Posting your work

I make a habit of looking through the boards and portfolios on coroflot at least a few times a week for fun and motivation (a lot of work here is incredible, pushes me to improve my skills).

After looking at so many sketches of products that were not selected for production, finished samples ready for market (a market in the future, say 2010), I wondered how ‘legal’ this all was given the heated debates on what you can and cant show on your portfolio. The general rule I’ve heard is “if it’s not on a shelf in a store, don’t show it” except for some special circumstances.

So, are we getting in trouble with our past and present employers by showing sketches that never made it, or product that hasn’t hit the shelves yet? I thought any product development was property of the company you did it for (given you’re their employee).

It all kinda reminds me of the whole Mattel Bratz fiasco.

Thoughts?

Unless you signed a NDA (non disclosure agreement), you can show anything you want to promote yourself (portfolio). By default in IP laws a contractor’s work remains the property of the contractor, not the client.

So if I’m working on new technology at my company I can just start uploading development images to my corefolio? I doubt that’s the case.

I wonder about this too… and it seems like both a double edged sword but also very important to respect. You can’t show your most interesting current work due to confidentiality, and you’re left showing older work or personal work done on your free time (which can be limited). Showing good work that may be confidential is an opportunity killer too.

what are your thoughts on showing slightly more sensitive work in the face to face interview itself and possibly just showing client names on public postings? Do people ever sign NDAs before interviews?

edit Client names rather than the work done for that client

Are you in house or a contractor? What you can do or should do are different; if legally you can post all your work but morally you shouldn’t, that’s a topic on its own (maybe this is your real question?). But legally, if you’re a contractor and didn’t sign an NDA, you own the rights for your work for self promotion (put on your portfolio, but probably not to sell to competitors). But as said, legally and morally can be different answers.

What you can do that some people practice is before showing your full portfolio to others, have them sign an NDA. Or if you want to make sure everyone’s happy, talk to your previous/current employer and ask if you can show these specific projects/drawings.

I’ve seen people reference work done elsewhere as “Designer Jones for XYZ Manufacturing Co.” to give credit to the company it was done for (or their employer) and to show that it was their work. I think that covers most moral bases outside of NDA’s. Personally if I were interviewing someone and they wanted me to sign an NDA, it better be some hot design work.

Unless you signed a contract that says you can’t post specific work…

You can post any work you want, whether its early concept stages, or nearly finished concept ready to get prototyped/manufactured…

It doesn’t mean that you will still have a job after your client/boss sees it.

Use your head.

yeah, NDA’s in an interview seem like a cop-out… the work had better be hot, and if it is, another designer who’s interviewing will have seen it and could be influenced anyway…

Don’t ask for an NDA in an interview! Disaster!

You won’t find a set rule because there is none (just like how there is no law about paying income tax). There is no rule because different clients and employers have different sensitivities, and figuring out those sensitivities and respecting them is key (just like the IRS)

For freelance, I put a clause in every contract and on every proposal that clearly states that the client owns the IP but I retain the right to use the work I did and the final product in promotional materials as soon as it is made public or if the project is dead for 3 years. That is a pretty vague statement. Notice I wrote when it is “made public”, not “in productions”, prototypes are often made public in some way or another. And if a client cancels a project, after 3 years there is not really much IP left typically. I use similar self guidelines for work. I like to wait until the product is on the shelves for a few months before I post much process, and I wait to make sure a program is really dead a few years… in footwear a few years is a long time in terms of the market landscape. Anything dead is long buried by then. That said, I have tons and tons of dead projects sitting next to me that I’ve never gotten around to posting, some really cool stuff that never made it… but, how many shoes could I put in my portfolio?

That’s more in line with what I was asking, thanks Yo. Does anyone else do anything similar? 3 years for footwear, what about other stuff?

I typically wait for a product to hit the shelves to post the work, and if it never made it, usually 2 years if it hasnt been touched at all, and probably not if it uses a technology explored in other current projects.

Even when a product is released, the variety of concepts in the initial stages of a project seem taboo to share. I know ideas are cheap, and the refinement takes skill and funding, but I also know some clients consider these concepts their property because they paid you to develop them.

Maybe your right Yo and it should be written into the contract . Are you saying that from the start, any design directions not developed can be shown after the product is released? It seems fair, they got their product, and you get to show off your development work…

It is my understanding that when you are an employee anything you produce at work is the property of the company. They may have to credit you as in the case of patents, but they have all the property rights. Of course this is a grey area when it comes to many universities, but thats a whole other discussion

In the case of freelance/independent contractor work it really all depends (as Yo touched on) how your contract is worded. In general the final work becomes the property of the client and process material does not. Again though your rights to show the work will vary depending on what you have agreed to in writing.

Lots of clients want to own all of the work you produce while under contract with them because they may revisit the old concepts at a later date and use some of those ideas. That’s why they generally frown on showing “unused” concepts, because they keep it as their reference library and may still use it in the future (which they can’t if you show it).

The only “unused” concepts I’d think about showing would be ones that you filtered out yourself and didn’t present to the client (and of course didn’t utilize any of their intellectual property or specific knowledge gained from working with them that isn’t already in the public domain). But that is hard because they generally want to see everything when you brainstorm or any of the early phases for exactly that purpose of trying to gather and own all possible solutions (gotta love the business world).
I’d self censor if some concepts didn’t match who their target market is in any way so I never show it to them. Then those would potentially be concepts that I could use if I develop the idea on my own.

Also keep in mind the product lifecycle. Things like softgoods have a quick turnaround so something that’s 2 yrs old is considered old and outdated so you can get away with showing things pretty quickly. Some products only get bought for the home every 10 years or so. So if designing one of those big appliances like a water heater, the NDA on that type of project might easily be over 10 years since they could potentially use your concepts for the next 10-20 years of their lineup. The turnaround is much longer and they might not need another design for years. They’d be upset if you showed a concept they planned to use on their next model (to be released 2015) and their competitor got a jump on it. So for all practical purposes, you can’t really show any of that stuff.

When in doubt, ask the client what they think, you might be surprised at how flexible (or stingy) they are. Some places don’t even want you to list that they used you, they want it to seem as though all work is done inhouse so you can’t even mention them as a client. Give them the chance to voice their opinion, then you’ll have a clear idea of what potential consequences you’ll have to deal with.

Now that I’m thinking of this more, if you have a really tightlipped client where you can’t use anything for self promotion, even mentioning them as a client, you might just have to charge them a bit more :smiley:

Do not post publicly any ongoing project.

Use your discretion posting publicly any work from a currently released project. Generally it should be ok, depending. Depending = individual contract wording, general understanding between you and the company, type of market i.e. intense competition with very short product cycles.

Always attribute others where applicable: “as part of development team…”, but no names.

An interview is not public. Use your discretion. Showing current work is acceptable, depending. Not to direct competitors, but ok in an interview in different industry. State that it’s current work, it’s important for the interviewer to know both that your skill and knowledge is current and as a caveat. A responsible interviewer isn’t going to go copying or broadcasting what you showed.

Also, if it is important for you to show current work, not in public, consider anonymizing it: selective views, colors, hide all names and graphics.


Many design, engineering and architectural firms include contract clauses as Yo describes, claiming self-marketing ownersip rights. It’s a contractual school-of-thought: if I may or want to do something I have to include it in the terms and conditions. I have experienced about 90% question, modification or rejection of this clause, a few times with extreme nastiness from the client. Eliminating the self-marketing ownersip rights clause, and being discrete about publishing, has resulted in no complaints: problem solved.

We had a thread about this before.

All of my clients sign a contract, which has this clause in it:

‘‘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.’’

So, whether in an interview or on my website or blog, or anywhere else, right now, no one is being shown any client work that is newer than Summer 2009. I know some designers, especially in fashion, where being seen as up-to-date is so important, do some work specifically for their website or corefolio. This is a good idea, because you are not treading on anyones toes. Also a great idea if you are new to this and don’t have much client work to show otherwise, or if you want to try branching out into other categories.

AFAIK, for unselected work (and in fashion design it can be as much as 80% of the work for some projects), I treat this the same, whether it got selected for production or not, would not expect a fashion client to get upset over this as they will have moved onto the next trend by next season, it’s unusual to revisit old stuff unless we are talking years later, then, it is considered retro! Anyway, having said all of that, I don’t post much unselected work on the web, would prefer to post only the stuff that is instore.

Especially if you are going to put it on the web - get it in writing! Just avoids any misunderstanding later on. Number one thing is to respect your client. I guess I only really show as little as 30% of what I do. I’m careful of what I publish online, there are some projects I’d show at interview but not online. There are some projects that I’m really proud of, that I know I can never show, because the client asked me not to. Most clients don’t quibble at the clause in my contract, the ones that ask me for confidentiality or ask me to remove it, I have to say, they usually have good reason to do it, and I’m always happy to comply.

And D-Flux, yeah I feel the same as you when I see a Core folio, which has what looks like client work and has a future season written on it. (And there are many, many like this!) Would I hire them? No way!

Edited to add:

An interview is not public. Use your discretion. Showing current work is acceptable, depending. Not to direct competitors, but ok in an interview in different industry. State that it’s current work, it’s important for the interviewer to know both that your skill and knowledge is current and as a caveat. A responsible interviewer isn’t going to go copying or broadcasting what you showed.
Also, if it is important for you to show current work, not in public, consider anonymizing it: selective views, colors, hide all names and graphics.

I wouldn’t do this, personally, I’m freelance. In order to get work, my clients need to be able to trust me. If I do this, how do they know I’m not going to go to their competitor and showing them their work. It’s obvious that it can work both ways. If they ask, I just say sorry, but I can’t for confidentiality reasons. I don’t have a client list on my website and I don’t disclose the names of every company I work for either.

There was a thread on here a while ago where someone sat in an interview where they deliberately tried to extract confidential, current work from a potential employee. He gave in and showed the work. They didn’t hire him. BE CAREFUL!