5 Things to Include in Your Web Design Contracts

One of the first lessons that most freelance designers learn is the importance of using contracts. Hopefully that lesson is learned the easy way by taking the advice of others, but for most of us it has been learned the hard way.

Just using any contract is not enough. If your contract isn’t solid or complete it may not prevent the issues that you are trying to avoid.

One contract can certainly be more simple or more complicated than others, and some of the necessities of the contract will be dictated by the size and complexity of the project. But even for small projects there are essential elements that should always be included in your web design contracts. Here we’ll take a quick look at 5 of these important things to include.

1. Scope of Work

Scope creep can be one of the biggest nightmares for designers. A solid contract is probably the best defense against projects that keep getting larger and larger.

Your web design contracts should clearly state the specifics of what services are being performed and what work is being provided under the terms of the contract. You may even want to list some specific things that are not being provided, depending on the situation.

Of course, projects will sometimes evolve and the client may require work that wasn’t included in the original contract. In these situations if you have a solid contract you can charge an additional fee for the new work that has been added.

2. Payment Details

Your contract should be very specific about payment details like the amount owed and when it will be due. There are a lot of different options here, and your contract should be very clear. You may charge a flat fee with a percentage due up front and the rest to be due at completion. Or you may have specific milestones along the way at which payments are due. In some cases you may even be charging an hourly rate.


As you can see, there are a lot of variations when it comes to payment details. Be sure that your contract is clear in case you have issues collecting the payment.

Your payment details can also include information about transfer of files are it relates to the payment. For example, you may want to specify whether final files will be given to the client before or after the final payment has been made.

3. Milestones

In most cases your web design contracts will include some sort of milestone dates. On larger projects you may have milestones where you will be paid based on reaching a certain point of the project.

Even on smaller projects there may be milestones that can be set into the contract, such as a target deadline for getting initial information from the client.

4. Responsibilities of the Client

When you are covering the milestones and project scope in the contract, it’s also important to list the responsibilities of the client. This may include providing written content, providing photos or images, providing feedback on mockups, providing users for testing, etc.

As I’m sure you have experienced, a delay from the client can make it very difficult for you to live up to your end of the agreement. If you are responsible to meet certain deadlines it is only fair that the client is also responsible to meet deadlines that will allow you to do your job.

List the responsibilities of the client, and you may even want to assign dates or time frames to when they should be completed. Also mention that your work is dependant upon the client fulfilling their responsibilities.

5. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property disputes are a potential cause of conflict between designers/developers and clients. Your contract should address the issue of intellectual property, who holds ownership, and whether it is exclusive or not.

Conclusion:

Although this is just a quick look at the subject of contracts, it should serve as a starting point for designers who have not used a contract in the past, or for those who have used an insufficient contract. Of course, there are other details that may need to be included in your contracts, but theses are some of the most important elements because they can help to prevent or protect against the most common issues.

Most designers prefer to use contract templates that can be customized and re-used rather than having an attorney draft a contract for each project. There are several contract templates out there, and we have a good web design contract template to offer at Vandelay Premier (cost is $6). It was prepared by our attorney specifically for the purpose of being widely distributed and used in a lot of different situations. It’s easy to use and it tells you where to enter the specific details of your projects.

Whether you draft your own contract, use ours, or use one that you picked up somewhere else, make sure that you are addressing these important points.

Disclosure:

This article is intended to serve as an introduction to the topic of contracts for web designers. It is not intended as legal advice and we recommend every designer to have an attorney evaluate their contract or contract template.

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15 Responses

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  • smashinghub, June 7, 2012

    thanks for very nice tips

  • uptenlist, June 7, 2012

    Intellectual Property is key point, client or designer or developer must signed documents about contracts, it can resolve issues as well, try to build long term relationship

  • Geoff McMahen, June 7, 2012

    Nice point about including client responsibilities.

    All to often lack of client participation causes serious delays with projects!

  • Steven Snell, June 7, 2012

    Geoff,
    I agree. Whenever clients ask me how long a project will take I always mention that the most common delay is waiting for content from the client.

  • Umberto, June 7, 2012

    Awesome tips!
    I agree with what Geoff said, i currently have a client thats making me wait over a month for content and i just cant move forward! Also thanks for sharing that template… worth the 6 bux!

  • Julia Agnes, June 8, 2012

    HI!
    An interesting opinion about client responsibilities.
    Thanks!

  • Web Design Bristol, June 10, 2012

    Amazing how many of these things I had overlooked. Many thanks.

  • Andrew, June 10, 2012

    Nice and interesting post, thanks

  • OrganizedFellow, June 11, 2012

    Before sitting down with an actual contract in hand, I share a Google Doc with them first.

    Sometimes I participate in a little chat window, and go over things with them as needed.
    Other times I let them make edits as they choose, and I get the email update of their changes.

    For me, I allow a contract to express BOTH our terms, the Client and I.
    It’s a two-way-street. My contracts are full negotiable and amendable/editable, because ever tier of my services are custom to their needs.
    I find that they like this more.

    • Steven Snell, June 11, 2012

      OrganizedFellow,
      I definitely agree with you that the contract is a two-way street, but as a designer you’ll have to look out for your own best interest because the client is not going to. Talking things over is always a good idea, it also helps the client to feel comfortable with everyone and to avoid and problems when it comes to getting the contract signed. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Brent Galloway, June 12, 2012

    Great article!

    Just recently I’ve had to tell a long-term client that I’ll be sending a monthly invoice for website maintenance updates. I’ve been having to do a few minor changes that only take me 5-10 minutes to make, but something I can’t be doing for free. So that’s something I would recommenced always including in your original contract!

    • Steven Snell, June 12, 2012

      Hi Brent,
      I would agree that the scope of the project should be clarified in the contract to exclude any future updates/maintenance in the price of the original design and development of the site.

  • Chris, June 18, 2012

    Websites can be endless so the scope of work and clarification on when the project is ‘delivered’ are essential.

  • Alex Braker, June 21, 2012

    Yes I agree with all the points which Steven has mentioned above. You should also include the time period of the project in the contact and the payment details like how the payment will be provided and the payment structure like it will be hourly based or project based.

  • DCOE:DESIGNS, February 7, 2013

    Thanks for the article. We cover most of these, but scope creep is something that seems to happen more and more these days in design and development. Obviously a bit of extra work is fine (and usually expected) but good to be clear with clients so a project doesn’t run away from you!