August 23, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Erma Tijerina’s laser cutting, sewing & more



What are you working on—on the side?

One of my favorite side projects is laser cutting. Whether I’m laser cutting a custom notebook cover, posters, earrings or special cards—I love the process. Laser cutting allows me to play with different mediums (so far, wood is my favorite), and get away from my desk.

My goal is to continue iterating and then bringing a few lines of crafted items to market. I’ve previously sold some of my laser-cut coasters and earrings at a holiday market in Houston, and intend to do more of that in the future.

A few other side projects, or perhaps, explorations that I’ll be focused on this year (in addition to laser cutting) is practicing calligraphy, getting back into sewing, diving into Processing, and hopefully learning and getting an intro to woodcarving.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

My weekday office hours are dedicated to the work that I’m doing as a contract graphic designer for a couple of firms. I’ll either use time after work, or most often, on a weekend, to engage side projects. I manage my time by keeping track of all project deadlines on Google Calendar, and working on personal projects around my client-work projects. I’ve also used Trello in the past to keep a running tab of projects that I’m personally focused on, but these days, it’s a combination of Google Docs and stacks of notebooks that contain my ideas/projects/brainstorms.

Why have a side project?

I’m interested in a variety of fields and mediums for continuous learning and growth. Having side projects enable experimentation, the ability to fail (often), and to recharge by playing and exploring something very different. I find it exciting to delve into new things. I don’t like being locked into one title and/or field, nor do I like only sitting in front of my desk and computer. I like to get out and work with my hands, do something new and see where it takes me. Sometimes, a side project will spark an idea that can cross into my client work for a project. Most of all, I can just explore.

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Images courtesy of Erma Tijerina. Portrait by Trish Badger Photography.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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August 22, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Melanie Richards’ honoring of creative women, a pattern library, weaving and more



What are you working on—on the side?

A couple months ago, I wrapped up my longest-standing side project, Badass Lady Creatives, a blog and directory which celebrates women working in design and related fields. After 3 years of profiling incredibly talented designers, artists, illustrators, developers, etc., I’ve decided to move on to some other projects.

Right now, I’m working on a couple things: putting together a pattern library (here’s some examples of what I mean) that I can use as a jumping-off point for my own web projects; working on a little utility to make it easier to bulk edit articles saved in your Pocket account; and digging more into craft, especially tapestry weaving (below). I’d also like to do some longform writing on really niche subjects, possibly as a “liberal arts” sort of website, so I’m looking into how I can improve my writing and fact-finding skills.



How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

My strategies for making time for side projects has evolved to fit different jobs, schedules, life circumstances. For example, I currently have a long bus commute, so I use that time to whittle down some smaller tasks. I also regularly attend Meetups, like Beer && Code and Code Sisters Seattle, where people get together to hang out and work on side projects. I’m a huge fan of the camaraderie that is working side-by-side on projects with a close friend.

This year, I’ve been experimenting with how I set and track goals. One practice I’m trying to get better at is having at least one set block of hours a week in which I’m working on a personal project. For me, Friday nights are actually a really good time to do that, since I’m pooped from the work week and need to recover in my introvert shell before the weekend. I’ve started to be less prescriptive about which side project to work on, instead, following my mood—it’s an easier way to feel motivated to begin.

I’ve also stolen an idea from the prolific writer Victoria (V.E.) Schwab: I have some side-project-esque activities color-coded, and for each hour I spend with those activities, I color in a block in my Hobonichi planner. It helps me spend more time with my side projects (rather than just crossing something off the list), and it also helps me see at a quick glance how I’m balancing—or not—the different activities that are important to me.

Why have a side project?

Often, my side projects are inspired by something I want or need—if it doesn’t exist yet, I’ll do it myself, dang-it. But I think for all people who feel energized by making, side projects are great for growth. Your day job probably doesn’t scratch every creative itch, so you can round out your satisfaction by exploring on your own time those things that interest you. You might find, as I do, that the new avenues you explore through personal projects ending up finding their way into your work. Personal projects are a great way to test out new skills and approaches in a setting with arguably far less risk or pressure.

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Images courtesy of Melanie Richards.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

August 17, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Lara Stein Pardo’s Mapping Arts Project



What are you working on—on the side?

I think I should first start by saying that I don’t see my projects as ‘side projects,’ even if they aren’t what I work on every single day. As someone who works across fields of art, anthropology and the web, all of the work I do is broken down into ‘projects.’ I work on them to varying degrees depending on the needs of the project, external factors like collaborative deadlines or grant deadlines, and a general timeline for a project’s progress.

In any case, the project I’ll share with you is Mapping Arts Project. It is a project, mapping cultural arts histories of cities through places where artists have lived and worked. Currently, the project includes three cities—Miami, Providence and Denver. Chicago is coming soon. We are in the middle of a big design transition. As we added Denver to the project we knew we needed to overhaul the searching and sorting features. We took the time to do UX research and testing that revealed some areas for improvement in the visual design and user flow throughout the site. We are making changes now, so the site will continue to look and feel different (and work even better!).

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

In my daily life, the projects I’m working on take center stage. I have a fairly typical weekdays work week, with the occasional extended hours for a big push on a project, a guest lecture, or a grant proposal. On a daily basis, I use Google Calendar to plot out time to work on Mapping Arts Project, and all of my projects. Mapping Arts Project is collaborative, so depending on the task, say research or coding, I’ll work with others to define a timeline and benchmarks. Then, I work in times into the weeks ahead for the work that needs to be done. One thing that helps me manage my time is to set up calendar alerts for the goals and benchmarks, or even a reminder to check in with collaborators.

Why have a side project?

For someone who has a full-time gig where they are working on someone else’s project, I can really see the value in having a ‘side project.’ It’s yours. It’s a place to learn, grow and have creative control. I’m in a different kind of position at the moment. All of my projects are truly my own. Perhaps that makes them all side projects, or a lot of sides that make the whole. I will say that there are times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue to grow Mapping Arts. Say, if I hit a stumbling block in terms of funding. But, the project itself is important to me; the significance of mapping out hidden histories and making artist visible for the role they have played in creating the places where we live and visit. The driving force in Mapping Arts—the idea of linking geography, art and history, inspires me to breath new life into it as necessary.

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Images courtesy of Lara Stein Pardo.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

August 15, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Tiffany Tseng’s good eats-inspired endeavors Tasty Snacking and Eater’s Digest



What are you working on—on the side?

I’m fanatic about discovering new culinary experiences, so many of my hobbies involve food in some way. Two major side projects around food that I’ve maintained for several years are Tasty Snacking and Eater’s Digest.

Tasty Snacking is a snack review site (that’s also on Instagram and Twitter) where I document all of the snacks I get a chance to eat. Snacks provide a fascinating cultural lens into regional tastes, and I’m always seeking unique and unexpected treats in my travels. I was dissatisfied with existing snack blogs, which largely focus on junk food, and I wanted to create a resource with a broader selection of snacks, from large brands to specialty items, both local and international. It’s also incredibly helpful to me when I go shopping and want to recall which snacks are worth purchasing again.

Eater’s Digest is a college radio show on WMBR that focuses on both food and music. I co-host the show with my friend Philipp Schmidt, and the format is constantly evolving. Generally, though, we incorporate interviews with special guests who share their individual culinary perspectives. I previously hosted an indie-rock radio show, and Eater’s Digest gave me the chance to merge my interests by interviewing touring artists about eating on the road. Through the show, I’ve met some of my favorite artists, learned about new restaurants, and compiled a map of recommendations that I hope is a useful resource to anyone looking for a place to eat.

I have many other food-related side projects, including a restaurant business card and menu collection, and a restaurant review journal, but those are stories for another time.



How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

The most important trick to maintaining my side projects is consistency. I try to write two snack reviews for Tasty Snacking every day, and Eater’s Digest is on the air every other Thursday evening. There are also many small wins for each project—it always feels like an accomplishment recording an interview or writing a glowing review, which helps provide positive momentum to continue.

Why have a side project?

Side projects are incredibly important for me to have a no-stakes space to explore and create. For example, both Tasty Snacking and Eater’s Digest let me exercise my communication skills. I’m a pretty shy person, so having the courage to approach strangers and talk to them about something I love has helped me become a more confident person. For my work, I generally write for an academic audience, and it’s refreshing to have a venue for more informal writing with Tasty Snacking. Furthermore, I use it as a chance to do design work too—I designed the logo for Eater’s Digest, and I created a website from scratch for Tasty Snacking.

Ultimately, side projects are a matter of finding activities that are rewarding and provide balance, while incidentally enabling you to develop the skills you’re interested in expanding.

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Images courtesy of Tiffany Tseng.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

August 9, 2016

Making in the Moment: Charles Adler at 54th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago


Charles Adler’s work on Kickstarter has had a profound effect on the worlds of art and design. His latest effort is Chicago-based makerspace Lost Arts. In June, Adler spoke at the 54th monthly gathering of the CreativeMornings Chapter in Chicago about his influences and where he finds himself, creatively.

The best part of Adler’s talk was when he asserted the culture that inspires him. It’s an eloquent preamble:
“I want to talk today about this moment that I feel we’re in. This moment that I’m personally really excited about. It’s more so culturally where we are. We’re in this moment now that really actually celebrates what you all do. This moment that celebrates this act, this beautiful act of creating something, this act of creativity, this act of passion. …This moment that embraces what we produce, the stories behind the things we produce and the stories of the people who produce them.”
The grand stature and romantic stance of Adler’s opener reminded me of the cliché observation often made by speakers, whatever the discipline, when they affirm: “It’s a great time to be a designer.” “It’s a great time to be an artist.” “It’s a great time to be a teacher.” Etcetera. It’s a painfully obvious observation, mostly due to the fact that the speaker is alive and breathing in their age of possibility. Adler reinforced how great a time it is to be a creator, a maker. Cliché as this sounds, creativity is the reputation of human civilization, across the generations, from its birth to the present—to this moment. The reality it breeds is what Adler applauds and wants to keep flowing in the form of his new creation Lost Arts, located in the west side of Chicago. Tapping into the romantic vibe expressed by Adler, this makerspace is designed to be a sanctuary, formidably equipped with tools, and not exclusive to the digital kind. An open space and means to realize ideas—to ultimately dream and materialize a vision: an app, a film, a fashion collection, furniture, a robot, whatever.

Adler’s Lost Arts persists and preserves his refrain of “This moment…”—this phenomenal act of creativity and commitment. This kind of moment is not unique to the present, not unique to the 21st century. “This moment…” is a nano-instance, an extremely tiny reality, an insignificant one throughout the miniscule timeline of human society. At the same time, “This moment…” looms large and audacious in the present tense.

While Adler described his sensation of “This moment…”—again, this extraordinary act of imagination and allegiance—evolved in this current millennium, endowed with methods and tools of the current era and eras past, the first image that came to my mind were the cave paintings at Lascaux, 17,300 years ago. Fast forward to 2008 when Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. Swissmiss, launched CreativeMornings.

One quibble: When Adler claimed, “Information is fucking free.” My eyes rolled. Information doesn’t simply pop into existence. Takes a lot of work for information to exist. The result is so stunning that it produces the mirage of “free.”

In a way, Adler provoked a healthy, if not overwhelming, exercise of recollection, of cultural mining:

What moments—those beautiful acts of creativity and passion—in human history (one’s history or that of our species, no matter the scope and scale), do you recall with ease and delight?

Let me know. ツ

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Big thanks: to BraintreeLost Arts (Host), Green Sheep WaterLyft, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #54; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-ups and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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My coverage: view photos of CreativeMornings/Chicago gatherings; read more write-ups about CreativeMornings.

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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

August 8, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Jodi Mack’s Rock-Climbing App



What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is a digital guidebook for a rock climbing crag near Seattle. My goal for this app is to take advantage of features that exist in the digital world in order to create an uncomplicated, intimate, and valuable experience for intermediate to advanced climbers. You can read more about my process.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

This particular side project was something I did between jobs, but I do come back to it periodically to take notes and brainstorm on how it can be better.

A little over a year ago, I got rejected for a job because “my interaction design skills needed to be stronger.” Using that feedback as an opportunity to grow, I ended up starting this side project that I, myself, would use if it already existed. Not only did I flesh out my interaction skills during the process, but I also discovered real-life challenges that aren't currently being addressed.

Side note: I’m still looking for an app developer who’s interested in building this with me. ;-)

Why have a side project?

Having a side project is a great excuse to stay current on things specific to the problem(s) you’re trying to solve. Our day jobs may not always give us the opportunity to explore trends and topics we're interested in, but a side project gives you full freedom to do so. On a personal level, side projects can be a reminder to yourself that you are independent, marketable and adaptable.

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Images courtesy of Jodi Mack.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

August 5, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Nicole Zhu’s Reading, Writing and Chronicling—at a Proactive Pace



What are you working on—on the side?

My longest-running side project (now in the middle of Year 3) is reading 52 books in 52 weeks. Last April, I also participated in #The100DayProject run by Elle Luna and “The Great Discontent”, and wrote 750 words every day for 100 days. Then in November, my sister and I collaborated on a project called “write your sibling” in which we mailed each other handwritten letters each day over the course of 30 days. (If you can’t tell, I’m really into numerical projects.)

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I don’t make my side projects particularly precious. Initially, I was reluctant to ever start working on side projects, because I wanted to wait until the perfect moment, say when I was on vacation, to start them. But the reality is that there is no good time to start working on a project, because inevitably life is going to make it difficult to keep up that initial momentum.

It’s important to develop a routine in which the side project is a priority—and then stick to that routine. I think I gravitate towards numerical projects precisely because they are quantifiable, and therefore, more easily broken down into chunks. Thinking too big picture can be daunting and incapacitating, but by focusing only on the immediate things in my control, I find that I can tackle the project without it feeling like a massive task. And side projects should never feel like chores.

Finding some sort of accountability is also helpful for ensuring that I actually make progress on my side projects. I am a huge productivity nerd so I love documenting, tracking and sharing what I do. I track all the books I read in a spreadsheet (for metadata) and on Goodreads. I used 750words.com to keep up a writing streak and posted daily excerpts to Instagram. The “write my sibling” project was also cross-posted to Medium.

Why have a side project?

Side projects allow me to pursue hobbies and interests that I genuinely love and want to develop, but they aren’t necessarily connected to my day job. I studied computer science in college and I’m now working as an engineer, so I don't always have the opportunities to explore other pursuits like reading and writing. I started tackling side projects because I was constantly making resolutions to “write more” or “wishing I had more time to read,” when in reality, I had the time, but I just wasn’t allocating it in meaningful ways. I think it’s easy to think that you’re too busy to do the things you really love, and side projects are a great way to prove yourself wrong.

I’m also a strong proponent in the belief that a large quantity of work is necessary for quality work. I really love this quote by Cheryl Strayed on writing:
“You have to surrender to your mediocrity, and just write. Because it’s hard, really hard, to write even a crappy book. But it’s better to write a book that kind of sucks rather than no book at all, as you wait around to magically become Faulkner. No one is going to write your book for you and you can’t write anybody’s book but your own.”
Side projects are fun, because they’re another avenue for you to produce or make or consume cool shit. In a lot of ways, my side projects make sure that I don’t worry about quality, but instead focus on process and experimentation. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for building up a body of work and gaining experience in any ways you can come up with.

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Images courtesy of Nicole Zhu.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.