September 22, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Designer and Educator Jamie Cavanaugh Activates Lifelong Learning for the Global Design Community at Design Higher



What are you working on—on the side?

In March 2017, I started my side project, Design Higher, a website focusing on lifelong learning for designers. For over ten years, as an Interaction Designer and an Associate Professor in the Graphic Design program at Santa Monica College, I’ve witnessed first-hand the need that both students and designers have for information, resources and advice on how to succeed—and thrive!—in design careers.

As the field of design continues to rapidly evolve, multiple challenges arise for both students and designers including: what do you need to know, where to go for the best design education, and most importantly, how to become a self-learner and start practicing lifelong learning.

My goal is to help designers succeed by providing smart learning resources and courses for UX/Interaction Design, including materials for design educators and those who’d like to start teaching design. I’m planning to offer courses on “How to Start a Career in UX/IxD” and “How to Start Teaching in a Design Program.” In the future, I’d like to offer mentoring and coaching to students and designers to provide an individualized, hands-on approach to lifelong learning, design education and career development.

In addition to being an advocate for lifelong learning, I’m a design education innovator and the faculty lead for the first Bachelor’s degree program in Interaction Design at a community college in the United States. I see an important opportunity for community colleges to educate the next generation of UX/IxD designers. Community colleges are uniquely positioned to support non-traditional students, first-generation students and career-changers, and can bring the needed diversity to the design industry. 

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

As a designer and educator, I’m used to working nights and weekends. ツ Before becoming a full-time educator, I designed and built websites, so launching a website for my side project is in my wheelhouse. I’ve created multiple courses for my interaction design students, so developing the resources for Design Higher follows a similar process. I’m passionate about lifelong learning and design education, so I make time to work on this project. I’ve also sought assistance with the site and hired Spruce Rd. to create my branding. More outside help will be necessary as I grow my business.

Why have a side project?

One of the unexpected benefits of a side project is facing the challenges of managing my mindset! Building a new business from scratch has brought up many of my insecurities and bad habits regarding confidence, time management and productivity. I’m learning how to be more results-oriented and more effective with my time. It’s been a great challenge to work within these constraints. I feel the entrepreneurial skills that I’m developing will serve me well as a designer.

I’ve been thinking about this project for a long time, so I’m happy to finally jump in and do it! I’m obsessed with organizing information and resources, and have long been advocating reduction in the duplication of effort for educators and designers. I believe having a side project adds value to my other work, and keeps me better organized and energized within both the teaching and design worlds. I also feel that I’m supporting the design community, designers, educators and the people who are really close to my heart—design students!

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Diptych courtesy of Jamie Cavanaugh.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


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