fede.is Federico Bombelli

Building an UX portfolio dealing with NDA-covered projects

A brief reflection on the pre-process of redesign for this website.

If you want to have a career in design, you MUST have a portfolio. I make it so clear since I was the first one thinking slightly differently; and I was wrong.

In the case of mine there was a little detail who was encouraging me not building a portfolio: my best projects were covered by NDA agreements between the company I was working for and the client. In some cases the agreement covered the intellectual property of the outcome (cutting the great think to show); in some other cases the process and methods were covered (cutting the meaningful material to be shared); in other cases even the name of the customer was confidential (this really hurts when you had the opportunity to work directly with Fortune 500 CEOs).

But privacy, confidentiality and respect for agreements come first. Think about it for a second: imagine yourself in a job interview, telling your prospective employer or its recruiter classified information. I can imagine you may also want to create a strong relationship, by declaring the confidential nature of the information you are telling, since you trust them and you really want to share with them how meaningful and valuable that project was. Now switch perspective: an unknown person is sitting in front of you telling you something he/she did in its previous job, declaring it’s NDA cover and please don’t share it. Would you trust this person?


As no answer is needed, I’ll step right into the practice. When you correctly apply design thinking, you know that the first step is to empathize with the people involved in the project. Who are you design your portfolio for? Applying some rationality, I identified three subjects/target groups:

  1. Yourself
  2. Your colleagues (fellow designers looking for friends and inspiration)
  3. Your perspective employer

Before asking yourself “What should I tell them” you can try to empathize with them, making the bottle holding messages smaller and more focused, by asking yourself “Which aspects of myself are valuable for them?”. This question goes far deeper that “what are they expecting?”, “what are they looking for” because it shifts the perspective on value and meaning, which is something more related to our gut than our brains. I’m not saying that brain won’t be involved, I’m just pushing you over the standard white page block you may face in the next paragraph.

If you are a designer like the 94,5% of designers I met, you can design and present great stuff for everybody, except for yourself. In case you are a serious UX designer, you are also a kaleidoscope of interests, hard/soft skills, views, an infinite collection of possible areas of expertise, and so on. If you ask your brain “what is valuable for me?” 94,5% of reported cases it will crash. I love that percentage, yes.

My answer

I did my homework, I have the beginning of a possible answer for yourself. This is what I told myself: the value I’m looking for in my portfolio is to help myself setting a reference and a direction for my personal development and my career. The process of building it will help myself discovering the pillars of my knowledge and my personal sources of enthusiasm. My portfolio can become my own guide to walk across different experiences, a diary/archive where I can share my achievements and solutions with others, where I can always go back to look on how I approached that issue, what I found out researching on that subject, what could have been done in a better way if I would have now that sneaky detail since the beginning.

That’s my own answer. Please, please: don’t make it yours as it is; force yourself finding your own answer, and don’t get stuck here. You can go further in the following steps and get back with more insights and a brighter mind.
Let’s move on.
What is valuable in our portfolio for our colleagues and perspective employers has already been spoiled in the previous paragraph, but I may write about that as well. Keep in touch.