There’s little question that side projects are valuable for graphic designers. A side project can help you avoid burning out on client work, try out new techniques, have a little fun with what you do and even land additional projects in the long run (as Mirko wrote in June).
It’s that last one that can be the most intriguing. If you want to work on very specific sorts of projects, building something on the side can be an easy way to get your clients interested in that particular type of work. You also can use your side projects as an opportunity to showcase your skills and show off what you can do beyond the more standard pieces that go into a portfolio. There are certain types of side projects that will get you more bang for your buck in these situations than others.
The Artistic Project
Working in graphic design can mean taking on some incredibly commercial projects to pay the bills. You’re going to need to balance out that sort of work with more creative projects, even if you put them together yourself. The alternative is burning out.
While you shouldn’t focus on how you can bring in clients with a side project that’s meant to restore your creativity when you’re actually working on it, the completed project is fair game. If it’s something very artistic, like a poster series, it may be worth your while to arrange to show them, either in a formal setting or at a coffee shop. Wherever you decide is a good fit, make sure you get it out in the world. Your side project showcases your skills and the more people who see it (and hopefully read in your bio that you’re a graphic designer available to take on new projects), the more people will think about how they’d like to have you work on something for them.
Image — Rakka
The Mailable Project
One of the most popular side projects among graphic designers seems to be holiday cards and other odds and ends that can be mailed out. Personally, I love designing a holiday card every year because I can take it in any direction that I like — and I can show my clients an entirely new side of what I do. Even a small postcard can provide the right kind of creative outlet. As an added bonus, a lot of your clients may not expect to see anything in the mail beyond invoices, so a beautiful card can really have a big impact.
Image — Crostini Designs
The Crowdfunded Project
Maybe you’ve got something way outside of the ordinary that you want to work on — something artistic, interesting and provocative. It’s something that you might be able to do over a couple of years if you don’t come up with a little money to throw at it, but if you do have a little money and some time cleared on your schedule, you can make this project shine.
This is a project that could go far on a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Provided that you’ve got the time to invest in really promoting a project on a crowdfunding site and you’re asking for an amount you can realistically raise, you can turn such a side gig into a major promotion for your graphic design work. A successful crowdfunding campaign doesn’t just make it easier for you to work on a side gig. It tells prospective clients that you’re such a fantastic graphic designer that people want to give you money to work on a project in advance.