Showing work in a UX design portfolio without violating NDA's/intellectual property laws
May 27, 2012 1:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm updating my UX design portfolio. I've signed a NDA with my current employer so I can't show work that isn't already live. However, I have a lot of great mockups & wireframes I made either for prospective clients (that we didn't sign) or clients whose sites we haven't made live yet. I designed some amazing mockups for a huge client, but their site won't be live until 2013, and I really want to show my work now. How do I show my work in a way that doesn't violate my NDA?

If I redesign the mockups so the UX and design is entirely my creation and not within my company's standard guidelines, and is not work that I turned in to them as part of my job, is it OK for me to feature this on my web portfolio?

In short, if I feature mockups I made for Prospective Client ABC - but never showed my company or Prospective Client ABC - will I be violating any intellectual property law (or be in violation of my NDA or any other law, yadda yadda) if I put them on my web portfolio? Or would Prospective Client ABC say "HEY WHY IS OUR LOGO ON A MOCKUP ON YOUR SITE AND WHY DID WE NOT SEE THIS BEFORE?" and come after me? Do I black out their logo and any other trademarks?

Just trying to figure ways to show my work that isn't violating any rules.

Thank you.
posted by matrushka to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
By "web portfolio" do you mean a public website where you display your work (a portfolio on the web)? Or do you mean a private set of website mockups you take to interviews and otherwise don't share (a portfolio of the web)?

Because you absolutely cannot publicly leak a mockup that will go live in 2013 for a major client. Not only does it violate your NDA, but it could violate the contract the client has with your employer. Once it leaks their new design is no longer fresh, and depending on who they are that could decrease traffic numbers during/after the launch.

For example, say the client is Facebook and they haven't announced a major redesign is coming along. Every FB redesign is followed by a chorus of hate, and now that they're traded publicly that could mean months of stock decline before the design is even unveiled. Also, months of articles in tech blogs before anyone's even seen the final product. And when they do roll it out, no one will be excited about it. No one will be talking about it. It could ruin the launch.

Also, in general, any work you do for your employer on company time, using company resources, that you were compensated for, belongs to your employer. Even if the client went another direction. Even if you never showed the client. Even if you never showed your manager. They paid for it, they own it. It's sitting on the HD of your work supplied computer or server. It was done using Photoshop/InDesign/DreamWeaver that work paid for. It was sketched on a pad using pencils taken from the supply cabinet and now sitting in a filing cabinet. They have the right to use it in a future campaign, or to sue a competitor for using it if they stole it off your web portfolio. So it would be best to not put yourself in that position.
posted by sbutler at 2:30 AM on May 27, 2012

Response by poster: It's all work I did on my computer on my own time outside of work. Does that change things?
posted by matrushka at 2:53 AM on May 27, 2012

You can't show the work that hasn't gone live yet because of the agreement you have with your employer, and you should not show that work because it's a leak of sensitive information. You could convince your boss to let you show speculative work but you'd want to frame it as your own concepts rather than tying the designs to the company,

However, there might be a another way around all this. In design portfolios, it makes a good impression to give examples of work in several stages of your process. If you have some unrecognizable basic concepts, sketches or wireframes, you could compile those to show off how you think without betraying your company or your company's clients.
posted by michaelh at 3:33 AM on May 27, 2012

This is a problem I have long struggled with. The conundrum that, as a professional designer, people want to see tangible examples of my work, and yet nearly all of my work is protected by confidentiality or NDA agreements.

In short, as the others have said, if it's work for a client, especially for a project that is not yet live, you cannot show it. If you do show it, not only are you violating a contract, but you are demonstrating to future clients that you won't respect their NDA either.

I have gotten around this problem in two ways. The first is to create a couple of "case studies" that are based on a real project (one that is already completed), but which I go out of my way to anonymise. I do not reference the client's name, and I describe the client only in terms of industry and size. Say, a "fortune 500 consumer products company". I describe the design problem in detail (but not using any details that would identify the client or reveal competitive information), more from the perspective of me, as the designer, and why this was an excellent design problem that showcases my particular skill set. I try to tease out the goals of the project in such a way that they are relatable to other future clients (and therefore somewhat generic). I spend most of the case study talking about my approach to the problem: what was my process? what kinds of challenges did I face along the way (e.g., the need to secure buy-in from external stakeholders, budget was cut half way through the project)? and how did I (and my team) devise a strategy to solve the problem?

By talking about the "how", you can distance yourself from the particulars of the "what", and in any case, future clients are going to want to know what it's like to work with you. I include some sketches and process work that have been anonymised (or perhaps re-drawn completely). I don't show the final result. But I do talk about the results that were achieved (i.e., increase in sales, more site traffic, fewer user errors, etc.)

Now, this still doesn't allow you to showcase the final design, but it does allow you to showcase everything else about what you're like to work with, and what kind of clients and design problems you have experience with.

The second strategy is to approach your boss, or the client, and ask permission to show some limited shots of the finished work. When I have done this successfully, I have put together a case study like the one above, but with more of the work I'd like to show, and I have shown it to boss/client and explicitly asked them to give me their blessing. Make sure they have the ability to OK exactly what goes up in your portfolio. I've had clients be OK with me showing thumbnails of finished work and/or showing work only in live interviews (not publicly available on the internet).

As for work that you generated outside of the office and never showed the client, I would say fine to show, provided it doesn't identify the client.

And FWIW, I find that as I get on in my career, my portfolio seems to matter less, and the networking and recommendations I get from my colleagues and clients matters more.
posted by amusebuche at 5:03 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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