Sharing Past Work — Portfolios of NDA’d Work


We chat about the need for a portfolio AND the troubles of sharing work you’ve done in the past that’s under NDA.


Matt: Like we had a status call in the morning without the client. And like, yeah we got approved. Everything is good. We said we do it Wednesday, but why not just push it out today? I'm like, I'm good with that.

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: And I came on

Matt: What did go wrong?

Matt: Right, oh, we're gonna push out within the hour. Great, all of us and we'll start falling off like,

Matthew: Yeah. .

Matt: What are we talking about today?

Matthew: Well, let me tell you what we're talking about today.

Matt: Yes.

Matthew: Basically, we're talking about the title. The working title of this episode Okay is it's always a working title and then I need this working title. And then sometimes that doesn't work out for us.

Matt: That's such a great idea for an episode. Let's just talk about whatever the title of the episode is. Great, proceed.

Matthew: Title wait for it. Sharing past projects, work you've done with potential prospects. A question that comes up. When you're applying for a job or a freelancer, you might have a portfolio on your website. Or you have a prospect that asked to see work related to stuff that they want done. I am always at that point, I'm like, if I go against all those NDAs I signed. Hey, here's a bunch of stuff.

Matt: Well, I wanna talk even what you mentioned. At the beginning of that little comment, is when you get asked. Because this is something we've talked about it. I don't get asked to show previous work. I don't think as often as it seems like a lot of other people are. I'm asked to talk about previous projects.

Matthew: Sure.

Matt:  And explain what I've done and methods you used. And all that stuff. But to actually show a portfolio or show deliverables, does not happen very often for me. In fact sure I have a portfolio. And I'm not sure I've ever. No, I have set it to one client. But I very rarely get asked to show it to anyone. Which may speak to just the way I get my freelance projects. It's through word of mouth to people I knows, that kind of already know me. It's weird because I have this sense that a lot of people, it's a big issue for people. And I see posts on LinkedIn. And I've talked to people at meetups. And they're a lot of them ask about portfolios. And best practices and tips and tricks. And things like that. But some people out there you might realize, this is, you might not realize it's a thing like me. I kind of I'm a little bit in a bubble. And so I don't look at a lot of portfolios for other researchers. Or designers. And I've some friends do share them with me just to get feedback. And obviously that's cool. But for me it's not a thing that people are, clients are constantly asking for. And it's almost a little insulting. Because I have one. I've put all this work into it and I've done some cool projects I would like to share.

Matthew: Maybe that's the key.

Matt: Oh yeah.

Matthew: Really good portfolio that no one will ask for it.

Matt: Now the one thing it has forced me to do, personally is, it forced me to think through projects. Recent projects and come up with a story. So it's in my head. Even though I don't show a document to someone, I can say, or in my head I know I did these three projects recently. And this is the type of research that I did. And I can tell an interesting story

Matthew: Right.

Matt: about each one. I guess that's my tip is, even if you're not gonna do a portfolio, at least go through the motions mentally. You'll prepare yourself with some anecdotes and stories and you know. What you learned and what you didn't. And all those sorts of things. What are the outcomes?

Matthew: We know somebody. Actually, you know Ian Fenn, right? Yeah, he wrote a book about

Matt: I do

Matthew: ...portfolios.

Matt: I remember that

Matthew: picture there.

Matt: That's right. Hi Ian.

Matthew: Future Matthew. You know. And great stuff in the book obviously. I get asked, you know, let's see your work. Maybe they don't necessarily ask for a portfolio using that word but they might say something like case study.

Matt: And that is something, in my head is slightly different. But yeah, go ahead.

Matthew: I would say yes. It's slightly different. But to me its' the same thing. It's like, show me proof of your past experience is.

Matt: And I agree. And I am gonna ask for case studies and deliverables, yes.

Matthew: As a deliverable and not just as hey, walk us through something, you know. I have a few things on the studio video site. It's just text. Largely because most of the work has been and most of my work in general has been like internal business stuff. Not total consumer, hey, this launched and it's out there. It launched and this company uses it to run their business. And I find it challenging from an ethical perspective. Especially with those NDAs in place to say and here's the before and after screenshots. Which I have, of course, but I don't put them out there.

Matt: Yeah,I definitely struggle with confidentiality. You know if sharing things obviously. If something you built or designed or tested is now live, I consider that free reign. There it is, anyone could see it. I did that or helped with that. Internal things. Depending on the relationship I have with my former client and my potential future client, I might show things in person, predacted. Take pronounce, but I don't deliver them electronically to where they can have them. What I've had happen is they'll ask for it. And when I say I'm happy to come on site, you know, come to your office. Usually doesn't get that far. Like we just move forward. It's like they don't wanna call my bluff. All right he's offering that he must happen. But I want to go back to something, we talked about the difference between a portfolio and case studies. And maybe this is interesting to our listener or viewer. Is the reason I distinguish between the two. And this could just be a thing that I do and no one else does, is my portfolio. I have it broken up into sections and one is case studies. And that's stuff we were to kind of talking about. I think like here's a project I did, here's what I did , here are the results. And I got sections on, I forgot what it's called. But it's basically on capabilities of mine. And so it's more about my service offerings. And how I run discovery workshops. I do training and here are some of my methods.

Matthew: Right. 

Matt: And so both of those combined in my head, that's my overall portfolio which never gets shown to anyone. No one ever has to see that. But that first part, the case studies I do share. So I don't know if you have yours structured in any sort of similar way? Or is it just me making making shit up?

Matthew: Little column A, little column B. The way of thinking about it lately. And what I've said to other people, when they've asked me to look at their portfolio or something like that is, I'd say put effort into one robust story about a project. That covers the most skills you want to be using in the future. So if you did a research, if you did design, you did testing. That kind of thing if you ran the gamut as it were. And that's kind of stuff you wanna be doing. Or you really wanna be doing research. So just really focus on the research aspect of it. But pick one project and make it really good. And don't worry about anything else. Because hiring managers, in this case, it's for people who are are trying to get a job. But hiring managers, ain't got time for that.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: So it gives them one easy to read, easy to understand, easy to get to know your story. And forget the rest. And I've taken that tack with. So I have one hidden URL thing on my personal site. If you could find it. And part of the reason I feel comfortable, having it relatively public like that is it's work that I did that did actually go out on consumer stuff. And the company's not around anymore. So I don't feel beholden to keep secrets about something that doesn't exist. And so I put a lot of time into putting that together. But like on the studio VO side are on the work page. It describes, you know, who some of the clients were and what the projects were. And what the outcome was. But maybe 150 words about it. Just a short little. I don't know, it's the idea of having a really robust portfolio that shows this, you know, breadth of work and stuff like that. Just I don't really want to do that. And I'm not sure that it's going to be helpful. And even if I did put a lot of effort into that, most of it again, I couldn't show anybody, right? Or at least I don't feel comfortable. Let me rephrase. There are very few cases where I would feel comfortable sharing that.

Matt: In my case studies, I have a various summer. I name a client and some I just create a kind of generic description of the client. Like this is a consumer electronics company. This is

Matthew: Right.

Matt: Some other generic name and yeah. I redact things from screens, you know from screenshots. Or whatever because yeah, you have to. I believe ethically adhere to whatever confidentiality agreements, NDAs you've agreed to. But that's an interesting tact on just focusing on one project. I did the opposite. Like you were mentioning on your website, which is kind of how I generally do mine. I've got, I feel the top or recent four or five projects I've worked on that I thought were interesting. And I've created stories around them. And like I said, all the different attributes and information. To me it shows a breadth of work because they were all slightly different. Like it's not just showing the same type of work over and over again, right? Like oh, on this project I was doing you know, you know interviews. Or just doing training. Or I was doing service design or I was doing whatever. And so that's that was my approach to show the breath of my work across by illustrating these different projects.

Matthew: In some respects, it doesn't matter what path you take to doing this. As long as you're able to craft a story that can stand on its own, if someone's reviewing it, without you there to walk them through it. Or that's something that is easy for you to reference as you tell a story. One of the challenges that I've found is prospects saying, well could we see work you've done that's similar to this? this is not going for a job. This is going for a consulting gig or something. Where I'm like, you're in Edinburgh, Scotland. And I'm here and I don't feel comfortable sharing that with you. Because of this reason. The feeling I get is always, well, but it's just us though, right? And I say, well, you probably want me to sign an NDA to not share what I work on with you. Which of course the answer is yes. And you wouldn't be comfortable. And they're like, of course, that makes sense. Of course that makes sense. Do you have anything you can show us like,?

Matt: Right. 

Matthew: I don't know. It probably would be easier if I had a background of a lot of customer facing stuff.

Matt: And I think the biggest ask I get from potential clients around especially 'cause we focus on research is, well, what am I gonna get? Can you show me something? Not even so much about the methods, but what is the end result? Right, what am I paying you for? And so they wanna see that.

Matthew: What thing do I get?

Matt: Right, yeah, what what do I get? And you know, obviously like we have a conversation about it. And I can describe it. And yeah, push comes to shove. I can pull up either a keynote or an air table or something. I've done. Like here's a very pretty spreadsheet.

Matthew: Right.

Matt: This is how I do my raw data analysis. And the words mean nothing to them. But it looks impressive and it could just be gobbledygook. But

Matthew: so maybe that's the thing. Maybe we can create just a standard basic deliverable of the main deliverables that a lot of people in our profession do. And it's all stupid. It's not literally lorem ipsum, but like,

Matt: right

Matthew: Stuff. I mean, everyone shares that

Matt: It might as well be Yeah, and I focus on the columns. Like, here's how I'm breaking down the data.

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah, there's severity. There's themes. And that seems like that's what they wanna see. Or know about, like, Oh, yeah. Okay, so we're gonna get all this stuff and you're gonna categorize it. And come up with insights. And again, it doesn't matter what I did for this other company. Because it's meaningless to you. You can't even understand the context. They wanna see something. And on some level, I get it. They're paying money. They wanna know what to expect. And yeah, I think as far as setting expectations, I think it's important. So at the end or near even the end when you're getting done. And you know you're gonna be showing them. And they know what you're gonna be giving them. It's in alignment. So they're not expecting some big video presentation or something. Unless that's what you do. And then awesome. And if that's what we agreed to, I can show them, hey, here's, we'll do video clips. All that stuff so. I think like a lot of things in our work. There's compromise when you're having these conversations. And there's a little bit of a gut instinct that you have to utilize. Obviously without breaking any ethical agreements, you've got on your plate. You know sometimes you have to give a little just to get the client or potential client to feel better about it. And again this more than consulting world to get a job. Like a full time job, it might be a little different because you wanted to show your skills. But more than likely you're going in there. Depending on the level that you're going in there, you're going into a pre existing environment. As you almost just want to kind of wanna fit in to an established world sometimes.

Matthew: Right, yeah

Matt: It is different. And I get that there's difference. I just personally don't have a lot of experience doing the full time show until recently.

Matthew: I know this is a while ago, but when you were managing people, and you were hiring, would you look at portfolios?

Matt: I would. And at the time I was hiring designers, visual and interaction designers. And yeah, and I would have them present screens to me or designs. And have them walk me through their thought process. It wasn't so much about what was on the page, but how I got on the page. I'd like to say. And what were the constraints? Tell me about the project. And it's the same thing. Like tell me the story of this thing. How did you arrive at this result? I would but I would never ask 'cause someone said, I can't show you this is confidential. Then I would say, well, could you just block out any company names or terminologies. But again, as long as you can talk to it. Or you know, say worst case, I would tell people just make something up. You know most like a pro bono project. Just come up with a page or a product. Design something for it. I wanna see the thought process. And some level of, yeah, at the time like basic interface principles that were being applied.

Matthew: It's been on my mind lately. Because I've run into it more. I always have that moment when could you show us a deliverable or you know what we're gonna get out of this. Or an example or work you've done previously in this domain. And this may be because I've been doing a little bit more work through other agencies. They wanna see the work. The stuff that we've worked on, you and I worked on over the past few years. There's really only one thing that I can share. And in case you didn't know that's going away. 

Matt: Oh yeah, yeah Yeah, yeah, yeah. So now you can show it. 

Matthew: So now I can really show it. 

Matt: Yeah.

Matthew: Anyway. 

Matt: We did the other thing that did not go away, the other big thing but,

Matthew: The other big thing did not go away. But that's something that we can't like,

Matt: we can't show anybody about it.

Matthew: Crow about it you know.

Matt: Right right.

Matthew: And part of the ask on that again was make this deliverable look terrible. Because we want it to be something that the team who inherits this you know, we don't want it so shiny that they don't wanna touch it.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: And so we we did that.

Matt: And that's part of the explanation. Yeah, I have some,

Matthew: Look at this purposely terrible work. Not terrible work you know. 

Matt:  Right, now I've showed it and I've explained to people maybe I've hidden book the clients name and all the specific terminology and that. And I know what you're talking about. We spent a lot of time building that thing. But yeah this is, and again I had it laid it out. Like you did, I've only shown it to one person, just to be clear. But I get, this was just like you said, was was keep it messy. Keep it not looking polished. So people can rip it apart later. And keep working on it. And we did it. Yeah, it looks crappy because that's what they asked for.

Matthew: I don't know whether there's an answer. And I wanted to just talk about it a bit. probably has an answer.

Matt: The answer to what specific question?

Matthew: Like how what, you do when you don't have anything you can show?

Matt: Right.

Matthew: This is different from hey, I'm new to UX. And I don't have a UX portfolio. Now I need to make something up or something. I don't mean it like that. I mean, it's either you're going for a job or a prospective client has said, I wanna see a deliverable. I wanna see work you've done that's related to this. And I've done the work. I've done the deliverable. But I will not show you. Or you know, here are the conditions that would allow me to show you. And you're not gonna fly me over to Edinburgh.

Matt: Right, I said the only other thing I'd do is just blackout things, possibly to the point where it's meaningless.

Matthew: I think, right? If I look at some of these screens sometimes I'm like, if I have to blackout all the information on the screen that's important to black out, it's going to be a mostly black down. Excuse me, a mostly black down screen.

Matt: Or we go back to is to take more time. But going into the document and just changing the words. From company names or specific terminology to alternate words to make a sanitized version of it.

Matthew: That's not a bad idea.

Matt: Thank you. Just made that up.

Matthew: Right, that's not a bad idea.

Matt: And it'll look nicer than the black bars. And I'll what I've done. I don't use the black bars. I use white bars 'cause a lot of my stuff's on a white background. So there's gaps.

Matthew: So it's just blank.

Matt: It's just blank. And it's quicker than changing the text. And it looks nicer than big black bars everywhere.

Matthew: I was going for Classical Redaction. 

Matt: Classic FBI Redaction.

Matthew: Not that they were my client. No

Matt: Right now. No So another thing I wanted to talk about with portfolios that I've seen recently. And for whoever might be watching is to look for resources. I see a lot of people here in the Atlanta community, offering up, you know, portfolio peer reviews. Which I think is really cool. It seems to be catching on. So if you're out there and you found this video. And you're looking for advice or feedback, check your local UX research design. Whatever community and don't be afraid to look out. Look up people that might be willing to do this. I've had very, people more senior than me reach out to me in the past few months that have wanted to like show and tell with portfolios. I've met people at coffee shops. And it's interesting to see if like you and I, everyone has different tactics on how they approach it. I've definitely learned stuff from them. They've learned stuff from me, hopefully. I think it's beneficial. So if you're out there thinking you're on your, out of ideas, just go ask someone you trust or admire for help.

Matthew: Specific to our profession, it's pretty typical to take something you've designed. You get feedback on it before putting it out there in the world. So why not apply the same thought process to your portfolio or case studies? Or however you put it.

Matt: Mails here.

Matthew: We're starting that process this year through the PBX HCD thing. Get a small group of people together. Not specific necessarily to portfolios, but not exclusive of that. Where it's basically critique sessions. You know, if you're working on a project, could be a portfolio, could be work, put it on the table and let us all tear it apart.

Matt: I floated that idea. And I haven't had really any takers. We tried to do a launch around it. But didn't quite go how I thought it would.

Matthew: We're just gonna experiment what we're gonna do. When I say me, it's really Peter Russa, who's driving it. But we're going to do two of them with a small group of people. Basically to test out how it runs. And then if that goes okay, we'll open it up to the public as a quarterly scheduled event or something like that.

Matt: Just going curious to see how it goes.

Matthew: Yeah, me too. I think it'll at least be a worthwhile experiment. Right?

Matt: Speaking of experiment we've completely left our topic.

Matthew: I thought that was related. Somehow related.

Matt: Oh that area is related. You're right, you're right. I'm sorry.

Matthew: Was related.

Matt: You're absolutely right. I'm wrong. You're right. So what else can we talk about with portfolios? Portfolios are great.

Matthew: Case studies are great too.

Matt: Case studies are even better in my opinion.

Matthew: They're not the same thing.

Matt: They're not. It's to me, they're not exactly the same thing. See you next time. Like and Subscribe.

Matthew: Classic.

Matt: All right, good show people. Good show.