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Useful Legal Documents For Designers (PDF/DOC)

Contracts are a source of anxiety and dismay in creative work, but they exist for a good reason. A good contract ensures that you and your client have the same expectations, and protects you in case things go south. Ideally, your contract should be a combination of industry standards, legal protection and personal preferences. To help you get started, here’s a set of 10 basic agreements for a variety of common business situations that creative professionals face.

How much do you expect to be paid in advance? What happens if a payment is late? Who will own the rights to the work, and when? Contracts can seem overwhelming, but don’t need to be. Reading through these documents is an opportunity to learn from experienced designers in a collaborative setting. Furthermore, every document comes with usage statistics and can be legally signed online for free (at least if you are in the United States).

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

All content on Docracy5, the free repository of legal documents, is open source and free to take (or even improve), so please feel free to share your own examples and experience.

Useful legal documents for designers (PDF/DOC)6
Image credits: Joybot7.

Here’s the full set that you can customize online:

  1. AIGA Standard for Professional Design Services8
    Drafted by the premier design association in the US, this is probably the most complete designer-friendly agreement out there (works best for big projects). Multiple versions available, with different licensing options.
  2. Contract for Website Development & Identity Work, with Annotations9
    A modern Designer-Client Agreement, drafted by a New York lawyer. It’s loosely based off the AIGA form, but closes some loopholes and trims the fat. Informative annotations are provided to guide you through the various clauses.
  3. AIGA/GAG Speider’s Designer Contract10
    The contract that the designer/writer Speider Schneider sends to his clients, as featured on Smashing Magazine11. It’s a hybrid of the AIGA and GAG (Graphic Artists Guild) models, along with some common sense changes. Plus it’s optimized for e-signing to help save some trees.
  4. Contract for Web Design12
    A plain language agreement for Web design development projects, based heavily on the Andy Clarke’s brilliant “Contract Killer”13 article on 24 Ways. The beauty of this document is in the language: this is a non-legalese, plain English, straightforward pact that two reasonable people sign.
  5. Shortform Design Contract14
    Jacob Myers, the author of this sample, is a lawyer/developer who works closely with designers. In his words: “The next time a client comes to you with a quick job, save yourself time and aggravation by sending them a Short Design Contract to be signed BEFORE you start working. The doc is basically an abbreviated contract confirming the scope of the job, the schedule, fees to be paid and essential terms and conditions. Use this style of contract for quick jobs or where a full-blown contract would make the client apprehensive.”
  6. Work for Hire15
    A short and flexible work-for-hire agreement, where the contractor is an artist being hired by a creative firm for a work of design. Remember that with this kind of contract the IP rights are automatically assigned to the commissioning client.
  7. Consulting Agreement16
    If you’re hiring a consultant, this is a great starting point: a model agreement by a top US law firm. If you are the consultant, you might want to mitigate some of the provisions of this client-friendly document, like this version17 (see changes18).
  8. Shortform NDA19
    The contract that everybody signs, sooner or later: The Non-Disclosure Agreement. This is a unilateral example, so if both parties are disclosing confidential information to each other, make sure you use a Mutual NDA20 instead.
  9. Contract for Original Illustration Work
    A simple, commissioned illustration agreement drafted by a lawyer based in Portland. This contract is pro-artist, and a flat, non-refundable commission fee is charged. All rights are non-exclusively licensed, but because most people want a “unique” piece of art, the artist agrees not to resell or publish the work, except for portfolio use (such as posting on DeviantArt, Dribbble, etc.).
  10. Simple IP Assignment
    Work is done, money is in the bank, but you forgot to give the IP rights to the client? Fix the issue with this simple IP assignment. Also useful when you hired someone but forgot to have the rights assigned in the original contract. Get this signed to tie up any loose ends.

You can also download the full set in PDF/DOC21, with one single file (.zip).

Don’t forget that the legal stuff is important, and so please treat these documents as a starting point. A good lawyer can help you review these examples and tailor them to your particular project and local laws. Standard documents are useful and educational, but are never a substitute for legal advice. Docracy, Smashing Magazine and the original authors of these documents disclaim any liability connected to the use of these material without a licensed attorney.

(vp) (jc)

Footnotes Link

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Veronica is the Director of Content for, a home for free, open source legal documents, socially curated by the communities that use them. She has a legal background and works closely with tech startups and freelance designers in Brooklyn, NY.

  1. 1

    Wow, some great links. Sadly I’m from Germany.. Does anyone know a german collection like that?

  2. 5

    Excellent list, very handy. A great start.

  3. 6

    Pretty handy! Thanks Veronica

  4. 7

    Dinesh Rathod

    August 15, 2012 2:53 pm

    Thanks for such a helpful article..

  5. 8

    #4 (Andy Clarke’s) is the one I always go to. Good stuff.

  6. 9

    Thanks for the great resources!

  7. 10

    Fabian Mariano

    August 15, 2012 5:00 pm

    Where I can get some of these documents in Spanish?. Thank you.

  8. 11

    Awesome! Thanks!!

  9. 12

    Prabaharan CS

    August 16, 2012 11:29 am

    Thanks for the good resources!

  10. 13

    Very helpful. Thank you for the information!

  11. 14

    Some of these are really useful, even if you just use the bits that are important to you. Presenting a new client with a T&C document is one way to say you’re professional and weeding out the inscrutable.

  12. 15

    Arvon Williams

    August 16, 2012 3:30 pm

    UK links would be great if available

  13. 16

    Alfredo Crovetto

    August 16, 2012 4:35 pm

    Helpfull indeed, will start aplying a couple of them.

  14. 17

    Ive been waiting for an article like this! Its hard to write your own contracts :)

  15. 18

    Another good place to find resources, not only for contracts but for freelancers in general is this website:

    It has a free custom contract creator you can use. I’ve used it many times!

  16. 19

    Contracts can be scary but they are so important to protect yourself and your business. Thanks for sharing these!

  17. 20

    John Surdakowski

    August 19, 2012 3:45 pm

    Great. Thanks!

  18. 21

    Some fantastic stuff here, I particularly like the friendly style of writing in number 4. Makes the whole process seem a lot more enjoyable.

  19. 22

    Peter Sparkman

    August 22, 2012 12:13 am

    Fantastic! Thank you! As with some of the others, I’d love the collection based in Australian law. Still fantastic wordage to start writing my own with. The Arts Law Centre of Australia used to provide free samples of these 20 years ago, but now you have to pay a largish amount for each one! With these I can rewrite my own and then get a solicitor to look over them ;) I love you Veronica Picciafuoco and Smashing magazine !

  20. 23

    I have been wanting a post like this to cross my path. I appreciate the time and thought behind your effort.

  21. 24

    My contracts now have been 15 pages of who knows what. This is much better! Thanks so much!

  22. 25

    Roger wants similar documents for use in the UK – you could try where the agreements are written in plain English

  23. 26

    Thanks so much for such useful and helpful article! I am going with Andy Clarke’s template as I am based in London and it’s just what I need.
    Also well-written in an enjoyable and friendly way.


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