Alternative title: You will never know your worth until you've built something from scratch.
Building something meaningful has long been my unreachable itch, and is something I have been making conscious efforts to try to scratch. Meaningful -- although easy to expect, is difficult to realise; it implies there is an intrinsic idea that will transpire into a tool that other people will actually use. Actual people. Not friends, colleagues, clients or pets. Real people. You may well be the shit-hot designer or developer on the scene that everyone is talking about, but if you have arrived to where you are now without producing something meaningful -- and only you can ask yourself that question -- now is the time to stop what you're doing and channel how good you are into ticking that desirable life box.
The books we read, the tools we use, the beer we pine for on a Friday evening all stem from an idea that had the ability to transpire, move, fluctuate and adapt; up until the state it is in now, in which people forget it was even an idea in the first place -- it is taken for granted. I truly believe that for work to be meaningful, people must forget the time before it even existed. Simply having "an app for that" or a random adjective infront of the famous ".js" to solve a problem people didn't even care to solve isn't good enough. When did we lose sight of our own ability to create things unique, powerful or game changing?
Now this isn't a post to suggest I have suddenly found the formula for producing meaningfulness, far from it. Instead, I would like to put forward my method for striving: building something from scratch; and by scratch I mean an idea realised from within. An idea set by a brief or client, regardless of how ground breaking or mundane, is juggling with somebody else's idea and therefore the path in which the idea develops and changes, as well as the path in which the development team's knowledge grows, is disjointed from the thinker. No, to strive for the meaningful, your ideas need to be the core of the project, with your acceptance that the end result -- if there is one (not a bad thing if there isn't) -- will be far from the lightbulb that went off in your head. The project will instead likely be an amalgamation of your previous knowledge, your newfound knowledge and the feedback from the people that matter: the
guinea pigs users. If you get to that stage and the end result has lost its meaning, that's a natural process and everyone involved can take something away from the experience. It should go without saying, but do not release something if you're not truly happy with it; as if you're not proud of it, you can bet that penny in your pocket that many others, like you, will share the same opinion. You're better than that.
Unlike most students in their final year, my strive for the meaningful was not in form of a 12,000 word dissertation; instead it was in the form of... in fact it doesn't really have a form yet. It's a thing. It's a thing I created for other people to use and is something I am very proud of; not so much in terms of believing it is going to make me millions in some place with a golden bridge, but instead something I think people will actually use. I've called it Connectd, and you can see it here: http://dev.connectd.io. Notice the "dev." prefix to that URL; that is intentional. This project is by no means complete -- far from it. Of course, it has been handed in and has reached the goals set by my lecturers, however for it to be complete I want to be absolutely sure the idea has the legs to be used by people outside my immediate circle of connections, thus suggesting it can become meaningful to people other than myself. It may not get there and I may find it was simply a learning process in which I learnt a fuck-ton in terms of improving my craft; but either way, it's a strive in the right direction and a process in which I think all designers and developers should go through.
You will never know how good you are until you've turned a flicker in your brain into a functioning "thing". Whether or not it has legs or is instead a mere brick in the wall, by being on the path and by being critical of the work we release; the more chance there is of that work being meaningful.