The Benefits of Experimentation

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“The true method of knowledge is experiment.” – William Blake

I spend a fair amount of time working on web design. After a full day at the office, it’s not uncommon for me to come home and work on my own site, blog or other personal projects. It’s also not uncommon for people to ask me how I “find the time” to do this type of personal work. My response, especially to other Web designers, is this. How can you not find the time to do this type of work?

The Challenges of the Industry

Web design is an industry that is unkind to complacency. From more effective ways to design web forms, to techniques that take your blog designs to the next level, to the latest in HTML5 and CSS3, there is always something new to learn. If you hope to produce relevant work, you need to be learning and experimenting.

Unfortunately, web design is also an industry keenly focused on budgets and deadlines, especially if you work in an agency setting. The struggle between experimenting with new techniques and staying on-time and on-budget is a balancing act that all web designers must wrestle with.

The Need for Personal Projects

Finding Time1

You can only experiment so much on ‘live’ projects. The constraints set by project goals and client needs, plus the aforementioned budgets and timelines, mean that while we can often do some exploration in our client work, we must also find an outlet to augment that experimentation. This is where personal projects can be helpful.

Projects that we do for ourselves are the perfect chance to try new things. Unencumbered by the restraints of client work, we can push ourselves without concern for how much time we spend exploring or even what the final results may be. We can experiment for the singular joy of discovery, but also to realize the tangible benefits that it brings to our work.

Cooler, Faster and Lots of Fun

The exploratory work that we do, either through our client projects or our own endeavors,
will help us to:

  1. Do Cooler Work

    Finding TimeExperiments often allow us to do stuff that is, in a word, cool. Things like jQuery or CSS3 animation effects allow us to create some visually exciting behaviors for our sites – and who doesn’t like adding a layer of awesome to a project, especially if it is done in a way that enriches the overall user experience of the resulting site.
  2. Work More Efficiently
    Faster
    New techniques and technologies often allow us to do our work faster and more efficiently. Take something like the border-radius property of CSS3, for example. We are now able to easily produce a visual effect that previously had been
    somewhat painful to markup and style. Experimenting can help
    save us time on future projects as we learn new and better ways
    to do our work today.
  3. Have Fun
    More Fun
    Web design is an industry that attracts those of us who enjoy learning new stuff. There’s nothing like trying something and then launching a browser to see the results of your efforts. That’s fun, and anytime work and fun can occupy the same space you know you’re
    onto something worth doing.

Finding the Time

Finding Time

The benefits of experimentation are undeniable, but it isn’t easy. It takes time.

The question that I am often asked, which starts this article and which made me want to write it in the first place, is “how I find the time” to experiment and produce personal work. The truth is that it is a challenge. The demands of family, friends, work and life in general all need to be balanced, and that exact balance is something everyone needs to address individually.

We all have priorities in our lives. My highest priorities include my family, my friends and my health, but they also include personal projects and experimentation because of the benefits that they bring me personally and professionally. I find the time to do personal work because I make the time to do personal work.

How much time do I spend on personal projects versus family time versus whatever else pops up? Quite appropriately, the exact balance is something with which I consistently and continually experiment.

Do you experiment?

What do you do in your spare time? Do you try to experiment with new ideas, new designs, or new concepts? How much time do you spend on experimenting? How does experimenting benefit you?

Please share with us your thoughts on experimentation. We’d love to have an interesting discussion about this subject so feel free to contribute to the discussion. Thank you for reading the article. You can follow the Design Informer on Twitter here2.

Note: Stock photos courtesy of Pixmac3.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.pumpkin-king.com/index.php/blog/i-am-thankful-for-coffee
  2. 2 http://www.twitter.com/designinformer
  3. 3 http://www.pixmac.com/

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  1. 1

    Excellent article, I love experimenting with new ideas, especially those that are challenging. Usually I get in trouble for staying too long on the computer, just can’t stay away, but when a task is accomplished it is very rewarding. :)
    .-= loswl´s latest Blog Entry – INSPIKS Flickr Group Roundup #16 =-.

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  2. 3

    I whole heartily agree that we should always push ourselves to grow on a daily basis. That rings true no matter what profession you are in. But, more than striking a balance between your professional identity and personal one, you have to decide early on what you want your strengths to be. Do you want to be a designer, developer or both? I think too many of us in web design and developt attempt to master all three.

    I know, in my case, I prefer to be a designer who knows how to write mark up code. Though I love all of the exciting and cool toys such as jQuery, that add interactive “wow” to a site, I don’t have the time, patience or inclination to master java scripting. I’ve thus left that to the professionals. This gives me time to continue to learn something new about design. And when I say learn something new, I am not only talking about a Blend Mode in Photoshop to achieve a certain effect. I am talking about typography, the rule of thirds, the power of the grid, etc.

    Decide what your niche is going to be and focus on that. Constantly strive to learn something you didn’t know yesterday and if will pay off in the end.
    .-= Erik Ford´s latest Blog Entry – Greene Hill School is getting a Makeover courtesy of pixel8 =-.

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  3. 5

    This article is great Jad. I too spend a lot of time balancing the many facets of my personal life and professional. I have a wife and kids who (more often than not) give me grief when I come home from work (where I spend all day on the computer) and go straight to my home office to do more work. My wife often asks me how I can go from working, to working. I tell her my personal projects aren’t working, it’s playing, it’s experimenting. Your article hits the nail on the head. Us designers love to design, no matter who it’s for, no matter how much we do it.

    Finding time is as easy as making the time.

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    • 6

      It is an important task to learn how to balance your time between your work and your family, but it is one that we all should be constantly working on improving.

      Finding time is as easy as making the time.

      That’s an excellent quote!

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  4. 7

    A truly excellent article on the viability of experimentation! I personally agree that good design involves pushing boundaries and setting new limits. Unfortunately though, some experiments have the potential to fail, so one must be cautious in terms of approaching new methods and concepts.

    But nevertheless, experimentation is an exciting tool. I too experiment at times with certain illustrations on my own site. This is a fantastic article that is immensely thought-provoking.

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    • 8

      Some experiments have the potential to fail, so one must be cautious in terms of approaching new methods and concepts.

      This is true Josh. That’s why I believe that Jeremy encouraged us to experiment on our own personal time and work. This way, we can see the downfalls and the positives of the experiment, and we can perfect and master it before using it in the field.

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  5. 9

    I love expirmenting. The same old thing is BORING. Typhography & layout, for me, are the most exciting things to experiment with, but css, jquery etc are also on the list. You gotta’ break conventions to create something striking.

    The most important reason to expriment is not only do you come up with NEW things, but you come up with BETTER things. Maybe the way we browse the web is all about to change because of YOU and what you discovered. :)

    My 2 cents.
    .-= Amber´s latest Blog Entry – Watercolor Inspiration =-.

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  6. 10

    Its true that experimentation demands time, but it can be truly rewarding. Just like Google’s “20 percent time”, web designers should also take out some time for experimentation.

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    • 11

      Good point. I just looked up “20 percent time” and it’s pretty interesting. And I do agree with you, web designers should also experiment as well, especially with the new technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3.

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  7. 12

    Thanks to Jad for the chance to contribute some of my ideas to DesignInformer, and thanks for the kinds words on the article.

    I’d love to hear more about some of the readers’ experiments, both triumphs and failures, and how they helped shape the work that came after it!

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  8. 13

    Great article and should really help others dealing with the same concerns!
    .-= The Pro Designer´s latest Blog Entry – 75+ Websites, Billboards & Newspapers With Badly Placed Advertisements =-.

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  9. 15

    Great article! I couldn’t agree more.

    Experimenting is key to providing quick and handy solutions whenever needed. Your own stuff is your best lab.

    And this goes beyond design itself: for example, you can experiment while marketing yourself, and maybe you’ll find new marketing solutions that can work for some clients.

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  10. 16

    I’m always finding time, I’m even replacing time I should be doing school work in with blogging and designing?

    Is that wrong? hehe

    Great post Jeremy :)

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  11. 17

    No problem Jad :)
    .-= Liam McCabe´s latest Blog Entry – #4 Weekly Site Inspiration =-.

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  12. 18

    @Bepop – I agree as well that your own projects make the best lab. That was a major point in my article, that the freedom offered through your own projects allows you to experiment and learn without restrictions.

    So much of the work that I do on a daily basis stems directly from those experiments – be they new CSS tricks and techniques or something like writing blog articles and page copy. Without those experiments, the work I do would quickly become stale and redundant.

    And to your point about experimenting with marketing and promotion – your clients can benefit from that as well. As you find effective ways to spread your personal brand, you can also apply much of the lessons learned to help your clients market their own sites and companies.

    Win – win – win situation for all involved.

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    • 19

      Without those experiments, the work I do would quickly become stale and redundant.

      That is so true, Jeremy. Too many designers are so busy doing client work that after a while, all the websites in their portfolio starts looking the same. That is why I really appreciate you writing this article. Experimenting is something that should be in the minds of all designers, especially when we have some free time.

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  13. 20

    A big thanks to both Jeremy and Jad for another great article.

    Without experimentation, this would be a dull business indeed. I’d spend all my time code-monkeying the same handful of tired layouts, and slicing the same old PSD files. And I’d probably be doing it all with tables, like I used to do in the late 90′s. *shudder*

    If I didn’t have a chance to experiment (both on the occasional client project, as well as my own site) I would never have come to have a handle on semantic markup, CSS, microformats, JQuery, the WordPress and Joomla template engines, PHP, Java, Ruby on Rails, or any of the other technologies that I am lucky enough to get to play with sometimes. This is a business for the autodidact, and experimentation is really important to understanding technology and design at a deeper level. The more you experiment with a technology, the more you come to intuitively grasp not only its limits, but where those limits can be pushed to create the truly innovative.

    Viva experimentation! Keep up the good work.
    .-= Richard Glover´s latest Blog Entry – Getting to WOW! : Designing for users =-.

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    • 21

      Richard, thank you again for your input on the article. You are really adding a lot of value to the article by sharing your thoughts with us all.

      experimentation is really important to understanding technology and design at a deeper level.

      Well said. I can honestly say that I learned how to code with CSS, theme WordPress themes, implement CSS3 and jQuery all by experimentation. Oh, and I learned Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, some Flash, and all that I know about graphic and web design mostly through experimentation.

      Education is always good to have so we can have a good foundation, but I do believe that in order for a designer or a web developer to get to the next level, it can only be done through experimentation, trial and error, and seeing what works and how it works. That is why experimentation is key!

      I actually wrote an article in another blog that will be published on Monday. Look out for it. It also is very similar to this subject. :)

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  14. 22

    its very good IDEA to Design and Experiment and explore the new things and make mile stone in Designing.

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  15. 24

    Excellent article!
    I completly agree with that. Experimentation is the best way to improve ourselves and if at the same time we’re having fun, we certainly are being productive and it do worth it.

    I like to experiment, even small things and I already faced questions by other people like “That thing is useless” or “Why are you spending your time on that? There are plenty other things to do that are much more useful”.
    People normally don’t realize that when we are trying knew techniques, styles or whatever, we are LEARNING!
    In my case, when I’m designing something different from my usual habits, I learn stuff that is helpful in my area of work! And sometimes, even if we are experimenting other areas (creative areas, of course) we learn some concepts and work methods that help us in our area.
    I’ll take my example. When I’m tired from Computer, I go downstairs and I draw something. Sometimes even abstract stuff, and most of the time I just find incredible ideas from a little sketch.
    Creativity can came in many ways.
    Music is also a very useful area! I play the piano and when I do a break to Computer and fill it with piano practice I learn methods (new exercises followed with practive and improvment of old techniques) that I can apply in Design and Webdesign.

    These are just some examples.

    And then there’s also the so famous question “How do you get time?
    Well, like my grandmother always says (yes it’s true :P):

    “When you like something, you always find time for it”

    I thing that’s all I have to say.

    Luís Pereira.
    P.S: I’m sorry for any incorrection of mistake on my English but it isn’t easy to write another language. :$

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  16. 25

    Luís, thanks for leaving your thoughts about the post. Your opinion is always encouraged and appreciated. Your statements are very true. As designers, when we experiment, people who see us do so think we are just playing/messing around, and they dont’ understand that by experimenting with different effects/ideas, that we are actually learning and also improving our skills.

    BTW, your grandmother is wise for saying that. That’s definitely true. :)

    Thanks again for your support and for sharing your opinions with us.

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  17. 26

    I totally agree with experimenting and I am glad you are telling others to do the same. I actually had to explicitly say that my personal site was my “personal experiment” because I was tired of explaining again and again to people that it is experimental. Although it seems natural to you and me, it is very foreign to many people – particularly when you get out there.

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  18. 27

    I just wrote a post related to this on my blogazine about learning to learn. It’s so important to continue to grow as a creative.

    Not expanding your knowledge and skill set base is the surest way to kill a career in the creative arts.

    I encourage people not to think of it as additional work, but as an invitation to never have to be bored. And there are so many great ways to experiment and learn! Like you said, it should be fun.

    Thanks much for the post.
    .-= David Vosburg´s latest Blog Entry – Learning to Learn =-.

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  19. 28

    you are right, we need to give some time for experiment too!

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  20. 29
  21. 30

    Pretty useful post. Im doing analysis on this field right now and this was great. Thanks for your unique take on this matter.

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  22. 31

    Hi gaernteigi It is not my idea. I was told about it by my instructor Mr David Martin of Leicester.Also it was not his idea either. He was told about it by a Sun Style expert on one of his many visits to Beijing.

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  23. 32

    Experimenting is definitely fun. If you notice, my recent posts here are not quite in the “blogazine” format, but I do try to experiment with it. That’s my most recent form of experimentation.

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

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  24. 33

    You’re very welcome. You really brought up some great points on this post. As far as my experiments, I have tried to experiment with a few things, including this blog, which has been a very successful experiment thus far.

    I also experiment with different effects on Photoshop at least once a week. I also read on another blog of this designer who takes his Friday afternoons to do some playing around with Photoshop. It’s a very fun time to just design for yourself and to try out new things. Thanks again for writing this article!

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  25. 34

    I agree! Good point about the marketing, it’s always good to experiment on your own projects before doing it on your clients work. :)

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  26. 35

    Haha, I tend to do the same thing as well. Thanks for commenting and thanks for writing that comment tutorial that I requested.

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