Over the course of the past year, I have been in a state of transition. I changed jobs from leading UX design for new products at Alexa Internet (yes, that Alexa…) to working on in-car HMI and UX design at Mercedes Benz R&D North America (MBRDNA). As a designer, it’s an interesting change of focus to say the least.
But this post isn’t about that.
I also have been exploring side projects of various kinds (e.g. the Design Review podcast). I never really did too much of that in the past. My experiences as a freelance designer and starting up design agencies turned me off from side projects long ago. But I tried and failed numerous times at seeking creative freedom from other companies. After talking with other designers, I discovered that this experience is not unique.
You can never work a job more fulfilling than the one you create for yourself.
Perhaps it’s a bit late in my career, but working as a designer whose sole purpose is in making other people successful is not really why I got into this field. Don’t get me wrong, developing new UX concepts at MBRDNA is one of the most interesting jobs that I’ve ever held and I’m extremely grateful that I get to do it every day. But binding my own professional and creative satisfaction with someone else’s success was a cycle of futility that I kept repeating, and I needed to change that.
So aside from the podcast, I have kicked off a variety of side projects that I work on in my own time. One of them being an app that I won’t say what it is yet, but I will eventually.
Getting started… Where to begin?
Last week, I sat down with Sandi MacPherson (founder of Quibb) to chat about what I’m working on, among other things. It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, but have failed at executing.
“You’re such a designer…” she said to me after presenting my logo comps and company tag lines. “You know you don’t need these things to get started.”
She was totally right. I didn’t need these things to get started. Not at all. But having failed once, I felt it was time to start investing more energy and time than I did before in defining the “Why” than just the “what” or the “how”. Even though I knew she was right, somehow, it just felt like the right thing to do.
Living at the end of two extremes.
Conventional design wisdom would tell you to start with studying your target market. Understand their problems, their needs, their wants, their desires. But when you’re starting up some new product as Sandi mentioned, you really can get away with far less.
For now, I walk an intricate line between what I do in the day versus my own projects at night. It sometimes feels schizophrenic going between these 2 worlds. But I think the benefits of starting my own things outweighs the alternatives.
When I’ve discussed this scenario with people, a typical response has something to do with getting burned out. Believe me, I’ve felt that way too. Dealing with work stress can wear on your constitution, leading to that burnout phase that many people go through. In those moments, I often looked for ways to relieve that stress by committing myself to “down time”. But no amount of down time helped me feel better. I always felt the same the next day. It was only recently that I realized that down time wasn’t what I needed. There was no amount of down time that could shake the feeling that I needed to create new things. I needed to use my time more effectively and involve myself in projects of my own doing, not trying to escape.
Defining my next steps.
So there it is. I am working on an app that I will be writing more about in the future. I hope that by sharing this experience, people will enjoy reading about it and possibly get inspired to start something on their own as well! For now, I have an idea, some branding of some sort, and I’ve got Xcode at the ready. The app will become real in due time.
One last thing to leave you with is this… In starting something, you might have lots of questions and concerns. After all, there’s a TON of stuff to do to get things going and it can be really overwhelming trying to tackle it all. In these times, the single most important thing to remember is this:
When beginning at the beginning, there is no right or wrong. Whatever you do, just start!