Monday, September 17

Taking Care of The Business End of Design, Part III: Contracts

Guest contributor Dagmar Jeffrey

Every designer should know how to protect their creations. I by no means wish to imply that every prospect you come across are self-serving, mind you. There are folks who still follow the age old traditions of honoring verbal agreements. However you're a professional now and looking out for one's business interests is what professionals do. And since we're in the business of selling our design services, documenting every agreement from concept to final product is paramount and frankly, common sense.

1. Don't blindly count on a prospect/client to honor a verbal agreement, particularly when things start going wrong or they start abusing your arrangement with countless revisions and other costly, time consuming "freebies." Moreover, a verbal agreement will rarely if ever hold up in court. Even if you're doing a casual favor for Aunt Madge's bingo partner's cousin, save yourself a colossal headache and get every verbal agreement in writing. If for any other reason, just think of it as perpetuating a good habit.

2. Outline everything. That includes the number of revision, concept and redesign allotments, time limits, kill fees (if the client terminates the project prematurely for whatever reason, you can still be compensated for the time you spent until that point), documentation of credit, ownership of concept materials and working files, as well as other required itemized details.

I make it a rule not to hand a client my working files (unless it's been strictly negotiated as with the transfer of a logo's usage rights) for several reasons. For one thing, it avoids the unpleasantness of finding out that they commissioned another designer to "tweak" your work, then use that as a basis to call it "theirs." If they need revisions in the future, you also have first dibs, since the work and files are still technically your property. Outline in the contract how you will be giving them their final files (normally a hi-res pdf with a hard copy, which can be opened in virtually any program) to avoid any surprises later on. In the case of a work for hire, the working files by definition are property of the client.

3. Even if your goal is to work for a company rather than yourself, you will need to be aware that instances might require you to protect your work in writing. There are situations, as with companies who request a "test" for a project or for a situation where it feels like a verbal agreement is being used to make an important business or financial decision, that one should require that stipulations be made in writing as well. It's ultimately about protecting your assets to keep others from cashing in on your work without due compensation, which for a designer includes their intangible skill in arriving at creative solutions using the project parameters.

There are plenty of excellent resources and books on writing contracts to be found. GAG and AIGA have plenty of well drawn out sample contracts on site and in the case of GAG, they also have them available through their Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook and Tad Crawford and Eva Doman Bruck's, Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers, a recommended buy. Getting information from reputable sites like Creative Latitude, BoDo, the Business of Design Online, and any number of design forum's (see the bottom of Part II) business section is also an excellent place to get answers to any questions one might have regarding any professional situation.

Dagmar Jeffrey has accumulated over ten years of print advertising and graphic communication arts experience through independent design contracting and pre-press production, both through her business Archetype Design Studio and via well established enterprises. She is also a member of the Brainstorming Team at no!spec and is presently collaborating on other projects pertinent to the industry.

During her down time, you can normally find Dagmar actively participating and generally hobnobbing in some of the most well regarded design forums, as well as tending to her design and news blog, ARCHE-BLogGER, a visual exploration inside the Creative Mind.


Juggling Jason said...

Thank you very much Dagmar. This series has been most beneficial to me and no doubt to any designer who is just starting in the field, and will help us avoid much potential headaches.

WebChicky said...

Hey Dag,

Nicely written! I just wanted to also throw out a book suggestion for legal forms (including contracts), other than the GAG book (which doesn't seem to have been updated in a while): Tad Crawford's "Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers". I think there's a CD with the electronic samples in there, too.

Archetype Design Studio said...

Thanks for the compliment and the resource suggestion, I think I'll update my entry to include it.

I was informed that the "newest" GAG pricing guide should be released soon. According to my source, they have been suffering through a few frustrating post production delays, forcing them to push back their release date...nothing new, I hear. Still, I'll be keeping an eye out. Perhaps by Christmas.

Thank you again for extending the invitation, JM.