Savvy Side Projects

Pad My Portfolio

A.K.A. Project Ideas

Side projects are a great way to fill your portfolio. Maybe you’re new to the industry and need to establish a portfolio for employment purposes. Or, on the flip side, maybe you’re a veteran looking to spread your creative wings a little. Whatever your reason, side projects are a great way to give your portfolio a little oomph!

The hardest part, of course, is coming up with project ideas. Below are some possibilities to get the brain juices flowing! (Note: You may also want to check out the Provide Resources page.)

Retro female talking on yellow phone

Team Up with Other Professionals

We all have our specialities. Maybe you excel in creating rockin’ storefront websites while your college buddy is all about the backend complexities of e-commerce stores. By combining your skills, the two of you can become a whole different entity and thus broaden your audience of potential clients.

In addition, put the word out in your network that you’re available to pitch in on projects. There’s always a chance that a fellow designer - or design agency - could use some reinforcements on a project. Not only could you acquire some immediate work, but you could establish some key relationships moving forward as well.

Gift A Design

Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran in the industry, we’re all professionals who deserve to be adequately compensated for our work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally gift our talents in a way that benefits both ourselves and the recipient.

For example, there are a lot of charitable organizations out there that are doing amazing things - yet don’t have the budget for website redesigns, landing pages, etc. Maybe they’re just starting out, or maybe they’re facing lean times. Either way, providing a design could positively impact their efforts while padding your portfolio at the same time.

A few tips, though, when it comes to this area:

  • Only do 1-2 pro bono projects a year. Doing more than that may result in a reputation of doing work for free - rather than being a charitable designer. And as far as the bottom line goes, those are two very different things.
  • Choose something you’re passionate about. Do you love animals? Helping out at the local food bank? Working with underprivileged kids? Doing a project in an area you’re passionate about will make it that much more enjoyable.
  • Choose wisely. Do your homework before approaching the organization. You may be passionate about the work they do. But if they operate in a way that will make the design process a nightmare, including trying to take advantage of you, it’s not worth pursuing.
  • Have a contract. Just because the work is being done pro bono doesn’t mean a contract isn’t needed. In fact, it’s even more important! The scope of work needs to be defined in detail to help avoid a scope creep nightmare. And don’t be afraid to stick to your guns. If they try to add a ton of extra items to the original scope, don’t feel guilt-pressured to agree. They’re already getting incredible value for free.
  • Ask for alternative types of “payment.” I don’t mean this in a shady way. But the organization can provide other types of value besides money. You could ask for referrals, an ad to your website on one of their publications, or some other item that doesn’t interfere with their brand or mission - but provides you with some additional exposure and potential clients. Just be sure to include those items in the contract, so they can’t back out later.

Do A Redesign

Side projects don’t have to be 100% original. You can showcase your skills just as much - if not more - by improving upon a website that currently exists.

We all run into websites on a daily basis that are less than stellar. Select one that isn’t too large and create a redesign for your portfolio. Not only does it promote your abilities, it also shows you’re skilled at taking something and improving upon it. That’s impressive to both employers and clients.

Build Something for the Design Community

Some of the most useful tools in web design were created as side projects. Take CSSArrowPlease, for example. Who loves figuring out the CSS for arrows? Um, no one! So Simon Hojberg created a site that simplifies that tedious and repetitive task.

You could also create a reference list of some kind (or pull related pieces of information together); automate a task; or just create something funny like Jessica Hische’s Should I Work for Free?

Think about what you would find useful - or amusing!

Build Something for Your Local Community

Along those same lines, consider building something for your local community. Chances are you’ve been wishing your town/city/neighborhood had a website that offers X, Y, or Z - or just makes task R simpler.

I’m not necessarily talking about an “official” website. Maybe your neighborhood is blessed with a ton of great family-owned restaurants, for example, and it would be cool to have a website that featured the quirkiness of each one.

Think about the needs of your community, as well as your interests, and a few possibilities are sure to arise.

Build Something for You!

Maybe you have a specific need that no website or online service is meeting. Big or small, it could be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! Let your skills shine while making your life easier at the same time!

(And you never know...maybe other folks would find it useful, too!)