Adopt a Pet Project

August 18, 2011

By Tad Fry

Pet Project

It’s time for you to be extremely selfish, and use your skills on yourself, for once. You must start a pet project.

Ownership of your pet project will help you grow as a creative. You get to make the design decisions and discover new problem-solving techniques. Your project will evolve and become a place where you have the freedom to test new trends. Furthermore, you’ll meet new people, engage in challenging discussions, and encourage our community.

How do you choose a project? If you want to start simple to get your feet wet, then share a sketch or photo every few days or even one a week. You could share one every day (365 projects), but that can lead to burnout; a new-ambitious-picture-a-day project quickly turns into a why-do-I-have-to-do-this-every-day project. Therefore, keep it to every few days to give you breaks. Although simple, this exercise forces consistent practice that will sharpen your skills.

Do you prefer a more challenging pet project? One that others could use? Then, I suggest using the Unix Philosophy, and make one thing and make it do its job well. Take a moment and write a few problems you face every day. Pick a problem from the list, and sketch how you could solve it. Is it possible your solution could help other people as well? If so, you may be witnessing the birth of your pet project!

My own pet project, Get Ratio, was born with this exact format. I place a lot of pictures in online articles, and I like the pictures to be sized in Golden Rectangles, 16×9, 3×2, etc., whichever looks best within the content. Growing tired of calculating each ratio, I thought it’d be great if I could enter just one width, and then the heights for each common ratio could be displayed on one page. So, I wrote a quick demo application and started using it. After a few weeks of use, I thought it could be useful to others. I posted it in the Drawar Critiques, and met some awesome people! Their constructive feedback helped the application grow into what it is today.

Testing your project early with others is a must, and please be open to all criticism. The feedback might not always be what you expect, but please listen to your users; their input will potentially make your project easier to use.

Once you’ve made your pet project, keep it alive and don’t neglect it. Continue to share it with others, and persuade designers to make a project for themselves as well. We are all motivated by seeing each other do amazing work, and it’s neat seeing work unfold that’s driven by the personal attachment a pet project offers.