What is your passion project?

Whenever I interview a candidate or meet industry folks, I try to learn about their passions. The conversations are usually awesome and I often learn about fascinating ideas. The best part? Engaging with passionate people is absolutely beautiful.

Recently, I learned about a campaign to bring more Danish ways of parenting to others (apparently they’re the happiest people on Earth!) and an app to help users stay in more frequent contact with loved ones. Passions can vary so much! Palantir’s Head of Product Design, Matt Bango, probably knows more about birds than he likes to admit and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s been building human wings. I don’t know much about any of these topics (apparently I’ve been calling pigeons the wrong thing all my life) but it’s difficult not to be hypnotized by their affection as they teach me about their passions.

How f*cking cool that, as designers and developers, we have such a wonderful opportunity to be creators for our passions. We literally have the ability to craft any digital experience we want…to educate, aid, and/or contribute in meaningful ways.

But what counts as a passion project?

I have a pretty high bar for it. It has to be something you dream about. You are impossibly excited to share it with others and you talk and talk and talk about it with anyone who will listen. It ignites you. You read, study, and learn as much as about it as you can. You go DEEP. Maybe even one day you find yourself searching for “[PASSION] t-shirt” on Etsy (at least it’s better than a tattoo).

You’d have to be a Dodo not to buy this product.

Why I love them.

1. They could inspire you to do some of your best work

A mix of motivation and excitement can produce an F5 tornado, leaving a deep trail of high quality work in its path (apologies for the tornado joke attempt, I used to live in Iowa… just imagine the last scene in Twister). You’ll hesitate to settle on “good enough” and desire to make it as good as possible.

2. They may open new doors

I was working at Mirum in San Diego and one of my favorite non-profits had just signed with us. Invisible Children needed a way for the public to track real-time movements of the Lords Resistance Army, a violent rebel group in Africa. To stay within budget, the proposed solution was a map based web app… meh. I wanted these real-time movements to be real-time alerts. I yearned for a mobile solution.

Just imagine you’re sipping a PSL (“Pumpkin Spice Latte” for the non-basic) and *bloop!*:

Four civilians were killed and twenty six were abducted in the South Darfur town of Songo. — just now.

So, I designed it. And built it. Fueled by my passion for the mission (and Friends re-runs), I worked in my free time and for pro-bono to make sure this existed. It launched, had lots of press, was top 3 in the Education category in the Apple App Store, and overall became a successful tool for them. This was some of my best work yet.

Shortly after launch, I was contacted by a recruiter at a fascinating data analysis company I had never heard of. I didn’t know until this moment that the complex data collection and cleaning (from radio towers in African villages to local servers) was being managed by the geniuses at Palantir.

I was soon interviewing at their offices in sunny Palo Alto, CA.

3. They get you to 100%

How many side projects have you started? How many do you plan to start?
I have six. SIX ideas that I think are worth investing large chunks of my slowly disappearing time. For most projects, it’s fairly easy to go from 0 to 60% completeness with varying degrees of interest. Unfortunately, our excitement eventually wears off as we experience some difficulty or just run out of time.

The passion is missing.

My current passion project acts as a voicemail archive for those you can no longer speak with. You can leave messages for someone who has passed, someone who is too tiny to understand, or even just a pet you miss. Why is this my passion project? I made it for my girlfriend. Her father passed away two years ago and she’s been aching to call him ever since. You can write and journal as much as you want, but there’s something very cathartic about voice. I’m hoping to help with the healing process.

My desire to launch this app stems from just one user. I don’t think I really mind if anyone else uses it. I’m building it for Victoria and she is the only one that matters.

^ My passion. I’ll get to 100%.


What about you?

Now, it’s time for me to ask you: What are your passion projects? How are you furthering that world you love? And how does passion inspire you to be better at what we do?