NDAs and your portfolio

Non-disclosure agreements, and protection of IP, are well ingrained in the product design business, and it’s important to respect them. (That is, barring any cutting-edge debate over the basic nature and validity of IP and the patent system… that’s for another thread, let’s take 'em as a given here)

But when you’re looking for a new job, and your best work / your most pertinent work hasn’t hit store shelves yet, but you feel it would clinch a new job for you, while your other work may appear too far afield of the new employer’s line of work, and be a turn-off… Is there any way you can share the good stuff with them?

The obvious answer is “No way, dude”, so maybe I’m just dreaming here. But in the past, I’ve heard people say how they didn’t GIVE samples of such work to the potential employer, but did mention it in correspondence, and then showed them isolated bits & pieces of it (but didn’t hand over a copy) during an interview. Is that approach valid? Or would you just be asking for trouble?

I guess the potential employer could also get the impression that you’re an opportunist with zero respect for IP, and tell you to take a hike. That’d be bad, too. And maybe true.

What’s everyone think? I’m so torn :frowning:

Personally, I don’t risk it. You can explain the situation while you’re interviewing. People who themselves respect the nda’s will understand it and respect your professionalism. It does lower the potential impact or focus of your portfolio so knowing that, you can think about modifying the portfolio a bit. Possibly with your own product concept but taking it through all of the same steps as your other actual products to show that you’re familiar with the process and have the skills and insights. Lots of work consultants do stay in the conceptual arena anyway so you’ll come across this issue again.

Two things,

first, if you are early in your career, you may want to remember that you cannot take every confidential project that comes your way and expect to build a portfolio. And also that those can be negotiable. Try to negotiate an agreement you can both live with.

With that, talk to the person you signed it for, and tell them about your needs as a designer, and are there any parts of the project that have been killed, or have gone to market, and therefore no longer need to be a big secret.

Unfortunately most clients would likely say no if asked permission to show any work pre-release. I’ve heard of one guy who made employers sign NDAs prior to showing stuff but that’s a bit iffy.

The only clients I ever work with who want ndas are the entrepreneurs. I try to avoid these things tbh.

They can be sure of my confidentiality anyway.

In my terms and conditions, which I get my clients to sign I say

‘We reserve the right to photograph and/or distribute or publish for our firms promotional and marketing needs any work we create for you, including mock-ups and comprehensive presentations, as samples for our portfolio, brochures, website, slide presentations and similar media. We agree to only disclose such work once the product is available at retail or at such a time as CLIENT agrees to its disclosure, whichever occurs soonest.’

Have not yet had a client disagree with this clause.

There are some projects I never show to anyone. There are some projects I would never post on my website. It’s a matter of wisdom.

However I am amazed to constantly find designers posting client work, still at development stage, before it’s at retail - on coroflot. Not a good idea.

I can appreciate when you start out you are desperate for any client work to show, but it’s bad practise. I had to scrabble around when I started. No matter how tempting it is, I never show current season work to anyone - I will show SS09 development at the moment, but not FW09, or anything newer. I’ve also sat in meetings with clients to help them interview designers and they’ve shown confidential work too.

It could backfire and the client could end up not trusting you enough to hire.

When I was working in-house and moving up the corporate ladder, I was ‘trained’ in recruitment and interview techniques. Part of this training involved sitting in on the interviews of seven candidates for a middleweight ID position. In every interview the interviewer - a very experienced designer/design manager - deliberately tried to get the candidate to show confidential work. Depending on the person’s personality and how they came across he would try different techniques: on one occasion he blatantly asked “have you got anything you can show us which is still in development?” But mostly he was more subtle and used a lot of psychological pressure; for example “your work is good but a bit out of date, have you got anything more recent?” or “I think you’re someone we might be interested in hiring, but your portfolio is weak in terms of commercial projects, have you got anything else?”

Out of the seven candidates, three did show things they really should not have and were immediately rejected, including one who we all agreed had the best portfolio. I asked the interviewer why he was pressuring people to show confidential work and his reply was “if they’re willing to break confidentiality now to get this job, they’ll break it again to get the next one.” I’m not sure if this is a standard tactic among recruiters, but in telling this story in the past I’ve heard others say yes, they’ve seen similar things. Shoenista is right, it can definitely backfire and lose you the job.

Recruiters need to know you are trustworthy, and by breaking confidentiality you are showing you can’t be trusted. It’s not just whether you show work around or talk about patent applications, it’s also whether you behave professionally in front of clients or report your hours correctly or submit expenses honestly… Remember as well that the design world is not so big - a reputation for breaking client’s confidentiality can spread quickly, even if it’s just gossip.

Recruitment consultants can be a nightmare with this, I’ve found.

They always complain when I say I’ve nothing newer to show them and I can imagine I’ve not been put forward for jobs because of this.

I don’t have the time to spend doing generic portfolio work and I won’t compromise my reputation, freelance is a career for me, not a stop-gap between full time, so I won’t do it.

Bear in mind when you send a portfolio pdf to an agency it could go to all kinds of companies. Ask yourself - are you happy for anyone in your trade to see that pdf?

I’ve also come accross instances of lying in resumes. Bad idea. The footwear trade is tiny. I remember someone I interviewed (in the UK) saying they had worked for brand xyz in the USA for a year. Unbeknown to them, one of our product managers had moved out there and had been working for them for three years. We phoned him and found out that they had done a one week internship!

Honesty is the best policy.

I’ve also learnt to never trust a factory that shows you other clients’ development. As soon as you are out the door they’ll be showing the next client your development!