Is throwing out a design concept...wasteful?

Is recycling or otherwise sharing design concepts a feasible idea?

  • Yes
  • Yes, but only in social enterprise or sectors without IP issues
  • Maybe, I think there would be a lot of resistance
  • No, people don’t like sharing ideas
  • No, IP laws are too strong
  • No, thrown out design concepts aren’t waste
  • No

0 voters

Hey all!
I recently read a blog post by communications designer Jennifer Thibault on the topic of design waste. In it she reflects on the concept that if an evolved design idea is discarded, whether it was due to a better idea coming to light, or a client’s preference, that discarded idea still holds value. It may not have been the right solution for that particular team working on that particular project, but could it be the missing piece for a different team on a different project? Therefore, if a design concept is thrown out…is that waste?

What if these thrown out, set aside, otherwise unused design concepts could be recycled? What if there was a way to share discarded design concepts? Especially in the social enterprise areas, what if a windmill design that was disregarded by organization A for use in low income housing could be re-appropriated by organization B for use in third world agriculture? Organization A has already put a lot of effort into the idea, why let it end up in a file cabinet if it could still do some good for the world?

I’d love to hear thoughts!

Look up the book “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Stephen Johnson. The chapter on Liquid Networks is what you are looking for, I believe.

Imo, it’s the most important design book since Donald Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things”…

Read her post. My vote was no. Should be kept as a internal record, or used to document the final result through process. It is not waste, it is the necessary trail to arrive at the goal. Any process can be viewed as wasteful if the final result is not arrived at in the first step.

Are working edits of movies shared?
Are an author’s drafts of books published?
Are a cook’s trial recipes published?

It muddies the water around the final result. It invites second guessing, “my favorite result was X, the client/partner/boss chose Y, what do you think social circle?”

“Idea capital” rests not on the paper, but in the heads of the designers. That values grows through the process and is not wasted, even if a certain solution does not reach the final fruition.

Years ago I worked on a design that was scrapped and it was filed as a tax write-off. Millions of $$$ in tooling had to be destroyed.

Debunking a long-running thrown-out design myth;

The goal should always be to have a surplus of innovation. Sometimes an idea just didn’t have the time to develop, or the right technology wasn’t there yet… but often it is just part of the surplus of generation. Knowing what to hold onto for further development and what to let go of is the hard part.

At Nike this would happen all the time. Learning about bio mechanics lead to the Huarache series, which led to the anatomically correct shape of the Footscape, which was rejected by the masses for being to goofy even though it was more biomechanically correct. The learnings of which went into the commercially popular Presto, which in turn was knocked off every which way, which lead to the more defensible Free series. Really the evolution of a small core of ideas over 20 years, the expression of which morphed with real world learnings.

Letting a concept go as far as making tooling worth millions sounds like really bad NPD management.

It happens more than you would think. I’ve seen it happen several times over the past 15 years for a wide variety of reasons.

The company was bought and the new owners had different plans.

Concepts/ideas are inherently recyclable. But “recyclable” is perhaps not the best term. Let’s say they are branch-able. I say so because in practice the path from concept to product is long and susceptible to change at any time. Factors are context, goals, price points, suppliers, time, etc.
I believe that if you sketched something at Sony and by some magical coincidence your sketch applies to something you are now working on at Nokia, there’s nothing wrong in using that sketch as the seed for your current work. Rest assured that by the time you hit production there will be little similarity with what you had at the start.

right, the seed of the idea vs the actual design concept. If you are fully manifesting the specific brand and exploring the target persona there should be some pretty massive differences in the instantiation of that idea as a concept… ie, do a new sketch.

Every design concept, sketch, rendering or noted idea represents a valid expression at its point of creation. If valid once, it most certainly can be again. For me personally, and for every designer I’ve observed their minutiae of work practices, is to be surrounded by plethora of ideas, sketches, notes, models, photos, etc. One idea gives birth to several new ideas, and on and on. None are wasteful.

I think that is a good way to put it, Pier. Always in the flow.

I just had a project today that was in semi final spec stage and we changed directions. Not from the client changing their mind, but I had a new insight and idea. I feel somewhat bad on the change but know the result will be better and think its my job as a designer to at least bring it to light. If there wasn’t A there would be no B in many cases. Concepts like sketches are not the solution but a means to the end. Never forget this. A concept isn’t precious. Like belly buttons. Everyone has one.


I save all of my designs in my portfolio because you don’t know if you can improve or combine other industrial product designs later on. If you look back at your old designs every couple months or so, you get your creative juices flowing again and you can adapt that bad design into a new project to improve on it. That is kind of what I do.