In the six years I've been freelancing I've signed quite a few NDAs. When first starting out I thought I'm not going to get this job unless I sign and I didn't really see the full implications going forward.
I've been lucky in that some bigger projects have found me and I've continued to work with clients and agencies on new projects as they come up. Recently I've wanted to branch out and contact new clients but the problem has appeared in all its glory ... Where is my portfolio? What have I done that they can take a look at? Who have I worked with? I've painted myself into a bit of a corner.
It's only natural to protect a competitive edge in business but I feel as if I've done a great deal in pushing my client's business forward but they aren't willing to help me with mine. Even if an idea is talked about on my site it doesn't mean that a) I'm going to throw away the trust I've built with a client and work for their competitor and b) the competitor can't magically produce a solution out of thin air now they know what my client has done.
Most people don't stick to them anyway
When I'm surfing around the Internet I come across other portfolios of work that are littered with example work and big company logos that I know the person shouldn't be using because it's exactly the same kind of client's I work for. Clearly they're of the widely held opinion that NDAs are not really enforcable because of the loss of time, effort and money, as well as the loss of reputation that suing the "little guy" has on a company.
I'm certainly guilty of showing potential clients projects that I've worked on but I try to stick to ones that use similar frameworks and techniques but are for a different business purpose. I certainly don't clam up when talking to friends about who I've worked for. These are all between "you and me and these four walls" scenarios and harmless but to set your stall out on the net, proclaiming all your secrets, is probably not the best idea. What a pain in the bum!
What to do then?
I suppose it depends what you want a potential client to see when they get to your portfolio site. How do you get across what you've done but at the same time say "Yes! You can trust me".
You could just use redaction and hope people will read between the lines. For example, I've worked for the █████ on several large Backbone and Angular applications with a Node/MongoDB backend and realtime communication via Socket.IO to produce output for █████, █████ and ██████████. Not great!
I think the answer is to show them the way you work, the way you communicate ideas and what you are capable of. It allows you to be creative in the coding examples you use and explore different avenues that your day-to-day might not allow. This is especially helpful when, like me, you don't have super-flashy design work to show anyway.
Perhaps one day we'll get to a stage where the NDA will evolve into something that benefits both parties or I'll be brave enough to not sign one. Until then I'll just keep complaining about them. Thanks for listening!