6 Side Projects Turned Popular Tools for Designers, Part 1

[Position yourself as a leader in branding.
Enter the HOW Logo Design Awards.]

Many creatives are familiar with this: That exhilarating moment when you decide that, yes, you are finally going to pursue that passion project. You’re finally going to devote actual calendar space to that side project that feels big and exciting and a little bit scary because, after all, it’s something you’ll be pouring lots of hours into with no guarantee that anyone other than your colleagues will see it.

Everyone has different reasons for starting a side project, but for everyone who does, there’s that moment of decision, which oftentimes is the biggest hurdle. Then you get to enjoy the heck out of your process of creation. And later, if the end result ends up garnering attention that wins you awards, boosts word of mouth and lands you clients, well, that’s icing on the cake.

The creatives you’ll hear from below all created online resources and design tools for graphic designers and creatives. These projects have no doubt helped them “get noticed,” regardless of whether they started out as self-promotional projects.

Below, we hear from the designers themselves on why they created their respective tools, what challenges they faced, what they learned about themselves through the process, what they most loved about the process, how the project put more eyes on their work, their advice for other creatives thinking of starting a side project and finally, what they’re working on next.

Behind the Scenes of 6 Resources and Tools for Graphic Designers

1. HTML Arrows + HTML Color Codes by Dixon and Moe

HTML Arrows by Dixon and Moe

HOW: Why did you create HTML Arrows? Would you say it started as a passion project?

Dixon and Moe: We started HTML Arrows during a lull in client work (we were freelancing at the time), because as web designers/developers we were constantly looking up different HTML symbols and were dissatisfied with the existing web references. So in a way it was a passion project, plus it was kind of a web designers dream, playing around with nothing but typography and color. We’re geeks for that stuff.

What sort of challenges did you face in the creation of HTML Arrows?

We faced some initial challenges on how to gather and sort all the HTML symbols (there are thousands), but were able at last to find some open source resources for the symbols, and wrote a number of small ruby scripts to clean up the datasets (being developers in addition to designers definitely helped out with that side of things). The second challenge was distribution; building a product or website is one thing, but getting it in front of potential users is a totally different animal.

What did you/your team learn about yourself/themselves through the execution of HTML Arrows?

Our big realization after building the project was: This is great, now how are people going to find it? So we spent some time understanding SEO techniques and optimizing our content. We actually learned quite a lot from the project on how to get a website to rank in Google’s results, which has become indispensable for our other client/side projects. As a team this project really helped us understand how important the marketing/distribution angle of web design/development is (hint: it’s really important), and has influenced how we approach much of our current work, marketing efforts, and client engagement.

What did you most enjoy about the process of creating this project?

The project was very fast, we finished in under two weeks, and the charette-like process was a lot of fun. The feedback from the design/dev community via Twitter has been really rewarding as well; it’s such a great feeling to have built something that people enjoy using enough to write (even 140 characters) about. That, and of course getting to number one on Google 😉

How has HTML Arrows helped you/your team “get noticed?” What sort of responses have you gotten regarding this project?

We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on Twitter, and it has definitely helped build our brand in the web design/development space. We may even have gotten a client or two from the website, and it certainly is useful when talking about our portfolio and expertise in design and SEO.

HTML Color Codes, a tool for graphic designers, by Dixon and Moe

HTML Color Codes, another of Dixon and Moe’s side projects

Do you have any advice for other creatives who are thinking about starting a side project?

Absolutely do it, but make sure your project’s parameters are well defined. HTML Arrows is good example of taking a very simple idea and making it a quick, exciting project, but I’ve started countless other projects where they drag on into months because I didn’t define their boundaries well enough. Start simple, make it awesome, then learn SEO and make it discoverable. It’s really rewarding, and a great way to expand your knowledge/expertise.

Are you working on any side projects now? Give us the details!

We finished up HTML Color Codes a couple of months ago, another, slightly larger side project with a similar impetus: build a beautiful online tool for color picking. As designers we often have access to excellent color tools built into our software (Adobe products, Sketch, etc.) however, many web designers, developers and enthusiasts don’t have access to these tools, and rely on online versions for their work. Most of the existing online tools were pretty awful, so we decided to tackle the color problem as another side project (and it’s been just as rewarding as HTML Arrows). Other than that, we recently launched a small open source JS parallax library called Rellax.

2. Color Hunt + Chartico by Gal Shir

Screen shot of colorhunt.co, a tool for graphic designers by Gal Shir

HOW: Why did you create Color Hunt? Would you say it started as a passion project?

Shir: As a product designer, I was getting a lot of positive feedback from people about the color combinations in my designs. Many designers, friends and other people were asking for my advice about color choices and finding the right way of using colors. So I thought by myself, why not create a mini-blog where I can post new palettes daily? The result is Color Hunt which I started as a personal side project. Soon after, I published Color Hunt to Product Hunt, and then my little collection  of colors became a big resource for color palettes, being used by more than 10,000 users every day.

What sort of challenges did you face in the creation of Color Hunt?

One of the main challenges I was facing in the beginning of Color Hunt [was] the limited amount of palettes I can create daily only by myself. When Color Hunt was published, 100% of the palettes in the collection were designed by me. Then I decided to add [a] small feature, the “create” button. My users have started to create tons of new palettes themselves, new color combination that I would have never thought of. Today, every new palette on the site is a user’s creation, being curated and chosen by me.Color Hunt, a tool for graphic designs by Gal Shir

What did you learn about yourself through the execution of this project?

Color Hunt was and still is an amazing lesson for me. I learned about myself that when you love something, the opportunity to share it with others makes it worth keeping. This project inspires me. Color Hunt keeps me motivated to create more and to share my passion with other people that love colors.

What did you most enjoy about the process of creating Color Hunt?

The biggest thing I enjoy with Color Hunt is the huge amount of feedback I get from my users. People visit my collection daily, tweet about it, mail me with feedback, suggest new features and share the resource with their friends. Although I built Color Hunt by myself, I never felt I was doing it alone.

How has this project helped you get noticed? What sort of responses have you gotten regarding this project?

[Because] Color Hunt was featured in many websites, blogs and magazines, it has reached a lot of eyes all around the world. The main responses I receive are thankful expressions. And that’s the best feedback I could have wished for. Color Hunt is about giving, so a thankful feedback is all I need to keep being up to [curating] and [updating] the collection daily.

Chartico, another tool for graphic designers and creatives, by Gal Shir

Chartico, another of Shir’s side projects

Do you have any advice for other creatives who are thinking about starting a side project?

Side projects are super important. Starting something of your own that can be absolutely whatever you decide is the best opportunity to learn more. By creating side projects, you improve your skills, and better, you put yourself in a position where you have to learn new skills. So, do it! Just start a side project today!

Are you working on any side projects now? Give us the details!

I try to always have something heating up. Since Color Hunt, I was creating several more side projects; one of them is Chartico [pictured above], which is an easy-to-use online tool for creating simple bar charts. Promise there is more to come soon, follow me on Facebook or Twitter to stay updated! 🙂

[See more of Shir’s digital product designs over at PrintMag.com, where he was featured as a Designer of the Week.]

Swiss Style Color Picker + The Evolution of Web Design by Fabian Burghardt

Swiss Style Color Picker, a graphic design tool by Fabian Burghardt

HOW: Why did you create Swiss Style Color Picker? Would you say it started as a passion project?

Burghardt: The idea came from the corporate design of my current project “Brut Magazin #4,” a German experimental hypervideo magazine, which I developed with 12 co-students this year. My very talented classmate Milan R. Vuckovic created an awesome set of swiss style–inspired graphics for the website-interface, and so I first recognized the real beauty of the international style. One day, when I was bored during a university course about ebooks, I used these 6 hours to build the little color picker tool. At home I composed the color combinations and uploaded the whole thing the next day.

What did you learn about yourself through the execution of Swiss Style Color Picker?

[I had] this Idea for months and never thought someone [would] use it, so it never came to life [until] this day. Now I will always try to make my ideas come to life as soon as possible.

What did you most enjoy about the process of creating Swiss Style Color Picker?

I’ve never thought that this little tool would cause so much excitement. About 100.000 site views in one month and a lot of nice blog posts and emails show me that there is a really big symbiosis in the whole designer/web community.

"The Evolution of Webdesign“

“The Evolution of Webdesign,” another side project by Burghardt

How has this project helped you get noticed? What sort of responses have you gotten regarding this project?

I just posted the project on DesignerNews and Producthunt. Later, the project was posted on Hacker News, Reddit, Fast Company and other big blogs.

Do you have any advice for other creatives who are thinking about starting a side project?

Just do it, and release as fast as you can. You will get a lot of feedback and can improve your product. If you wait too long, someone else will do it.

Are you working on any side projects now? Give us the details!

I just released my latest project “The Evolution of Webdesign,” which has more than 200.000 views by now, and I’m working on a nice speech recognition/video website with my friend Vinzenz Aubry.

3 Side Projects Turned Popular Tools for Designers, Part 2