When it comes to maintaining a portfolio in the midst of professional life as a designer, what you can and cannot include can sometimes get murky—when your designs gets tied up in the brand identity of specific companies and their inner workings, it's hard to know sometimes what is acceptable to share. This difficulty in discerning what to do about this generated a recent question from a Core77 discussion board member:
"I've been working in a corporate ID role for about 5 years now. My current organization doesn't have more room for growth, and I will be interviewing at a few places in the coming weeks for a more senior position. Over the course of 5 years, I've had more of the projects that I work on get cancelled than not. Leaving me with a portfolio of finished projects that doesn't look like 5 years of work. There are also a few projects that I am currently working on, and I've always gone with the mantra that it's OK to show work that has been released, etc etc. As you know corporate design tends to drag its feet and my current projects have been underway for more than a year.
My main question is: Is it acceptable to show this work (the cancelled projects)? I haven't included it in my portfolio that got me in the door, but I'd like to be able to show more to the hiring managers. As a hiring manager what would you recommend? What would you do in this situation?"
Core77 readers had this to say in response:
Explore Your Options
"I think you have a few options here:
1. get permission from your boss. Has its obvious draw backs of you boss knowing you are looking. 2. if the project is truly dead and you don't think you will be infringing on any IP then you can make that call 3. beef up your portfolio with some side projects that communicate what you have learned" — yo
Know Your Audience
"Public portfolio: never. Private: Sometimes.
As others have said, know your audience. If you are at Ford and you get an interview at Dodge, assume that everyone at both companies is going to find out about the interview and what you did or didn't show. If you are interviewing at Bouty Chairs (different industry, different region), assume that no one will ever find out. Second is how you use it. Don't lead with, "This is a super top secret never to be disclosed prototype I worked on.". Keep it incomplete, vague and punch up the skill it is showing. ie show a render, prototype detail, sketch but not a 60 page technical package.
Third, modify it. If you want to show your mechanical abilities, show an exploded view with no recognizable features or logos. That way, you show your ability and keep the confidentiality of whatever the design was...
Lastly, you can always ask your boss, just practice the conversation in your head before hand. "Hey, next time I update my portfolio, could I toss in that derailleur gear concept we canned?" Lots of coulds-woulds-ifs makes it seem like you have no immediate plan. Just plan for follow up questions in case the boss is paranoid." — Mr-914
Understand the Risk
"I know people who have gotten fired for sharing client concept work - it's a very small industry and you never know if your new interviewing manager is your current managers former college roommate. If any part of you feels that you shouldn't show it, then you probably shouldn't.
As mentioned, if your portfolio is too weak without these projects, consider looking at your weakest skills and doing a project that specifically demonstrates your skills in that area. Does your portfolio not show your awesome CAD skills because your company makes garage door openers? Spend a few weekends modeling a sports car."— Cyberdemon
Another comment from SophieHortonJones reflects the idea that audience certainly should be considered, stating it may just be more safe to avoid legal grey areas altogether:
"I definitely agree with the 'if it hasn't been released, don't show it' view. Even if it's not in the same sector of design, it's a small world, and a small world of designers who talk to each other! I once interviewed a candidate who stated talking about unreleased product, they even started the line with "I probably shouldn't talk about this, but....", it made it worse that they knew they shouldn't be talking about it, it didn't give me much confidence that they wouldn't do the same with any of our work!!
I think most employers will understand that you've worked on products that have been dropped or shelved, it's all part of the design process. I'd agree with Yo, beef up your portfolio with alternative examples of work, or even demonstrate how you work as well as what you've worked on."
Knowing whether a cancelled project is OK to include in your portfolio isn't the only subtlety worth mentioning when it comes to managing an archive of your work—what are some other tips you've learned about maintaining a professional portfolio you have personally found to be helpful?