Eight Tips for the Newbie Web Designer
This article is targeted particularly at young designers just entering the field. These
suggestions shine light on some potential minefields the new designer might not think of until
he or she finds herself or himself in the middle of one. Although some of these ideas smack
of legalese, I'm not an expert on the law. In dealing with any contractual issues, I strongly
recommend that you contact legal counsel.
1. Get the lay of the land
Ask your new client how he found you, why he selected you and what design resources he
has used in the past. Your purpose is twofold:
• To find out what is working in your new business outreach program
and⁄or to identify who to thank for recommending you; and
• to discretely find out if your new client tends to be loyal to a designer
or if he jumps from one to another. If he's a jumper, that's a red flag.
2. Button down the strategy
Guiding the client to give you direction in strategic terms can be your most difficult
assignment. Many clients think and express themselves in execution terminology not conceptual
terms. Your job is to avoid discussing fonts and Pantone colors and focus on what is to be
communicated and to whom.
Once you think you understand the design assignment's strategic direction, compose a
written Communications Strategy and have the client sign off on it.
It is important that it include a concise Brand Positioning for the product or company
for which you're doing design work. It should also include a Communications Hierarchy, that
is, what is the most important idea or element to communicate, what's the second, and the third,
etc. Client "jumpers" who are consistently unhappy with designers are typically unable to verbalize
a strategy. Their common expression is "I'll know it when I see it." If your potential new
client utters this phrase, throw down your Pantone fanbook and run to the nearest exit!
3. Confirm the client's interest early on
Even though all the signs may point to your new client being fully involved in your project
and clearly interested in your working on the project, seek proof. Here's a relatively subtle
and painless way to do it. Typically, you prepare a proposal divided into phases describing
how you plan to execute the assignment. You assign an estimated timetable and cost to each
phase, and you stipulate that you will invoice the client at the conclusion of each phase.
Finally, (and here's the "proof"), you stipulate that approval of the proposal will be signified
by a prepayment of $___. The amount will be some portion of your estimate for the first phase.
When the check is issued, you'll know the assignment is real. You'll get the client's full
attention when he or she has "skin in the game."
4. Specify deliverables in each phase
Give specifics so the client has clear expectations regarding what he or she will receive.
For example: 3-5 concepts, concepts of principal display panel or a full package, options to
include differences in fonts, colors, images and general layout, deliverables will be PDFs
and full color printouts.
5. Clarify that the client, not the designer is legally responsible
Clarify that your client is legally responsible for the final package or label. You should
include this type of text in your proposal:
Design Protection and Rights: "All designs and any related development work created as
part of an assignment are done so by Acme Design to serve the client and are not intended to
infringe upon the rights of others. The complexity of these rights is such that Acme Design
cannot warrant that its clients will be immune from claims of others. It is the responsibility
of the client to consult legal counsel regarding all creative designs, package text, brand
names and trademarks, and file for registration or copyrights as appropriate."