Risk Management for Web Designers

Anyone working in a design-orientated field or industry will already have a feel for how complicated it can be.

As the saying goes, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and one person’s preferences can be very different to another.

It is often the case that differences of opinion arise, with neither party actually being wrong but having very different opinions about how something should appear.

Therefore anyone looking to go it alone in a creative field needs to have a fairly thick skin.

This is certainly true for web designers where, in a sense, the final ‘artwork’ is the public domain and out there for all to see. There really is no hiding place.

If the website is the perfect blend of form and function, the client will be rewarded with lots of web traffic and potential sales. However, this very public appraisal of work, can be a double edged sword and a website that does not produce the expected results could be highly criticized.

A website designer is able to define how a website looks, how it feels, how it works and what it contains. There is a lot of pressure riding on the designer – particularly if they are operating as a freelancer, sole trader or small business.

So, because the very nature of a web designer’s work involves opening up their work to the great unknown, it makes sense to do some basic risk assessment with every contract. After all, every designer is only human and unintentional mistakes can happen. A good basic rule of thumb is, ‘if I do something wrong, what’s the worst case scenario for my client. And what can I do about it?’

Breaking the contract down in to smaller component parts will also help with the risk assessment:

1. Who is the website for? What sort of business is my client in? How big a player is my client?

If it is possible, the designer should ask the client for examples of websites they like in general and also some examples of competitors’ sites before any work begins.

2. Will the website use content from third parties (like images, music, video)?

The designer should make sure they have suitable written licences from the media owners (and this should be saved somewhere for future reference.)

3. Exactly what is included in the contract for a new website?

The designer should be extremely clear about what is included, be that domain registration, hosting, design, maintenance. A client may believe that they are paying for ongoing support which can be a time consuming exercise for the designer, unless costs are calculated up front.

4. Considering the deadlines and scale of the job, will the designer need to use a subcontractor to help and if so, do they have professional indemnity insurance?

Bringing other people on board has the potential to increase risk as there is more potential for mistakes to be made.

5. What sign off procedure, if any, is in place?

Experienced designers know all too well that the closer a website gets to launch date, the more people get involved on the client side. To protect the designer, it is essential to have a well thought-out sign off procedure in place, otherwise the ‘design by committee’ factor may well take its toll on the whole project with massive delays or changes in strategy.

As well as reviewing all of the above points, all web designers should ensure that they have professional indemnity insurance in place. The policy helps web designers that find themselves in dispute with a client. It covers the legal expenses involved in defending any allegations or claims made against the designer, and also covers any compensation or damages that may have to be paid.

The most common kinds of claims made against web designers are for copyright infringement and unintentional breach of contract. Unfortunately if things do start to go wrong, clients tend to sue first and ask questions later. It is not particularly pleasant thinking the potential worst of clients, but at least with a risk assessment undertaken and professional indemnity insurance in place, a web designer can be fully prepared.

Author: Valerie Hockley