The design process is an often slow, messy, and frustrating one, littered with dead ends and decapitated darlings. One client’s trash is another’s treasure though: it is, of course, possible to recycle an idea even after it’s been tossed into the scrapyard. But what do we do with those fragments that can’t easily be transformed or reused for something else, what happens to the ideas that have no home beyond stacks of used-up notebooks or in the fleeting specter of an Instagram post?
Welcome to the Graveyard
One possibility for your rejected designs: bury them in a design cemetery. And you can do this by submitting to Recently Rejected.
This “curated graveyard” is a monument to the good, the silly, the surprising, and the frankly quite terrible work that never saw the light of day. The designs featured on Recently Rejected have been submitted to Mario Hugo of Hugo & Marie, who launched the platform in 2015. What you’ll find here is an array of unfinished, unrefined, and unused imagery by the likes of Non-Format, Craig & Karl, MVM, and Hvass & Hannibal.
Visiting Recently Rejected today, the ghost of an unused Hassan Rahim record sleeve lets out a sigh for what could have been; character illustrations by Bureau Mirko Borsche trudge hopelessly past, wailing at the tragedy of unfinished business; Lotta Nieminen patterns for scarves that never were flitter by.
It’s here that past designs are given gravestones. There’s no information about each work other than the name of the designer followed by the title and date of the commission, so visitors don’t know what tragic turn led each work to this fatal place. It’s fascinating to look through every piece; to try and understand how it ended up here, why a client might have rejected it, and why a designer held the image so dear that they’ve wanted to commemorate it in this way.
For those unwanted designs that you can’t get out of your head, giving them the funeral that they deserve will probably give you the closure that you need.
The Resurrection of the Darlings
Sometimes a funeral isn’t enough. Sometimes a former idea keeps haunting you even after its burial.
This is an experience Antwerp-based designer and educator Ines Cox can relate to. She keeps around 20 ring binders of sketches, test prints, dummies, and unused ideas above her desk—another, though more personal, design graveyard of sorts. “I’m a maniac about documenting my design process,” says Cox. “I feel it’s necessary to make (almost) every step of my process physical, which is why I print as much as possible. Comparing compositions and eliminating ideas is easier when I put things next to one another on a table. When a project is done, I carefully archive all these sketches and prints. I call them my ‘darlings’.”
This archive is the place that Cox most likes to visit when beginning a new design; it’s her go-to in place of design blogs and inspiration feeds. Here, among a cornucopia of images of her own making, she can ensure that she’s not daunted by the weight of other people’s ideas.
“When I end up scrolling online, I start to feel dizzy and very unoriginal,” she says. “There’s a vast amount of graphic design to discover on the web, so I can imagine it’s becoming a natural first step for a designer to scroll instead of sketch. I’m not sure this is a good evolution. I try instead to create my personal archive from (unused) designs: you could see it as a personal Pinterest board.” It’s from here that former designs get their second breath of life, one detached from their initial context, but still very much born from Cox’s mind.
When FAT magazine approached Cox to create an editorial of six pages in 2016, with the brief that it “should be ‘Ines Cox’,” the designer naturally ended up thumbing through her black binders. To reflect the resurrection process that is at the core of her design practice, Cox then created a new set of compositions from a series of old ones. “The works are now detached from their original content and context,” she says, explaining why she decided to collage fragments of former ideas in a way that provides no indication as to where they originally came from. “The square blocks I positioned them in refer to the interface of Instagram. I poured my darlings into this template and titled it ‘The Resurrection of the Darlings’.”
Cox is not the only one to resurrect by reshuffling. Studio Triboro has also “remixed” unpublished work, which it documented in a project called Leftovers. Adrift from context, untethered from meaning, resurrected darlings are energy, composition, shape, form; they are proud monuments to process.
Resurrected darlings like those by Cox and Triboro are indications of method. But what if you don’t recycle your former work yourself, but instead hand them over to another designer to bring back from the dead?
This is something that DR.ME, a studio based in Manchester, UK, regularly plays with in the form of a PDF zine called FIN? “The initial idea came about after realizing my computer memory was completely full, my desktop was littered in Jpegs, Tiffs, PSD and InDesign files and I had drawers full of drawings, paintings, and bits of collage,” says one-half of DR.ME, Ryan Doyle.
“Most if not all of this was ideas for projects that were never selected, sketches that became something else, random drawings which at one point were important. As a studio, when it comes to idea generation, we tend to work quite fast, trying as many possibilities as we can, leading to a lot of work being thrown away. We thought it would be interesting to place all this work together in some form and release it into the world.”
Since the idea first came to fruition in 2017, DR.ME has released nine digital versions of the publication, which it charges £5 for and limits to a “run” of 100 (to provide a feeling of exclusivity, even in the digital world). “The idea is that once we release each issue, whoever downloads it is free to do whatever they want with the images,” says Doyle. Readers could P.I.Y (print it yourself) off a basic home A4 printer, pay a little money to have it professionally printed as each separate work is high-res ready, or they could just use it digitally as wallpaper. Other potentials DR.ME suggest: curate a mini exhibition, design some clothing, or even re-interpret a piece by using it in your own graphic design work.
“There is a girl who we taught that has completely filled her room with all the images from FIN?,” says Doyle. “Thinking about a rejected Mick Jagger piece of work living on as a poster on a bedroom wall as opposed to a forgotten JPEG makes the process seem worth it. Issue 3 was also bought outright by a private collector who happens to be a designer, so perhaps one day we’ll see those images pop up somewhere unexpected.”
“A lot of people seem to use FIN? For inspiration,” continues the second-half of the studio, Mark Edwards. “As the project grows, it would be exciting to start to receive images of the work in-situ, whether that is a pasted up guerilla-style exhibition under a bridge in San Francisco or a t-shirt range in Malmo, or maybe it being used as a slideshow at a party in Amsterdam, who knows!”
The design duo agree that publishing FIN? has been hugely liberating, a true weight off their shoulders. “I think we used to find ourselves trying to shoehorn different bits of killed work into pitches, sometimes it would work out but more often than not it wouldn’t,” says Edwards.
“By having FIN? we now have an outlet to vent those pieces of work, rather than having to push them on like a dung beetle collecting shit (not calling our work shit here, but it’s a useful simile).”
When it comes to rejected work, sometimes it’s best to let go and move on. That might mean a tearful funeral, an artful resurrection, or giving up your aimless favorites completely, so that they might become great, golden phoenixes rising from the ashes.