Even though you have determined that you have complete rights or permission to display the design and image, our third blog in this series tackles titling with annotation or credit as the next tricky landmine. Logically, you should give proper name credit to the photographer, company manufacturing or selling, or even to other designers if the product was designed in a team.

However, it has come to my attention recently that some companies do not want to be associated with designers that left or were forced to leave the company. I personally think this is very shortsighted because it sends the message to their clients that designs during your tenure are questionable. It is also can be even more dangerous for them to distance themselves from you like this – bordering on defamation and disparagement if they go so far to say that even though you were employed as their designer, you designed nothing. Obviously, if you have written permission as discussed in the first two parts of this series – Digital Portfolio/Resume – Design Ownership and Image Rights this may already be clarified.

  • Never use a logo – they are owned by their respective companies and require permission to post. Think about all the TV shows you watch where they constantly blur out logos on t-shirts and products and don’t use unless you have permission.
  • Trademark Registrations – Whenever you refer to the name of something or someone that is trademarked, use the ® or ™ symbols to properly credit them. Also, make a statement at the bottom of your web page noting that those Trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
  • What about design awards? If you designed or were part of a team who designed the product that won the award, go ahead and list it on your resume and link to it if possible. Take care to properly list it as the award language appears on the certificate or in publication, and if applicable add a description of your contribution area. When a movie worked on wins an Academy Award® for Best Picture, only the Producer or Director is listed as the award is announced, but if you worked on the set design team and were obviously a contributing factor to the general award and qualities that helped it win, go ahead and reference it on your resume with that contribution. This is your win too.

It may seem ridiculous that being able to show evidence of your work has so many landmines and you may be wondering why a company would bother to go after you for this at all, but you would be surprised at how frequently this actually does occur. So in order to prepare yourself for that cease and desist letter from a law firm, document your rights and sources. We keep background on every image we post, including a screen shot of where it was first seen publicly, copies of all original articles, catalog or source pages, and excerpts from applicable contracts or permission letters.


  • Check all your employment contracts, manuals and agreements – re-read anything you signed.
  • Before signing any employment agreement, severance agreement or client contract, get it in writing that you want permission to use representative images of all publicly disclosed designs in your portfolio, regardless of who owns those images.
  • Send a letter to the company or photographer to get express written permission to use representations of the designs if there is any question as to your rights to display that image.
  • Whenever possible use only a thumbnail, summary and link through to the original source.
  • Document all your image sources and permissions.
  • Consult an attorney.

Again, our opinion, experience and advice may present legal issues of interest, but is not meant to express any specific legal expertise or advice pertaining to any specific circumstances and you should consult a good intellectual property or contract attorney.

Tom Hazzard
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