throwback, fails


Inspired by Teresita Fernández’s admonitions to purge projects regularly, I’ve been going through my catalog of work and found myself revisiting years of corporate design for Forrester Research. A part of me was hoping for some diamond-in-the-rough worthy of putting up in the portfolio or that would at least demonstrate my conceptualizing strengths. While there are a few of the latter, the designs that made the final cut are aesthetically or creatively “limited” in order to fit the corporate client and audience, and ultimately do not portray my full potential and the work that I can do. Instead, here’s a random rough sketch from the cutting room floor just for laughs:

For the curious, the design brief for this event theme included "harnessing the power of disruptive digital megatrends" and "tech titan frenemies." I'd say this is pretty spot-on, what do you think? ; P

For the curious, the design brief for this event theme included "harnessing the power of disruptive digital megatrends" and "tech titan frenemies." I'd say this is pretty spot-on, what do you think? ; P

It’s easy to feel a bit disappointed that years of work are not worth showing off, but I have to believe that the final designs were the direct result of each side speaking their mind. While what I said probably held some sway, ultimately they had the last word, and I think that fits the idea of design as a service. I have no regrets, and I’m not afraid to pick up future projects that I know won’t win awards or attention to my portfolio. These less tangible victories are why:

  1. Self-Fulfillment. It was the recession, and this corporate work saved me and enabled me to pursue being a designer after my fellowship just as I intended. I was even able to move out on my own during the height of the recession.
  2. Experience. Every client is different, and the more I work with, the better I know how to work with all kinds of companies and people.
  3. Satisfaction. I enjoyed taking a dated (at the time) brand and pushing it to its limits until the rebrand. The results are not earth-shattering, but it was definitely satisfying to do.
  4. Becoming a Contributing Team Player. The original designs were tightly packed with info. With better typography, I was able to open up more space, to the point where I could even suggest fitting in some testimonies that helped further sell events while still making the brochures an easy read. Going above and beyond to become a proactive contributor to a project is something I enjoy and actually look to do.
  5. Mental Agility. Working on a single image that summarized an entire event’s theme was a great conceptual challenge similar to a logo, and kept my mind sharp.
  6. Ninja Skills. Creating believable event theme images from elements in variously sourced stock photos helped me hone my Photoshop skills, which had an immediate payoff in my subsequent projects.
  7. Expansion. I was originally entrusted with US event promotional materials and the theme image, but did a good enough job that materials distributed during the event for attendees were based off of my designs. This further expanded my role to creating companion digital designs, and eventually international promotional materials were added to my responsibilities. At one point, I even gained the attention of an event attendee from Microsoft, who wanted to use the same "design agency" for their corporate marketing.
  8. Strong Communication + Trust. Working remotely for many years and throughout my client’s internal transitions refined my communication skills and made me a reliable person to set in front of any client regardless of my particular role.
  9. Engagement. One of my designs, an image of a businessman ripping open his button-down superman-style to become the hero of his industry, resonated so much with a leading industry researcher that he made t-shirts out of it and then ripped open his own button-down at the event to reveal the t-shirt with the design on it (for those who are still with me, that’s a button-down, revealing a t-shirt, of a button-down revealing a t-shirt). It was very meta and surprising, but also I just love that it created a strong emotional response to this degree. I’d call that a win any day.

As my alma mater used to drive home, sometimes it’s the process, not the endpoint. What experiences have you unexpectedly gained from in your journey? Are there victories you count that some would consider a fail? I’d love to hear it!


My lovely husband thought I should mention that this post's title comes from the popular Rocky quote as he looked for his girlfriend (Adrian) in his moment of personal success despite officially losing the final fight. I just watched it for the first time recently, and I surprised myself in really enjoying it!