The Best Types of Personal Projects For a Web Designer

The Best Types of Personal Projects for a Web Designer

We all know that personal projects can be the key to success when it comes to web design and freelancing. Regardless, personal projects can also be fun and a good, productive thing to ‘waste’ time on. When a creative person, like a web designer, is doing something that they’ve chosen to do – something that excites them – it can be great inspiration and motivation that can carry into other areas of work as well.

The Best Types of Personal Projects for a Web Designer
Image credit: iheartlinen

In this post we’re going to explore some popular personal project ideas that are common among web designers. We’ll also look into how productive they really are, and if some may help one’s career more than the next.

In this post we’re going to explore some popular personal project ideas that are common among web designers. We’ll also look into how productive they really are, and if some may help one’s career more than the next.

A Blog

A blog is likely the most common side project for any web designer. Some host separate design or development blogs, and others include it right in their portfolio. Whichever you choose to do, the benefits can be great. For the most obvious reason, blogging is a fool-proof marketing strategy. With the way search engines work and the methods users use to get to content, just publishing content on any website in a blog system can increase your portfolio’s ranking and visibility.

However, there are a few additional benefits as well:

  • Writing content in your area of specialty adds credibility to your services. If you act like you know what you’re talking about, you do know what you’re talking about according to clients.
  • Blogging is a great way to contribute and get involved with the web design community. While there are plenty of other methods for this, blogging and supplying content yourself is the most proactive way.
  • By blogging, you have the ability to write about whatever you want. This means one can blog about a subject their learning, find inspirational pieces and post them, share what you already know and your experiences, or get your unique opinion out.
  • Through writing a variety of topics, one can gain a lot of inspiration.

Image credit: Inju

Finally, any personal project is great when it includes some extra income. Blogs can sell private ads, Google ads, host giveaways, and offer promotions for additional revenue to the designer in charge.

Guest Blog

Blogging on your own can be beneficial, but it can also get pretty lonely. To fight this sense of loneliness, write for other bigger blogs, either as a guest or for additional income. At times, when things got slow with my own business, I had to rely on guest blogging alone to pay the bills. Guest blogging has all the same benefits as blogging on your own portfolio or blog, except you can reach a much larger audience. The only downside is that it takes quality writing, and some may find that a few months of practicing writing good copy is essential before they can really get started with guest blogging.

A Custom Web App

Whether you just design it, code it, or create the whole thing, bringing a web app idea to life can be an exciting project that can solve some of your own design or freelancing woes, and at the same time be incredibly viral in terms of marketing within the design community. Just think of the people that built some of the most popular web apps today – Color Scheme Designer, SuberNova, Carbonmade – these people automatically look like true professionals, and likely get plenty of clients that find them first.

Again, while developing these apps as side projects, and while still maintaining them as side projects, the app’s developers are supplementing their income with subscriptions or ad sales.


Let’s take a look at a recent example in the community. Amber Weinberg one of the Onextrapixel’s writer is one the busiest freelancers around. She keeps busy with her multiple clients, her blog, her guest writing, and now most recently,, her very first web app. She studied hard to get her concept up and rolling, and it is still in the invite/beta stage. However, it is already gaining a lot of popularity, and her hard work is going to pay off. The project was also different from her normal style of work between writing and client projects, so surely working on it is a nice change for her as well.

A Non-Career Related Website

While many of us are design-obsessed, we still all have other interests and passions. Sometimes, we work so much we need to get away from work for a while – far, far away. By creating a website to work on another interest, one can fulfill that interest with any additional time.


For example, Travis King of Green Tea Design has side projects in writing for other blogs and other interests such as drawing and Japanese culture. Despite his busy schedule, he built another blog about traveling to Japan to support one of his other interests. I Heart Japan gives Travis a place to write without thinking about his design business or any of his other web design related projects.


Working on non-related projects is a great way to keep the mind active and clear. It can be a great way to fight work-related fatigue. When relating it to the web design profession, though, it can still act as a great piece in your portfolio and the other website can provide a link back as well.

Create Freebies

Develop freebies within your niche to build your skill set, showcase your creativity, and get some more marketing going. If you provide WordPress themes to clients, in your spare time create some free themes for release. If you enjoy coding more, create a useful script. If you only provide static web design at this point, free templates are just fine too.


Freebies always link back to your portfolio and grow your expertise as a designer. On top of that, they are great practice for whatever areas you may need to improve in. Use the development stage of free resources you create as a learning opportunity: be sure to always be creating something outside of your comfort zone. Without a client limiting what you can do, this is an area where you have complete creative freedom. Use this freedom to get ahead.

Finally, freebies can be a few more pieces in your portfolio, just in case you’re a bit short.

Create Stock Resources

Do the same as above, only focus on true quality and sell your resources as stock. It can work as promotion for your business just as well, and can be sold repeatedly for supplemental, passive income.

Doing this can also get you more involved in larger communities like ThemeForest, and help you collaborate further with other designers within your niche.


Personal side projects are one of the ways we as designers stay sane. They can pursue our other interests, or supplement our design interest. They can be done solely for fun, but many have other benefits involved with marketing or additional income. Yet, the outcome of a side project doesn’t matter that much, as long as it’s nothing that’s giving your brand negative side effects. The main point is that a personal project can help one grow and find inspiration, and will in return be beneficial when we get back to our ‘real jobs’.

What do you do for personal projects on the side? In what ways are your side projects beneficial to you as a designer?

Kayla Knight is a web designer and frontend web developer. She specializes in responsive web design, progressive web technologies, and also knows her way around most CMS’s and PHP. You can find out more and check out her portfolio at


    • Ben,
    • August 6, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article, im trying to set up a blog on my portfolio website at the moment for the very reasons you’ve mentioned above, looking forward to having it all finished.

    • Todd,
    • August 6, 2010
    / Reply

    Why are all of these still web related? I personally believe the best side projects are off the web. Add some variety to keep the batteries charged. Get away from the screen and dip your fingers into something in the real world – painting, drawing, sculpting – anything.

    I have a side business designing merchandise for local bands. I also spend my time on some other totally wacky stuff. I play in a band with lots of cheesy stage gimmicks, and design wrestling masks.

    For me, out of the box stuff like that really opens up my brain to thinking in new and different that come in handy when I’m on the job.

    1. / Reply

      Hi Todd!

      I agree with what you are saying. A personal project may involve web-related and non-web related activities that define your individuality on so many levels. The expression of what you really care about needs to be in tune with all possible channels, so that your message does reach the people you may want to connect with: your off-line friends, your online network and connections you made online and so on.

      It’s important to keep a balance. It’s what every creative needs: a solid ground to return to whenever he ventures in yet another ambitious project.

      1. / Reply

        Catalina, you beat me to it.

        I agree with you too Todd. Personal projects are great, and sometimes the best ones are separate from what you have been your spending time doing for work. After taking a break from design for a bit and working on a different interest or project, I often find myself much more inspired and ready to go when getting back to design work.

        Great article Kayla!

  1. / Reply

    Great post, we are currently in the process of launching a blog. Definitely takes time getting it perfect. The web app idea is interesting, might think about launching one when we have some time to spare.
    As Todd said, it is important to have other hobbies as well

    • Leo,
    • August 7, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article I have been recently delving off into creating WordPress Themes and creating plugins while inbetween work. My next thing is to get deeper into some Ajax (yes I’m late). Todd is right about some non-web related creative avenues, so I plan on getting back into my music which I have put aside for too long now.

    • Luke,
    • August 7, 2010
    / Reply

    Great post, I have this week off work and am really looking forward to tying up all my personal projects. I can finally get around to adding a blog to my portfolio website and finishing a few WordPress themes.

    I really like to idea of creating a non-career related website … hmm I sense another big side project about to be started.

    • Clipping,
    • August 7, 2010
    / Reply

    Excellent job! thanks a lot for sharing :)

  2. / Reply

    These are pretty much the best things to do when you are alive and kicking as a designer but when it comes to improving your personal self and creativity, I think a designer should venture into something close to his/her heart and as Todd explains; painting, drawing and other various activities is a perfect way to keep the creative juices flowing.

    I love reading novels and and I have tried my hand on writing a few too :) So, it is better to digress from the web and indulge into something very creative and artistic….

    Nice article btw, Kayla and I notice you’ve changed the color of your hair… lol, looks great (^_^)

    • Luke,
    • August 8, 2010
    / Reply

    Great post., I also agree with Todd suggesting painting, drawing and other various activities is a perfect way to keep the creative juices flowing

  3. / Reply

    Another idea is to create something that’s really usefull to your workflow. Like time tracking application, or some sort of project management app,…

    • Enk.,
    • August 9, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article.. Really thinking about selling some stuff at Themeforest these days.. ;)
    Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. / Reply

    Great article.
    Blogging, sharing will increase our skill, more we give more we get.

    • Max,
    • August 9, 2010
    / Reply

    Are you mates with Amber Weinberg?

  5. / Reply

    I can’t help but smile when I read this article Kayla. I just got in a new position and, at the interview, the employer asked me why I did all these “web community” and “free of charge projects” and what not… In the end, he said that I would have to stop doing all this once employed in his company :-) .

    • Alex,
    • August 9, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article. I think that all designers must have a personal blog.

    • Mary,
    • August 9, 2010
    / Reply

    Very useful article and useful tips for getting involved in the web community.

  6. / Reply

    Great Post, I’ve added a blog to my site recently and it definitely gives more depth to your portfolio.

  7. / Reply

    I learned a lot and enjoy building although I didn’t build it to get clients. It gives an ok passive income today though.

  8. / Reply

    Great post! Absolutely agree with you: if you find the time to do things you enjoy whether their work related or not, this self quality time will help stay creative and more importantly, sane.

    Thanks for sharing

  9. / Reply

    I admire you Kyla … you always brought something special :)

  10. / Reply

    u had done awesome in ur template and ur design’ it’s too cool too great colour combination. thanx for it post sharing. I’m designer so it’s post too helpful to me ..

    • Seba,
    • August 26, 2010
    / Reply

    Love your insights Kayla. I might try the guest blog option because I don´t see myself with my own blog and no audience or lack of updates haha.

  11. / Reply

    I want to get new information of web development.So I think your help is must for me.

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