Design Devolution, part 2

By Jarrod Drysdale


Bad designs with your name on them

Sometimes a client/boss will change your design for the worse after the project ends. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

In part 1, you learned about how that experience can help you choose clients in the future who are a better fit and who are more likely to follow your design recommendations.

However, if you are like most designers, you still have past designs floating around that you are not really responsible for, but that have your name attached anyway. And they are cause for concern.

The last thing you want is for potential clients or bosses to think that a poorly modified version of one of your designs is your actual finished design work.

I too have made many designs that are now floating in the ether of the web with changes I find unfortunate and even damaging. And I wish I could go back and fix them. But, if the client is not interested in my advice, I cannot be responsible.

We are not responsible for what others do with and to our designs after our involvement ends. Any expectation otherwise is completely unreasonable.

You can’t always control what happens to your designs, but, for self-preservational purposes, you can still control how you present your portfolio and explain your work. And it starts with realizing that you do not have to rely upon live portfolio samples.

Most people, designers and not, believe that live work samples are better than screenshots, design mockups, and archived versions. This belief is built upon the hope that our designs will always endure the way we originally made them, but that never happens. Every design changes eventually. And if it doesn’t change, it gets replaced.

So, expecting to use live links to fill your portfolio is unrealistic. And, anyone who expects to see live samples as your core portfolio does not understand how design works.

The cure to this is simple. With just a tiny bit of explanation, you can show why it’s important that others see only what you made, instead of a live version that was influenced by others. Here are some examples of how you can explain it:

“All designs change eventually, and I wanted you to see the version I made so you can understand exactly what I am capable of doing.”

“The client modified the design after launch due to new constraints, and I wasn’t involved. This version is what I made and will help you see my level of skill.”

As a portfolio reviewer, I tend to view any design portfolio that is composed of live links with a little extra scrutiny. While some designers can and do launch designs that remain intact for a long time, every design will change eventually. Usually, live projects end up being changed by someone else. And, when I look at a portfolio, I want to understand exactly what that designer did. Live links are less likely to be an accurate indication of a single designer’s abilities.

So, forget about showing live designs, and just show the version of the design that you made. That’s what people need to see. Show a screenshot or a backup of your original version. It’s your right to show your originals (unless contractually prohibited, which is very rare).

Showing screenshots, mockups, and archived versions is no less legitimate than showing live designs. In fact, they are better because they will help people perceive your work and abilities more clearly.

So, by tailoring how you present and explain your portfolio, you effectively remove the only damaging aspect of having old projects floating around that have changed without your direction.

I realize that the very idea of those designs persisting might still give you pause. It’s an issue of pride, too. But you need to learn to let go.

Don’t try to own your designs. You make your designs for other people, not for yourself.

Instead of trying to enforce ownership, be a caretaker of your designs. Over time, you will learn to set up situations where you are directing the design, not just producing it. That will give you more influence over how the design evolves.

But even then, you will not be able to control every permutation of every design you make. So learn to let go. Keep snapshots of your great work, rather than trying to control what happens to it after your involvement ends.

Eventually you must let loose your creation to live a life of its own.


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