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.

9 Comments
  • Takashi Yamada

    May 13, 2008 at 1:28 am Reply

    Great post.
    You have no idea how many e-mails we get from designers after publishing it on our site stating they were involved it as well. Often not, they are pissed at us for it when in fact the designer who made the submission did not credit or mention any of them
    Bottom line is this, as the headlines states “Give Credit where Credit is Due”

  • Cameron

    May 13, 2008 at 8:27 am Reply

    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.

  • DT

    May 13, 2008 at 9:35 am Reply

    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?

  • Takashi Yamada

    May 14, 2008 at 5:47 am Reply

    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

    May 14, 2008 at 9:31 am Reply

    Hah-hah @Takashi Thanks for the vote of confidence!
    Let us do have a chat on this soon.

  • csven

    May 16, 2008 at 3:25 am Reply

    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

  • Lori Hobson

    May 20, 2008 at 7:43 am Reply

    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 support? There are so many ID concepts that would die on the sketch pad if there weren’t some terrific product design engineer who went to bat to figure out how to make it happen, including inventing new processes, breaking the rules, and babysitting products into production in Asia.
    My product engineering firm credits the ID people when we show our work off. I wonder when ID guys think it’s appropriate to return the acknowledgemen?
    Cheers-
    Lori Hobson

  • Raf Christie

    June 13, 2008 at 7:28 pm Reply

    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 design application for a product I have spent the last 18 months on, and in the process, I looked up the other products I have designed since being with the company. I was a little disappointed to see that the manager had assigned himself as sole designer for the first three products I did (no listing for me at all, and I didn’t even know they were registered designs), and with all other products I have done that have registered designs, he has listed himself as primary designer. This may sound like too much ego tripping, but the only involvement he has in the design process is to sign the cap reqs. He has no input in any areas of aesthetics, ergonomics, tooling (other than keeping track of costs) or technical performance aspects. He has 15 years experience in managment positions within the industry, but has no formal design training. He actually has made a concerted effort within the company for the past 18 months to stop my current project due to his having no involvement in the concept phase or any subsequent development whatsoever. Luckily for me, the GM and MD have supported the project, and now it is becoming the biggest selling product our company produces (projected 2 million units in the first year). But, being the department manager, he files the documents for patents and design registrations, and as I found today, he has listed himself as the principle designer. Being an ‘underling’ I find it difficult to broach the subject (due to the office politics thing), and I don’t want to make an issue out of it because it would be bad for the company. I just don’t think it is right and want to stop it happening in the future without making office life difficult for myself or him (I do feel a bit sorry for him because I know he is doing it to impress more successful associates in his social circle). There is of course also some self centred motive here in that every designer would like some recognition for their work. I was also considering proposing the latest design for a Red Dot award (which would be wholly supported by the GM and MD), but even this would create problems due to the fact that the GM and MD are as far as I know unaware that my manager has listed himself as designer of any of our recent products. I believe that if they knew, he may be in a lot of trouble, but I dont want to be the cause. He does the rest of his job quite satisfactorily. I have suggested to him that the tool designer and myself be listed as co designers, but he won’t list the tool designer as he is a sub contractor. But it has been soley the collaboration between the tool designer and myself that has brought the last three projects to fruition. What to do I dunno. Thanks for listening

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