ID Interview Rules and Etiquette?

Hi Guys,

So I’ve been at my current ID job for 3yrs and it’s starting to get to that time where I’d like to see what my options are out there. The problem I’m running into is during my 3 years, I’ve lead 6 different design projects with only one making it into production. The other 5? All cancelled due to financial reasons right before they were about to go into production. This has been a recurring theme at this job, which is one of the biggest reasons I want to move on.

This puts me in a tough spot since I now only have one project I can show potential employers moving forward. What are the rules for showing cancelled projects in an interview? Initially, I was told that as long as you don’t leave any documentation, it might be okay. Out of the 5 cancelled projects, I know for sure 3 are being shelved to never be seen or used again and the other 2 may come back as a different design completely. If a design is being shelved can I show it in an interview? If a design is being redone completely different - does that give me freedom to show my design evolution?

I fully know this is a gray area and I want to make sure I do the right thing and not scare potential employers into thinking - “hey this guy is going to show our work to other people!”.

Any advice or guidance would be really helpful!

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As an employer, if I saw a project in a portfolio that was 3 years old and well canceled, I wouldn’t think twice about it.

Also as an employer, if one of my designers was sowing a project that was canceled 3+ years ago, I’d be fine, especially if they were interviewing for a non competitive position. If they were interviewing with our competition it would be a different story. The market moves so fast that the expiration date on that design has well passed. You do so at your own risk as not even employee would be so open and it is nearly impossible to ask permission (i.e., “hey boss, can I show that old project you don’t care about in my portfolio because I want to quit”… good luck with that convo)

A certain amount of judgment is required. I’ve never gone to a competitor. Going from Evo to Nike I went from consultant to client, which is pretty normal. Leaving Nike I went back to consulting at frog to a firm that didn’t do footwear. Then left frog for a client which again is very normal there. I think doing that helps with not burning bridges. Designers I know that went to competitors were not treated the same.


If the work was publicly disclosed, meaning viewed by people without an nda in place, it is in the public domain. The tricky part will be getting images of that work that is not work product, meaning you need to obtain those images outside of work. Not easy, but possible.

And of course all this conjecture is dependent on if you signed a non-compete or the language of the non-compete.

But instead of asking a bunch of strangers on the interwebz, I would recommend the OP ask his/her employers what he/she can and cannot use in his/her portfolio. It is no secret that IDers have a portfolio.

The convo goes , “Boss, I’d like to use some stuff in my portfolio.”

As I wrote, it is no secret employees update their resumes and portfolios.

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Thanks for all of the replies and advice everyone!

I definitely don’t have any interest in going to a competitor - I just wouldn’t feel right about doing that.

In regards to having that “convo”, recently one of my mentors left for another job and we had a very frank discussion about my status here. He had an interesting rule, saying I should imagine our CEO was in the room when interviewing - would I feel comfortable showing what I am showing, while he’s there? At the same time, he recommended that I leave as soon as I can, since room for growth and upward mobility are really limited.

From a few friends I’ve talked to about this, the general consensus it seems is to not show anything that hasn’t made it into the market - just to be cautious.

" the general consensus it seems is to not show anything that hasn’t made it into the market"

If this was completely true there would be a lot of designers out there with empty portfolios.

If you are going to a competitor, there will be issues. If you are interviewing with your current boss’ best buddy and they chat over beers, there will be issues. Otherwise I think leaving no documentation and being reasonably aware of any trademark/IP issues that could cause problems will be OK. Its been my experience that consulting firms even do this - not showing Coke what Pepsi was working on, of course, but it might be OK to show Brooks Shoes or a real estate company what Pepsi was working on.