 9:00-17:00 sets up a contrasting scene and requires a bit of patience – well, actually years of patience. The longer timeline a structure of necessity as I also needed to feed my confidence with smaller, owned projects.

There are clear values from doing side projects. There you can experiment past current talents and believed limitations. Whether it’s writing, as in my case, or illustration, these Other activities extend the breadth of your work and network. I have been able to participate in the formation of new magazines, world-renowned photography exhibitions and the transformation of beloved publications. Of course my daily work has its thrills, but these outside projects remind me that every month is a learning opportunity. Along the way I have also met some of the most inspiring individuals, realising that creativity has many forms and processes.

Most importantly - share your side projects! I used to be shy about my writing, rarely talking about my first blog I started upon arriving to Amsterdam. When I finally said “fff it” and began discussing my side projects, the reaction surprised and encouraged me. As if my free time pursuits legitimised my point-of-view and validated my design talents. Colleagues found it intriguing as they too wonder how to do it themselves. Many ask, “Where do you find the time?” It does not become about finding the time, but finding something that you want to dedicate time to evolving. After that and a chuck of work, those side projects begin driving themselves. At some point, your first blog or illustration will be merely a practice round for the greater prospects a side project could offer.