Do Work Samples Matter? Understanding Their Limitations


Work samples are a popular tool for explaining organizational capabilities. Unfortunately, work samples have a few drawbacks. It’s fine to ask for samples, but there are several issues to keep in mind.

Work Samples Are Client Specific

When people ask for work samples, they usually want to know just one thing: “Can you make what I want to make?” But there’s a catch. Most creatives are hired to make what their clients want them to make. So work sample seekers are really asking, “Have you already made something for other people that I could use, too?” That’s a different question altogether.

Every client makes specific requests. Some of these requests are better than others. Good designers have to balance what they think would be best for the clients’ business objectives with what the clients actually ask for. It’s no secret that designers often make things that exactly meet client specifications but may not look as good as the designers would have preferred. That means that some work samples are a better demonstration of a company’s ability to meet client needs than they are a demonstration of creative prowess. But this isn’t the only way work samples are client specific.

Client Standards Vary

Clients have different standards. For instance, a small business trying something new may be thrilled with a low-cost work product beyond its own employees’ skill set. Meanwhile, an enterprise client may have the budget for an advanced custom solution. Simply looking over a work sample cannot tell this whole story.

What if you’re a nationwide company looking over a work sample made for a small business? You might be unimpressed. What if you’re a small business looking at a work sample for one of ProEdit’s Fortune 100 clients? The scale may feel intimidating. If you ask for samples, keep in mind that what you’re seeing may have been designed for clients with a different size or budget. Additionally, the firm may not be allowed to show you the samples that fit your project best.

The Best Work Samples Are Often Protected By NDAs

More and more companies are using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to protect their business intelligence. These are important legal instruments in modern industry. Unfortunately, they also tend to prevent creative companies from showcasing their best work.

As a result, many company work samples have two deceptive drawbacks. First, some may seem a little dated because they were completed before NDAs became commonplace. Second, modern work samples may only demonstrate work for smaller clients that may not use NDAs. With all these work sample drawbacks, how do you know if a creative company can do what you need them to do? It turns out there is a powerful question to help you evaluate a company’s ability.

The Best Question to Ask a Creative Company

Creatives are usually able to do more than their previous projects gave them the opportunity to do. Client specifications, limited budgets, and NDAs all prevent creatives from demonstrating their ability using work samples. But there’s another way to find out if a company can make what you want to make.

In our article The Best Question to Ask a Creative Company, we suggested a better way. Simply ask, “Can you tell me about a time when a client asked you to do something that you’ve never done before?”

“Can you tell me about a time when a client asked you to do something that you’ve never done before?”

If you’re reading this, you probably have some innovative project ideas. Instead of looking for people who will rehash someone else’s vision for you, find a partner that takes on new challenges with diverse experience, inventive creativity, and enthusiastic boldness.

We here at ProEdit might just be the creatives you’re looking for. Tell us what you want to make. Then, ask us about a time when we took on a new challenge. Let’s see what wonderful things we can make together.