Being Transparent with your Clients – Part 2

Posted By Nathan Hoernig

Did you read the first article?

A couple months ago, I put up an article about being clear with your clients. In it, I explained that being considered a clear and informative designer usually comes down to your openness and thoroughness laying out your contract.

Of course, there are other areas where you should be honest and straight-forward, but because this is where your relationship with a new client unfolds, its vital to get this part of the project right. We all make mistakes, welcome to life as a human, but each step should be a learning experience.

In this post, I’ll review some more contract details that we like to put out there from the start with our clients. Sometimes it’s difficult to get to this conversation—clients are in a hurry to be somewhere else or the project is too rushed. In those situations, do what you can. At a minimum, we always send over the contract and encourage due diligence and our openness to questions or concerns.

If you haven’t done it yet, read over part one for a few other things you should be covering at the start.

Here we go with Part 2…


Copyright is a sticky one, but something you’ll need to bring up. Different situations require different angles. For example, the copyright and licensing rights with illustrations (which may be restricted to a geographic region, language, print run or timeframe) are much more extensive and sensitive than say a branding package (of which the client will need unlimited and exclusive usage).

The following is an excerpt from the outstanding Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines and I couldn’t say it better:

To clarify, a copyright basically assigns authorship (says that you are the creator) and that you control how it’s used in the world.

That being the case, there’s almost no reason why your client should actually need the copyright. As long as you offer the proper rights and usages to the artwork and ethically give your client the rights they’ll need to use it, you can maintain the ownership of the artwork with absolutely no effect on your customers.

If you’re okay with separating yourself from the piece completely, it’s fine to release the copyright, but it’s usually only worthwhile in the situation that you will absolutely in no way have a reason to control its output and usage in the future (such as a logo). Remember, this will remove you as the artist and assign the company or client as the artist. Different countries have different laws so you’ll have to read up on your area.

It’s important to understand, for example, that if you’re doing business in Japan, or with a Japan-based designer, the copyright structure is a bit different. Check out our article about Japanese Copyright for that information.

Either way, always mention that you reserve the right to use the piece in a portfolio, submit it to a contest, or have it printed in a book or used digitally. Most designers control the copyright of their work as they are the artists. Use those rights to help market yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about copyright as related to design, check out The Graphic Artists Guild and the AIGA. Humble Bunny Design follows the guidelines of these two companies in lieu of copyright ethics but applies it to Japanese copyright laws.

Say something along these lines:

Agree on a Set of Deliverables

If you’re putting together letterhead and you put a quick mock-up logo on it to spruce it up, Great! Be aware, however, that your client will inevitably ask to keep the logo if they like it. If you’re okay to let them have it, by all means do! However, if you feel that they should have to pay for that as its a much more valuable component to their company, mention it from the start or avoid putting it on there at all!

There are two mindsets when it comes to design:

  1. If a client pays money for a specific product, then it and all its elements therein belong to them and they are free to use it as they please.
  2. If a client pays money for a specific product, then they receive that product ordered in its delivered form, but not freedom to take all of the components and use them as they please.

One real world example is a painting. Let’s say you purchase a landscape painting. You’re in the process of building an outdoor goods importing company and you thought it would look great on your office wall. You paid a large amount of money. After having it in your office for some time, you begin to grow particularly keen on a specific mountain form in the painting. So, you decide that you want to use that as your company’s logo. You take a photograph of the mountain, clean it up in Photoshop and begin using it as your logo. It appears on your website, business card, envelopes, even on the signboard outside your office!

Does this sound practical? Most likely it does not. Graphic arts are technically in the same realm as that painting.

This area is a bit sticky and you’ll need to handle it carefully. In practice, it may be best to avoid including such elements unless provided by the client or previously purchased.

If you’re a designer, my strong advice is to avoid this extra work. You can easily create a marketing kit that doesn’t employ a logo. If you feel it would compliment the piece, propose it to the client and show some examples of why it’s better. If they’re not open to the idea of paying you for a logo, don’t include or offer it.

Try clarifying it this way:

The Monitor/Printing Color Shift

People’s computer monitors render colors differently.
Different printers print colors differently.

The drafts on your computer will not look like theirs—nor will they print the same.

If your customer commissions you for a project that they intend to print “in-house” you must warn them of this situation.

It’s nearly impossible to fix this problem without said customer investing in screen calibration software/hardware.

Designers, you have to cover yourselves like this:

It’s up to designers to educate them about the “moodiness” of ink combinations and the substrate. Add in the fact that everyone’s monitors are calibrated differently and you’re guaranteed a color shift.

Bring color samples from your printer when discussing color. That’s a great way to show your customers what a certain color will look like once professionally done.

Printing Fees vs. Design Fees

HBD charges a different rate for printing than it does for designing. If you’re contracted for a print job using artwork that’s already been made, mention that if they need changes, it will cost more. This seems obvious, but it’s not. Some people don’t have much experience with design or printing. That’s why they’ve come to you, right?! Be a teacher and inform them about this reality from the start.

Even if they don’t mention anything about design changes, mention the cost. Why? As a designer, it’s hard to look at a piece of art and NOT get an idea of how to improve it, even if its your own piece. If a design change pops up after the fact and you try to charge for it, guess who’s in the hot seat for not being thorough and mentioning the cost? You, the designer.

Here’s your spiel:

Good Feelings all around

Being open, honest and straightforward about what to expect is a vital skill in any field. Some fields are more forgiving than design. Don’t assume anything. It’s better to “state the obvious” than be trapped when a client rears back and calls you out. We are in the art of communication. For many designers, artistic communication is much easier than verbal communication. Those that are on the top of their game are well-versed in both areas. If you’re not on the top of your game in this area, do your best to get there.

Every client will be a new learning experience. The bad ones will have you kicking yourself, but will help you with your success rate as time goes on. Make a mistake, accept responsibility (for not being clear) and move on with a conscious understanding of how to clarify it in the future. Sometimes, a client won’t forgive you and they won’t come back. It’s crushing, especially when you really want to make them happy and encourage their efforts, but that’s the way the vendor-client relationship works.

Even if they don’t forgive you, forgive yourself!

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