Daniel Eden, Designer

Out With The Old, In With The Good

I’ve long maintained the opinion that you should discard from your portfolio any work which you are not proud of. I’ve practiced it, too. My Dribbble profile is very telling of the work you don’t see in my portfolio; it’s messy. Unfinished. But that’s just the way I use the platform. It’s a feedback machine – I post, someone replies. My portfolio, however, is more of an announcement. A visual elevator pitch of my abilities.

Until relatively recently, I considered and introduced myself as a “Designer and Front-End Developer”. Now, I consider myself simply a “Designer”. This identity shift was the result of realising that the development work I do is in an effort to realise a design problem. The problems I solve may be personal itches or client briefs, but they are design problems nonetheless. Onword was born out of a need for a place to write, accessible anywhere. Brills out of a need for a simple solution to seeing my regular payments in one place. Personal life problems that were solved with a design-aware approach.

My writing, and as a result, this blog, was also a solution to a problem. Its early days saw it focusing on web development tips and tricks. Slowly, that turned into a blog discussing hot drama topics. Then, a browser quirks log. Though the last year or so has seen my writing shift focus to broader fields. Design, attitude, and problem solving in a much wider sense. My writing once served as a backlog; a personal reference of my own progression. But now, I consider it a portfolio item. And as an important part of my portfolio, it must undergo the shame filter.

In a recent entry from The Great Discontent, Frank Chimero goes into his thoughts about his old work (emphasis mine):

Any creative person I know feels a bit of shame about his or her past work. […] This is something I think about as a writer. When is it okay for me to delete something I’ve written, something I don’t like any more? Archives are good, but I don’t need to stand behind all of my work forever. Kafka wanted all of his writing burned when he was on his deathbed and who could blame him? I hate that as a reader, but love it as a writer.

It was as if Frank had lifted the words I’d been struggling for right from the tip of my tongue. I think anybody who has been writing long enough knows exactly what Frank is talking about; luckily for those on the web, the delete key is an easy one to press.

But what of personal growth, reference, and posterity? I think from the sheer volume of hits many of my shameful posts still get on a fairly regular basis, it’s safe to say that the delete key isn’t an option I can easily take. So yes, I could prune, tweak, edit, repost, and take retrospect on the posts I’m shameful of, but as designers (or developers) would you take the time to go back to each shameful piece of client work you’ve done and rework it? I doubt it. I think as writers who take themselves quite seriously in a digital space, we should have the same ruthlessness as a designer would when reviewing their portfolio. Of course, for the sanctity of the web, don’t remove the posts in question altogether; as a web user, I know there are few things more frustrating than following a link trail to a 404 Dead-end.

For me, there’s a little more than shame going into the hurried cleansing of my blog. There’s more than a small amount of vanity in it, too. I feel like I’ve spent a good deal of time and energy in my last few posts to initiate a certain persona. One of professionalism and consistency; the kind I wish my portfolio and design work to represent. The kind that the young, code-obsessed me worked so hard to avoid.

I don’t doubt that one day, that persona may get left behind. That one day, I might hide this post along with many others after it amongst the rest of them. In fact, I’d be surprised if the attitude and style with which I write today remains unchanged for the rest of my career; after all, I’m just getting started. But the fact remains that writing is a huge part of my professional life. It has helped me grow as a designer and a human being, and as such, I feel it belongs in my portfolio. It is a collection of work which shapes my output. It’s part of the person that my employers—past, present, and future—are paying. And just like I don’t want you judging my ability based on the table-filled designs of my first web work, I don’t want you judging my ability to communicate based on a three-year-old post about Adobe Flash.

As my view of design and writing broadens, my perception of myself narrows. I see the person I want to be, and I’ll edit my way there if I have to.