The Web Design Contract Guide: Tips and Templates to use

Are you running a web design business? If so, you should consider creating legal contracts for projects.

Are you running a web design business? If so, you should consider creating legal contracts for projects.

Contracts are social documents that legally define the business relationship between you and your client. Web design contracts are no different. They are meant to protect you, your time, and your bottom line.

As with other contracts, web design contracts define the business and legal relationship between you and your client.  They also elaborate upon aspects like business practices, communication standards, and interactions.

A few tips and templates are provided below by our team behind Slider Revolution to help you create a great web design contract.

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Web Design Contract Tips

What’s a Web Design Contract and Why do You Need It?

A web design contract legally binds the agreements between a designer and their client. Both the client and designer must sign the document for the contract to be valid.

Such contracts contain agreements on factors that include –

  • Price
  • Scope of the design work
  • Appropriate timeline of deliverables
  • Payment schedule
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Other legal terms

Outlined below are some reasons why a contract is important.

The modern world is very litigious, and drafting a contract is the only secure way to protect your interests when you take on a design job. Disagreements happen from time to time in business, and can cause you problems such as delayed payments and stalemates.

In these situations, your contract will protect you. In fact, dispute settlement is the most important part of a legal agreement — the contract will give details of what happens in case of a disagreement.

A well-designed web design contract should have ways of dealing with contingencies such as:

  • If something were to go wrong with the design project, what happens next?
  • The client does not like the final design that you approved, now what?
  • You missed a deadline! What happens now?
  • The client did not pay up; what steps can you take to recover your money?
  • How many changes are you going to provide for free? Is there any time limit for that?
  • Intellectual property rights matter. Who owns the design of the website?
  • Should you keep a copy of the website after the project ends? For how long?
  • The client wants to fire you. Now what?
  • You want to fire your client (it happens), how do you do that?

Such questions and anything else that you or your client decide is necessary, should be put into writing.

Tips on How to Put Your Contract Together

Given that contracts are essential, the question remains: How should it be composed?

Keep it simple

Lawyer-composed contracts can be quite difficult to read and understand.

So it is quite likely that an overly complicated web design contract will annoy your client and also lead to confusion.

The best strategy is to create a straightforward contract that makes sense to all parties. An average person should be able to understand the content and meaning. Use short and concise language to get your point across. Simple statements explained in no uncertain terms will eliminate the possibility of your client violating the contract by claiming a misunderstanding.

Have a Clearly Defined Statement of Work

Have you ever had a client who expects far more work than you are being paid for?

To prevent this kind of exploitation, it’s important to set the scope of your work in writing. To work without such a scope can be dangerous. The client might ask you to start performing services or adding features that you did not sign up for. Eventually, this will lead to grand expectations and overwork, or a dissatisfied client.

Start by clearly communicating what you are going to do and set that in the contract, so there’ll be no nasty surprises. If necessary, you can politely refuse work that is out of the scope of the agreement.

Alternatively, you can accept the work, but charge for it and be paid for your time.

Your legally defined scope of work should include –

  • Deliverables
  • Objectives
  • Timeline

Include Client Responsibilities

Your client has a few responsibilities in any web design project, and they should be included in your contract.

Great design only takes place when you collaborate and synergize with the client. You will first need a reliable point of contact, and you need to know who the ultimate decision-makers are.

In an ideal scenario, both roles are played by the same person. You can specify this in your contract to avoid problems with conflicting client opinions. Then, you should specify what information the client must provide to help your work, which might include their data and identity assets.

Clients are also part of the workflow, so make sure you write down what labor they are responsible for, for example, proofreading your work.

Streamline the Review and Approval Process

Unfortunately many web design professionals have experienced the situation where the work is complete, the mockup is sent, but the client is nowhere to be found.

Such situations are sometimes not the client’s fault.  They usually have many pressing responsibilities and might ignore or forget aspects like web design.

You can avoid this problem by including a clause specifying the number of days within which your client can review designs and get back to you.

Timing

The time frame of a project might also cause contention between web designers and their clients. Make sure that you and your client agree on the exact time frame of a project to avoid any timing surprises in the future.

You should go a step further and break down the entire project into milestones – with deadlines for each one.You also need feedback on your progress to ensure your work is meeting the client’s standards. Agree on feedback deadlines to avoid situations where you can’t make a deadline because the client is unavailable and has not provided feedback.

Ownership of Work

Intellectual property is very serious. Ensure that you have made provision for who will take ownership of the project when your products are delivered. Usually, the client will do so after completion of all payments.

You, as a web-designer, may want to retain ownership of the code of the site. You might also want to request clients to display a copyright notice at the bottom of their website.

Define Payment Terms

In order to be paid fairly you should first know how you will charge your client.

It is generally advisable to charge per-project for larger tasks, and charge by-the-hour for smaller ones where a time difference of 1 or 2 hours matters and must be reflected in your earnings.

Another possible charging method is a combination, whereby you can charge by the project and ask for an hourly rate for revisions.

Include Confidentiality Terms

Discerning clients often wish to include confidentiality clauses into their contracts, which will cover both you and your client.

Confidentiality clauses are useful if, for example, the client is working on a classified venture and and need you to keep it secret. Although it’s usually clients who request these, you can also cover yourself with a confidentiality clause if needed, and ask clients not to publicly discuss your business practices.

Introduce a Cancellation Clause

The situation can arise where you and client cannot work together due to personality clashes or some other reason, and you no longer want to honor the contract. Although contracts are normally legally binding, cancellation clauses can be a lifesaver as they define proceedings in case of a mutual or unavoidable pull-out of both parties.

 A cancellation clause will also cover the scenario where you’ve already done a lot of work, but your client wants to withdraw. To ensure that you get paid, a cancellation clause requires that if the client wants to back out, they are legally bound to several requirements, including, but not limited to, payment for your time.

Get That Contract Signed

If both parties don’t sign a contract, it is not worth the paper it is printed on. Make sure that your contract has a final section where there is space for names and signatures.

If you can not meet your clients in person for signing the contracts, you can ensure that your contract is signed by a representative who has the authority to do so. Signing a contract involving a company is a little different than when dealing with an individual.

Make sure that you add the company name and the name and title of the authorized individual who signs the agreement. A bonus tip is to have your client sign the contract first. If you sign last, you get the final choice of deciding whether to commit and make the contract binding.

As a best practice, you should send two copies for your client to sign. After they return them to you, sign both copies. Keep a copy for yourself and send one to the client.

Web Design Contract Templates to Use

Writing up your own contracts from scratch is challenging and time-consuming.

There is also always a possibility you may forget something vital and create problems in the future. The alternatives are, to pay someone to create your custom contract. However, that is usually expensive, and not justified to pay such an expense for every new project.

Alternatively use pre-written well-tested web design contract templates that already contain all the necessary elements. Websites like GitHub and Docracy host such free templates online.

The following are some of the best free contract templates for web designers:

Contract Killer

Contract Killer is an Open Source template that is quite popular among web-professionals, because it’s easy to understand and uses minimal legalese. It also has a touch of humor!

The template covers every major aspect, including:

  • What you’re being hired to do
  • Payment schedule and details
  • How changes will be handled
  • Intellectual property rights
  • The other facets agreed upon by both parties

A benefit of Contract Killer is that it is regularly updated.For instance, the latest revision includes technical issues such as SEO and mobile browser testing.

AIGA Standard Form of Agreement For Design Services

AIGA allows you to create customized terms and conditions for different types of design projects. The template can serve as a starting point that can be easily customized for each project. You can download it as a PDF, or even make desired adjustments online.

Another way to use the template is to borrow its terms and conditions and add them to a separate proposal document. AIGA includes detailed information on how to use the contract, including:

  • An idea on how to go about the project planning process
  • How to put your contract together
  • What information is to be sent to the client
  • The terms and conditions

It also includes miscellaneous items like fees, responsibilities, expenses, definitions, timing, payment terms, exclusivity, confidentiality, infringement, and warranty.

Web Design Law’s Design Contracts for Freelance Web Designers

Web Design Law’s Template is an excellent, comprehensive resource for all your contractual needs. It starts with a superb overview of contract development and use, then offers several different templates.

The template sets include letters of agreement, project proposals, a full and condensed version of terms and conditions, invoices, past due reminders, and template collections letters.

The Shane & Peter Inc. Contract

RocketLawyer’s Website Design Agreement Generator

BidSketch

The BidSketch template package simplifies contracts by separating business and legal terms into two different sections.

Both sections combined cover almost everything a web designer may need and includes:

  • Your project’s scope
  • The responsibilities of the designer
  • How the site will be developed and terms of acceptance of completion
  • What happens if the client rejects the work?
  • Miscellaneous details like project management, content details, warranty, liability, intellectual property rights, and more are included.

Ending thoughts on this web design contract guide

Working on a web design project takes a great deal of time and effort. It is only fair that you, as a web designer, receive payments on time and adequate cooperation from your client.

At the same time, your clients have placed trust in you and paid you for your efforts. Contacts ensure cooperation and are vital for the smooth completion of web designing projects, keeping you and your client in agreement and guaranteeing your legal right to compensation.

When you create a contract, you should take care to make it clear yet concise. The contract should cover essentials such as the scope of work, deliverables, financials, timeframe, process, and legal responsibilities.

At the same time, you should word it in such a way that helps cultivate trust and respect, and encourages potential clients to accept your services. Always remember that even the best-worded contract cannot cover every possible scenario. A good personal relationship with your client can go a long way towards solving problems as they occur. Cultivate your business relationship around mutual respect, and reinforce this with a well-worded contract that communicates clarity and trust.

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The Web Design Contract Guide: Tips and Templates to use

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We're a passionate bunch of designers and developers writing about the ins and outs of web design.

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