Give Credit where Credit is Due

This is interesting. In the many portfolios I have seen, rarely have I seen a portfolio that clearly indicates if it was group work or a project done with a team. If fact, it happens so infrequently that I sit up and take notice when a portfolio actually has credits.

In today’s Internet environment the term “don’t take a dump in your own backyard” is becoming more and more relevant as your “backyard” has become a lot bigger than you think.

Here are 3 examples:

1) I’ve noticed in a portfolio some great sketches from designer A. Later, in another designer B’s portfolio, I noticed the same sketches.

2) There was this great project in a digital portfolio that did not credit any other members in the design team that I knew were involved. What’s worst was that there was no information in the area that designer played a part in. That area, which I heard, was actually small compared to the scope of involvement of the other designers.

3) Finally awhile back, I interviewed 2 different designers who worked on the same project, but both did not credit their partners (i.e. each other). They only admitted it was group work when I asked.

With people publishing a lot of their design work online or turning their portfolios into a digital format, giving credit where credit is due is becoming a lot more important, as you will not really know where your work will end up. Imagine your creditability as a designer if such conflicting information falls in the hands of potential employers?

Here are some things to consider and think about:

1) There is no shame in playing a small role in a project. Sure, by all means showcase the entire project, but do highlight that area(s) you were involved in, and paint a picture of your role in the greater scheme of things. You will come across as humble and a great team player.

2) It is pretty easy to tell, based on your number of years of experience, how much you should be capable of doing. So please, when you sell, don’t over sell!

3) Find a small space in your portfolio, preferably at the start of each project, to credit all the other people involved. “Designed with…” or “With additional support by…” is always a good thing as good Karma does go around.

4) Expect probing questions on your participation in a project. I wonder if a list of activities, or perhaps a highlighted numerical percentage of involvement, could be useful in giving an indication on your involvement?

5) However you have to be realistic as you can’t possibility credit everybody. There is no point crediting that tea lady who brought your hot drinks, or that engineer that helped you convert your NURBS into a Parametric Model, or even that designer who sketched their 2 cents worth. Even with design awards, we often only credit people who played a significant role in the project. Basically anyone who’s input had an influence in a project’s final outcome.

6) Finally, it is sometimes difficult in team based design environments to really divide up the design work. It is not always so clear cut. Occasionally, you might have come up with an idea in a concept sketch, but it was re-sketched for a presentation by someone else. Or an idea you were developing was changed to a completely different direction by your design manager. Even I myself once developed a design all the way to production based on a 10min Photoshop rendered sketch. In this case, what would you do? If it helps explain the scope of the project, I think it would be all right to show this and all related work in your portfolio, even if it was not yours. But do clearly state, where your part role and influence took place.

At the end of the day, I supposed this is one of those so called unspoken codes of conduct. Thus most of the time we trust and take what a designer says at face value. However, I’m sure a lot of such activities will slip through the cracks. Whether it may be a result of ignorance or intent, I think the only thing standing in the way is a guilty conscience.

So what about you? Do you credit your teammates in your portfolio? If so how do you do it? Experienced any horror stories? Anyone “claimed” credit for work that was rightfully yours, either partially or wholly? Do have your say and I look forward to reading all your comments.

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Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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9 Comments on "Give Credit where Credit is Due"

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[…] your designer, let them to do their thing, create a space for feedback, and then give them credit once it’s all said and […]

Raf Christie
Guest
I have been on the other end of this dilema for a few years now. I don’t want to be too specific due to the blight that is office politics. I work as a product designer in a small company. Our despartment has a team of 3 designers, a tool designer and a manager. Generally, one designer is responsible for each product from concept through to production, with regular go no-go stage gates. For the first two years I worked there, it was just myself, the tool designer and the manager. Today, I was checking the progress of a registered… Read more »
Lori Hobson
Guest
Oooh, I like this topic a lot. A corollary to ask might be: When is it appropriate to credit the product designers (AKA the design engineers) who help achieve a specific design? One prominent four-letter firm I used to work for used to include the mechanical, electrical and software engineering team as appropriate on award entries. If our guys are making your buttons achieve a certain feel that you like, or the lights achieve a certain glow through the ingeniously molded material, or the parts unify in a way that is unbelievably beautiful, when does the industrial designer indicate the… Read more »
csven
Guest

Speaking of credit, I happened to notice the OctoCUBE radiator on Yanko Design (among plenty of other sites). I find the similarities to the “Hilbert Cube 512” sculpture a bit too close for comfort, myself > http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/%7Esequin/ART/Valencia2006

DT
Guest

Hah-hah @Takashi Thanks for the vote of confidence!

Let us do have a chat on this soon.

Takashi Yamada
Guest

Now I just have to figure out how I can convince you to be part of Yanko Design and write great post like this for us!!!!!

We NEED you and the design community NEEDS you!

Whatever it takes for you to join us, you let me know!

>> Takashi Yamada last wrote: Touchy Feely Phones

DT
Guest

Hi Takashi,
I can’t even imagine anyone daring to do this, especially on a high traffic site like yours! Wow I’m very surprised…This has opened my eyes, thanks for sharing.

Hi Cameron,
That is plain stupid! How can that interviewee even think on getting away with such a “crime”! I think the best thing to do is to be up front about it right away. Starting out the conversation by painting a picture about the design team and who you work with is a great way if you ask me?

Cameron
Guest

This actually happened to one of my industrial design teachers at BYU when he was working in the industry, he was interviewing a guy and saw some of his own sketches/renderings in the interviewee’s portfolio. He questioned him in a round about way and finally the guy admitted he hadn’t done them – This kind of thing can have horrible consequences for a career I think, not only is it silly and morally wrong, it’s just plain dumb.

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