Ask LH: Am I Allowed To Use An Ex-Employer’s Website In My Design Portfolio?

Ask LH: Am I Allowed To Use An Ex-Employer’s Website In My Design Portfolio?

Hey Lifehacker, I’m a recently-minted freelance web developer learning how to make my way in the world of solo business. In preparing an online portfolio to present to potential clients/employers, I have included several examples of websites that I built at the advertising agency for which I used to work. In each case I’ve been careful to credit the designer and the agency for the design while honestly describing what my part in the project was and how I accomplished the work.

I’m somewhat unclear on whether it’s considered good practice to use projects on which I worked (but which I did not initiate or manage) as examples of my skill. I’ve been considering calling my old boss for approval to use these sites in my public portfolio. Is this necessary? Thanks, Fresh Freelancer

[credit provider=”Shutterstock” url=””]

Dear FF,

It’s good manners to inform your ex-employers of any content you intend to showcase in your portfolio. Generally speaking, this shouldn’t be an issue for most customer-facing websites or campaigns, although you may need to exert more caution if the project was never released publicly. If in doubt, ask permission! The important thing is to credit each piece of work in detail with a specific rundown of your personal contributions.

Also, remember that any designs you produced will usually be the legal property of the company you worked for. This can lead to accusations of plagiarism if you replicate the same code at the request of a new employer. Nobody expects you to re-invent the wheel for every project, but using identical interface designs, fonts, layouts and icons is obviously a bad idea.

We also sent your query to Megan Clegg, a New York based UX/UI designer, currently designing at iHeartRadio. Here’s what she had to say:

If you worked for an agency on a contract or as a full-time employee but didn’t sign any NDAs, you should be in the clear. No need to ask permission. If you still feel iffy about it, one option is to set up a “private” portfolio — either behind a password, or have one that the client has to request to see.
You’ve already taken all the necessary steps to avoid stepping on any creative toes, and it’s perfectly fine to show projects that you were only a small part of (as long as it’s spelled out). Websites are a team effort and a lot of your future clients will appreciate knowing you’re capable of working well on one.

If any web designers or developers happen to be reading, feel free to posit your own two cents in the comments section below.


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  • Hi FF

    It honestly depends on the company you worked for as long as you have consent from them I don’t see it being an issue, you may in some cases need to get consent from the company you made the website for too..

    I am a web programmer by trade with a small compan in Wollongong, if you’re as lucky as I am they are fun outgoing respectful and understanding, asking them if I could use the sites I worked on in my portfolio wouldn’t be an issue at all..

    That is if you didn’t burn your bridges.

  • Also be sure to take multiple screenshots of the website as designed. That project you poured your heart into, carefully aligning every pixel, often descends to chaos when it’s handed over to the client. You don’t want your design cred marred when that website you link to in your portfolio suddenly uses bright red times new roman on the home page.

    Also sites come & go pretty quickly, so you want to keep an eye on the links in your portfolio to ensure they’re still linking to your actual work 2 years down the track.

    As for NDA’s, this is a good reason to think carefully about signing one before you take on a project. We took on a huge 6 month project with an NDA, and it really affected future jobs that we had nothing to show of some of our best work. You need to either factor it in to your pricing, or as many companies are starting to do, refuse to sign one at all.

  • Biggest rule here is courtesy and respect. As a client, I would never refuse a request for this purpose, provided the information fairly and accurately represented the individual’s work. However, to find out third hand that your company’s materials have been included without reference to the company (and often when the subsequent portrayal and claims are not accurate) leaves a much different impression!

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