After finishing my recent side project I was left with a lot of new insight on how I could make future side projects and experiments more exciting and return me even more knowledge. This lead me to a few points which I have come up with that I will be applying to future projects. Do keep in mind that these bullet points are designed around my own goals and desires and may vary vastly from yours, however I think it can be a source of inspiration for improving one's own process and thought process.
Especially this last year I've noticed that my design and visual skills have been holding me back from expanding my horizon and exploring new opportinities in web design. This can be due to me maybe focusing too much on client work (which for the most part usually is based around a more traditional layout) as well as spending quite a lot of hours with WordPress. But it's never too late to change like they say, and my focus lately has therefore been to challenge myself to make more immersive digital experiences.
Coming up with concepts instead of designs
Traditionally my design process has been to find inspiration online from various sources and mashing it up into a sketch I can proceed to code. Although efficient and fast, it doesn't allow you to spend time forming a unique concept which at the end of the day is going to be the most important part of any project. It also doesn't take into account new technologies that allow for use of the webcam, 3D, procedural generation etc. which can have a great impact on how the site functions. The solution for me has therefore been to write down keywords on how the user is supposed to experience the final product. I include sketches, inspiration and keywords, but the morphing of all of these sources happen during the coding phase where one has a much greater possibility to experiment and make changes. It also prevents you from locking your mind up in one direction instead of trying out different things (which is the inherent goal of a side project)
Try something different
Design and code is very linked, and the limits of the design are often defined by the code and execution of the project. So while it's easy to keep going for the frameworks you've already used, trying out something new doesn't you give you insight on that framework, but in a lot of cases also give you new exciting possibilities for the design. Webcam usage for example was a very new thing for me, and trying it out showed me how human motion can be added as a means of interaction with the experience. So in the future I would definitely like to make more use of my Oculus Quest VR headset I have lying around and try to make projects for that. Don't get caught up in having to follow "your own style", side projects are for experiments and evolving that personal style of yours.
Sometimes leave it unfinished
Not as in deliberately not finishing a project, but sometimes things don't always have to be perfect. It might not be too obvious to the end user what do do, it might not have the best performance or have all the fancy effects you wanted to do. But that's perfectly fine. All side projects (be they finished or unfinished) should end up in your digital "sketchbook" for future reference. You never know when parts of an earlier project can be applied to a client project.
Side projects are as we can see here an extraordinarily efficient way to learn by doing when done right, and I hope my insight here can help improve not only my own projects.