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.

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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…

This is true. However, I have a complicated question.

My design portfolio goes back to the very beginning of the 1990s. I have not made one since 2010.

Now, I’m in a situation where I need to craft a portfolio for a part time practical teaching position.

How far back do I go?

Reading online I note that senior positions suggest 2 or 3 ‘narratives’ or stories, and not the full museum.

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I feel like the 2-3 case studies is an often repeated piece of advice and one that I find doesn’t hold true at least for me. I tend to show a lot of work, and if it is something I like or feel is relevant, I’ll show it. Usually the response I get is “wow, this person can do anything and everything and has” and that is kind of what I’m going for. I don’t think everyone should do it that way, but it works for me… kind of like the “wall of sound” approach in music production.

I’ve tried the “win without pitching” approach of brining little to no work and it just doesn’t work for me… also, I’ve interviewed many people for senior designer and director level positions. Whenever someone has brought an edited down 2-3 projects the response from the room has almost always been “that it? What else you got?” and it is really hard to come back from that.

I think macro, there is no one correct way to do this, it has to be tailored to you and what you feel good about and what works for you. I’ve shown up to a few interviews with no sketches or process or presentation, just finished products and told the group to just pick an object and I would tell them the story behind it. That works well for me too.

Just my $.02 on what has worked for me :slight_smile:

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It is good to hear a recommendation that pushes back against the dominant narrative. I, too, am concerned that I’ll hear “is that it?”

I wanted to cluster my work in the following ways -

  • Complex adaptive systems (2 sets of multiproject multiyear work)

  • New Product Definition (based on fieldwork & analysis, sometimes past IP alone)
    [concept design & development, opportunity mapping, insights included]

  • Processes, methods, tools

  • Design industry work that is the clients were design studios and my work informed their own strategies rather than for a client per se

  • Research through design (practice based research)

Looking at this written out, the story feels more relevant for teaching than if I’d taken just one or two projects and attempted to flesh out this skills set ‘thinly’ on them


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I think that makes sense @Niti_Bhan . I always advise people that a portfolio shouldn’t be the story of the individual projects, it should be the story of why you should be hired. Given that, cut, add to, do whatever you need to do to the projects to tell that.


:clap:t4: :clap:t4: :clap:t4:

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Strictly on a technical level. Flash drives are not considered archival storage. Having a number of failed flash drives over the years makes me overall skeptical. Writeable discs have a lifetime of around ten years before the dye migrates and data is lost.

There is one type of disc that is considered archival, M-Disc technology, a write-once optical disc technology introduced in 2009 by Millenniata, Inc. utilizing a ceramic substrate for laser etching. The company went out of business in 2016. There are still original Verbatim discs available in online marketplaces at high prices. The Japanese company RiData still makes M-Discs.

Worthwhile to burn those memories to a media that will last, regardless of the chances of future meaning.


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

Bonfire tomorrow night will cull half of the pile.

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and I made a timeline

the title reflects the application this was crafted for. I spent winter break on this and its the first time in 12 years that I made one

template colour and font choice by designer Laras Zita Tedjokusomo

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designer as vendor and designer as partner from this Nov 2005 core77 article coauthored with Steve Portigal Shopping for Innovation: What you need to know before hiring a design firm – Perspective

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Yes, I’m looking for paid work of any duration, and I will remain here in Helsinki.

I think this is a nice multivariate infographic. My $.02 are just that there’s maybe a bit too much white space and you could afford to make some titles/type larger for older eyes. Also, I think the title:content doesn’t always line up, like how ‘object of design’ is above the 1st/2nd order ranges, but ‘base’ is below… maybe I’m not reading it right, but maybe also with a good infographic one shouldn’t have to wonder if its being read ‘right’?
I do get substantial meaning from my interpretation though, its on the right track.

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good points! I wish I had gotten such detailed feedback in time for the first deadline, but I’ll make some tweaks to the timeline for future use - with a non-profit business model established in 2022, I have to ‘sell’ more actively

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Or just drop it on IG so young designers can see some of that old work! My partner, Kristina, came across an old portfolio case of my work from 1998, my last year of design school, until 2004, my second year at Nike. It was fun to go through all of that and record it digitally before putting it into a flat file. There were a a few hundred drawings in that case! I put a little bit of it on IG. :smiley:


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So, I’ve been away because I was pulling together my research work plan in order to apply to the School of Design for completing my PhD. Its a long story but this recent paper by Gaver (design probes) et al., 2022 captures the heart of the tensions

Gaver, W., Krogh, P. G., Boucher, A., & Chatting, D. (2022, June). Emergence as a feature of practice-based design research. In Designing Interactive Systems Conference (pp. 517-526). https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/49782/1/Emergence_AAM.pdf