recycling unused work

alchion's picture

I was thinking about the huge amount of work that goes unused after clients refuse to pay, the spec work is not approved, ideas
change, closing deadlines kills more difficult developments, great personal works and explorations student work, etc... in other words lots of great work that is simply parked. Is there any places where people share these files, sell them, trade them, continue collaboration, etc....There is type foundries that sell completed fonts (but not individual characters or wordmarks, there are stock agencies that sell photos and illustrations, but again what about the forementioned type of work.
If not, is there enough designers out there that would be interested in contributing their ideas towards building such a community.
Not sure what form it would take but perhaps something like a an e-bay where clients or fellow designers can bid of works in progress, buy fully completed projects or ?. If there was enough work and a good searching tool this could be a good project.

Input please...

pattyfab's picture

I recycle my own work... if a design doesn't fly with one client I'll often use elements from it in another job.

ChuckGroth's picture

think green! recycle!

alchion's picture

Think green, that is rich.
If someone built a site for this type of work (rejected, unpaid for, experimental, work in progress, in complete typefaces, student projects, etc...) and a tool for selling or trading it, paypal, bidding or buy now, etc.. would it be something people would use?
I thought it would be a great idea but carry very high risk. I know most people are ethical and would only submit work they own,
but what about unethical people or people that simply do not know ( client paid partially but not fully and decided to cancel job, for example).

Ole Sørensen

ChuckGroth's picture

it sounds like an interesting idea, but i don't think it would really work. just as a designer can go to his or her own morgue, find something and rework it, wouldn't someone going to that site just see something kinda like what they were looking for, and rework the concept for their own piece? that sounds uncool, but designers appropriate all the time.

Quincunx's picture

I think such a site would attract a lot of people of questionable morale.

However, to answer the question about recycling unused work; I do that every now and then, but usually only on study assignments. I get a lot of unannounced assignments, and sometimes it's just too much work next to the planned assignments. So I often check my harddrive if I have any doodles lying around that I could finish and use for the assignment.

blank's picture

Companies that sell predesigned logos, web templates, and identity templates often buy unused designs from firms that have a lot of unused stuff floating around. Obviously they don’t pay much, but for a big firm that churns out two unapproved comps for every job, the money probably adds up pretty fast.

alchion's picture

Having a site as forementioned, I believe would attract all sorts of people, some people that are strictly into design for $, some designers that are really into design but are poor at business hence have lots of work that went unpaid.
My point is that unlike Typophile which seems to mostly attract people that really love the art of typography (hence the perfect name) The site I am talking about would be a broader mix of people. Properly more like the client base of iStockphoto. A few experts, but mostly anyone interested in design .

Ole Sørensen

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

One thing you can do with unused work is put it in your portfolio, if you feel that it is up to snuff. Also, a few years back there was a design magazine that would publish designs that had been rejected by the client for one reason or another. Every issue there would be a different designer and project featured on that page -- too bad I can't remember which magazine ran this feature!

kentlew's picture

Ricardo -- I believe you're referring to the excellent (but relatively short-lived) Critique magazine (circa 1996-2000, if I'm not mistaken).

-- K.

pattyfab's picture

I think your portfolio should largely consist of successful work, not work that never made it to the finish line.

Showing work that was rejected by the client and/or never produced tends - to me - to look like you're trying to pad your portfolio because you don't have enough material.

There can be exceptions - jobs where the scope changed significantly and the original idea couldn't be used, or - if it's done really well - showing your thought process towards the final design.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I believe you’re referring to the excellent (but relatively short-lived) Critique magazine

Thanks, Kent, you're probably right. Most of my design magazines from that period (circa 1996-2000) are in storage in Buenos Aires, so I don't have access to them!

alchion's picture

I vaguely recall Critique being around, I can't believe it is almost 8 years ago since it disappeared.
Well the idea of publishiog the works from a site like I have been talking about would be another
way to promote it as well as generate income to sustain it. Logolounge already does this although
their focus is on promoting the designers and not selling their work.

Ole Sørensen

KenBessie's picture

I am a graphic designer. That is my profession. My clients come to me to solve their communication problems. (I am essentially a problem solver.)

My (hypothetical) client will say, "I want to sell a thing, or market a thing, to this specific demographic." So I research that specific demographic. I choose colours and typefaces that will appeal to the specific demographic. I design to appeal to that specific demographic. (I'll conduct focus groups if I have to.)

I cannot, in good conscience, be dusting off some failed previous design, pulled out of my dead file, and expect it to solve my client's problem. Granted, it will solve MY problem: not doing any work and getting paid for it.

To even SUGGEST recycling failed designs shows that you do not have your client's interests at heart.

alchion's picture

Hi Ken. I agree and disagree. I can not do the work you are talking about for $250 and neither can you. This number is what I could see someone paying for premade logos with the understanding they get what they pay for. Good quality vector work, a clever design, the chance the work needs the be altered (which would cost extra), no research specific to their unique situation, the basics that may or may not be exactly what they would want if money was not a concern. Sure I realize that I could be billing my rate of $85/hr. and starting from scratch and do a great job, but if the funds are not here, that scenario is irrelevant. What I am exploring here is to find out what the consensus is regarding helping poor or for that matter cheap clients. I could offer the experimental/un-used/ or if you like "failed" work that is going nowhere at a great discount and helping someone get something they consider in their budget. I would possibly be building a venue that would eventually cause loss of the clients that would pay 10x or 20 or 40x the price for a custom job. I think there will always be people that will pay the going rate and get excellent custom work which will usuallly be better. This is not something to be fearful of unless you can not produce to custom work.

pattyfab's picture

Ken, I think your language is a bit strong. I don't think we're talking here about recycling an old, failed, idea whole hog (at least I'm not) but sometimes I have an idea, it doesn't end up working for one particular job, but I can use the same idea or elements of it in another job. I don't think it's cheating, it's all my work. Some jobs take more time and work than others, and the client shouldn't care as long as it suits their needs and is within their budget.

KenBessie's picture

I can only offer my opinion. Regarding poor, or for that matter cheap clients: Cheap clients get you nowhere. They will always be cheap. No matter how successful your last piece for them has been, you will always be undercutting your costs to do their work. There is no future, as a businessperson, in working for cheap clients.

I understand that you may want to establish a foothold in your marketplace. And undercutting costs is a time-honoured way of doing that. But pick your clients. And make sure they understand why (and for how long) you are offering them cut-rate prices. Dig that trench too deep and you will be stuck in it.

Poor clients are different. Poor clients understand your value, and would pay you a proper wage if only their money wasn't going to some other, more desperate, need. Working for poor clients is honourable. But don't short-change them. Give them good, honest work. And choose not to charge them for the hours you put in.

For either client, I still don't see where resurrecting something from a previous design project solves your current client's communication problems. In such a case you are merely decorating the page.

pattyfab's picture

For either client, I still don’t see where resurrecting something from a previous design project solves your current client’s communication problems. In such a case you are merely decorating the page.

I don't traffic in absolutes. If something works for a job, it works, no matter how old or new.

I also think, Ken, we must work in different areas of design. I'm not overly concerned with researching my clients communication needs, I do book design, which is, after all, decorating the page. And sometimes old ideas can look new.

KenBessie's picture

Patty, We do indeed work in different areas of design. I work in an area I've taken to calling "corporate communications". I don't know the origin of the term but I find it descriptive. That being: design of annual reports, advertising, brochures, logos, stationery, business cards, etc. for "corporations". I have yet to define "corporation" in my own mind.

tomhowe's picture

jan tschichold makes me laugh when in 'the new typography' he includes his work that wasn't chosen by the client, and he still insists it was the best

aluminum's picture

Good topic! Some suggestions for the unused 'morgue file' work:

- share it. is a site that 'recycles' unused photography by giving it away.

- slap it on a t-shirt. There are dozens of t-shirt sites these days. Upload a few illustrations to those.

- portfolio. show it as part of the process in any given project. Or, just show it as extra personal work.

- sell it. Upload it to a stock art site like

- Submit it to one of the print design annuals. (I have a hunch a good chunk of the stuff submitted was never used by actual clients ;o)

As for the discussion of showing unpicked work, note that clients don't always choose the best work. That's not because you didn't provide better solutions, but rather because they weren't sold on the better solutions...which is more telling of yours or your firm's sales techniques moreso than design skills.

The design profession is 10% and 90% sales IMHO. ;o)


Don McCahill's picture

> he includes his work that wasn’t chosen by the client, and he still insists it was the best

What? You mean you've never had a client who chooses the less effection option when offered a choice?

HaleyFiege's picture

Yeah right. That never happens!
You guys ever see this site? This is where 15 year olds abuse typography and cheap clients get bad work done.

copper's picture

That was one scary site Haley...

The same dilemma can be seen at schools for graphic design. Clients bring in cash to the school, and gets like 30 graphic designers to create something, choose the one they like, and change things to something different... and the contests at schools, where the client can use all of the entrants work as they choose...

But to the subject. For me, I would not buy someone elses design like that. I'm with PattyFab, prefer to "recycle" my own work if possible/necessary.

magnus_rakeng's picture

> he includes his work that wasn’t chosen by the client, and he still insists it was the best

I would say this happens to me at least 50% of the time. The client is NOT always right.
And I recycle unused work. I never throw away anything. But of course it's mainly bits and pieces here and there, never a whole illustration or a finished logo.

pattyfab's picture

The client is NOT always right.

No, really?

But I still rarely - if ever - put unused work in my portfolio. And I wouldn't consciously "recycle" anybody else's work. I say consciously because I certainly get inspiration from other peoples' designs.

aluminum's picture

No, the client IS always right.

When they pick the 'wrong' solution, it means you didn't convince the client it was right. ;0)

Which is not uncommon. It happens to all of us.

Choz Cunningham's picture

Recycling your failed work? The answer is really easy: Don't ever do it.

If the idea is that insanely brilliant, intense, and so perfect for your new client, it won't even feel slightly like you are recycling. You will instinctively scour your hard drive for the source files. What I mean is; if you are wondering if you ought to, you ought not. If it is legitimate, you'll know.


One idea for a letter morgue: I am enamored with the, which seems to be getting past some recent growing pains. It is a place where one could possibly set free a handful of promising letter forms that never made it to full typeface status, especially if the type designer is completely certain they won't be completing it. OFLib is very young and experimental, and not to everyone's taste, but it could be better than killing ideas that aren't bad.

magnus_rakeng's picture

The thing is I don't see it as failed work. I see it as my own ideas, and indeed they are. In our contract with the client it says clearly that all sketches not used by the client belongs to the designer. I think of it like a bank of ideas I can come back to when I need to. An example is if I am designing a logotype, the letters I draw might trigger a new typeface with the logotype letters as a base later. I have no problems with that at all.

Choz Cunningham's picture

Fair enough. Perhaps I should say, "declined prototypes" should be shelved, in general, and the inspiring exceptions will make themselves apparent.

pattyfab's picture

It comes down to what is recycling. No, I'd never take a rejected (don't like the word failed) design and just slot it in to another project. But often, especially in the exploratory stage, I have ideas that - for whatever reason - don't fly for a particular job but that can be a starting point for another project. As Magnus says, they are my own ideas. I don't see it as laziness. I designed a prototype for an American cookbook that never happened. Years later I got assigned the Women's Day cookbook; I was able to use a lot of the ideas I never got to use for the first job. Client was happy and I got to use a design I had worked hard on.

jselig's picture

I have ideas that - for whatever reason - don’t fly for a particular job but that can be a starting point for another project.


As far as unused work goes, we all have some. I've done some work I am quite proud of that never saw the light of day for clients. More often than not it's budget constraints, and a project gets axed, or they go in a completely different direction. Sometimes it's the company the doesn't get off the ground.

Endre Berentzen's picture

We were thinking of putting up a bargain crate near the entrance to our office with discarded logos with a 75% discount;-)

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