The client’s guide

Client’s guide to professional conduct in the design industry


“Client” means an individual or company purchasing skills and talents from an individual or company practicing in design industry.

Professional Conduct

We expect our clients to follow the professional obligations of their own community and the business community as a whole. This includes all legal obligations of the city, state or nation under which they operate. Designers have the right to refuse to do service with a business which they feel is not adhering to these obligations.

Do not ask your designer to apply concepts, images or ideas from another source. Remember: you are trying to stand out of the crowd, not blend in. Plagiarism and concept theft is a criminal act that will damage the designer and your business, and makes it difficult for both of you to reestablish public credibility.

The designer/client relationship

The digital world has vastly improved the speed of design. Proofs can be sent electronically and a great amount of design can be accomplished on computer in a much shorter amount of time than ever before. However, technology has not made the design process simpler. Designers still need time to work with your company to decide the best way to represent it to the consumer. Deadlines and project scope must be realistic and flexible enough to deal with the unexpected. Remember that you are buying a public face to your business, and value it accordingly.

Remember that your designer is a professional collaborator and not an employee, and brings a set of skills to your company that is geared towards expanding your business.

When you hire a designer, make sure that you make them part of your business day. Keep in touch at a frequency acceptable to both of you, and the design process will flow smoothly in both directions. Designers, like all business contacts, appreciate returned messages, even if it is only an acknowledgment of receipt.

Spend an extra hour with your designer at the beginning to outline your needs and interests, and you will save hours of time down the road in regards to deadlines and project scope. Taking the time to deliver a sufficiently in-depth project brief ultimately serves as a cost-saving device for both parties.

A qualified designer is trained to analyze your professional needs and, with your input and guidance, craft visual expressions of your business. The client should understand that this skill goes beyond the personal aesthetic and often deals with the psychology of branding and public perception, and is as individual to your company as a fingerprint.

A designer’s suggestions and recommendations on the project are not simply what clients or designers find appealing or pleasing. Good quality design is engineered to appeal to your customer. Be fair in your criticism. Ask questions instead of making statements. If something does not work, explain your misgivings fully instead of simply. Remember that your designer is a professional collaborator and not an employee, and brings a set of skills to your company that is geared towards expanding your business.

In addition, the concepts and ideas generated together represent a contractual agreement of confidentiality/exclusivity between the designer and client. Just as the Designer will not divulge your business operations, you and your staff are obligated to do the same for our business.

Design is a business, just like yours

Designers are business owners and have set hours like any business. After hours calls may not be received until the next working day. Rush requests or overnight orders, like any business, are subject to increased or emergency fees. In return, a designer is obligated to inform you in a timely manner of any increase in cost to you.

Deadlines for materials the designer needs are not arbitrary. Designers cannot design around blank spaces where text should go, nor can they build around pictures that are not there. Any delay on the delivery of photos, text or dimensions of the project results in a slowdown of the production process. If you experience an informational gap, contact your designer immediately to explain the delay.

On a related note, make sure your copy is free of errata, both grammatical and factual, and that you images are of the quality needed by the designer. The designer should give you a list of specifications of print, media or Web materials. They are not guidelines; they are rules by which the final project must go to press.

Design contracts/billing

Designers’ contracts guarantee their clients the right to high quality design in a timely and efficient manner to represent to goods and services your business has to offer. Take the time to read them thoroughly. If a designer does not provide a contract dealing with the scope of the project it is your right to ask for one before you begin working together.

A good designers’ contract outlines realistic deadlines, estimates the true scope of a project and the obligations of a designer before, during and after the project timeline. If any of these areas are lacking, it is your right to ask the designer about them.

It is the designer’ duty to a client to provide a detailed list of services provided in the final remuneration. This bill will include all services provided, including, but not limited to the services outlined in the original contract. Overtime, rush fees and emergency work will be billed accordingly, as well as any additional services requested by the client. The client has the right to inquire about additional costs when requesting additional work. A client will pay on time as agreed in the contract

Requests for working on spec – You might have heard of business owners who have asked for multiple designers to submit a finished product, and paid only the designer whose work they chose to use. On the same note there are designers who state a willingness to work for free to secure a later contract. This is known as spec (speculative) work, and is one of the biggest gambles you can make with your time, money and corporate image. Clients who ask for spec work waste time and energy weeding through multiple designs, most of which do not reflect your company’s needs. Designers who work on spec are not bound by contractual obligation to deliver anything, even if you want to use their designs. In short, it’s better, safer, and more cost-effective in the long run to work with a hired designer who is able to dedicate themselves to your project than it is to delve into spec work.


Publicity helps designers and clients build an image and gain even more work. Naturally, a designer should be allowed to present samples of their work with your company as an example of what good collaborative design can accomplish. Designers are obligated to present your company in a positive, factually correct manner, and any samples will not violate the confidentiality agreements in the design contract. A client may allow the designer to use the client’s name for the promotion of articles designed or service provided, but only in a manner which is appropriate to the status of the profession

A client who is asked to advise on the selection of designers shall accept no payment in any form from the designer recommended

Also, a client should not publicize the designers name to be associated with the realization of a design which has been so changed by the client as no longer to be substantially the original work of the designer.

The client’s guide was created by designers and polished by Thomas (Tom) Stephan

One response to “The client’s guide”

  1. This is a thoughtful and, in my opinion, sensible Guide. What would be nice (this guide being a starting point) is to develop a set of trade customs that would be printed on the back of every PO’s. There are already some customs (accepted de-facto terms) that most can agree on that are already in use. This and other type of public forums are the perfect vehicle to get a national consensus on establishing a set of trade customs that can become a standard. The internet has made freelance artist of all types able to work from anyplace which would require a set of written customs that are uniform. Your document puts us on the correct path.

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