At some point in your life you’re going to have a project that just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s as true in life (a bookshelf that’s half built) as it is in the design world (that sweet iPad app that ran out of budget). I’ve had my fair share of projects that fell into oblivion. Most of the time it just plain sucks. For reasons often outside of your control, a project you’ve put hours of work into will never see the light of day.
How do you cope with this? It can be extremely frustrating and somewhat confusing. What do you tell your friends and family (whom you’ve inevitably been talking up this project to for months)? Can it still go in your portfolio?
For me the worst part is feeling like you wasted your time. You can spend months on something and have nothing to show for it. In your next job interview you’ll explain what you’ve been working on for the past few months and when they ask to see it you’ll have that lame answer “well it didn’t get made.”
A recent example for me was called Hours. It was an iPhone app I had designed screens for. The project was going to serve up business hours on top of the foursquare database. We were nearing launch when foursquare announced they were adding hours into their main database. The months of time and effort we had invested was all for naught. Foursquare had beaten us to the punch. Our spirits were broken and even though our standalone app could still be useful to non-foursquare users, it was never finished.
The reality is it happens. Much more often than anyone would like to admit. I think the best thing to do is try to move on. I hate that advice; it sound so simple but it’s very difficult. In the case of a designer, you are left with un-built screen designs or the artwork of un-printed posters. You’ve done the work, you’ve taken the time to think through the project but it was never put into production. Moving on for a designer could simply be taking the skills and experience you’ve gained and applying them to your next project.
I think it’s still appropriate to put in your portfolio. I have a couple of app projects that stalled out for one reason or another (like Hours) but I plan to put them into my portfolio. The screens were thought out and designed. The mockups were completed. My side of the project was finished, even if the other side wasn’t. Why shouldn’t I have at least something to show for it? Sure it might not be as valuable as a full-fledged running app but until I have those completed projects I want and need something in my portfolio demonstrating my interest and abilities in the app arena. Sometimes just having a few mock ups can be enough to demonstrate your skill and thought processes. In the end that’s what a portfolio is all about anyway, right?