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Do Non-selected Comps go to Heaven or Hell?

If you are like most graphic designers (or design firms), when showing initial visual ideas to a client, you tend to walk into a meeting with two, three different ideas (comps for the sake of this discussion) that you think are really strong. Usually two things can happen a) the client frankensteins all three into one or, ideally, b) the client chooses one comp for final execution and the remaindered comps go into… well that’s the question.

What happens to your unselected comps? Do they get trashed never to be seen again? Do they get pulled from the drawer when you think the comp might work for another client, or like a previous discussion, do you recycle ideas and comps? And a few more questions by Ginny, who submitted this topic for discussion:

— Do you get sad that your idea didn’t get picked and that the concept will be put into the graveyard of good ideas that never came to fruition?

— Or do you feel good about working out that concept and the fact that you may have learned something from the experience?

— Is it ever put on the back burner for further exploration or is it dead?

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.09.2004 BY Armin
steve’s comment is:

If the solution is REALLY good (or you REALLY love it), it can be hard to shake.

Chances are, it will find its way back into another project somehow.

The real challenge is to avoid forcing it into a situation where it doesn't fit.

I suppose OK to keep it in your pocket, just don't let it burn a hole in your pocket.

On Feb.09.2004 at 09:21 AM
JonSel’s comment is:

The odds of a comp working out perfectly for another client are pretty slim. But, I've taken some logo ideas and pushed them further for another client to see if they are a viable idea. Generally, the ideas that I keep around are ones that most clients aren't comfortable with, so I'm just hoping I'll find the right one to take a chance. The more ordinary designs get left behind because they're, well, ordinary.

On Feb.09.2004 at 09:36 AM
brook’s comment is:

well i definitely have binders of comps like that. if you dont get to actually reuse those exact ideas later...you get the experience of the project, the research you did, some graphic trick you learned. it can be hard to let something go that you were so convinced was the right direction. you never know what type of projects you will work on in the future...so keep it all, right? they're like babies. you don't hate babies, do you?

On Feb.09.2004 at 09:46 AM
Naz’s comment is:

When presenting comps there's always one I absolutely love. It usually never gets picked. The Frankenstein-ing happens more often than I like but that's okay too.

I work fresh. I hardly recycle a comp I've done before but do work elements of other past successful designs into the new comps. I've been tempted to use comps that I've liked in the past, mentally filing them away but I never seem to.

It's nice to be able to let things go.

On Feb.09.2004 at 09:46 AM
steve’s comment is:

I suppose the lesson is that you can't kill your babies, but you can put them in a coma for a while.

On Feb.09.2004 at 09:53 AM
Rick Moore’s comment is:

I save everything. I have had several opportunities (as a matter of fact, I have one coming up tomorrow) to re-use an idea. Sometimes I have to re-jigger the design, and sometimes I can use it as is. I am either really lucky, or really lazy. I haven't decided yet.

On Feb.09.2004 at 10:29 AM
Jeff G’s comment is:

I used to have an area in my website called Slightly Used Ideas for Sale just to show off the really good stuff that didn't get used.

On Feb.09.2004 at 10:41 AM
marian’s comment is:

Like some others here, I find I keep the comps with the hope that they can be reused, but in fact they never are. The comps come from specific criteria from--and personality for--the client. Even times when I may have thought, going into a client relationship, "Hmmm, this might be a good one to use that bunny idea on ..." after I've met the client and been briefed on the project a whole crop of different ideas is formed, and the bunny idea goes back in the cage.

On Feb.09.2004 at 10:44 AM
marian’s comment is:

Slightly Used Ideas for Sale

I always wanted to do a version of this; just never got around to it. We used to joke that one day we would put a big vinyl banner outside the office saying "logo blowout!!" and we'd sell off all those great logos that never made it. (The logos are the saddest and hardest to let go--some of them were so great.)

On Feb.09.2004 at 10:47 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I make it a point to destroy anything that isn't selected, no matter how good I think it is. (I remarked on this in another post recently.) I think, for me, hanging on to a great idea and trying to make it fit something else is like saying that there's a limit on my good ideas - not good psychologically for me.

On Feb.09.2004 at 11:46 AM
franz’s comment is:

Greg, interesting point - that would make for a great post/thread. I never thought about destroying my stuff, the computer makes keeping it so convenient.

On Feb.09.2004 at 01:10 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

not good psychologically for me.

I find that interesting, Greg. I've definitely been "in the moment" when I'm struggling for a breakthrough and the thought begins to seep in. "Just look through the old files. See what's in there." It can become a crutch if you don't make the effort to avoid it. I use it as a last resort only. I always feel like each project is different, even if the clients may be in the same industry. And in the end, I lose respect for myself if I don't try my hardest to find that original idea for each client. No sense being lazy about it. Of course, I'm still not going to destroy my old archives!

I also have this fear that an old client will recognize something I sold to someone else as work they saw in an early presentation. It probably won't ever happen, but fear is always a good motivator.

On Feb.09.2004 at 01:13 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I make it a point to destroy anything that isn't selected

Greg, weren't you the one saying, in another thread, that you would make your students burn their stuff or something of the sort as part of their final presentation? If so, I have the number for a great shrink.

On Feb.09.2004 at 01:16 PM
Ginny ’s comment is:

Thanks Armin for posting my questions!

Personally, I've never reused a concept for anything. I, like alot of the comments posted here, feel you can't retro-fit a design just because you think it's good stylistically.

However, I do tend to get down (from time to time) when I've designed something I deem innovative or clever and, of course, appropriate for the client, and they don't choose that direction for one reason or another.

It's not because I feel like my work wasn't successful in communicating my clients needs, or that the client isn't savvy enough to get it, it's because since I don't recycle my ideas, I tend to mourn the loss of the ones that never come to fruition. I mourn the "what could have been".

And in some ways I feel like if I did recycle an idea, it would seem like cheating somehow. Like I don't have it in me to be creative, "this time around". (I'm not judging those who do.)

I do appreciate, however, that with each idea, I've learned something new, that I've spread my wings a little wider, even if it's for naught. (Is that too corny?)

On Feb.09.2004 at 01:31 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

> I make it a point to destroy anything that isn't selected

Not entirely related, but somewhat: I am currently undergoing some apartment renovation and I have eliminated a built-in wall unit in my foyer. As a result, I needed to take everything out of the cabinets in the unit before it was demolished. Most of the unit contained the archives of my professional work. 21 years of stuff. There was no way I could manage to keep everything without the built-in closet there, so I was determined to go through it all and throw out the dupes and whatever I could manage to part with. I thought it was going to be a tough, tedious undertaking. How wrong I was. The moment I started going through it, I knew. Most of it I was never, ever going to look at again, much less ever want to show other people. I mean, come on, do I really need the media kit I worked on for Interior Design magazine from 1989? Or how about the Annual Report for the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1991? The Campus Guidelines for John Jay College of Criminal Justice? A Women's Sport Foundation invitation from an annual gala? And so on and so on. It was a relief to get rid of it all. It was also interesting to see how bad a lot of that old work was. And it was nice to see some empty space in my apartment.

Now I can fill it up with new (wish: better) stuff.

On Feb.09.2004 at 01:41 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Debbie Millman wrote:

Most of the unit contained the archives of my professional work. 21 years of stuff. There was no way I could manage to keep everything without the built-in closet there, so I was determined to go through it all and throw out the dupes and whatever I could manage to part with.

We call it Aesthetic Triage -- done to protect future archeologists from having to look at it.

It is strongly recommended that one shreds the work. I've had the uncomfortable experience of seeing sketches appear at the top of our curbside garbage, visible for all to see.

On Feb.09.2004 at 01:49 PM
ps’s comment is:

i tend to trash everything, constantly. both digital and physical. i just hate to gather stuff. sketchbooks i might keep for half a year or so, but then even they'll find their way through the shredder.

if there was a great comp that did not get selected, i trust it that it'll come up again on its own, without me digging it up from somewhere.

obviously i do keep some files for new business presentations, but i'd rather just move on. some ideas repeat, come-up again, but i don't think they need to be stored away.

de Niro had this line in a movie: "don't get attached to anyone or anything that you can't walk away from in 30 seconds or less." (or something like it).

i guess thats how i feel about comps.


On Feb.09.2004 at 02:41 PM
mrTIM’s comment is:

For me keeping the comp/sketchbook/whatever just never seems to be an option. I always am purging my old work to make room for the new. I lived in a studio (15' x 13') apartment most of the way through school, so keeping anything wasn't really an option. I guess old habits die hard.

For me the only things I find valuable in my archieves is the actual artwork/ photos/ resources I gather to make the comp. I once worked for a week in order to get the perfect "aged leather" background.... it's poped up in a few things since then...

On Feb.09.2004 at 03:27 PM
Greg’s comment is:


Yeah, that was me. And a psychiatrist would be able to write a thesis on me...anyway, to the point. I just think that a lot of us, and I am guilty of this too, love their finished product more than the process sometimes. Clients can reject and reject and reject...but as long as you're providing them with quality, eventually they pick something cool or go find a $49.95 logo on the LogoRama! website.

On Feb.09.2004 at 03:47 PM
Zoelle’s comment is:

This last weekend I went through my digital files. Many things were tossed. I felt renewed and regretful at the same time. I knew it needed to be done, but looking back at what's left, I'm overcome with a feeling that I have not amassed enough good work yet. I think art history is to blame for some of these feelings. I remember reading about all those great painters and how much work they produced at young ages. It all makes my efforts seem trivial. I guess it almost feels like the items that I threw away no longer have proof that they ever existed.

Sifting through all the old files revealed many unused comps. Seeing how my design process has changed over the years was intriguing. I guess I never noticed it changing until I looked at my old comps. Is this useful? -- maybe not, but it wasted a good part of a day.

On Feb.09.2004 at 03:48 PM
Feluxe Witcheese’s comment is:

I have the horror of copying myself, but, when someone shows me a portfolio of my old drawing, I dont hesitate to take whatever I need from them. —Picasso

I'm always attracted to regenerative ideas. If its any good, it cant be repeated. Good ideas stick to the roof of your mind.

On Feb.09.2004 at 04:58 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Hmmm... I just thought of a good analogy. A rejected design is like left-overs that you put in the fridge. At first they seem like perfectly tasty aesthetic morsels. But as time goes by, they loose their appeal and get forsaken and moldy in the back of the fridge, obscured with containers of more recently cooked up ideas. The old ideas are eventually tossed out to make room for more new ideas.

I may be influenced in a current project by previously aborted creative efforts, but usually the rehashed work is eventually morphed into something different. As others have said, every project generates a new set of circumstances.

A quick story though: When I first started working for Macromedia back in '95, a lot of the "design" they were doing was, well, god-awful crap. And I found that most of the marketing folks were fairly visually/aesthetically naive. Anyway, I would do these very "out-there" ideas and they would get rejected for something far more boring. This was annoying, so I came up with a plan. I would put my really cool and inspirational rejects up on the inside of my cube wall. This would at least make me feel better because I could see that I was in fact trying to do good, progressive work. But having the rejected-yet-hip work up on my cube wall also had another very interesting effect. The marketing folks would come into my cube and see this cool stuff and they'd say, "I want something cool like that," and point to one of the printouts. I'd say, "Well, we can take the attitude or some of the elements of the old work and make something more specific to your project." They'd usually agree and off we would go. So, the great thing about all of this was that I was able to use the rejected work to raise the bar in future work. It was quite an effective way of pushing design sensibilities forward.

On Feb.09.2004 at 06:20 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> "don't get attached to anyone or anything that you can't walk away from in 30 seconds or less." (or something like it).

From Casino, right?

So far all have been good and entertining analogies (the above mentioned my favorite), as well as some good stories. Personally, I have never recycled a comp, an idea perhaps, in a different way, but it just seems to me that it's impossible to match a look with whatever the client is. That is why I also get so annoyed with any template-driven logo or layout machine, each project (whether a logo, web site or annual report) requires and deserves its own proprietary development, thinking and ideation.

On Feb.09.2004 at 07:37 PM
ps’s comment is:

"don't get attached to anyone or anything that you can't walk away from in 30 seconds or less." (or something like it).

From Casino, right?

actually, HEAT...

On Feb.09.2004 at 07:50 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Crap… right. Well, they were both three hours long and violent…

On Feb.09.2004 at 07:53 PM
ps’s comment is:

Crap… right. Well, they were both three hours long and violent…


there was one more line in heat that stuck with me. and it applies so well to our industry...

"all the stuff is out there -- you just gotta know how to grab it"


On Feb.09.2004 at 08:18 PM
Mr. Jones’s comment is:

I have regurgitated comps at times. I sometimes borrow from old non selected comps. Usually it has to be tweaked to make it work for the new client.

One thing that I absolutely hate is when a client wants to frankenstein comps. I actually have told clients "no" when they suggest taking pieces from comp a, b, and c to create their "perfect design" and after telling them the reasons why they understand.

On Feb.09.2004 at 08:48 PM
krf’s comment is:

I once was in a meeting with a firm doing some design work for our company and they had just done a complete redesign of another company's web site but couldn't use it because that company went under.

They then proceeded to see if we wanted to use that site (change logo and few items) for ours. I was quite unimpressed that they even admitted that and then tried to get out of doing some original work for us.

On Feb.09.2004 at 10:30 PM
bryony’s comment is:

I am both a keeper and a trasher. Complete opposites, yes, I know. The way it works for me, is that I always keep all the sketches, and discarded comps done for a client, neatly organized in a folder of box. This lets me come back later and see what the process was like, the way the project was developed and why I ended up with the final result. Other than that, the files are left in the dark drawer, which I from time to time reorganize.

On the other hand I do not like to recycle ideas, the farthest I will go is with recycling techniques. If I discovered/learn a new way doing something, and I like the way it turns out, I will use it again if the right client comes up, with entirely different results.

The other thing I keep in abundance is photos of things that I find interesting or inspirational in one way or another (every day I carry a camera with me for the just in case moment). Sometimes two projects will be inspired by the same image but lead separate paths and have separate endings.

On Feb.10.2004 at 10:08 AM
pk’s comment is:

i pathologically archive everything. when i'm working on a client piece, the first thing i do is open the previous day's work, date it to the current date, and work on that file, then everything gets archived together by client name and job number on a dvd. originally i did this because some folks simply couldn't make up their minds right off the bat. but now i find that it allows me to pull disparate elements quickly from older stages of other projects and place and adapt where they need to be.

as for pulling entire unused concepts...it usually never works (unless it's a logo for someone who just wanted cake icing to begin with.)

On Feb.10.2004 at 10:29 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

I will use everything I think of, at some point in time.. Unless I am told point blank the the concept will just NOT work... but everything has it's place.. so if I have an idea.. it is stored/saved/filed away for a sunny/rainy day!

On Feb.10.2004 at 11:03 AM
Rob Bennett’s comment is:

I have to admit that I keep more than I should, and at least once a year, I sit down for a day and purge that which I really don't need, both hard copy and electronic. I never really use any of my old ideas but I do use some of the stuff I collect as a spring board to new ideas, or possibly trying something that we haven't done, that might fit a particular need for one of our clients. But still for me, throwing away is a quite difficult process and while the sense of 'cleanliness' is a pleasure, the pang of 'what if I throw away something important' still hangs over me for a day or so. After that, I'm over it.


On Feb.10.2004 at 02:58 PM