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Design Agreement

A design agreement is an agreement made between a freelance designer and their client. The document should clearly outline the scope of work, project milestones and deadlines, intellectual property rights, and payment terms. 

Here we take a look at why you need a contract, what you need to include, and our top tips for getting it just right.  

1. Why do you need a design agreement?

Above all else, you need a structured and easy-to-follow design agreement to protect your freelance design business

You should never enter into a contract with a client without first clarifying what it is you’re being asked to design; when you need to deliver it by; and how much you’re going to be paid. 

Undertaking a design project without a solid contract in place could lead to you being taken advantage of, having your precious time wasted, or being left chasing payment with no avenue for legal action. 

Image Credits: docsketch.com

2. What should you include in your design agreement?

Your contract should include the following information:

2.1. Project details

A detailed description of what you’ll be designing. Include how many versions you’ll design, and how you’ll be delivering the work (i.e. file formats).

2.2. Schedule of deliverables

  • When will you complete the first draft of a design?
  • What about the revisions?
  • When can the client expect the final version?

All of this needs to be clearly outlined.

2.3. Who owns the copyright?

And how ownership will be transferred.

2.4. How you’ll be paid for your design work

State the overall cost, cost breakdown, due dates for payments, desired method of payment, and if late fees apply.

2.5. How the contract can be terminated

And what happens to the money paid and money owed in such a scenario.

3. Our tips for creating a winning design agreement

Read on to discover exactly what you can do to ensure your agreement is both professional and secure.

3.1. Don’t skimp on the detail

Even if you and your client have verbally agreed on what the design should look like and how the project will work, it’s vitally important that you get it all down in writing. 

Doing so will prevent your client from moving the goalposts at the last second, requesting five additional designs to the five you’ve already agreed, or expecting the fourth round of revisions when you said you’d only do three.

This is called ‘scope creep’ and it’s a common issue faced by designers. But it’s one that can be effectively managed by a clearly defined and detailed design agreement. 

By pointing to the words in a contract, you can establish (and re-establish, when necessary) your role, responsibilities, and deliverables, while also keeping your client’s expectations in check. And it’s far more effective than asking them to recall a conversation you had weeks or months ago! 

Image Credits: proposalkit.com

3.2. Give yourself a life

Work/life balance has never been more important, and that counts double for freelance designers — especially those who work from home. 

Thanks to smartphones, email and messaging apps, it’s all too easy to react to a client’s demands and burn the midnight oil working on tweaks and changes. Sometimes you’ll need a clear and structured design contract to ride to the rescue.

Use your agreement to:

  • Set boundaries with your client and establish working hours. Attach costs to weekend or out-of-hours work. 
  • Let clients know when and how they can contact you about revisions, and when they can expect a reply.
  • Establish “rush fees” if the client needs something turned around in a matter of hours.

Essentially, you need your contract to protect your business and your social life! 

3.3. Use design payment best practices

It’s probably the single most important part of any design contract: How and when you’ll be paid for your work. 

To smooth the path to payment, there are a few best practices that you can include in your design contract.

Prior to work commencing, you should receive a deposit — typically 50% of the total fee. This gives you protection from any cash flow concerns while you start work on the project, and also motivates you to complete your design in a timely manner to secure the remainder of the fee.

You should also clarify when you expect the final payment. This will usually be after a pre-determined number of revisions and an agreement that the final draft is, in fact, the final draft. Remember, payment should be made in full before any usable, non-watermarked files are delivered to the client.

Any additional revisions over and above the agreed-upon number can be charged at an hourly rate. You should define what is meant by a revision in this case. Fixing a typo is very different from being asked to completely change the creative direction of a project.

Follow these tips and make sure your next design agreement keeps you safe from scope creep, protects your social life, and gets you paid on time.  

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