Make this very important change to your design contract today!

Often as freelancers (budding or otherwise), our goal is to get ‘out there.’

We want as many people as possible to view our LinkedIn portfolio, visit our blog, appreciate our Behance project, and contact us for work.

We have no qualms about exposing our names and contact information, and we often forget that others have different privacy preferences.


You mean there are people, or even entire companies, in this day and age who don’t want their information spread across the internet?

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Shocking, I know.

They are more than just our grandparents, albeit they are generally in the older generations, and they may have legal or internal company restrictions of which you’re not aware.

And it was for this reason I was groggily answering the third phone call in as many minutes at 8:30am the morning after I had just posted and promoted a portfolio piece I was particularly proud of.

The Wake Up Call.

My distressed client was calling me to ask me to please take the project down.

It had the company’s contact information (address, phone number, email, etc.) and my client is very particular about online privacy. He felt very uncomfortable about his contact information being available to everyone who would view my portfolio (how generous of him to assume a large viewership!).

I won’t lie…I was a little dumbfounded.

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I’m in the ‘Check out my portfolio!’ category.

I also accept that if someone wants to find me via the internet, they can.

It’s something I’ve lived with most of my life and thus grown accustomed to.But I respect my client’s difference of opinion and wishes. Therefore we worked out a solution: I could post the project so long as I changed the contact information to dummy text or blur it out.

The Realization.

That morning I realized not all people are have the same comfort level when it comes to online privacy.

Posting projects in my portfolio might be taking liberties with my clients’ privacy, and that’s not my decision (legally or ethically) to make.

What you need to do today:

After updating my portfolio to reflect my client’s wishes, I immediately drafted an email to all of my other clients in my portfolio asking for their written permission to post their work.

I explained the reasoning for my request and saved all of their responses in their client folders. (All of them agreed, although some requested their contact information masked out.)

I also wrote a new clause in my design contract stating that I may showcase their project(s) in my portfolio, and to specify in writing what, if any, limitations or requests they may have.

You need to do the same sort of thing right away!

The Reasoning.

This way, I’m protected.

I have proof that my client agreed to the public showing of their projects in my portfolio. Therefore I can’t be held legally accountable for illegally posting the project, and I won’t be subjecting myself to the possibility of an ugly matter.

But this never happens, right?

That’s what I thought, too. Who doesn’t want their company to gain more exposure? But I was lucky:

  • My client isn’t a major corporation who now wants my head for posting their latest project before the release date (unbeknownst to me).
  • My client isn’t in the middle of an infringement lawsuit and very sensitive about company exposure.
  • My client’s CEO wasn’t angrily calling to inform me that their internal document was seen in my portfolio and now they’re getting calls from customers.

My client just politely asked me to respect his privacy wishes.

99.9% of us will never encounter a problem.

But with so much recent interest and concern over the legalese behind Pinterest (read “Pinterest and legal issues: Read this before you pin anything” and “Why I tearfully deleted my Pinterest inspiration boards”), take into consideration your clients’ wishes prior to posting their project.

You might save yourself an early morning phone call, an argument, a client, or in the worst case, a lawsuit.

What about you?

Have you ever had a client ask you to remove his/her project (or contact information) from your portfolio?

Have you ever had a client tell you that the work you’ve performed is for internal eyes only and therefore not to be published in a portfolio? What did you do about it? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

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  1. Yeah, I had a client who sub-contracted a job to me… he didn’t give me an NDA but his client had given him one… his client being the government and the job was a flash-movie to demonstrate security procedures of some ‘military product’.

    When he found the link in my folio, he called me telling me I had to take it down immediately, however, as I have been so busy and not updated my website in forever, 2 years has gone by!

  2. I agree that this is a “must-have” on all contracts. Additionally, I like to author my designs when I can, and include the option to decline this on my contracts. Authoring designs like magazine ads and newsletters can provide a designer with great exposure while the client is footing the marketing bill. Most clients don’t mind, but the option to decline has to be given to them.

  3. Hi
    I’m a freelance designer and I’ve also just had an angry email from a client wanting me to take the logo and website homepage design I did for them off my blog / website etc… There are no personal comments on view – only the company name. This particular client has been so rude from word go – I even had to ask them to be more respectful at one point. I’ve managed to keep my cool so far. I do agree that in future I’ll use a disclaimer – but i’m very tempted to tell this client to go jump. I don’t want to work for him in the future and think the work I did for him is an important addition to my portfolio.
    What would you advise?

    1. S Alwin,

      I would never encourage burning bridges, no matter how awful the client is. You never know who they know. (Here’s a post I wrote discussing ‘unburning’ them: Always, always, act the professional.

      If the client asks you to remove the designs you did for them, do it. You may not be privy to the reason(s) why they want it removed – could be a legal issue, and that’s certainly not something you want to get involved in. You also don’t want a lawsuit against you, wasting your precious revenue on an avoidable fight.

      If it were me, I’d be pissed, too, but I’d swallow my pride, remove the images, send a very polite and apologetic email in response, and move on to better clients. If they were to contact me for future work, I’d attach a price tag high enough to both seriously discourage them from working with me and placate me should they accept and I’d be forced to put up with their rudeness again.

      Good luck!

    1. You’re welcome! Stay tuned for more really useful posts, and take a look at the archives – it’s a gold mine in there!

  4. I already have this in my contract, too. Most of my clients have no problem with being included in my portfolio, but some have opted out.

    For other projects, though, I work as a subcontractor and that gets a bit more involved. I have to consider the inclusion of those projects on a case-by-case basis. I learned this the hard way — I got burned in the very early days of my business when I included several websites I’d worked on as a subcontractor. I got myself into trouble because of the text I wrote about my involvement with the project. I was so enthusiastic about my work with such a great client that the tone of the text inadvertently implied more involvement than it should have. I’ve always regretted that blunder, not just for the work it cost me, but for the client’s respect.

    One other thing to consider if you put works-in-progress online, whether it’s in a subdirectory of your website or elsewhere, if there is sensitive information there, be sure that you take the necessary precautions, including the requirement of a password, if that’s appropriate. Sometimes search engines crawl in unexpected places!

    1. Margie:

      Great point about your proofs/in-progress area of your website! I never thought about it, but it’s possible that a search engine could show your partly-finished site in the results. Best to make sure that’s not going to happen.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. I’ve got a whole paragraph in my contract about author rights, that says that I can use anything I created for promoting my work on portfolio or print brochures. And there’s another line saying that the client can chose not to but he has to write me a letter. Usually clients read the contact before, so if they want not to be in the portfolio we discuss it and I remove the line from the contract, send them a new one, so that they won’t have to write a letter later.
    Like many designers I used a preformated contract I copied pasted and changed some parts. The contract used to have a line that mentionned that I could put my name and link to my portfolio on the work (for example designed by + link in the footer), but I never used that right. I removed it after a client asked me if it was possible not to have a link. I changed it for something like “the client can mention me and add a link to my portfolio in the impressum if he wishes to”.

    1. Stephanie,

      Good for you! It sounds like you’ve got a solid contract to start with.

      I’ve created a template of sorts as well – why reinvent the wheel?

  6. I already have this in my freelance contract.

    A client I’m working for at my full-time job, has denied that we may showcase any of their work, or indeed mention that we’ve done work for them, which is a shame, because it’s a very strong brand and the work we’ve done is definitely something to brag about.

    However, as I said, they are a large, well-known global brand, and they have a lot of sub-contractors. They don’t want people to Google their name and find a bajillion results on things that are not directly related to their product. I guess they also don’t want to gamble with their reputation, should one of their subcontractors turn out to be shady people. So it’s a method of keeping their brand strong.

    1. Nix,

      Isn’t that a bummer?! I’ve had a few items I wish I could show but contain confidential information or are internal company documents.

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Your passage, “My client isn’t a major corporation who now wants my head for posting their latest project before the release date (unbeknownst to me)” is the key. “Before the release date” should have been a big red flag. Naturally no client wants their project or product to become viral BEFORE it is released to the general public.

    Think of it this way:

    What if there were last minute changes after you posted the work but before it was released?

    What if the company spotted a legal problem with the work before it was released but after you placed it on the web for all to see?

    Just the fact that it hadn’t been released should have told you that it wasn’t proper to place it on the web at all!

    Personally, I work on projects that aren’t released for up to a year and I yearn to show the work (usually the corporation has contract terms that won’t allow the work to be shown until released and then only with written permission and proper copyright/trademark notices), so I understand the itch to proudly display the work in hopes of gaining similar assignments or just to say, “look at what I did!” Sometimes you just have to wait and be patient… darn it!

    1. Speider,

      Note I said I HAD NOT done this! I’m very careful about waiting until my design goes public before putting it in my portfolio.

      Thanks for sharing!

  8. I actually already have something like this in my contract. Though I only post my project image, I don’t worry about project descriptions or contact info. Prospective clients can ask for referrals if they want them. I will link to any live websites I’ve done though.

    My is basically more of, I have the right to post this on my website, if they don’t want it, then they have to let me know in written format.

    I did have a client ask me to take something down, but not forever. His product wasn’t out on the market yet, and every time he typed in his Companies name, my website would come up. So he asked me to take it down and then once his product was out there, I was free to place it in my portfolio.

    Of course I don’t place everything on my portfolio.

    There is something I’ve always wonder. Sometimes you can go to a site and at the bottom it will say Designed By: [Company Name] and I’ve always wondered if I should do this or not. It would offer great exposure. I’ve never tried it, but I know a developer that has done it and her clients have never complained. So I wonder if I should start doing that, and I can put a clause in my contract that would allow me too.

    1. Laura,

      What if the project itself contains contact info (identity, stationery, business card, etc)? How do you solve the problem then?

      I find in this situation, the “…ask forgiveness later” motto might be more painful than it’s worth. I’d rather be open about it up front and make sure my client and I are on the same page.

      As for the “Designed by…,” always ask up front. I made the mistake of adding it to the proof and a client was very upset and almost quit working with me because I hadn’t asked permission to put it on their project. They felt I was trying to “sneak it in” because it was small and unobtrusive – the latter being my purpose. There but unobtrusive. Especially if I’m doing charity or discounted work, I always negotiate PR out of it, but full-paying clients…if they would prefer not, I’m not going to push the issue.

      1. I actually never thought about the business card aspect. Never had any trouble there, as it really isn’t that common in my portfolio. I have business cards up, but you have to enlarge the thumbnail (the logo) to see it.

        1. Laura,

          Most of my work doesn’t include contact information, either, or the contacting is exactly what the client wants! Occasionally, though we get a different perspective, which is exactly why I posted this article!

          It’s usually those ‘unusual’ things that trip us up in business and in life, as the common everyday things we do so often that we have them down pat.

  9. Sorry for the language, but if your company have a public online website with contacts, it’s bullshit to think that’s a privacy violation to display those contacts in another website. If a company doesn’t want to be contacted shouldn’t publish anything!
    In italy everything published online (even copyrighted photos on flickr) are under public domain, even if the paternity always remains to the original author. Correct if I’m wrong, but anybody can’t sue me for publishing on my own website their published online contacts.

    1. Andrea,

      What if the company doesn’t have a public website? What if they haven’t published anything else online?

      I’m no expert, but in the US copyright laws seem much stricter than in Italy (from what you’ve described). Certainly, if their info is elsewhere on the internet, I think you’ve got solid footing, but if they haven’t published their contact information online, you might be in trouble.

  10. It’s an irony really but I guess some companies still operate on a ‘closed’ mindset.

    1. Morgan & Me,

      Yep – some people are really paranoid about internet exposure, and I find it hard to discuss the matter with them in a way other than making them more paranoid.

      I just respect their wishes and avoid the confrontation unless they initiate a discussion about it, and then I’m very careful.

  11. Believe it or not at school we have to get written permission from parents/guardians to be able to hang anything on display because of privacy issues. Many times a foster child’s location cannot be revealed to the birth parents or, in a divorce case, one parent is not allowed access to their child. It gets very touchy in this day and age and I’m glad you learned this now before big lawsuit time! Love, Mom

    1. Hi Mom!

      Thanks for sharing that other lines of work face the same problems. We aren’t alone!

      Love you!

  12. I have it in my contract terms and conditions that I may showcase a project that I have worked on for a client for my own promotional purposes unless there is a non-disclosure agreement in place at the request of the client. I make all my clients aware of this before any job goes ahead and most clients are more than happy to have their work showcased. I never publish the contact details of any of my clients or any other information about them which I deem to be sensitive though. I think that’s just common sense to be honest.

    1. Bob,

      I agree, but what if your project is an identity with business cards? Then most likely you’ve got contact info on them…how do you get around this?

  13. I work mostly with start up companies with big bold ideas. My portfolio is very empty as everything i do and produce of any interest is confidential. I’d like to find away round this, as it can be a real problem with getting new clients and ad erring myself. Does anyone else have similar problems?

    1. Serena,

      You’re in a tough spot. Are you allowed to show them once the company has revealed them? Are you able to work a deal with them where key information is blurred or replaced so that you can display the design but not the confidential info?

  14. This is a gret point to talk about. I have never had a client ask me not to use any of their work and I do have a clause in my contract about usage just in case.

    I guess it really depends on the situation, but it seems hard to imagine anyone not wanting a bit more exposure. As others have mentioned, I also only share materials that are already published and are not time sensitive.

    1. Edrian,

      This was my first as well, though I’ve had clients who ask me to wait until the project is revealed publicly before I post it on my site.

      Some people still feel very threatened by the internet and the lack of privacy in comparison from 30 years ago. In this case, I’ve found it best just to respect their wishes rather than discuss (and possibly argue) my position.

  15. HI! I’ve had a line in my contract terms for a while now, in fact, I’ve just amended it to includes blogs:
    “Advertising. The Agency or its suppliers may use materials created for the Client to advertise, for example, in a portfolio, blog, or web site. At its discretion, the Agency may deliver advertisements featuring work created for the Client to organizations in a similar business and to addresses around the Client’s business address.”

    1. Dan,

      Thanks for sharing your actual verbiage. I think those who read the comments will appreciate a starting point.

  16. I have had this in my contract from day one, luckily. Most of my clients are thrilled to be included in my portfolio, as they are small businesses who love the extra exposure. I have had a couple request that I not display their project until a certain date and I honor that.

    1. Michael,

      I agree – most people I know are excited to have extra exposure, but not everyone. Like I mention in the post, it’s unusual to hear of a business NOT wanting more exposure.

      But, to each their own!

      Thanks for sharing!

  17. We’ve had a section in our agreements for years now that states the client gives us authorization to utilize the finalized project design in our portfolio. We don’t list client’s contact info on our portfolio, just a link to their site. In the case of something like an intranet or a special promotion, we wouldn’t link directly to it and wait until a promotion was in effect (or over) to post so as not to “spoil” anything for the client’s marketing.

    1. Sherry,

      Agreed – you have to be careful about promotions or upcoming events – wait until you know the materials are in public view.

      I never include the contact info, either, with an exception if it’s in the design. I’m happy to blur it out or create dummy text at the client’s request.

  18. We have a general “Use of Work” clause in all our contracts:

    Contractor shall be permitted in the course of this Agreement and thereafter to use any images created from the Work for promotional purposes. Images may appear on Contractor’s website, Illusio Design ( and in printed format.

    Some clients ask us to include a paragraph asking for written permission before mentioning their company in our portfolio (i.e. sensitive information, NDA, etc.). Either way, make sure you’re covered.

    1. Chuck,

      Great way to go about it, and great philosophy – ‘make sure you’re covered.’

  19. I’ve always had a line in my contract (right after who gets rights to the final work) about the Designer reserving the right to post the work to a. professional competitions and b. both printed and web portfolios. So far, no one has had any issue with this…most of my clients let me know if there’s anything within the contract that they’re confused about or are unsure of prior to signing it, so I imagine if they are concerned about their contact information being displayed, they’d bring it up then.

    Good tip!

    1. Melissa,

      Since my realization, I’ve started verbally asking (even though it’s now in my contract) if I can use their project in my portfolio. I’m always surprised that how little of the contract gets read…mostly just payment part is read…and we’re only talking a page or two in size 12 font!

      It’s great to have that in your contract…it saves you in the event someone takes exception after the fact.

      Thanks for sharing!

  20. I recently went to a first meeting with a new client and after signing the confidentiality agreement for the project his secretary warned me never to show any of the work that I did for them to other clients. Apparently the president had a blow up after I left because I showed him pieces from other clients during my personal interview.

    I always figured that as long as I’m not leaving anything behind and its a one-on-one personal presentation that all would be ok. Besides, everything in my portfolio has been published and are not internal documents….but in this case it wasn’t. I could have potentially lost this project, but I do wonder if I showed up with nothing would I still have gotten the job?

    I completely understand not posting things on line (I specialize in pharmaceuticals but if you view my online portfolio I do not show many pharma projects). I always ask permission before posting and a couple have said no and that’s fine by me.

    1. Mary,

      Thanks for sharing this interesting client meeting…it seems like something with very sensitive privacy issues would address, but often times they don’t. For example, if I were him I would probably ask rather than assume you took the liberties of showing the work…but that’s just me! I do wonder, too, what he expected you to bring if you didn’t bring other client work.

      It sounds like on your end you handled it well, and that’s the most important part.

  21. I’m actually very cautious about posting anything without the permission of my client, unless I know for a fact they won’t care (they’ve been my client for years and I’m used to what they’re ok with, or maybe I know them as a friend outside of the business world). Working in PR and marketing full time (and doing freelance at night), I know that there are often pieces of work that I’m doing that others can’t see or aren’t ready to see.

    One example is a logo project I worked on recently for a department at a local University. The logo turned into other projects, such as binder covers, publications, posters, etc. – and the overall package was something I wanted to share with others. However, I knew all the pieces were for a conference coming up a month or two later. I asked my client, and he requested it not be published on my site until they presented it elsewhere first.

    Similarly, I do invitations, announcements, etc. – and I’m even cautious to not release personal information without their permission – or to at least take photos of the pieces strategically so you can’t see vital personal information. While we may see it as a “cool design” we want to share with others, they may see it as a privacy threat. Maybe I’m too cautious (is there such a thing?), but I just want to be careful and maintain those good client relationships!

    1. Dana,

      Glad you’re one step ahead of me! Especially with date sensitive projects as well as personal ones (invitations, etc.), you’re very wise to make sure the internet doesn’t have access to the information.

      Thanks for sharing!

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