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As a designer creates work, more and more "samples" start to stack up.

With digital projects maintaining a library of past projects is fairly easy. All it takes is a dedicated hard drive and a backup.

However, with physical projects the collection of samples can get rather large. I have begun contemplating burning a few piles of samples.

  • Do you keep physical samples? If so, how many samples of each project do you keep?

  • How long do you keep them? Do you keep all project samples or merely the ones you feel are "best"?

  • How do you store physical samples? Are you concerned about degradation over time? If so, how do you combat that?

  • I had considered a good photo shoot then maintaining the photos rather than the pieces. Is it imperative to have the actual physical piece so it can be held and felt?

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While an interesting question, for sure, I wonder if it'd be better as a wiki, as there isn't really a 'right answer' to this question. –  DA01 Dec 17 '13 at 23:02
    
@DA01, typically a question is marked community wiki if it's a question that is out of scope yet still has value and shouldn't be deleted. Community wiki used to be beneficial for this kind of post because it allowed anyone to make edits and contribute. However, the implementation of anonymous and low-rep edits nullified that. Here's a great post on MSO explaining this. "Even if there is more than one valid answer (in open-ended questions), individual answers may still have value, and so they deserve the rep gain when they're upvoted." –  JohnB Dec 18 '13 at 22:59
    
@JohnB oh, that's cool. So what were traditionally wiki-ish questions are not encouraged to remain as regular questions? I like that. –  DA01 Dec 18 '13 at 23:00
    
@DA01 I think you meant now encouraged? If so, yes :) Also, here's a blog post on it –  JohnB Dec 18 '13 at 23:03
    
@JohnB ack! I did mean now. Nice! –  DA01 Dec 18 '13 at 23:17
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5 Answers

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At my old place of employment, we had two kinds of samples that we kept an inventory of:

  1. "Brag" samples. Portfolio type pieces to show to prospective clients.
  2. Production samples. Special runs, problem color files, long term run projects, etc.

Brag:

For the "Brag" samples, we tried to strike a balance between current and wow pieces, in all categories. Just like any portfolio, if your best stuff is from ten years ago, that is an indication of stagnation. We tried to keep all of our samples to within the last year except in the case of spectacular and/or well known projects.

We didn't keep more than a few of each piece, due to the large physical size of some of the projects.

Production

Production samples were another deal. We had a giant rack of 3" cardboard cores (about 200) that we kept samples in, as well as a rack for rigid stuff. The cores were manually marked with the job number and the last modified date, plus any other related info. The rigid examples had the same 'slug' decal as the rolls.

The Production samples were generally cleared out after 2 years unless marked as long term, high re/additional run potential project.

The key to both of these systems is it has to be a priority. It only takes a 1/2 an hour or so per month to keep under control, if someone is on it all the time. As soon as it gets neglected for 6 months or more, keeping up with it becomes a time consuming nightmare.

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I work at a company that provides storage services to companies that have a lot of physical samples such as tailors and high end fashion outlets. We often store a lot of their material samples during the fashion season and their general course of action is:

  1. Document it on a standardised descriptive template with a photocopy of the material
  2. Have pictures taken by us
  3. Hold on to it for a specific period (usually the fashion season/year)
  4. Ask us to destroy it once the fashion season has ended

So, based on this course of action my answer would be yes, document it, hold on to it until there's absolutely no chance you'll need it and then destroy it.

The only other option is to store it, which can become quite costly over the long term.

I should probably say a little bit about why you should destroy it, though the only real reason is so that it can't be copied or because it was never created as a real product.

All that said, if you like it and you're proud of it you should definitely keep at least one in storage.

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If it's 'cool' or 'interesting' enough to be useful as a giveaway for future potential clients, keep as many as you can. I built a pop-out put-together car piece once for a client that everyone loved...so much so that I ended up with only one sample left. Oops.

Otherwise, the samples you keep are up to you in terms of how you like to show clients your work. It's nice to hand out print pieces to clients when showing your work so if it's work you are proud of, I'd keep as many samples as you can.

If it's more for posterity rather than soliciting work, however, I'd suggest spending some time and getting some quality photography done of your pieces.

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I had a micro version of this issue throughout this year when making custom wedding stationary. Brides and grooms change their mind a lot. This leads to very many samples.

Do you keep physical samples? If so, how many samples of each project do you keep?

Yes. While the client's account is active I kept every example. I sent/showed them a copy of each, had a physical copy in their file and had a digital copy (obviously the psds etc.) but also a picture of the printed out sample, front, back, inside, outside. Within that business client's would often come back for matching stationary such as thank you cards months later. I tended to keep a copy of course of the final design that they had chosen but also a physical copy of any samples that had major changes. For clients from over a year and a half ago, I would keep the final physical samples and only earlier samples that I felt were worthy of the range that we were showing.

How long do you keep them? Do you keep all project samples or merely the ones you feel are "best"?

Final products, forever. Almost. If they are considered good enough to make the range they will be a part of it until something 'better' comes along. We would also keep a physical final product in the clients file. The samples unless deemed worthy or useful in another way would be trashed.

How do you store physical samples? Are you concerned about degradation over time? If so, how do you combat that?

Because of the nature of what I was doing, we just kept the stationary in plastic pockets within a file. It does not need to last for generations to come, we keep the digital copy of anything needed to recreate that piece if needed. However if degradation over time is something that you would be worried about there are several means of storage that you could consider, and choose which is most appropriate for your pieces.

I had considered a good photo shoot then maintaining the photos rather than the pieces. Is it imperative to have the actual physical piece so it can be held and felt?

This depends on what it is. A graphic and some text on a poster for example, going onto white 150gsm non textured paper, you will not need to have a physical example of. But a curious collection virtual pearl, 300gsm, possibly textured invitation that folds at each corner, has a pearl sitting on some ribbon to seal it and vomits confetti in a fantastical romantic experience will need to be kept in physical form for a client to understand that it is so much 'more' than what is on screen. People who are not familiar with design have a particularly hard time visualizing what the final product might be. If it is for your own reference, then keeping a photographic log with comprehensive notes and the appropriate files to recreate the piece is no problem but if you want a client to make a decision, a final sample of what you are suggesting is always best.

If you haven't already, I would strongly suggest a photo shoot and some serious notes on each piece. Even you are impartial to the design it is worth the hard drive to have a copy of every major change to avoid issues either of damage to the piece or a client who has decided they picked ocean blue, not sky blue.

These are my thoughts, I hope they prove helpful. Regardless though, photograph everything - starting with active clients as it is most important to have several means of reference and recreation for their things. As regards your own personal projects and how you deemfit to store your samples that you feel are worthy, it is entirely up to you :)

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I learned my lesson several years ago when all my samples were destroyed. So it's made me a tad over-protective at times.

What I do are bins, or tubs, from the local office supply store. I stack them in a closet each one full of samples. These tend to slowly fill up in a year or two and then I just get another bin. However, this can after enough time, mean I'm storing way more than I probably need. Every few years I'll go through the older bins and prune the pieces to ensure I'm only keeping things worthy of remembering (or claiming).

The "brag" samples I keep 10-20 in a cabinet for easy access.

I also photograph and create digital mockups of most items to allow easy use and access that way. I use BoxShot software (no affiliation) a great deal to create 3D representations of traditionally flat pieces (books, digests, etc.). But I much prefer actual photos if the photography is good. I've found in the past 5-7 years that having excellent digital representations of pieces is far more important than my having the physical pieces.

It can be a mountain of work to create digital representations of some things. And other things just can't be conveyed without handling the piece. However, 5 years ago my samples were probably 90% physical and 10% digital. Today it's a 50/50 split.

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