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Cleaning Out The Design Attic

posted by Matt Ward on Jun 8, 2010.

Do you have a bunch of old design concepts stashed away in the depths of your hard drive? Ever wonder if you could ever actually put these concepts to good use? In this article, we will look at four different ways that you can potential recycle old concepts, and maybe even make some money doing it.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about all the old files that I have just sitting on my computer, collecting the digit equivalent of dust on my hard drive. More specifically, I’m talking about all those old design concepts that simply weren’t used for one reason or another. These could be logos, icons, even entire Photoshop mockups of websites!

If you’ve been designing for any length of time (and here I suppose I am thinking more about freelancers than anyone else), I’m sure that you are in much the same boat as me.

Cleaning Out The Design Attic

Cleaning Out The Design Attic

For example, when I do a logo design, I generally offer the client three different concepts. Ultimately of course, they only choose one, leaving me with two other half-completed logos just sitting on my hard drive, doing absolutey nothing for me, despite all the hard work that went into developing them. In many cases, I actually like these leftover concepts better than the one that the client actually decided to go with, and it breaks my heart a little to see them just sitting there.

Similarly, I had a project recently where I did an entire website mockup in Photoshop, only to have the client say that they really didn’t care for it and ask me to start again from scratch. I did of course, but now I have a really cool and interesting concept (at least in my mind) that I’m not doing anything with.

Is there anything you can do with these old files to try to put them to some sort of use? Quite possibly. In this article, I would like to take a quick look at some of the ways that you can clean out your design attic, pulling out those old concepts and breathing new and wonderful life into them.

Reuse It On Another Project

The next time you start a new design project, consider going back to your file of unused concepts and have a quick look to see if there’s anything interesting or useful that could be applied to the new project or that could work as a good starting point.

It may seem a little odd to reuse a concept that you prepared for one client as part of the project that you are working on for another, but think of it this way – how often do you (or other designers) use a variety of stock resources like photos, vectors, textures or icons in your designs? These are never unique (otherwise they wouldn’t be stock), but are perfectly suited to help fill a particular design need or solve a problem.

We can think of your unused concepts in much the same way. Remember that, until the client actually pays you for your work, it remains your own intellectual property and you are free to do whatever you’d like with it (as long as you remove their logo, branding and other proprietary information, of course). So, if one of your previous designs actually works for your current project, even as a starting point, then why not go ahead and use it? It’s still your work, after all.

If you don’t feel right about charging your full amount if you do use a previous concept (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you can always just provide your client with a discount. I’m sure they would appreciate both your honesty and the financial break. Just be sure to to let them know what it was a concept that was never used.

Try Selling It

There are all kinds of ways to sell your design work out there on the internet, and even recycle some of those old designs and turn them into cold hard cash.

One example is Brandstack, a website focused on selling brands and logos to start ups and other smaller businesses through a very “off the shelf” kind of set up. Basically, designers can upload their own, prefabricated logos onto the site, often with multiple versions, and usually also packaged together with a related domain name. You can also name your own price, and I’ve seen a huge variation in the cost of different logos, often based on the quality of the logo, the likelihood of it selling and possibly even the name of the designer.



Potential buyers can log on to the site, browse and search through the thousands of different logo concepts that are available, and ultimately select that brand or logo that they want to purchase. If your logo sells, BrandStack probably takes their cut (I haven’t used it yet), but it still seems like a decent way to make some decent coin off of those old concepts.

Another possibility would be to try selling on any of the numerous marketplaces out there, such as GraphicRiver, ThemeForest or any of the other similar sites in the Evanto network. Obviously, this can require different levels of work. For example, if you have a Photoshop concept for a website, you could take the time to code it up and try selling it as a basic HTML template or developing it into a full fledged WordPress theme.

ThemeForest is a marketplace for selling web templates

ThemeForest is a marketplace for selling web templates

Obviously, this requires a little extra work on your part, but the investment in time could very likely prove worth it in the end, especially if the theme proves popular and continues to sell over the long term. What a great way to enjoy some great passive income.

Give it Away

Everyone loves freebies, especially well designed and high quality freebies. So, consider giving away some of your dusty old designs away – or at least some of their elements. This could work especially well if you run your own design blog, since it will provide you with unique and valuable content. Even if you don’t have your own blog though, you might be able get the freebie hosted somewhere else, hopefully with a link back to your own site or portfolio.

Obviously, not all of your designs will work as freebies. Logo design, for instance, would be particularly poorly suited to this option – who wants a logo that has been downloaded by a bunch of other people? Collateral and stationary can work when transformed into templates, as long as it they are generic enough to be widely useful to your readership.

Vecteezy is an awesome collection of vector freebies!

Vecteezy is an awesome collection of vector freebies!

Generally speaking, the more generic a freebie is, the more widely usable it will be. This, in turn, will likely make it more popular and more frequently downloaded.

Freebies certainly aren’t a great way to make money (at least not directly), but they can help to develop back links (if they’re good) and can help foster a spirit of goodwill in the community. Who knows, depending on what the freebie is, you might even end up attracting the attention of a potential new client.

Use it to Teach

If none of these other idea have caught your fancy yet, here’s another one: why not dust out that old design concept and write an awesome tutorial all about how you went about achieving it. If there’s some special effect in the design, perhaps you could write about that. Or, if you went through some unique testing process to help decide on the best colour(s), you could write a piece all about that.

Every design has some sort of story behind it’s creation. By writing a tutorial, you can give shape to that story, share it with the community and hopefully teach a thing or two in the process.

Again, if you run your own blog, this can provide you with some great content. If you don’t (or maybe even if you do), there’s also always the possibility of selling the article to any one of the many other tutorial-based websites out there on the interwebs. You probably won’t make a killing, but a bit of money is better than no money, and you’ll usually score at least one back link out of the deal, which can help drive traffic back to your own site.

The Tuts+ Network is always looking for quality tutorials

The Tuts+ Network is always looking for quality tutorials

If you do decide to write a tutorial, please consider reading The Anatomy of a Great Tutorial, an article that I prepared for SpyreStudios a little while back. It basically goes through what I consider to be the five most important elements of any tutorial. It’s certainly not a hard fast formula for creating the perfect tutorial every single time, but I think that it can provide some solid and meaningful guidance if tutorial writing is something that you are not entirely comfortable with.


If there is one thing that all of these techniques probably have in common, it would be that they will all require an investment of at least some level of additional time. If you want to sell a concept, you will need to take into consideration the time it will take to remove any branding and make the piece generic enough to actually be able to sell (unless, of course, you’re selling a logo). If you are writing a tutorial, you will need to invest some time into doing the actual writing. Even freebies require a bit of time to set up, and using an existing concept for a new project will obviously require tweaking.

If you’re really busy with client projects and can barely find time to shower and eat, then maybe cleaning out your design attic is not the best idea at the moment. However, there will likely come a time when you’re not quite so busy (especially if you’re a freelancer), and it’s times like that which are perfect for digging into some of those old design concepts and seeing if you can breath new life into them.

A few months ago, I also wrote an article entitled “Mind the Gap: 6 Ways to be Productive Through Freelance Downtime“. I think that you could add this attempt to recycle your old concepts as a seventh item on this list. It’s a perfect and productive way to fill those hours of downtime!

Now it’s time for you to have your say. What do you do with your old design concepts? Do they just sit on your hard drive? Or, do you occasionally look them over to see if there is any way that you can actually recycle them and put them to good (and potentially profitable) use?

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Jun 12, 2010

Brad c says:

I’ve always been hesitant to reuse work. Since I charged by the hour the client was paying for then time and energy that it took to create that work. I have reused elements as a starting point (like a blog post). A lot of my clients follow me on Twitter and keep up with what I do so they would notice if a design they paid for turned up somewhere else.

Jun 13, 2010

Sergei Tatarinov says:

This is just pretty much everything you need to know about how to deal with unapproved/rejected concepts, though experienced designers already know where to go with their unused stuff. :)
One can make a good bunch of money from selling stuff on Envato’s marketplaces, so why let your designs go to waste? On the other hand, there’s sometimes a problem of clients being around, as Brad said. It wouldn’t be a good thing for designer-client relationship if the latter noticed you sell something they paid for. However, that’s not always like that. Some clients just don’t care, because they got what they hired you for, the rest is just your business. I’ve had worked for both types of clients and it’s not a real problem, from experience. You can always ask a question, if anything.

Jun 17, 2010

chabat says:

Hi Matt.
I would like to translate your post into Spanish and post it on my blog.
Of course you would name as author and link up the original post in your blog.
Would I allow it?

Jun 23, 2010

Matt Ward says:

I generally like to keep my content unique to my blog, so I don’t think I’d really want a literal translation. Feel free to quote and summarize in Spanish though. Thanks for asking too, and not just going ahead and doing it.

Jul 12, 2010

Rich Hemsley says:

For any designers out there who are willing to “donate” or giveaway your old PSD’s, we at DesignMoo would love to take them off your hands. We are relaunching Designmoo as a free PSD site and we’re looking for designers who can submit quality design work. We see this as a great tool for the design community and would love to help designers promote their work. If you are interested, please head over to http://cot.ag/d0UpDu for details.


The DesignMoo Team

Jul 12, 2010

Melinda says:

Time to do some house cleaning I think! I reckon it is pretty easy to make some simple mods to a logo or web design to distinguish it from the concept sent to a client. We work on a fixed price basis for graphic design work so don’t have the same issue as those who are paid by the hour. We could add a clause into our contract to say that we retain ownership of rejected concepts.

Jul 12, 2010

Tyler Dawson says:

Good advice! I wrote a similar article about on month ago on my blog and ended with similar thoughts. I like the idea about using it to teach, hadn’t thought about that!

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