IT MAY NOT BE A LIVING, BUT IT'S A BUSINESS!
It is usually better to charge a flat fee
for design, than to charge by the hour. I
always think of plumbers, when I think of
hourly rates, and—nothing against
plumbers—the practice of charging by
the hour really denigrates our work in the
eyes of clients. Most clients would not feel
right about paying us as much per hour
as they do their lawyers, and if our work
doesn't take us long to complete (the com¬
puter has cut my work time in half on an
average piece of lettering or illustration),
we won't make much money.
From the standpoint of the client's psy¬
chology, it's better for us to charge a flat
fee, but break it down, if they ask us to,
into bite-sized chunks such as Discovery
phase, Execution phase,
Deployment phase, and
silly labels like that.
You'll make more money
charging flat fees, but
explain up front that
client additions or alter¬
ations cost extra, and these can always be
charged at an hourly rate!
Advertising agencies and design firms
always make clients sign contracts, which
usually include something like one-third
payment up front before any work begins.
Although I have rarely used contracts, my
advice to you is to use them, in most
cases. When working for large corpora¬
tions, publishers and ad agencies, they
will usually hand you the contract.
Remember that in every contract, the
writer will try to covertly gain legal and
financial advantage over whomever is
expected to sign it. Not when we write the
contract, of course. I mean the ones they
want us to sign.
I don't use contracts when I'm working
with small clients whom I sense are trust¬
worthy and seem to understand concepts
like kill fees. I have occasionally judged
poorly, but still I've only been burned a
few times. If you present a client with a
contract and he won't sign it, even one he
gets to negotiate on a little bit, I wouldn't
deal with him at all. The biggest problem
you'll ever have is working with what I
call the "amateur client" who has no expe¬
rience working with artists.
"Work for Hire" (WFH) is a corporate
plague upon artists everywhere. Clients
get away with making us agree to it
because too many of us realize that a job,
even with a WFH attached, is better than
no job at all, which is a situation free¬
lancers often experience. WFH means
that we are signing away our work and
all rights to it, forever, to our client.
Should our work, say a cartoon character
we created, or a logo we designed, go on to
have a greater and more illustrious life
than we, or even the client, initially envi¬
sioned, we have no right to demand fur¬
ther compensation for the additional
usage. Many designers make substantial
money selling secondary rights to their
work. I've resold one image, originally
done for a magazine cover, three addition¬
al times to other clients. Had I signed a
WFH contract I would no longer have
owned the art to sell.
There are designers who will not do
WFH and insist on placing their © on
Aside from talent, an artist will benefit most from
being able to self criticize, to be honestly
introspective...and to accept sincere criticism
from others without knee-jerk defensiveness.
every piece they do. If they can afford it, I
salute them. If I were designing a logo or
doing an illustration for some product
where the nature of the work was so spe¬
cific to that company, leaving little possi¬
bility for resale, and if the initial compen¬
sation was acceptable, I'd have no prob¬
lem with WFH. Some designers, as an
alternative to WFH, will offer to sell the
copyright to their work (which normally
reverts back to the artist) outright to the
client for an additional fee.
When you work as a company employ¬
ee, all that you produce is generally
owned by the company. I know a guy who
conceived the idea for a product that went
on to become phenomenally successful,
netting millions for his employer. At least
they gave him a small raise, but he had to
go to them and ask for it! Another guy, the
creator of one of the most successful car¬
toon series on cable, that has reaped 100
million dollars in merchandising alone,
has to content himself with "doing what
he loves" (but not sharing in the full
rewards) because he created the product
under a WFH contract. Just imagine the
glee of the network execs as they consid¬
er their high profits and "low overhead."
In addition to wanting to keep all the
money, corporations increasingly are try¬
ing to keep all the credit, too. There's a
growing reluctance by corporations to
acknowledge creators (or they might have
to pay them). Film credits, except for the
biggest names, seem to be moving to the
ends of movies, authors' bylines are get¬
ting smaller and smaller on book covers
and clients are increasingly reluctant to
let illustrators and designers sign their
work. Corporations seem to feel that an
artist's signature competes with the com¬
pany's logo or the product itself. The cor¬
porate entity itself wants to be known as
the sole creator. In the current hostile cor¬
porate environment, we all may end up
like the graffiti artists, signing our names
on walls in 5184-point letters.
WORKING ON SPEC
"On spec" means working for free, or
speculatively, in the hopes that you will
please the client and land the account. On
spec is often cloaked
as a competition. It's
really a way for a
client to get many
designers to work for
free and be able to
choose from perhaps
dozens of submissions. I once received
¥ 1,000,000 from a Japanese firm by sub¬
mitting the winning design of a trade¬
mark character. I agreed to produce
rough sketches on spec because I felt the
job was so "me." My gambit paid off, the
You may wish to accept an on-spec
assignment if you are just starting out,
have no other work, or need to build up
your portfolio. We can always show other
clients this work, even if rejected, and
claim it was used.
THE AMATEUR CLIENT
He may know widgets in and out—
that's how he made his fortune—but God
help us when we work for this amateur
client who understands nothing about
what we designers do. With entrepre-
neurship on the rise and the explosion in
publishing, it has become increasingly
likely that you will find yourself working
with amateur clients. The first rule is to
get some money up front, before you
begin working. Tell him it's because, "I
haven't worked with you before." And
make sure that, in the negotiating stage,
he understands all about sketch fees,
change charges and kill fees. If he won't
sign a contract for your services, that's a
good sign that maybe you shouldn't work
Although all clients can be guilty of the
following gaucheries, you may be able to
spot an amateur client by these signs.
LOGO, FONT S LETTERING BIBLE
You know you're in trouble when a
client tells you...
1. "/ can only afford to pay you $150 bucks
for a logo because I still gotta pay the
printer, the billboard guy and the fabrica¬
tor who'll stamp your logo in gold on the
stainless steel case."
Obviously, the client values everybody's
work except yours and he's willing to
invest perhaps $50,000 in a product
based on a logo he claims is only worth
$150 to him. Not only is this insulting to
us, it marks the client as an idiot.
2. "I just need a simple logo. That should¬
n't take you too long, right?"
Sometimes the simplest logos take the
most time. The client is trying to say (a.)
he doesn't want to pay us, and (b.) he
doesn't value our time or our process.
3. "Look, if you'll do this job cheap for me,
next time, when I've got a better budget,
you're the one I'll call."
The client is trying to con us. Again. The
way this actually works is that by accept¬
ing a job for less money than the job is
worth, the client loses respect for us and
next time, when he has a better budget,
he calls another artist whom he respects;
who would never have taken a job that
paid as poorly as the one we accepted.
4. "But thisjob'll be a great portfolio piece
Translation: I don't want to pay you.
Sometimes, it may be worthwhile doing a
job that will have great exposure and
enhance your portfolio—even for free. But
again, this is just another client ploy to
pay us less than we deserve.
5. "/ can't afford to pay you anything up
front, but I'll pay you a percentage once
the product takes off."
Forget it. You'll never see a cent. If the
product does become successful, will you
ever be sure you're receiving a proper
accounting? Certainly, there are cases
where an honest client lived up to his
word in full, but such clients are rare.
This is another con.
6. "That printer was an !i!ssh'hle, he
screwed me and I won't pay him."
I worked for the owner of a small record
company who always found supposed
flaws in whatever typesetting or printing
services he contracted for and used these
as excuses not to pay anyone. Should I
have been surprised when later he
refused to pay me for some reason or
another? Some clients will agree to pay
the designer COD until we become com¬
fortable with him. Then when our useful¬
ness to him ends, he hesitates to pay a
few bills and finally skips out on us.
7. "One-thousand bucks for a logo?! Say,
I've got a guy who'll do it for $100."
"So let him do it," I told the client who
What a basic BILLFORM looks like:
Your Personal Logo or Name Here
Your address/phone/fax/email/web site underneath
Bill to: Client's name
and address here
P.O. #: Your Job number—just make something up.
Client's Job #: If they give you one
Job Description: Leave space here to fully describe the services
you will provide in return for...
Total: The amount you want to be paid
an insipid one. Ideas, for books or prod¬
ucts, are usually not very stealable (al¬
though there have been notable excep¬
tions!) because an idea is nothing without
its creator's energy behind it. Conversely,
even a silly idea can become a mega-hit
when someone who believes in it strongly
enough puts all his energy behind it.
Publishers will generally not steal a book
idea because they'd have to hire
someone else to write and/or
design it, so why not just let you
do it in the first place?
10. "I don't want the logo to be
too slick or it'll scare away my
working class customers."
Every night in their living
rooms, the poorest and least
sophisticated among us (along
with the rest of us) watch the
most expensive and technologi¬
cally advanced, state-of-the-art
television shows and commer¬
cials created by the highest-
paid designers on earth. But
your client wants you to dumb
down his logo. Well, okay...if
Your S.S.# or tax ID#: Don't volunteer unless requested.
URLS BEFORE SWINE
Thank You! Please pay within JO days of receipt.
called me up a month later willing to pay
the thousand for the same logo. "What
happened to the $100 logo?" I asked. "It
wasn't good enough," he admitted. Well,
you get what you pay for!
8. "I'm not paying for this logo because I
can't use it."
This is a tough one. The guy's business
venture collapses, or he simply changes
his mind, after you've done the finished
logo according to all his idiotic demands.
Legally, he has to pay you, and his own
circumstances are irrelevant. If you'd
been paid one-third up front and one-
third upon approval of comps, you'd only
be out one-third of the dough. If you had
made him sign a contract, you could take
him to court.
9. "I've got this million-dollar idea, see,
but you'll have to sign an NDA before I
can show it you."
Every time some smart amateur client
has called me up needing a logo and
insisting I sign a non-disclosure-agree¬
ment (NDA) to legally prevent me from
revealing his brainstorm to anyone else,
the idea when finally unveiled, has been
Rough sketches can be so
tight and quick to produce
when drawn on computer, that we are
tempted to provide the client with dozens
of them in the hope that if fifteen sketch¬
es fail to please, the sixteenth might. But
unless the client has requested, and is
willing to pay for, dozens of rough con¬
cepts, it's best to limit him to four or six.
Otherwise, the client gets confused and
can't choose, or he thinks it must be so
easy for us to whip out sketches, he might
as well see a dozen more to be sure no
concept has been overlooked. This just
reinforces the idea in most clients' minds
that design is not as valuable as the "real
work" of a printer or a lawyer.
Clients can be agonizingly literal.
Writer and artist Mark Clarkson
explains, "I always want to start the dia¬
logue as soon as possible, lest I go a long
way [making sketches] in the wrong
direction. But then the...urn...client
always takes rough sketches at greater
than face value. It's like if you were dis¬
cussing a design at a restaurant and you
grabbed a napkin and did a sketch. But
the client kept fixating on the wrong
issues like the color of the ink in your
pen, say, or the texture of the napkin: