If you’re a freelance graphic designer (or any profession for that matter) and do not have contracts or standard terms and conditions that you provide your clients to sign prior to starting a project… well let’s just say you’re silly. You will at some point need it to protect your business, as for the reason I am writing this is due to a recent incident in which my contract protected me.
Building your own design contracts isn’t always easy—there’s much to include, but once it’s written and out of the way it’s as easy as hitting ‘attach’ and ‘send’ in your email. Often at times, client’s ask specific requests so I can easily tailor mine to fit their project if need be.
Instead of covering each and every angle of a design contract, below I have listed the basics and essentials to include in your standard graphic design terms and conditions or contracts. Feel free to add more in the comments below.
1- Project details
In this part of your contract you should state exactly what the goal of the project is, what exactly the client is receiving as a final deliverable and the estimated time frame to which it will be completed.
2- A Definitions section
Defining keywords that the client might read throughout your contract is essential – this way the client is clear about what you are stating and understands what you are referring to. My standard terms and conditions list the following definitions:
- Client Content
- Designer Tools
- Final Artwork
- Final Deliverables
- Compositions (aka “comps”)
- Third Party Materials
3- Length of the proposal
This allows the client to know how long your “offer” or proposal is good for and how long the offer stands if, or if not accepted.
4- Fees and other charges
This is an important one as you might have guessed. This lets your clients know exactly what both you and them are responsible for and when its responsible. In this section of my contract I include:
- How much down payment is required prior to the start
- When the final payment is due (prior to the release of the Deliverables)
- What expenses the client is responsible for – ie: printing costs, PayPal fees, long distance calls, shipping, etc.
- Additional costs the client is responsible for paying – stock photography, fonts, etc.
5- Changes and “after–contract” additions
I’m certain, if you haven’t already, worked with someone who continuously requests an unreasonable amount of changes – remember time is money and any requests or changes outside the scope of the project must be accommodated for.
- How much you will charge for additional “after-contract” changes
- How much change constitutes your additional rate – ie: “Client requests changes that amount to a revision near excess of 30%”
- Additional time charges – The reasoning for this is too prevent clients from taking extra hours of your time or “sitting” on a project. I’ve sent client comps only to get a reply 3 weeks later. Now the time frame of the project has been substantially increased since feedback was required in order to proceed.
6- Client / Designer Responsibilities
Knowing who and what each party is responsible for is important and must be stated up front; ie: printer collaboration, typographic errors, etc.
Also if the client provides you materials to work from and they’re lost or damaged it must be accounted and compensated for.
7- The right to promote your work
You will find some clients who are uneasy about showing “their” work, but remember as a designer it’s your work and you should have the right to showcase it in your portfolio.
8- Confidential information
As a business (and trust me all business do it) we have the right to keep certain information private and between the designer and client. Make sure to provide the same and respect your clients information.
This can be an important area to include if you will be working with other designers and/or contractors and also the relationship between the client and designer; ie: The client and designer have the right to work with others of similar services. In addition, I state that my clients must inform me prior to signing the contract if any other parties will be working on the same project. This will eliminate ‘bidding’ (aka spec work) on projects.
9- Termination policy
Unfortunately from time to time you will have a client that backs out on the project midway through or more. This is important to state what happens in the event of termination and who is responsible for what.
Include that the designer should be compensated for:
- any advance payment (which is why I typically ask for 50% up front – let’s you know that the client is more serious about the business relationship)
- a prorated portion of the fees due
- hourly fees, and make sure to reinstate the hourly rate
It’s also important to state the opposite if you, the designer, are unable to complete the project and how the client will be compensated.
PLEASE NOTE: The above guidelines are only a starting point and should be included in every design contract. They should be adapted over time, modified as needed and specific to each designer.
What are some other essentials that you include in your design contracts or standard terms and conditions?