Contractually Aware and Ready

by Bradford Waugh on August 10, 2009

The more I speak with new and often times experienced designers, I find that there’s one aspect of every design education that is either glossed over, neglected completely, or taught in such a boring manner one can’t help but fall asleep; that subject being contracts and legal agreements.

Wait! I know, I know, it’s lame, boring and long line of explicatives

Before you decide to check out cool new sketches or slick renderings, read through. I promise I’ll make it brief and really only hit the important points. Knowing how to understand and negotiate agreements and the projects that go with them can prove just as valuable as great sketching or detailed modeling.

NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreement)

They’re simple really. From time to time clients will want to discuss the details of the project but have sensitive information involved they need to keep protected. Many will want you to sign an NDA, if they don’t I would suggest offering one to sign, this will boost your integrity with the client and help reassure them you know what you’re doing. I would keep an NDA on hand just in case. You can find free ones online like here: http://www.easyriver.com/ndabuilder.htm


Creative Services Agreement

These are a bit more complicated but think of it as a list of boundaries and expectations. The language is usually complex because lawyers will want to write in such a way to give their client the most benefits. If you get one you don’t understand ask someone else to read it, get more input preferably from another lawyer. They can tell you what’s normal and what’s absolutely crazy. Think of your agreement as a way of clarifying exactly what both parties will get out of your professional relationship. Example: Bradford agrees to deliver no less than 20 concepts to Client for XXXX dollars which are to be paid 10 days after reception of last concept. I deliver 20 concepts, they give me XXXX dollars no later than 10 days after completion.

Licensing Agreement

You probably won’t come across these types of contracts too often but essentially it’s an agreement where you use someone else’s intellectual property in merchandise. TV shows will license the rights to use certain characters or elements within the TV show to Toy companies who in turn produce items with that use the characters or elements as a selling point for the product. These agreements stipulate how much of the profits go back to the TV show and in what manner the company can use the licensed items.

As you read more agreements and do more business you’ll have a better understanding of what you need and what you won’t put up with but here are some quick points to watch out for in a project.

Avoid at all costs clients who won’t pay you up front.

-In-house designers get paid less, they don’t have to handle their taxes, equipment, software, insurance, other expenses. You should be paid almost double per hour what a similar in house designer gets paid

The client does not own the design until they finish paying for it. You don’t own a gallon of milk until you pay for the entire gallon same goes for your design.

Make sure you put in your contract consequences for not paying on time, otherwise there’s no reason to do so.

Always, always, always ask people to email you what they told you. It sounds redundant but if a client tells you they’re going to reimburse you for a flight to Venice, it’s nice to have it in writing.

-Writing a timeline
for the project including deliverables and payouts can help keep the project on track and helps the client to plan for payouts and input.

Like with anything, if you don’t understand or if you’re unsure. Ask. There’s always someone who can offer advice and guidance.

This article was authored by Bradford Waugh who runs his own design consultancy out of Philadelphia. You can see more of Brad’s work at www.bradfordwaughdesign.com

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