So you have an exciting brand identity project on the horizon.
You’ve secured a phenomenal graphic designer to produce the artwork.
And, once the visual identity is approved, you’re confident you’ll get all of the final file types you need.
Why wouldn’t you?
A Disappointing Response
When you request the editable vector design files, your freelancer responds, explaining that:
The editable file types were not included in the RFP you provided. Therefore, we won’t be able to provide them without an additional agreement and fee.
Suddenly, you’re overcome with a mix of emotions and left wondering:
- Why are they charging for the file at all; shouldn’t it be included?
- How am I going to explain an unforeseen expense to my client?
- Am I going to have to eat this expense, unbeknownst to my client?
There’s nothing worse than being in this situation. And unfortunately, it happens more often than we’d like.
The problem is in assuming the freelance graphic designer is producing work that is ours to take, use, and alter however we and our client wish.
How could the designer not expect us to alter their work, to use it where and however we’d like, to meet our client’s needs?
After all, we paid for their time to produce a specific work product. And because no one mentioned licensing, we expect we’re free to change and use it as we see fit.
But sadly, we are not. The work product is a creative work-for-hire assignment.
Therefore, we don’t own unlimited rights to the product unless they are specific to the agreement.
Avoid a File Licensing Disaster
Like non-creative work, all creative work comes with limitations.
It’s our job to understand those so we can avoid pitfalls when working with freelance graphic designers.
If you’re like most professionals, going back to your client with your tail between your legs isn’t likely your idea of a good time.
And, neither is eating the cost of the mistake.
I’ll share a few tips to avoid landing in the situation described above.
Hire the Right Level of Graphic Designer Experience
There are critical differences between a newly self-employed graphic designer with limited experience and a veteran graphic designer with global brands in their portfolio.
It’s important to hire someone with adequate experience based on the needs and complexity of the project.
For example, a newbie freelancer (aka entry/junior level) may be less confident in their ability to produce the work for hire.
While they often bring one-to-five years of either in-house or agency-side experience to the table, they may be overly strict about pricing and deliverables.
Or they may be eager to please, which may work in your favor when it comes to negotiating a price for original design files.
A seasoned freelance designer (aka director/manager level), on the other hand, will be confident in their ability to produce and innovate the work for hire.
They are likely to be strict but reasonable when it comes to contract negotiations.
However, it’s also possible for a veteran graphic designer to be out of touch with design trends, or ego-driven, resulting in experiences such as contested design revision requests.
Over time, you will discover what experience level you prefer working with.
And at the end of the day, it comes down to the professionalism and flexibility of the designer rather than years of experience.
Be Clear and Detailed About Your Needs
Think of all the potential use cases for the artwork.
I know, you’re thinking this is going to be a painful process.
And while it may take some time, you won’t regret writing these down.
Whatever you do, don’t assume you know how your client plans to use the creative work—ask them.
While they may not know all the ways they intend to use the design, they should have an idea of what it’s use will be.
To prompt a better response, ask the client how they envision uses for the design. Explain that this will help you accurately estimate the cost.
Once you have a list from the client, pass that information onto your designer so they can provide a better estimate.
Skipping this step could result in an additional and unwelcome cost.
Don’t worry about the order of the use cases at this point; just get them down on paper. The more, the merrier. You can always edit the list later.
Prioritize Your List
Once you’ve imagined (and confirm with the client) all use cases for your big list, it’s time to order the use cases by priority.
For example, your number one priority may be RGB, PNG, 72 dpi, transparent, and white background files for all versions of the logo.
It’s important to have both file types for the logo, so you can place it on any background type, including a website.
You should always ask for vectorized graphics. And, later on, you may also need an animated logo or an app icon.
Whatever your (and your client’s) needs may be, it’s important to prioritize for now and the future.
Put It in Your RFP
Be efficient and start the conversation with your freelancer by putting your detailed list of use cases in your RFP.
You can put the list right under the deliverables/items list:
Deliverable: Logo Design
File formats to be delivered: X, Y, Z
This way you can remove those designers who don’t offer unlimited licensing and attract those who do.
Add It to the Contract
Be sure to add all use cases to the contract.
If you use a master services agreement, your legal team can add “plug-and-play” clauses for each use case so you may edit as needed per project. The provision may be entitled “licensing.”
When in doubt, consult with your legal team to ensure you have adequate legal coverage before you sign on the dotted line.
Anything left out of the contract will be left up to interpretation, which may cause unnecessary headaches and potential legal issues.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Something to remember, regardless of the project or the client, is to lead by example and do the right thing, even when it hurts.
Don’t screw over a freelancer, even if it saves you a little bit of money.
If a dispute arises, own your faults.
And hopefully, that will inspire the other party to do the same.