I recently participated in The Sketchbook Project with the goal of rebooting my personal creative practice.
I wanted three things out of it: inspiration, outside accountability and connection with others. What I got was much more: a new understanding of my working process and insights about the role of personal projects in everyday creativity.
I asked around, and it turns out there are a lot of folks here at Adaptive Path who have done personal projects and who had insights to share.
So keep reading for observations, inspirations, tips and tools for reconnecting with your passions and building your creative muscle through personal projects.
Working Your Creative Muscle. Or, How I Signed Up for an Art Project and What I Learned
When You’ve Lost that Minty-Fresh Feeling
I didn’t go looking for a personal project…the project found me. I was feeling blocked and I’d lost that minty-fresh feeling of having new ideas. This usually means that I’m too boxed in and need to mix it up a bit.
I went online looking for ideas to revitalize my creative energy and happened upon the ArtHouse Co-op and the Sketchbook Project. Call it kismet, coincidence or fate, but I knew it was just what I needed. It was the perfect balance of structure, openness and accountability.
Specific elements that worked well:
- It was related to (but not the same as) my everyday work
- It had a clear deadline to keep me accountable
- I had some skin in the game: I paid $20 to participate
- I made a “thing”: there was an output that would be shared
- Although I was working independently, I was also participating in parallel with others
- There was the chance to connect with and be inspired by others: All the sketchbooks submitted are part of a traveling exhibition in 2011
Personal projects are a great way to build new skills in unexpected ways, free your thinking by challenging yourself and surprise yourself with what you can do on your own terms. Projects that have a social or collaborative element also help us connect with others in a useful and meaningful way.
UX as a Creative Practice
How do personal projects benefit UX designers?
We work in a rapidly changing environment and we design for the future. This involves muscling through a lot of ambiguity, trying new things and being prepared for the unexpected. We have to find ways to explore the creative side in a safe and supportive environment and practice our creative problem-solving skills in a risk-free way.
Alas, many work environments can’t offer the time and space to explore and play. Personal projects provide the crucial blend of freedom, motivation and challenge that is the foundation of learning and creative engagement.
You had me at Moleskine : My Experience with The Sketchbook Project
The guidelines for The Sketchbook Project were simple:
- Sign up online, pay $20 and they send you a Moleskine notebook
- Pick a theme from a list, or they’ll pick one for you (I was assigned the theme of Trading Forever)
- There are only two rules: the book must be used in some way (no sending back an empty book or a completely different book) and the sketchbook must stay within its original dimensions
- Mail it in by the deadline.
And that’s it. I signed up in November, and mailed my completed project on the final postmark deadline date in January. I was one of 28,838 participants. 28,838 people all making sketchbooks. Amazing!
Three things I learned that surprised me:
- Gestating takes time. Like a lot of time. I needed more of it than I realized. I was much more aware of how much time I spent wondering, researching, sketching, and planning than I am in the usual course of my work. Knowing this means I can better plan for this time by thinking about a problem space as early as possible.
- Don’t bother me…I’m making. Once I started making stuff, I got into the flow and needed to power through. The planning, thinking, sketching and prototyping happened in bits and scraps over a few weeks. But when I sat down and started making the final sketchbook, I worked through for three days, once for 14 hours straight. It was exhausting and exhilarating. Obviously, that’s not sustainable for everyday work, now I know I need to look for other ways to get into the flow that doesn’t require so little sleep.
- Solo, but together, rocks. Working in parallel with others was a motivation. Even working alone I could check in on other participants through their blogs, profiles on the ArtHouse site and social media. I could peek into their process, adapt my own and see how others had solved that thin-page-bleed-through issue. Being part of the project connected me to a broader community of people who were sharing the experience but in very different ways. Now I’m more interested in finding new communities where I can participate and gain motivation.
The result? I ended the project feeling a sense of accomplishment. I felt reinvigorated about exploring concepts visually, more forgiving of my failures and much more open about experimenting. And that’s a perspective that I’ve brought into my UX work.
But it was also a wake-up call, identifying work habits that I need to adapt and change. I gained sensitivity to my natural work habits and more informed thinking about how I can adapt them to embrace the constraints and collaboration needs of everyday UX work.
Yet what has me most excited is the opportunity to see the work of the community and experience the creative bounty of others by attending an exhibition. The Sketchbook Project will be in San Francisco in June. And I plan to spend a lot of quality time getting to know my 28,837 personal project partners.
Details on the Sketchbook Project
- About The Sketchbook Project 2011
- The evolution of the sketchbook pages on Flickr
- The collection of the final pages on Flickr
- See all the submissions online
- Dates and locations for the exhibitions
Barcelona + iPhone apps + Quilting + 90Days + IDE cables = Explorations in Everyday Creativity
Turns out a lot of people in the UX world and at Adaptive Path have projects outside their day-to-day work. I sense that practitioners believe that this kind of exploring makes us all think, dream, and design better. And when experimental projects get out into the world where they can be experienced, tested and improved, we can all learn from that process.
Teresa is an avid photographer, videographer and painter. In 2009 she participated in a collaborative film project created in an unusual way: all nine crew members donated their time, equipment, and expertise via an entirely community-driven film cooperative called Scary Cow.
To get the project going, she joined the co-op, did a concept pitch to the group and people interested in the idea follow up at the end of the session. The result? The completed short film Puddle Song was screened at the co-op and also shown in eight film festivals around the world, including Barcelona and Berlin.
Ljuba transformed his final iSchool project into real, live app when he released his free SF Bay Area Public Transit app Transporter in the AppStore.
Chiara created Wireframes as Art, a tactile display which went on to be shown as a poster at the IA Summit in 2007. To spur her everyday crafty momentum, she also hosts a monthly craft night that results in fabulous work and shared accountability.
Past Adaptive Path colleague Rachel Hinman corralled her creative recovery from a project into a compelling exploration of mobile issues in her 90 Mobiles in 90 Days blog project.
Troy, our IT Manager, made something cool out of upcycled IDE cables, and then made it social by sharing it on Intructables.
Adaptive Path has done some personal projects, too (we just call them R&D initiatives.) Experimental work like Charmr, Aurora and Mobile Literacy have shaped the way we think about healthcare, the future of computing and global technology use.
Jump In, the Water’s Fine
Want to get started? It’s helpful to have a set of decision-making factors in mind before jumping into a project. Here are a few of the considerations to think aboutt
1. What do you hope to get out of it?
- An actual product or output?
- Enhanced skills? (which ones?)
- Feedback or recognition from others?
- Impact in the world?
2. What’s the best work style for you?
- Partnership with another person?
- Work with a team where they provide critique and feedback on your work?
- Work in a team where you are co-creating the work together?
3. How much investment can you make?
- Money: Are you willing to pay a little bit? A lot?
- Time: Do you want to work intensely for a short time, or work over a longer duration?
4. Who do you want to be accountable to?
- Yourself only?
- Another person (peer? authority figure?)
- A group?
5. Who’s the audience for your work?
- Another person?
- A group?
- A community?
- The whole freakin world?!?
The key is to plan your personal projects so they have the minimum structure you need to be successful. That way there is a lot of open space to learn.
So, if you’re fiercely independent and self-directed, look for a group of like-minded souls who you can provide feedback without cramping your style. If you need scheduled time and want an authority figure, taking a class may be the best approach.
Behold, the Project Frontier!
There are a whole host of organizations and collectives that promote art-related personal projects. There’s too many to list, but here are some starting points.
- ArtHouse Co-op Projects: http://arthousecoop.com/projects
- Artist Trading Card Swaps: http://www.atcsforall.com/
- Mail Art: http://www.artistampnews.com/dated_calls/
If you’ve made something and want to share the how-to’s, Instructables is the place to go: http://www.instructables.com/.
There is an upwelling of open innovation, crowd-sourced funding and social innovation platforms that host challenges, sponsor projects and connect people who are invested in collective problem-solving. A few places to check out:
Funding platforms for creative projects
- Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/
- IndiGoGo : http://www.indiegogo.com/
- Sponsume: http://www.sponsume.com/
Campaigns and challenges for open innovation and social good
- Changemakers: http://www.changemakers.com/
- Innocentive: http://www2.innocentive.com/what-is-innocentive
Even companies are getting into the game
- Nokia: http://ideasproject.com/
- Open IDEO : http://openideo.com/
- Toyota Ideas for good: http://www.toyota.com/ideas-for-good/
What’s Good for Personal Creativity is Good for the Country
The UX country, that is. Investing in a personal project is a rewarding and meaningful way to experiment outside your comfort zone, to enhance your craft and to challenge yourself to new creative heights.
I found that it challenged my assumptions, made me accept setbacks as part of the process, opened me up to thinking in unexpected ways and highlighted areas where I need to evolve my working habits.
All of which are important skills for UX, for design and for a creatively-fulfilling everyday life.
Adaptive Path News
MX: Managing Experience Kicks Off Next Weekend
Next weekend we kick off our sixth Managing Experience confernce in downtown San Francisco, emceed by our own Brandon Schauer. Brandon has put together a great line up with big brains, experts in agile and lean UX, multi-channel pioneers, and the best and brightest leaders and managers of UX.
From our keynote speaker, John Hagel III, from Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, to Jay Trimble, founder and leader of NASA’s User Centered Technology Group, there’s something for every manager trying to get great experiences out into the world. Or into space!
- Intuit’s Reinvention from the Inside | Kaaren Hanson, Intuit
- The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer | Paul Hagen, Forrester Research
- Real Life Design Management | Ruben Rohde, Cisco Systems
- Winning that Elusive Buy-in for UX Research Projects | Tomer Sharon, Google
- A Pracitcal Guide to Measuring User Experience | Richard Dalton, Vanguard
- Lessons from the Front Lines of Cross-channel Customer Experience | Cindy Chastain, R/GA
This event was sold out, but we finagled a larger space and there are still a few seats left. Register right now. Right here. Use code NEWS for 10% off your registration.
Selections From Our Blog
- Henning Fischer: Concept Sketches on Product Pages
- Brandon Schauer: 5 Impacts of Apple’s App Store Subscription Model on Experience Design
- Leah Buley: UX Metrics for Noobs and Skeptics: An Interview with Richard Dalton
- Peter Boersma: The Awesomeness Factor: Cameron Gray on Agile and UX
What We’re Reading
- PSFK: Bacteria Will Replace Your Hard Drive
- Fast Company: User Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs: Just Ask Apple and Ikea
- GigaOm: State of the Web 2010
- Matt Murphy & Mary Meeker (from KPCB): Top Mobile Internet Trends