A 5 minute checklist for a rock solid contract

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Whether you are a designer or hiring a designer, how concerned are you with client/designer contracts? You hope that designers will always do their best to fulfil their clients’ needs and meet their goals, but it is best to have a few things written down so that both parties know what is what, who should do what and what happens if stuff goes wrong. A contract is how expectations of a job are clearly communicated and doesn’t need to include complicated legal terms or large passages of unreadable text. A designer’s contract is  not aiming to trick clients into signing something that they might later regret. A contract should clearly state the who, what, when and how specifics for a job so both parties have clear expectations. Here is a checklist to see if your contract rock solid.

Does your contract clarify the following?

  • Who is hiring who?
  • What they are being hired to do?
  • How long will the work take and when will it be completed? For how many days does the unsigned proposal remain valid?
  • How much will it cost? What is the payment schedule? Is there an hourly billing rate to be used for general client changes? How many days are allowed for payment of invoices? Is there a late payment penalty?
  • What do parties agree to do and what are their respective responsibilities? What happens in the event of cancelling the contract?
  • What are the specifics of the deal and what is or isn’t included in the scope?
  • What happens when people change their minds?
  • A simple overview of liabilities and other legal matters.

Ownership of work and copyright is an important part of any design job so don’t neglect this in a contract. Here are some questions to ask/specify.

1. Who owns the designs?

Every designer creates original work that is protected by copyright. To avoid ambiguity and confusion, your contract should include who owns the intellectual property rights to the work and how the designer and client may use the work. Under the laws of most countries, the designer owns the files and the original artwork he or she creates for a client. Any or all of the designer’s rights can be transferred to the client or to another person. Typically, the designer and the client sign a written agreement, which, among other things, transfers some or all rights from the designer to the client.

2. How about the preliminary designs?

Design jobs generally involve a collection of sketches and design revisions. These preliminary concepts will be rejected or modified in significant ways. Typically, the client will be purchasing just a single concept – the design that is created as a finished design. Therefore, it should be clearly stated in a written agreement if the client is purchasing rights to all designs, or just to the finished design.

3. Third-party content

Designs may include stock art, photo or illustrations created by someone else. If so, this should be clearly disclosed to the client and the client needs to understand any usage restrictions placed on that third party content. Also, the designer needs to make sure that there is no ambiguity about who will purchase and pay for third-party content. Before purchasing any third-party content, the designer should have the client agree – in writing – to reimburse them (unless they have already included the cost of that content in their project fee). They should also make sure that the client is permitted to use any names, content, graphics, stock images, or other content that they asked to have incorporate into their design(s).

Here are a couple of sample contracts you could use as a starting point (Download Word file)

So check over your contract and make sure it matches your intentions. Keep a copy of all documents for your own records and in case there is a problem. What is your contract communicating?

Important notice: These suggestions and contacts are never a substitute to legal advice so treat them as general information. Because every situation can be different, only a lawyer can answer your legal questions and assist you with a contract. Black Mouse Design disclaims all liability in connection to the use of this advice.

Caroline Siassios

About Caroline Siassios

Leave a Reply