You obsessed for hours on end for weeks. You lost sleep thinking about it. You tried every possible angle and approach.
And stretching your abilities to the limit, you made the best design you possibly could. At the time, is was the absolute best thing you had ever made.
But a few months later, you tried to forget about it.
When you do remember, you can barely stand to look at that design again. That old design is an embarrassment. You can’t believe how bad it was. What were you thinking? So you remove it from your portfolio, don’t talk about it, and pretend it never happened.
Most designers never show our old work. And, if we do, it’s for laughs. “This is a screenshot of my first website. Look how bad of a designer I was back then!”
We look upon Old Loves—our former subjects of infatuation, the darling designs that we poured our souls into—like a worn-out pair of shoes. They’re dirty and they smell. Seal them in a plastic bag and toss them in the trash. It doesn’t matter how far you walked in those shoes—they are worthless now.
We tend to fetishize our current work and pretend it’s so much better now. But the design you’re excited about right now is headed for the same landfill before long.
And that’s a shame, because our Old Loves got us to where we are now. Our current projects are giving us the practice we need to become even better designers in the future.
Of course you can’t show older, lower quality work in your portfolio, and I’d never suggest keeping old projects in your portfolio.
But I do want to encourage you to take a look at the embarrassment you might feel about your older work. Pause for a moment and look back at all the things you’ve made.
We designers are always focused on the new. The next thing. A bigger challenge and a higher standard.
And we forget all the miles we walked. We forget all the late nights, exertion, and effort we poured into our old projects.
We turn our backs on our Old Loves, and move on.
But you’d never have come this far without them, and that’s why you should never be embarrassed of your old design work.
The fact that your old work looks bad to you is proof you have grown.
For me personally, it’s still hard to look back on my earlier years as a designer and be nostalgic. I worked hard, was totally stressed out a lot of the time, and it’s not like I want to relive those times.
So while nostalgia is the wrong sentiment, pride is the correct one.
Your Old Loves, your formerly great ideas, and the things that used to be the best you’d ever made are not embarrassing.
You should look back at your old work, see all the mistakes and problems you didn’t notice at the time, and take pride in the fact that you do notice now.
And no, I’m not going to bore you with a cliche and romanticize “the journey” (cringe) or other tired, sentimental self-help-book garbage.
It’s just that your ugly old designs are rock-solid proof that you are awesome right now.
So stop putting your past self down, and be proud of what you can do now because of all that hard work.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
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