Using Your Design Graveyard More Effectively

Much of the work we create for the Web has a limited shelf life. We know and accept that the work we produce will likely disappear from the Web within a few years of a site launch, if it makes it to that stage at all, or will be modified and changed from its original form.

Unlike art or a physical design, our work is ever-changing and dynamic; it simply doesn’t get kept around in the traditional manner due to value appreciation (as in the case of vintage automobiles) or cultural value (such as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics). Except for projects such as the Web Archive, web design simply isn’t being saved for long periods of time.

Instead, our web design work will eventually find itself in the design graveyard; an area somewhere in our hard drives where all our old work (either used or unused) will find itself eventually.

How Web Designs Make Their Way to the Graveyard

How does a web design make its way to the design graveyard? The following are some examples.

Presenting Multiple Designs to Clients

Personally, I dislike providing multiple designs for a single client. In my experience, producing just one design allows it to be given more attention (both from me and the client). Instead of multiple design mock-ups, we can focus on perfecting one design and iterating on it until we get it to a place that the client is happy with.

When you present multiple design mock-ups, your hope is that one is declared the winner. When presenting only one, you either have a winner or a loser. If your client decides the web design doesn’t fit, then your next iteration actually becomes a brand new design, leaving the previous version for the graveyard. If you provide multiple designs, more than one design can be headed to the graveyard.

Projects That Aren’t Completed

It’s a rare situation, but sometimes a break down in the client-designer relationship leads to the client leaving to find an alternative person/company to work with. Sometimes this happens early, and sometimes it happens after a design or website has been created.

Whether the design goes to the graveyard or not depends on your contract with the client and whether or not they have kept up with payments. If they have, then it’s likely the design could follow the client out the door. Otherwise, the design remains with you.

Designs Submitted as Spec Work

Though the majority of our industry agrees that spec work is a practice that we shouldn’t partake in, there are still many designers willing to engage in this type of work. Having worked with a couple of clients who have used crowdsourcing services for their logo design, I have seen the number of responses and level of work provided by crowdsourcing participants. And for all but one designer (the winner), the rest had created work bound straight for the design graveyard.

The Design Is Replaced

A day will come when a website and its design is replaced. For most designs, they will have had a long and full life, and so the graveyard is the only place for it.

What We Can Do With Designs in the Graveyard

So what can we do with all this design work? Do we simply leave them to rot in the graveyard or can we breathe new life into them? Below are some ideas for the items in your design graveyard.

Display Them

The graveyard itself is where we store any old or unused designs. But, once a design is in the graveyard, only few will ever be revisited again.

However, designs can now be in places where people can actually look at them. You may upload the designs to your own portfolio site or use services such as Flickr, Dribbble and Forrst.

As much as seeing some old designs of ours can make us cringe in shame, having a full archive of all your work in your portfolio may be a wonderful option. Portfolios typically show your very best work, but having all your work from over the years available can be a good indicator of your actual design style and the progression you’ve made as a designer.

In addition, having them on display and easily accessible can give you an interesting place to gain design inspiration from. If you decide to display them publicly, then others can potentially use them as inspiration material.

Designs in your graveyard can serve a better purpose when they’re on display, rather than sitting in some deep, tucked-away place in your hard drive.

Recycle Them

In some cases, you can reuse the design work you’ve created. It’s unlikely you’d want to do this with a design that has been used and launched, but for all that work that didn’t make it to that level, there are a few options you can take.

Reuse elements of a design. Pretty much every designer will have done this at some point. I have phases where I enjoy working with a particular style of button or headings that can appear with small variations on a few other designs. If there was something new that I wanted to try in a design that didn’t make it, then I’d be looking for another project where such a feature could go into.

Reuse the entire design. In the cases of multiple design mockups, see if you can reuse the design that didn’t get picked in another project. Keep in mind, though, that custom web design work means crafting a design specifically for a project, so this may not work very often. At the very least, though, you may be able to use some unused designs as starting points to save some time from beginning with a blank canvas.

Share it. If you have a design that’s good enough to be distributed as a freebie, consider sharing it with other designers or open sourcing it.

Use it in teaching material. If you have a website or blog and you have a design in your graveyard that contains something you think would be useful to others, you can use it as an example in a tutorial, article, or blog.

A note on legal matters: I’m no lawyer so I can’t say what is and isn’t appropriate in the reuse of your design work. Clearly, there can be situations and subsets of your designs that can’t be reused, so do exercise caution.

Let Them Stay in the Graveyard

Sometimes we can’t do any of the above. Some clients and some designs make it difficult to do anything else other than leave it for the graveyard. The best an old or unused design can get is to be part of your portfolio for a while and then brought out every once in a while, like your family photos, for a trip down memory lane. But hopefully this applies only to a small set of designs in your graveyard; the rest can serve a much better purpose than hogging space in your hard drive.

Parting Words

Although rejected or retired design work is an inevitable part of our work, it can be a tough pill to swallow when design work is not enjoyed in the way we had intended or when time is simply wasted on something that ends up in our graveyards.

What you choose to do next when a design reaches the graveyard depends on you.

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