Non-disclosure aggrievement


Q: I’m doing some great illustration work for a great client and with a great project management team for good money — but they had me sign an NDA and I can never post my work on an online portfolio. Is that bad? Should I feel bad?


A: No, you shouldn’t feel bad, friend. You made a mistake, and that’s something we all do. I’ve made this particular mistake (or a very similar version) before. It stings to do solid work and not be able to show it, but you did sign the Non-disclosure Agreement.

Instead of feeling bad, take this as a lesson and don’t make the same mistake twice. Next time a piece of work comes up like this, ask the prospective client to amend their NDA so that folio rights revert to you in, say, 12 months or when the market sensitivity of your work has passed. Or just ask for an alteration so that you can show the work in your physical book.

There’s a couple of things you can do here. First up, talk to your lawyer (you do have a lawyer, right?) and get her to write a new contract for all future work you do for new clients. Laws vary between jurisdictions —which is one reason why you should have a lawyer in any case — so I won’t give you specific advice here. One thing I will suggest is that if your clients want to stop you from showing your work online, perhaps you could charge an additional loading to make up for the fact you can’t use your work to promote your abilities.

“It’s highly likely your client doesn’t even realise the importance to you of showing your work online.”

This advice is written for freelancers and self-employed designers. If you’re a designer working for an agency or any other kind of full-time employment, Jared Spool has some solid advice for you too.

Secondly, know that people are often much more reasonable than you might expect. The NDA you signed was likely a boilerplate document written to protect your client from a range of risks that have absolutely nothing to do with illustration. It’s highly likely your client doesn’t even realise the importance to you of showing your work online. So bearing in mind you did sign the NDA, why not make a polite phone call to your client and ask them if they’d negotiate a new contract that allows you to show your work?

Writing about a similar issue from the perspective of full-time employees, Jared Spool makes a salient point:

The hiring manager may not know. It may be something they’ll have to ask HR or even the legal office about. At small companies, they have never even considered the question because you’re the first to ask.

However, it’s a really fair question. And, frankly, any answer is a fair answer.

If the client’s as great as you say, it can’t hurt, right? Be confident, polite, and make your case. Be prepared to give something up to get the thing you want, and again don’t feel bad if the client doesn’t give you what you want this time.

So no, don’t feel bad. Unless you make the same mistake twice — then you have my express permission to feel like an absolute chump. 🙊

Ross Floate works in Melbourne in at Floate Design Partners, just north of the river. Sadly, he remembers the last time he made the mistake mentioned in this article, and it was waaaaaaaay too recently.

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