Terms and Conditions for Design Contracts
By Shel Perkins
Inexperienced designers often provide services to clients without having a signed contract in place. As a result, they tend to encounter legal problems that could have been avoided. It's important for designers to become better informed about contract issues and more comfortable in discussing them with clients. There's a great deal of flexibility in many aspects of your career. You can organize your design practice in whatever way seems most appropriate, and you can structure individual projects in whatever way allows you to produce your best creative work. When it comes to the fine print on contracts, however, you need to understand intellectual property law and the basics of contract law. These are not open to re-invention.
Designers who are a bit further along in their careers and working on larger projects tend to understand more clearly the importance of having formal agreements in place with clients. A good contract prevents confusion and protects everyone's interests. You realize how important this is after you've been burned a few times. Good contracts address a wide range of legal issues, but graphic designers must pay special attention to the ownership and control of intellectual property, as well as warranties and indemnification.
Warranties and Indemnification
Where to Find More Information
Basic examples can also be found in the paperback Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers from Allworth Press.
More complete and comprehensive contract language is available from AIGA, the professional association for design. The AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services includes recommended terms and conditions for print design, interaction design, and environmental graphics/three-dimensional design projects. (I helped to prepare the latest version with national board member Jim Faris and three intellectual property attorneys.) It's available as booklet number nine in the series Design Business and Ethics. A free PDF can be downloaded at www.aiga.org/content.cfm/designbusinessandethics
Reference information for additional creative disciplines is available from other professional groups. For example, industrial designers should look at the Terms and Conditions Reference for Product Design Consultants published by APDF and IDSA.
Photographers should pick up the paperback ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography.
To cover all of the essential issues, the document that you sign is not going to be particularly short. However, you do have the option of negotiating a complete set of terms and conditions just once at the beginning of each new client relationship. Then, future projects can just refer back to it.
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Shel Perkins is a designer, educator and consultant to creative firms. His book Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets For Designers (New Riders/Peachpit Press) can be ordered from the TalentIsNotEnough.com site. To contact Shel with questions and comments, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The general information in this column is not a substitute for personalized advice from an attorney, an insurance agent or an accountant. If you have questions regarding legal, financial or risk management issues, you should seek the services of an appropriate professional.