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 maintenance 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.
Website Design Specifications
The first reason for forming a contract is to reduce the design discussions to writing. Put succinctly, 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,
- The platform the site will be built on,
- Shopping carts, if necessary,
- Specific software, and
- Any incidentals particular to the project.
By reducing the specifications to writing, it helps both parties clarify precisely what the parties are including in the project and what they are not. This detail prevents scope of work disputes halfway 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 benchmarks set forth the specific dates each party must meet. The designer typically presents the completed work to the client at each milestone point. The client then approves the work or requests changes. If the client gives their approval, they pay the designer 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 significant 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 action 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 significant issues 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 the parties cannot agree to a deal, 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 designer launches the site, you are in for a big surprise. Websites always have problems when they first go live. The potential for glitches 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. You should include a maintenance clause accounting for such issues 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 the prescribed fee.
A website design and maintenance contract is a critical component of any relationship between a business and a website designer. Since each design is unique, you should use a custom contract. Contact me today to learn more.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.