4 Topics To Cover In Any Website Design and Maintenance Contract

Whether you are a designer or a business looking to hire one, do you want to avoid problems when going through a website design project? Of course you do. The answer is to negotiate and enter into a website design and website design and maintenance contractmaintenance contract.

A website design contract reduces the discussions you and the other party have been having regarding the project to writing. The agreement should cover four critical topics.


The first reason for forming a contract is to reduce the design discussions to writing. Put a better way, we are talking about the specifications for the project. Common issues to cover in the agreement include:

  • Markups of the appearance of the site,
  • Number of pages to be created,
  • Scripts to be used,
  • Platform the site will be built on,
  • Shopping carts, if necessary,
  • Specific software to be used, and
  • Any incidentals particular to the project.

By reducing the specifications to writing, it helps both parties clarify exactly what is included in the project and what is not. This detail prevents scope of work disputes half way through the project, discussions that can bring a project to a halt.


Milestones act as a timeline for any project. With a website design agreement, the milestones set forth the dates certain steps of the design process will be completed. The designer typically presents the completed work to the client at each milestone point. The client then approves the work or requests changes. If approval is given, the designer is paid a portion of the overall fee and the project proceeds to the next milestone. This approach keeps projects moving forward smoothly while also keeping the designer from experiencing cash flow problems.


Copyright is a huge issue on the web. In a quirk of copyright law, the designer of a website owns the design unless they transfer the ownership of it to the client. This legal status exists even though the customer is paying the designer to do the work. Given this, it is critical the design contract includes a detailed copyright transfer clause.

Why is copyright ownership such a concern? Many lawyers suggest the problem is the designer might resell the design. This is unlikely because word would get out, and the designer would never get another client.

The real problem is you, the online business, are going to run into major problems if you try to sell the site down the road. Why? You can’t sell something you don’t own. Seriously. Put yourself in the position of the buyer. Would you buy a site from someone who doesn’t own the design? Your only option is to go back to the designer with hat in hand. If a deal can’t be agreed to, the seller may well serve a copyright infringement complaint on the DMCA agent for you host, resulting in your site being taken down.


If you think a website design is complete the day the site is launched, you are in for a big surprise. Websites always have problems when they first go live. The potential for problems is the reason most sites first launch in beta form. The beta version is placed on a “hidden” domain so the owner, designer and invited individuals can put the site through its paces. Common issues include whether the design appears correctly in different browsers, the links on the site work and whether functions such as searching, forms or shopping carts perform as expected.

Even with all this testing, you can expect problems to pop up now and again for three to six months in most cases. A maintenance clause accounting for such problems should be included in the contract. Typically, the designer agrees to provide free support for a defined period. Once the period expires, the developer agrees to continue to provide assistance for prescribed fee.

In Closing

A website design and maintenance contract is a critical component to any relationship between a business and website designer. Since each design is unique, a custom contract should be used. Contact me today to learn more.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.