Side projects: why making silly things matters too
At Made by Many we talk a lot about ‘making things that matter’. So I admit I hesitated to tell you about Much Phrases, an app Tom, Nelson and I made that teaches people silly phrases in Norwegian, French and Spanish. “Join me on my spaceship for cocktails”, “Open the champagne while I get undressed”, that kind of thing. But actually, as well as being quite fun, this app does matter — no really — here’s why...
Side projects are reeeeally important. They’re vehicles for learning, even if the idea itself is jokey. Doing this project meant I got to work with Tom and Nelson for the first time, Tom and I learned some things about Android development and Nelson got some taxing (unreasonable) challenges thrown at him. You’re welcome, Nelson.
The improvisational nature of side projects flexes new parts of your brain. You are both liberated from - and disorientated by - familiar processes and predictable time slots and even find yourself in odd roles. I became a sound engineer and below is my studio, with Alicia recording something about wizards in Spanish, under a duvet:
[It turns out sound quality matters. But the duvet was a useful way to dampen the sound in absence of a proper studio.]
Side projects also permit you to toy with self-indulgent touches that feel out of place in more purposeful projects (a bit like a footballer showboating on the training field to sharpen skills). Even self-indulgence has value and fans the flames of playful enthusiasm. Nelson had a lot of fun making every transition and animation work beautifully, as Tom intended them (check out the karaoke-style word-highlighting and the button animation).
In contrast to our free-flow (chaotic, scrappy) approach, we also got to see our usual Made by Many way of working with fresh appreciation. Even an app with an interface as simple as Much Phrases needed to be developed with constant user feedback and we were guilty of a terrible oversight: not realising people wouldn’t naturally guess to swipe horizontally between phrases (improvement coming soon). And having to steal the odd hour here and there, often not at the same time as each other, reminded us how important it is to work closely together as a team. [Below, Tom being a pedant]
Lastly, there really is a value to this app beyond transient entertainment. The point behind it is to arm people with playful means to socialise when abroad. These phrases are a fun way to flirt or just break the ice at a party. And the 5-star reviews we have suggest that people are enjoying it. I guess the earnest nature of making things that matter can lead us to talk about things like this apologetically, but actually I think we made something really great and learned some things in the process. Nelson and Tom did an amazing job turning a very light-hearted idea into a very slick app. So do have a look.
It’s FREE in Google Play so download it and see what you think — feedback (and reviews!) welcome.
And if you’re interested in hearing more about the design and development challenges, let us know in the comments and we’ll do a follow-up post. Better go now. Tengo a mi abuela encerrada en un armario.