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Professional Design Practice :: Lesson 7 :: Graphic Design Contracts

A rookie mistake in the design world is working without a contract. I too, have fallen to the sorry plight of ultimately working for free with no promise of continued work or payment on the horizon. While it is easy to scold and reprimand, it is in fact difficult to approach a new client with a contract especially when you are just starting out professionally. Be confident in your abilities.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is your job, and while others may see it as a hobby since it is artistic by nature it is ever important to become educated and to educate others on the business of design.

Head straight to the end of this article to find a downloadable blank graphic design contract.

Always, always have a contract!

Honesty is the best policy

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First and foremost, be upfront with your client. Do not start out making promises, which you may not be able to fulfil. While your intentions may be in the right place, it is easy to want to say yes to all of your prospective client’s requests when you are put on the spot in order to seal the deal. Instead of saying yes, be equipped with the right insight into the project parameters. Know where your imagery will be coming from, will it be provided or will you be creating it? How much extra time will you need to make edits? Are you factoring in the possibility for revisions? As the same goes for quoting a client, when drafting up a contract, you will want to ask the same questions such as timeline, budget, brief, points of contact, and usage. However, as the quote provided more of an estimate of sorts, the contract should be more exact and provide a stronger representation of the actual project numbers and key calendar dates for production and delivery.

The first project can be the difference in a on-time client versus a long-term partnership

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Think long term.

The way that you handle your client’s first contract will set the tone for how future projects will work out or not work out. It is important to get it right, right out of the starting gate. Your professionalism and ability to deliver will be watched closely throughout the process. Your customer service will be key. However do not avoid the toughest topic of all- money. The most successful businesspeople, not just designers are the ones that talk about the money up front. If you simply cannot do the work for the rate your client is able to provide, tell them. You and your client will be better for it. You should not go in with the expectations of your client eventually paying you more money. This could happen, but the likelihood will be less once you already agree to work on a project at a lesser rate. Therefore, do not begin by selling yourself short, because you will find yourself coming up short in the end.

Set yourself up for success

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You want your contract to work for you. The contract’s timeline and terms are the most vital components. Before presenting the physical document be sure to have at least one discussion referencing your contract prior to submission. Express your interest in the work and let your client be aware of what they will be seeing in the contract so that there are no surprises or reasons for them to question putting their signature to paper. Try to anticipate how often you will need to either meet with the client or speak with them by phone throughout the process. Some clients are more needy and others, and some projects have more demanding requirements to see it through to completion.

Even long-term clients should have contracts

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Make that paper worth your time.

Even if you have worked with someone regularly, or are taking part in a long-term project it is important to maintain a contract system. It is just as important to continue keeping an up to date contract for the work you are doing. The main reasons this is important are not only because of the inevitable changes in the project parameters, but also in the inevitable changes that should happen in your rates over time. Your rates may need to change quarterly or yearly to keep the same profit margins or give yourself a raise!

Other Considerations

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Factor in all possible outcomes. You may wish to have terms to end the contract prematurely pending certain developments within the project. This could be for reasons of ethics or other problems. Be specific in your timeline. There may be the need to terminate a contract if it becomes inactive for an extended period of time. Think of it as having an expiration date. Make your considerations for fees and deposits up front. You should become aware of what your payment structure will be and how it will affect the process. Will you be requiring a down payment of 50% to begin? Most designers choose to require non-refundable deposits for security purposes and in the event of the client terminating the project prior to completion. Most importantly you want your contract to be mutually beneficial to you and your client.

CopyrightIssues of attaining and transferring copyright will be addressed in more detail in a separate blog article but you should be aware of your rights as a designer. As the producer of a work, unless otherwise stated, you retain the copyright to your designs. Many companies may wish to carry the copyright of your work, but it is important to be informed before signing over all of your rights. Make sure you understand the terms and scope of usage. Do not hesitate to contact a legal professional especially if you feel your work will need to be protected.

For further reading I highly suggest the book Freelance Design in Practice by Cathy Fishel, as I have found the information most relatable in todays design market.

For a custom contract template download the pdf here.

DISCLAIMER: The use of this contract is for informational purposes only. Consult a legal professional for actionable advice.

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