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Designers: Some tips for your contracts and a handy short story

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by Startacus Admin

Ex lawyer, Serena Manzoli is a startup person & social media champion at Peppercorn, a place for creating your legal contracts in minutes & in many languages. Here she writes some handy legal tips for Designers...

"I recently needed some good branding for my new startup and I contacted a young talented designer. The job was supposed to take a few days and contracts for your startupswe both agreed on a handshake. Actually, a virtual handshake, as we both never met in flesh and bones and just talked via skype.

If you’re waiting for a bad ending, there is none. Everything went fine. He did a great job, the small round of revisions was performed quickly and I paid promptly once the work was over. Both of us were happy.

So, why should you care to sign a contract?

Well, not all clients are wonderful people like me. Some clients ask for never ending adjustments. Some don’t really know what they want so they change their mind over and over. And some don’t pay.

That’s why, even if your work is supposed to last a few days, it’s always a good idea to sign a contract, where you state very clearly what you’re gonna do and how you’re going to be paid.


Let’s start from the most concrete things. Decide how you’re going to be paid. Very shortly main options are as follows.

Half upfront and half when the work is done: it’s totally fine and quite common, so the risk is shared between you and your client. Especially handy in two cases: if the client is an asshole who doesn’t pay, and if the client changes his mind in the middle of the project, saying that, for some inexplicable reason, he doesn’t need your work anymore.

payments for startupsOnce the work is done: fine as well. You bear the risks in this case, but if you’ve a contract you should be fine. Just remember to add a kill fee clause (below).

Royalties: sometimes you will find people who offer you royalties. So for instance, if you’re a product designer you will get royalties once the thing you’e designed goes into production and is sold. Fine, but what if the thing you designed never make it to production? Add a kill fee and you'll be sure to be paid a part of the amount in any case.

Kill fee: that’s the amount you will get in any case if the project, for any reason, gets cancelled and the client doesn’t need your work anymore. It could be 50% or 25% of the value of the project. It could vary according to the phase of the project you’re in.


Well, that’s a touchy issue. How many revisions should you make? I see it’s very common to offer 2 free revisions of the starting project, and after that one or more paid revisions - which are not included in the initial price.

Setting the maximum number of revisions doesn’t make you sound stiff, don’t worry, and it’s the best way to assure that the client doesn’t change his mind too often.


Remember that the copyright always remains yours until you formally give it away (in your contract, through an assignment of copyright clause). In doing so, you give up the commercial rights of your work.

Two things to keep in mind, though. The moral rights always stay with you: you are the author, always. Moreover, “you have the right to object to any distortion which would be prejudicial to your honor or reputation”.

Another thing: in your contract, mention that you like to show off your work in your portfolio and in magazines. Be sure your client agrees with that.

And, last but not least: state you’ll give away the copyright only once the payment is made. In doing so, you make sure you don’t lose the commercial rights concerning your work if you’re not paid. So, perhaps, if the client doesn’t pay you, you can always recycle your work for someone else!

Serena Manzoli is an ex lawyer, a startup person and social media at Peppercorn, a place for creating your contracts in minutes and in many languages. She also blogs at

Fancy reading more design stuff for startups then click the handy link provided!

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Published on: 2nd June 2014

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