Credit others in your design portfolio? Existing design lang

Topic: In your portfolio how should one acknowledge their specific design contribution on a product when it was a group project or based on an existing corporate design language? This is reference to online portfolios.


  1. A designer developed the concepts and final design for the operation control panel of the consumer product but did not work on the overall enclosure design. This control panel is a very important part of the overall product. Can s/he show the overall product image in their portfolio or just a close up of the control panel area? How do they acknowledge that the whole design was created by a team of designers? Especially in an online slide show.

  2. A company has an existing design language and needs to add another product. The product brief was to design the product using that existing design language with the new product’s component set. They hire a consultant for a month for this activity. After the product launches, the designer would like to show photos of their final implemented design, is it necessary to identify in any images that the new design is based on existing design language? How? Or even acknowledge the original language designers?

I think you get the idea.

How should a designer acknowledge their role/contribution in a digital portfolio medium where the portfolio images stand on their own? (unlike an interview where the designer can explain the whole process and their role to the audience?)

Is this subject covered in professional practices in design school these days? (It’s been 18 years since my design school).

Looking forward to the discussion.

(Today I did a search for a topic and did not find anything really which was a surprise since this topic seems like it would be a popular one. I searched using various combinations of: credit, group project, acknowledge, team, etc. BWT I haven’t been on Core for a while I stop by occasionally.)

A large number of designs are worked on by teams so I don’t think you should be worried about saying you were part of one in.

If you are worried about deceiving people…

You could add a line like:
Project completed as a member of the “firm name” design team.
Specific Responsibilities: Design of Control System.

As far as designing products where existing corporate languages are used - You could actually play it up as a design constraint. “The product had to be designed so that it fit in seamlessly with the clients existing design language.”

Look at all of the products designed as accessories for Apple products. - They don’t credit Jonathan Ives/Apple ID Team. (And he doesn’t credit Dieter Rams)

another example…
Washington State design firms Carbon, General Assembly, and Teague all have X-box accessories on their website - none of them mention that they are all designed to complement the existing design language of the X-box. (Designed by Astro and Hers Experimental Design)

As long as you aren’t doing the opposite - trying to claim you “did it all” you should be fine.

A personal story:

I designed the EasyInfo system for United Airlines while working at a tech startup in the late 1990’s. We created the concept, built the code and even had two running prototypes at O’Hare airport for months–all funded by United.

Then United put the project out to bid, and Pentagram (their branding agency) snuck in and won (we were dumbfounded, but that’s another story.) Yet they take full credit in their portfolio!

Ironically, Ammunition also takes credit for the project on their website! (at least they acknowledge that “many of these products were developed and executed while the team was part of Pentagram.”

…So what do you think?

I think Ammunition did the right thing (assuming permission from Pentagram) and Pentagram did the wrong thing.

Thanks for the comments van_ID.

You make good points, especially on group design being the norm.

Regarding the design language topic. I was referring to design within a design language for the same company. So to use your X-Box example. If a designer created a new expansion pack for the XB for microsoft rather than a third party’s product.

To add to the design language topic, I was wondering more about lesser-known/non consumer manufacturers who’s design language isn’t well known (i.e. NOT Apple, Dell, B&O) but still do have a design language. For designs for the lesser-known companies someone reviewing a portfolio may not know if the designers portfolio item was the originator of a design language or just an adopter of it.

Well CG, you’ve shown that this topic applies design firms as well as individuals. My original post was based on individual designers.

BTW your Cloroflot portfolioclearly states what role you had on the project…which seems to be rare in portfolios, which are usually just slideshows of nice designs.

funny, i was just thinking about this recently. I came across several different articles (sorry, dont have the links) that mention some designer who “was responsible for the design of the Audi TT, New Beetle, etc.” BUT I’ve read several different articles and each one mentioned a different person. Obviously there is more than 1 designer for something as large as a car, but I find it kinda odd so many different guys are credited as the “lead”…


How do Design Managers, hiring managers assess a prospective designer’s design contribution/ownership when reviewing digital portfolios - if multiple claims are prevalent?

process, process, process.

it’s another reason why should should always show more than just a shiny finished product shot. If you show your sketches, your models, your renderings, etc. it’s not only more clear what you contribution is, but what your skills are.

remember, you will get hired for the work you CAN do, not the work you’ve ALREADY done. Thus, process shows insight to your capabilities, and your past work is only an example of these.


Another personal story…

I hired my first designer in the 1990’s based on his portfolio. It included an impressive retail design that I’d seen personally. Only after hiring him did it become obvious that he played no creative role in it whatsoever… He was just an installer!

The lesson there is to never judge a folio by one steller project alone (like Richard says, process, process, process), and always check references!

Team design is the norm, so I would show the context of your work and then drill down into the details. If you dont show the context of the entire control panel for instance, the interviewer might not understand the factors that went into any particular design direction. The process is important, so any work that shows detail work without the context that makes it relevent is not likely to communicate the design methodology well.
You just have to be very clear about what your responsibilities in a particular project were.
Implementing someone elses design language can be a very difficult thing to do especially since you are likely to have aesthetic differences with the client. Again clear explanation will be critical to show your capabilities and responsibilities. So perhaps an explanatory image of the rest of the line and then how you implemented the design language and how the components were optimized for functionality.

If anything I think it is good story-telling to get everyone on the same page.

That story has been so coached. At first is was credited to Jay Mays, then after he left, it was credited to Freeman Thomas, and now that both of them are gone, the credit sems to have been parcelled out again… I guess VW doesn’t want to admit that the team that did the Avus, TT gen 1, Beetle, Golf IV, A6 gen 1 and 2, A4 gen 1 is all gone… another issue.

Another good one: We had a great team at Evo, and many of us went on to other things in different corporations. A co-worker of mine from Evo got a job as a design manager at a major housewares company. She ended up interviewing one of our former clients from another company, that guy made the mistake of showing a bunch of sketches from Evo in hos portfolio as his own, mine and a few of my other co-workers… he had no idea the person who was interviewing him was also from Evo… I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that room, ouch. Your reputation is key.

Most projects have multiple designers contributing on them, even if they don’t a large part of the process is collaborating with developers and engineers, and yes, even marketing people… the ideas can come from all kinds of sources, so I like to show some of my sketches, and process, to show what I did. Sometimes I take it all the way from beginning to end, sometimes, I just do the front end ideation, and at times, I’ve stepped in halfway and carried the ball into the end zone for the team (I tend not to show those, even it just has to be done sometimes, not glorious, but important, though I don’t consider myself the “designer” so much in those cases)

As was said, Process, Process, Process…

And it doesn’t hurt to share the glory, in fact it makes you look better. To call myself out, I need to figure out how to add captions to my images so I can say what was done while at Evo or Nike, or wherever, and with who.

I figured it was something like that + sloppy journalism. What is even more amazing in this day and age of team design, is that one person is even ever credited as “the designer of ____”. It’s certainly not like the old days where one guy did the sketches then handbuilt the coachwork himself. Initial napkin sketch from one guy, maybe, but there’s a long way to go from that to the final car.

Also makes me laugh every time I see someone knocking the design of a new BMW and attributing the issue to Bangle. Sure he may of penned the original concept of the BMW design language flame surfacing (which personally I’m a fan of), but in no way I would think he is responsible for every bit of sheetmetal coming out BMW, nor is his design (or anyone else’s) not also the responsibility of the management, marketing, etc. that give it the green light…

These days with all the high-profile “star” designers it’s an issue that really bugs me. I had a friend who worked for Karim in NYC a while back and even he told me that at most Karim may contribute a loose sketch to a project, but that more often the reams of low (or no) paid interns did the design from sketch to CAD just with an understanding of the “house style” (ie. for Karim = make it blobby, add some of his shapes to it as cut outs (stars, asterixs, etc.) and make it pink), and that KR would get the credit.

That being said, I also think the reverse is also an issue I’ve personally had problems with. Many of the projects I’ve been involved with (footwear), i’ve done everything (singlehandedly) from the initial concept to development, to product graphics, to packaging design, to marketing, but telling that story I’ve been confronted with skeptical looks in interviews, from clients, etc. given that esp. in larger brands this would be the result of 5 teams each of 5-10 people… it’s a win-lose situation in these cases I’ve found sometimes, having an experience of breadth as well as depth, but being difficult to pigeon-hole in a typical workflow/position type of way…