Writing contracts and Improving Professional Practices for Creatives

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Teaching & Student Work

Writing contracts is probably one of the least interesting topics of discussion for a designer. However, professional practices and good business strategies require that you have at least some knowledge of writing project statements, design contracts and invoices. More often than not, this small step before leaping into a large project can prevent unwanted communication errors between designers and clients that help everyone understand each other. Contracts are also helpful for making sure everyone is on the same page regarding project deliverables, design ownership and confidentiality, timelines, and costs.

In my experiences, I tend to go through two documents before starting a project (most designers choose to only write the one). The first document is what I call a project statement which outlines the background, client objectives, design needs, deliverables, timelines and cost. This document can be lenthy depending on the project.

This project statement document is primarily a discussion document meant for each party to contribute and agree upon before writing up a formal design contract.

If all parties seem happy with the project statement, I move forward with writing the formal design contract that all parties must sign off on before beginning the project. The design contract is much shorter, typically one page, and outlines the agreed upon terms for the project.

When writing a design contract, adhere to an outline like this:

  1. PROJECT DESCRIPTION including outline of deliverables and expectations of both parties
  2. ESTIMATED COST including labor, consulting, and materials costs (dependent on project)
  3. PAYMENT SCHEDULE & METHOD including timeline and deadlines with either installments or monthly payments specified dependent on client preference and/or nature of project
  4. REPRODUCTION OF WORK including specifications of who retains ownership of work (client or designer) and clauses permitting work to be shown in a portfolio.
  5. REJECTION / CANCELLATION OF WORK including a clause determing if and when clients can terminate a project and if so, costs that clients are responsible for

Some other links that I found helpful regarding this topic.

Good blog with tips and tricks for contract writing: http://www.thedesigncubicle.com/2009/07/what-to-include-in-your-design-contracts/

5 Free freelance design contracts: http://speckyboy.com/2010/08/12/5-free-to-use-freelance-design-contract-templates/

David Airey on design contracts: http://www.davidairey.com/using-freelance-graphic-design-contracts/

Some helpful books on the topic.

Business-Legal-Forms-Graphic-Designers: http://www.amazon.com/Business-Legal-Forms-Graphic-Designers/dp/1581152744/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328633203&sr=1-1-fkmr2

Graphic-Artists-Handbook-Pricing-Guidelines: http://www.amazon.com/Graphic-Artists-Handbook-Pricing-Guidelines/dp/0932102158/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b

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