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How to Navigate NDAs When Showcasing Design and Research

How To Navigate NDAs When Showcasing Design And Research

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LAST UPDATED: 11 April, 2024

When it comes to showcasing your work and impact, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can often pose challenges, with many people worried they can't share work due to confidentiality restrictions. This can be particularly tricky for candidates focused on innovation, research and service design remits; or if you work within consultancies, agencies, or highly regulated industries.

However, it's important to note that not all NDAs are the same, and there are ways to navigate them while still highlighting your experience and impact. In this blog post, I'll explain some good strategies to overcome NDA constraints and effectively communicate your skills and experience.

In today's competitive job market, it has become increasingly essential to present some form of work samples to secure an interview. Therefore, solely relying on showcasing comprehensive case studies during the interview stage, could potentially restrict your opportunities.

Navigating NDAs can be tricky, but you do have options to showcase your work and experience.

Understanding the Parameters of Your NDA

Before diving into how to showcase your work, it's crucial to understand the parameters of your NDA. Not all NDAs restrict the same aspects of your projects. If you're working with an agency or consultancy, you might not be able to disclose the client's name but can discuss the industry sector. Certain focus areas, such as user research, cx design or service design, may have more elements covered by NDAs. 

You CAN still absolutely talk about the type of project, product or problem you were trying to solve; and your process, approach or artefacts you created. Often by leaving out the insights themselves, you can overcome confidentiality concerns.

By identifying what you can and cannot show, you'll gain some clarity on how you can start to communicate your impact effectively.

Strategies for Showcasing Work within NDAs

Let's look at some ways that you can showcase your work within an NDA.

Project Overviews 

Whenever people come to me with NDA concerns, my first recommendation is to take a project overview approach which can be highly effective.

These are very simple, one-page summaries that provide a snapshot of the type of things you've been doing—the projects, products, services or problems you've been working to solve—in a way that fits within most NDAs.

Focus on the TYPE of projects you've worked on, such as new product development, feature integration, foundational research, or a service design piece of work. Include your role, the project team and, most importantly, provide insights into your process, approach, or the artefacts you created. Focusing on these aspects, rather than disclosing the insights, allows you to avoid disclosing the confidential elements most NDAs are linked to. Additionally, include the results, reflections, achievements, status, or lessons learned from your involvement in the project.

If you can include visuals of some artefact it certainly helps. Perhaps look at de-identifying or blurring them. If there are no artefacts you can include, these can be a simple text overview. And if you can't list the brand, refer to the industry sector.

This one-page overview can then be shared as a PDF alongside your resume, presented on-screen during interviews, or potentially add it as a project thumbnail in your online folio site.

Online vs Offline 

Although showcasing your work online may be ideal, there will be instances where you just can't. 

In situations where online showcasing is not possible, consider taking it offline by creating a PDF or using another format—like a Figma link, to present your work. This way, you can choose when and who you share work samples with.

Thumbnails and Project Overviews vs Full Descriptions 

Thumbnails or brief project overviews offer a great alternative if you want to allude to your recent work, without detailing the whole process—often these brief snapshots allow you to still showcase the essence of your work in an online forum. Be sure to include a note flagging this is an abridged overview like “project covered by NDA, connect with me for more information”.

Post-Release Showcasing 

Once projects have launched and are released to the market, you may be able to showcase your work openly and online—for example, a new app or website launch, but this would depend on the type of project and parameters of the NDA.

Vague Problem Statements 

If your NDA is particularly restrictive, consider using a vague problem statement to describe the project, and the client sector and provide insights into your work experience. The aim is to build interest, so you can then discuss the project and your experience in more detail at the interview.  

For example, you could say “Creating the future omnichannel shopping experience for one of Australia's oldest brick-and-mortar retailers”. Without disclosing specific details about what you did and what the outputs were, a statement like this does communicate insights into the problem space you were working in. Reading a statement like this, I'm thinking of a risk-averse organisation, going through transformation, likely a significant digital systems update/reimagining, maybe Martech stack with personalisation, and no doubt some service design in the mix.       

For the tightest of NDAs 

You may only be able to vaguely discuss the type of project and your experience during interviews. For instance, if you were working at the bleeding edge of new tech, creating solutions with engineering that hasn't even been built or created yet. Even at this level, you can still communicate something, but certainly, they are the trickiest ones to work within.

Conclusion

Navigating NDAs can be challenging, but it's not an insurmountable obstacle. By understanding the parameters of your NDA, exploring different showcasing strategies, and emphasising your process and artefacts, you can effectively communicate your impact and experience while respecting confidentiality. 

Remember that not all NDAs are the same, and most organisations still value the ability to see work samples when evaluating candidates—often requesting to see something BEFORE shortlisting for job interviews. 

If you have any concerns, or you're struggling to present your work and show your impact within the constraints of NDAs, feel free to drop me a line. I'm more than happy to have a chat and work through ways you might be able to communicate your impact and showcase your work experience.