The Graveyard of Good Ideas

Years ago, I read in the preface of a collection of a photographer’s work about a book that was impossible to make. The book he was describing would never exist because it was a collection of  images that had never been created. This photographer (whose name I’ve forgotten) was referring to the missed images — the moment when a spectator walked in front of the lens, the moment his finger missed the button, the moment just before the picture was taken, or just after. The idea intrigued me enough that it’s stayed in my mind ever since.

I have a similar body of work. In the process of creating logos, or layout projects, or web designs, a lot of decent material hits the cutting room floor and is never seen by anyone. In a logo design, for example, we create a series of initial concepts, and a small selection of the ideas generated are shown to the client. The client identifies one or two as possibilities, and then we refine those further. The final logo is chosen and the art is finalized.

The process works well, but at each phase a lot of good ideas are discarded. The question is what to do with those good ideas? Some of the general ideas may apply to other projects, but if we’ve done our job well, those concepts and design solutions are unique to that client’s situation.

Unlike the collection of the photographer I mentioned earlier, the ideas in this collection aren’t lost — they’re on my hard drive gathering digital dust.  It’s hard to imagine a context where that collection might be displayed. Most clients would not like to have a handful of alternate, non-approved design pieces floating around with their names on it.  Because the concepts are inextricably bound up with the names and identities of the organizations they were created for, it’s impossible to make them anonymous without destroying the idea.

I’ve thought about ways to present this collection in the future, either on our site or in print, but for now our graveyard of good ideas is closed to the public.

(If anyone knows who this photographer is, please let me know.)