What do you do with (good) old work?

(This question goes out to those who have been practicing for long enough that a large portion of their design archives are comprised of works on paper. Pen or ink sketches, canson paper renderings, actual film photographs, presentations spray-77’d to boards, assorted clippings for research, the other detritus of a profession and evidence of hours and hours and hours spent pursuing something new.)

What do you do with good, but old work?


  1. Why might it be important or unimportant to archive your earlier work?
  2. Has anyone come up with a good method of archiving their work? Is it best to just scan and digitize everything?
  3. Do you feel sentimental or anything toward projects that occurred 15 years ago? Or even back in design school?
  4. What value might archived personal design work have to anyone besides yourself, or perhaps your family? Is nostalgia a sufficient excuse? Would you rush to save any of it in the event of a house fire?

I have old 18x24" portfolios, battered and crammed full of school work. I have small books with transparent pages full of project sketches, each project somewhat neatly filled into each book, with a title on the spine. Somewhere I have a damn SLIDE CAROUSEL with slides that I showed at Pratt in like 1996. I have shoeboxes and other albums of 4x6" photographs, poorly lit projects, photographed because “you have to document your work”. Some cardboard boxes contain Krylon’d renshape concept models, patiently waiting for me to return and glue the parts back together.

There’s a not insignificant part of me that wants to take 90 minutes to ruthlessly sort through it all, scan a small percentage, and burn the rest in the fireplace. Another part of me thinks that I am in fact Syd Mead and that every scrap of my trail will be pored over and examined for significance in context. /s

  1. This is entirely an ego thing. I am content knowing my name will be entirely lost to history in 3-4 generations. I think my furniture I have made may last longer, but any silly drawings I have done will get pitched. Also, I find it creepy to see old photographs of unknown people in antique shops. I want mine burned, if I forget to do it myself.
  2. Paid a guy to digitize everything. My entire catalog on a thumb drive.
  3. I have some old models on display. I’m fine with them as knick-knacks in the garage or basement. But I am realistic, they are junk to the rest of the world.
  4. Zero. Nostalgia dies with the next generation, are you nostalgic about your parents’ youth? And there is not a single work-related item, and let’s be clear, whether I did it in school or not, we are talking about work-related items, I would ever save in a fire.

Thanks for the sober assessment! I like the idea of freeing up several shelves by condensing everything to a hard drive.

I’m doing a lot of work in the memory science space these days. We are having a lot of discussions round the value of digital vs physical.
The physical artifacts that you have been collecting are strong catalysts for stimulating memory (i.e. environments, dramas, relationships associated with said artifacts, other stories etc.). The question is… what is the value of a memory?

What is hard on the brains’ memory recall capabilities is having information spread out all over the place in different locations. This is why humans have developed museums and digital storage for that matter, in order to house and retrieve precise information about the past. What is valuable about the past is, it serves to help explain who you are today. If you are not good with words, showing examples of how your own design process has evolved is valuable to 1) hiring managers, 2) students, 3) family, 4) journalists among others.

The thumb drive idea is good for centralizing digitized content, but is not valuable to you today hidden in the dark on some physical piece of silicon that needs electricity and other gear to be made useful. Having a large monitor in your studio looping those digital images 24/7 of your works is yet another way to bring value to your memories to help you today with design problems.

Studying how ephemeralization impacts your past works is yet another valuable use of past physical works. This is the anthropological value of your design work. Paper that discolors, markers that fade, foam that changes state, finishes that oxidize or crack and blemish. All of this is valuable data for the material world, its limitations and impacts on the environment.

All designers need their own personal museum, both digital and physical. A constant flow of artifacts needs to be coming on the front door as older ones that have been documented return to the dust of the earth.

I’ve done ceremonial burnings of past works. It is indeed very cathartic.

You are being so emotional.
The value of a memory is decided in action.
If I need to find paint in the workshop, I need a memory of where it is. That is what memory is for.
Then came humanity with their self-concept and pathologies associated with that, and eroded the use of memory having to in the first place have to do with myself. While ‘myself’ is a concept I put in memory myself too. If we look closer, it’s an erroneous concept. I don’t have to personally be related to that paint in order to find it, in order to form a memory about it. Nothing is ‘special.’ A memory of my family is just that, a memory of my family. I remember where we live and that’s useful. Nostalgia is hardly ever useful. We may feel like doing it out of respect. There is often a guilt complex associated with that. Just forget it. Nobody cares besides guess who.

But hey anyway if you have good work piled up why not spend some time document it.

And no I personally don’t feel sentimental anymore about anything. I cut that out of my mind pretty consciously when I saw it for what it was. Another one of those things that revolve around the concept of ‘me’. The last impulse I had was to 3D model a bath duck I once had, because it was a great design. But again I intercepted that…