Some of the handiest resources in the web community were created as side projects. CSSArrowPlease is a prime example. Making a tedious task easier via an automated tool is not only a great side project - it also gets your name out there and helps establish your personal brand.
So what kind of resources can you provide? The list is endless, really. But here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.
Designers are always on the lookout for inspiration. Color palettes, typography, icon sets, responsive layouts...the list goes on and on. Select an area you're passionate about and create something to help your fellow designers & developers.
You can aim for a wide audience, offering something most of the community could use. Or, you can go more niche and really hone in on one specific item. Either way, you get to share your passion while empowering others.
This coincides with the CSSArrowPlease example above. Take a complicated, repetitive, or dreaded task and make it simpler. (And maybe even fun!)
Not sure what to automate? Brainstorm ideas based on what you wish existed. What processes, large and small, are you constantly repeating? What slows you down? Or drives you crazy? Then devise a way to turn that chore into a pleasure!
Build the Ultimate List
A list may not be the sexiest of ideas, but it is one of the most practical. Lists are a great way to offer a lot of help in one, centralized location. It saves people time, energy, and needless frustration.
One example is the Free Resources page of my Design for the Business Mind website. Aimed at do-it-yourself designers, the list provides a long list of helpful design links all in one place. Sure, the same resources can be found via Google. But for someone running their own business (on top of a day job and/or family), a one-stop-shop is a pretty awesome thing to have! Especially when you’re basically self-teaching yourself design.
Value can take many forms. It can be information, freebie downloads, video tutorials, or any number of other things.
Think about what you would find incredibly helpful. Or, ask your fellow designers, developers, and colleagues in general. What would they find great value in having? What problems do they keep running up against? And what hole of assistance currently exists out there on the web?
Even solutions to the smallest of problems offer terrific value.
Have a blog that you used to update religiously but now sits idle? Dig out some of your best posts, polish them up, and combine them into one resource.
The idea can also work for presentation slides and transcripts, articles that never saw publication, or anything else you may have “lying around.” Find a common thread - whether that’s a topic or type of work - and create a resource worthy of the web!
We can always learn from each other’s experiences. Maybe you’re a UI Designer who’s scaled some pretty tough mountains - mountains that other UI Designers are just now trying to climb.
Offering a personal story of your experience, and how you dealt with specific challenges, could be a God-send to others wearing the same type of shoes. Again, you can provide that insight in whatever form you’re most comfortable with - text, video, even comic strip art. Bringing your own style to the mix just makes the story that much more personalized and impactful.
The phrase “it’s a small world” may apply to the web community at large - just like it does in other areas - but that doesn’t mean a strong community can’t be built.
Granted, the point of side projects is to build something small-scale and manageable, so I’m not suggesting you build your own forum. But community can be cultivated in a lot of ways. Use your side project to attract community, for example, and then offer a link to a Facebook Group or specific Twitter handle to facilitate conversation.
In this way, you can combine community with any of the ideas mentioned above.