Graphic Design / Inspiration / Side Projects

Why side projects can be good for graphic designers

I’ve heard a lot of talk, especially during the current climate, around whether or not graphic designer should consider creating their own side projects. Opinions tend to vary quite widely on the subject – some designers see them as somehow a waste of their time, in that it takes them away from doing paid work, and perhaps sends the message to prospective clients that they’re not so much in demand. Others think that they’re a great way of doing something ‘out of the norm’ and taking it as an opportunity to expand design portfolios, and indeed knowledge within the field of design.

While I can see both views, I think that, done right, they can enhance a design portfolio, and even lead a designer off in a new direction that might not have been possible within ‘the day job’. In fact, I myself published a book showcasing my design journey, and am currently organising some events promoting local designers, both of which were things that have come as a result of my own passion and desire to push myself beyond what I normally do.

I think, as creatives, it’s easy to get bogged down in doing work for others, so in occasionally doing things that come from our own passion can be a welcome release, and a really good way to inspire us. I’ve found that, in doing these side projects, I have so often been inspired to try different techniques and designs for my client work, too.

Above: Spectra Kinetic Sculpture by Accept & Proceed

Looking around at other agencies, there are some examples of side projects that have been so successful, they have enabled the agency to take on completely new projects that they might never have had the opportunity to bid for under normal circumstances, like London agency, Accept & Proceed, who created a kinetic sculpture representing the impact of meteors on the surface of the moon that led to a commissioned project for NASA. Ok, so that might be an extreme example, but you never know…

Above: Grace-FO Display by Accept & Proceed commissioned by NASA/JPL

Of course, there is no harm at all in flexing your creativity and working on a project just for the hell of it, even if it goes nowhere. It can teach you a lot – not just by playing around with different styles and techniques, but also giving you practice in new programmes which might not come up in your usual work. Unlike some industries, the graphic design field is ever-evolving, and it’s good to try out new ways of working now and again. It might give you the opportunity to incorporate a new service for your clients, or even take your agency in a different direction.

And they can be so varied – I’ve seen designers doing online courses teaching others simple design techniques, YouTube channels showcasing everything from ‘a day in the life’ to time-lapses of works in progress, blogs and magazines, photography…the list is endless.

Above: Part of our visual proposal for a community project documenting a day-in-the-life of one of Shrewsbury's iconic buildings.

Do what you love

I know what you’re thinking – if you are busy indulging your passions, doesn’t that pull you away from the money-making projects? And yes, of course that’s true, but if you don’t make time for creating your own stuff, then what’s going to inspire you if all you’re doing is working for clients? As a creative, you need an outlet, somewhere. After all, most of us got into this industry from a place of love for creation and design, and if we fail to keep doing what we love, then there’s a danger that working could become monotonous.

A fresh perspective – for you and your clients

Of course, there’s the added benefit of being able to show your clients a different side to what you do. If you’ve been designing as a job for a while, you tend to end up doing the same kinds of things, but think about this: what if the very client you are designing that website for is also in the market for some photography, or a new identity, a video…if they are not aware that you have a talent for those things, you could be missing out on a whole new set of projects.

All in all, I believe that there can be great things to come out of doing side projects. So why not plan for them? Even if it’s simply a one-off, or a few hours at the weekend? It could be great for both your mental health, and your career.

Collaboration / Design Community / Education / Graphic Design

Reasons for Graphic Designers to go back into education

Graphic Designers – never stop learning

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for a long time, graduating from Wrexham Glyndŵr University in 1993 and working in various studios, bringing me to launch The Severn Agency in 2017. You might say that I’ve made it – that there’s nothing else that I need to achieve from here. But you’d be wrong. Graphic design is a fluid industry, ever changing, ever evolving, and to stay in the game, it’s important that I don’t sit still, because chances are, if I do that, I’ll fall behind, and things will move without me.

Digital Evolution

In the early 90’s, things took a real leap in the field of graphic design, as it was in 1990 when we saw the first version of Photoshop arrive on the scene. This changed the industry a lot, as it meant that designers could experiment with graphics in a way that we’d never seen before. The techniques it allowed were ground-breaking, with overlapping text, image overlays, and faded elements, which previously had been impossible to achieve on-screen.

By the 2000’s, the tech had become much more powerful, and we saw a surge in portable devices. Graphics evolved again with this new technology, and images with movement came into focus. Corporate design and logos began to look much more like they were in motion, using new techniques with angles and shadowing.

Now, trends change year on year, and there are so many styles and techniques open to us in the graphic design industry. But both design and technology continues to change and evolve.

The next step

This year, I have embarked on a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design. Why? Because I want to safeguard my future in this industry, and I want to be the best that I can be.
And that is the reason for my writing this article. Whether you are a graphic designer, are looking to get into the industry, or are pursuing another job entirely, I think there are huge benefits in going back into education in order to get better at what you do and advancing your knowledge.

It can be a great refresher on what you’ve already learned, or it can take you to the next level in the evolution of your career. And of course, it gives you the opportunity to learn about advancements within the industry, whether that’s technological changes, changes in trend, or changes in the industry that you might otherwise have missed out on.

As well as this, you could be connecting with people who are at the same point in their career as you, which gives you the opportunity to learn about what others in the industry are doing.

Why go back into education?

For me, going back into education, to get my Master’s Degree in Graphic Design, is about me keeping up with the industry, and becoming an expert in what I do. But there are many reasons for you to seek further education, whether you’re already working in the industry or not. And you can do it at any age.

It could be that the career path you’ve chosen is no longer a good fit for you, and you’re looking to change. There are plenty of people who decide very late on in life which career path they have a passion for – it’s a myth that everyone who leaves college or even university has a clear idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives. People change, and so you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes in your career, no matter your age.

Perhaps you are in your chosen career, but have come to the end of your potential, either by salary or skill. If this is the case, you might decide to take the next step and go back into education in order to climb the ladder and further your career.

Or it might be that you simply want to learn something new, to accompany the education you’ve already got. There are plenty of jobs in which graphic design feature, and having some kind of formal education can do wonders in enhancing your skills.

Graphic Design never stays still – and whatever your reasons, learning the skills needed to keep yourself current in the industry is always beneficial.

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