Putting collaborative projects in the portfolio?

As a junior designer, I find myself regularly working collaboratively with other senior designers. As a result, almost none of the designs I’ve worked on over the past several years can be called 100% my own.

Just as an example, what will often happen is my supervisor will give me a quick sketch and I’ll start to model it in CAD. As I look at the internal components, I find myself having to change several design elements in order for it to be functional to the point where it doesn’t really look like the original sketch anymore. Or sometimes it’s flipped: I’ll come up with the initial concept and my supervisor will end up changing the design a lot in order to account for internal parts/mechanics/ergonomics.

Or let’s use the instance of headphones. What happens if I design the headband and my supervisor designs the earcups or vice versa? What if I’m designing a faucet and my supervisor designs the handles and I design the spout?

How should I present these designs in my portfolio, if at all?

A great question and, if it makes you feel any better, a very common one. The truth is: it is rare that a design will ever be 100% “yours” in that most products are the result of the collaborative effort of many stakeholders in the process like your supervisor, an engineers, a molder, the client, etc. This is particularly true when you are just starting out as a junior designer.

First things first: I am assuming that you are taking your signed nondisclosure into account when considering what can and cannot be shown in your portfolio. The best suggestion here it to discuss this with your supervisor and make sure any images you plan to show are permissible under that agreement. Sometimes you’ll have to get permission from the client (if you’re in a consultancy) in addition to permission from the firm.

And just to make things even more complicated, it’s possible that sketches of concepts not used in the final design might never be shown. All those sketches typically belong to the client as well and it just depends on what they will allow.

But if you are allowed to show images of the project you worked on in your portfolio, I think the key here is to communicate how you participated in the project and where you contributed. I’m not necessarily saying to circle parts of the image and say, “That’s my spout.”, but, rather, list how you worked with the team. As an example, for each collaborative project in your portfolio, you could have a list identifying your “Contributions” for that project as “3D CAD Database Development”, “Concept Sketch Development”, “Collaborative Concept Development” or “Engineering Detail Development”. Featuring a list like this acknowledges the collaborative nature of the program while identifying your contributions.

I do this in my portfolio and prefer this type of disclosure as opposed to showing a product in such a way that implies you designed it single-handed from start to finish. It’s more honest, and a good team really doesn’t have the individual “pride of ownership” for specific details. Rather, they work together to create great products as a result of this collaborative effort. However, of you have this list identified in your portfolio, you can expand on this during your interview to give them a better understanding of how you work well in a team.

Hope this helps, best of luck.


To add to that - don’t see not being responsible for the whole thing 100% as something negative (anyone rarely ever is as Warren mentioned). There is value in showing you can work in a team with others and acknowledge others’ contribution.

Focus on what you brought to the equation. What was your value add. Give credit to others where possible (which can be as simple as saying designed with the team at xxx design)

I absolutely agree with that.

Just don’t minimize your contribution. I had a weird interview where the candidate made me feel like they had done almost nothing of value in their whole portfolio. No one would ask you to contribute, no matter how small, if they didn’t need you.