October 29, 2019

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Creative Mother-and-Son Time between Designer Joni Trythall and Ben

What are you working on—on the side?

I started Bologna and Ben a few years ago with my son. Ben took an interest in my work early on when he would catch me making things in Illustrator or planning animations on CodePen. One day, he got home from school as I was finishing up some icons and he began to replicate them on paper next to me at my desk.

I found the level of detail he picked up on incredible for a four-year old and it inspired me to start the project as a way to document these types of adventures. It was perfect timing since Ben loved drawing but couldn’t always think of an idea to put on paper. This provides him with a subject to focus on while he practices drawing and tries to match colors. I’ll show him some of my illustrations to choose from and we settle in at the kitchen or living room tables with snacks and music.

We do fewer posts these days because he has become much more creative than myself and simply doesn’t need the inspiration as much anymore. His friend recently had a birthday and Ben drew him a flying sausage because “his favorite color is red”; I could only dream about coming up with something so clever!

You can still find us at the table with muffins and mini-chocolate chips every once in a while on mom-and-Ben nights, and he gets new supplies each year on holidays. He most recently improved some design work I did for Soft Skills Engineering.

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

This is one of my favorite side projects since it has always been super casual with no pressure, for it to be more than it is; it’s whatever we want it to be and it doesn’t matter if anyone else follows along. We will sit down together whenever Ben has the urge to do some drawing, but this creative time together has evolved to take on other forms as well over the years. For instance, he helped me design a “favorite” icon animation for work a couple weeks ago, describing a series of beating, outlined hearts. I built a prototype and made additional changes as I was instructed until it was just right. He also helped describe the perfect easing for a loading animation and is the first to say “This is OK but I liked the other thing better,” which is a level of honesty that is invaluable and difficult to get from adults.

Why have a side project?

I’ve had countless side projects over the years as a way to embrace what I love doing without getting burned out by only doing it in the context of formal work. I get to set my own constraints and don’t have to overanalyze anything, it can just be a thing because I want it to be, and it brings me and others joy.

My favorite projects have been in relation to kids. I’ve taught workshops to middle schoolers about web design and CSS animations. Later this year, I’ll be heading to an elementary school to show them some animations while they design their own on paper, followed by a mini-workshop for the same middle school about hand-coding SVGs. Kids possess a breathtaking amount of creativity and pick up on complex things so quickly, it’s such a pleasure getting to show them a small glimpse into a career most of them are not aware of. There are few things that light up a kids face more than showing them how to move something across a screen.

Bologna and Ben specifically has been a way to bring Ben into my work in a stress-free and relatable way. He knows about branding and logos, he selects smart colors, he draws thoughtful things for people as gifts. I have worked from home since he was born, the lines between work and home life just don’t exist, but I try as much as possible to make sure this overlap is fun, educational and nurtures his innate curiosity. 

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Diptych courtesy of Joni Trythall.

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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