Find your “thing”
In her talk about procrastiworking, the renowned letterer Jessica Hische says people should do more of the thing they do to avoid “real” work. If you love putting effort into that thing, then it’s the thing your soul is telling you to do more often. Take your passion project out of the shadows and shine a spotlight on it. It might be as simple as narrowing the focus of something you already do.
For me, my creative thing is designing logos. A few years ago, I decided to narrow my focus rather than be a generalist designer. I love the succinctness of what logos express. And, as projects go, logos provide a great sense of achievement because they’re small and finite. But that’s just me. You probably have some other creative thing you’d like to turn into a passion project.
Tell the universe
Once you’ve declared your newly found thing to the universe, a strange synchronicity will begin to occur. When I expressed my desire to create logos, things started happening fast. Within weeks, both of my brothers-in-law and even an ex-girlfriend asked me to create logos for their fledgling enterprises. On top of that, my job at a gaming company needed nine logos for various products/events over the following 12 months. Soon I had a separate portfolio of real-world logo projects.
Irina Blok, my friend and creator of the Android logo, started making simple and ironic illustrations of her domestic situation during pandemic lockdown and posted them collectively on Facebook and Instagram as Covid Life. Her work tapped into the common reactions to lockdown so well that it went viral around the world, being translated into more than 30 languages. Somehow the universe knows, so just be patient.
But I’m working already...
OK, maybe you have a lot of work on your plate, so why add more? If you’re doing something you love, it’s not about time or money—it doesn’t even feel like work. You already have the creative skills, expertise, and processes in place. You just need to apply them to an interest you already have.
During pandemic, I started listening to a podcast about fantasy and sci-fi books. I reached out to the podcast’s two organizers and asked if I could design a logo for them. They loved what I did for their Appendix N Book Club and now use it on everything they produce. Likewise, in 2019 I read a lot of Philip K. Dick novels and decided to create something that captured a sense of what his stories were about. I found the Philip K. Dick Film Festival online and asked if they’d like a logo. The result made us both happy.
I had so much fun doing these logos that I didn’t feel like I was “working” at any point. In fact, I felt more energized than ever to do design work for my day job.
Job, career, or vocation?
If you’re doing design work just for the money, then it’s a job. If you repeatedly do design work for the money but have a professional path in mind, then it’s a career. If you’re doing design work for yourself and just happen to be paid for it, then it’s your vocation.
By taking the reins of a passion project, you can make it yours alone. No matter if you change jobs, get laid off, or decide to take a break, you’ll still have the passion project. It soon becomes part of your identity—a process that reminds me of a line in The Commitments: “It feels much better being an unemployed musician than an unemployed pipe fitter.”
Growth is hard
Stretching to find the extra time and energy for your passion project will be hard at first. If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. Fortunately, the excitement that comes with doing something new will help get you over the learning curve. It’ll also become easier when you find other people who are doing something similar.
Svetlana Quindt is internationally renowned for her fantasy and sci-fi costumes. She charges video-game companies about $30K per outfit, usually tied to a launch. She started doing this 10 years ago because she loves cosplay at gaming conventions. She admits she wasn’t great at first, but she stuck with it and now sets the standard for cosplay outfits. To inspire others, she made a video of how low-quality her first 10 attempts at costume design were, compared with what she creates now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8OFp5m9ozQ
I used to love going to large in-person design events in downtown San Francisco, where I worked for many years. COVID-19 put an end to that. The pandemic has been very isolating, but it’s also emboldened me to reach out online to well-known logo designers. I might’ve been too shy pre-pandemic, but with everyone at home now, they’ve been a lot more responsive. It felt great to connect with others who are doing the same thing as me. Earlier this week, I was emailing A. Michael Shumate and David Airey (both well-known designer/authors) about their favorite logos.
Connecting with others makes it all seem more real—and more rewarding. There likely will be physical and/or virtual meetups for whatever creative endeavor you take on. And there’s already a huge extended creative community here at Dropbox to bounce ideas off or to show what you’ve been doing in your spare time.
What’s it all for?
Ideally, you’re pursuing a passion project for pleasure and to perfect your craft. When doing something well, it’s nice to get outside recognition for it. In my experience, winning an award, appearing in an art/design book, or having an article written about my work is exhilarating and provides an incredible sense of achievement. It fuels even more creativity. I’ve found that working on interesting projects outside a regular job has enhanced my creativity for the job. It also feels like I’m making a small dent in the universe, for reasons much nicer than a paycheck.