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Weblog Entry

Open Source Design?

June 20, 2005

As the open source philsophy continues to make sense to me, I wonder how I should be applying the same principles to my own work.

“Openness” isn’t generally a concept you’ll find as a driving force in graphic design. Which is interesting, as today a designer’s output has parallels to the world of software, perhaps more than to the world of art.

A few decades ago, a designer’s final product was almost exclusively a physical item, such as the pasted up art board, created manually using actual tape and rulers and paper and the like. The originals would (presumably, since I wasn’t around then) be retained by the designer, for the sake of extra commission when it came time to revise or reprint.

In the last decade or so, the move to online publishing has made that artboard a digital item. Anyone still working in print will ultimately go on to create a physical final product, but those of us working with the web are creating purely digital work, from start to finish.

So when I see interesting articles on the adoption of open source in the world of software, as in Steven Garrity’s The Catch-22 of Open Format Adoption series, I have to start thinking about my own creative output, and how open or closed it should end up being.

It’s probably important to make a distinction here — when I say I’m considering openness, I’m not saying I want to see my work re-used by those who haven’t paid to have it developed. So I’m concerned exclusively with the openness between myself and the client in question, not myself (or my client) and the general public. None of this should be seen as carte blanche to re-use work I (or any other creative studio) have done for a client.

That said, there are two major forms of output I produce, the original source material (in the form of PSD and AI files), and the coded HTML/CSS templates that I end up handing off to the client. In my contracts I outline that the final code becomes the possession of the client, to do with as they please. Though I make sure to grant myself limited promotional rights for the sake of displaying previous work — an important thing to ensure, make sure to do so if you aren’t already.

This means they can take the HTML/CSS and apply it to the site I designed it for, in any way they see fit. By extension, this also means they can potentially modify or reuse the templates on other sites under their control, resell them to other companies, open them up for general use for the public, or whatever else they wish to do. Some designers will inherently bristle at this level of openness; I’m okay with it, for now.

What I’m left wondering, though, is what about the source files, the PSD and AI files themselves? Should I hang on to them for the sake of charging an extra commission the next time they need to change a graphic or two? Should I give them the same access to the source as they have to the front end code, so that they can do it themselves? And if I do, how much will the quality change once someone other than me is modifying my source?

By limiting the openness to final templates, I’ve (intentionally or not) added a bit of a barrier for re-use. The images need to be re-created in order to change them to something else; the quality will inevitably suffer for that. By providing the originals, I can ensure a higher level of quality when changes are being made.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22. Either I give up my working copies to ensure quality remains high (and therefore lose my control over the re-use), or I hold on to them tightly and just accept that quality will suffer when the files are re-used. Some will argue that work for hire means all materials produced should be handed over to those who commission them, regardless. I’d agree, provided that’s in the contract; if the contract says otherwise, then it’s a moot point.

I’ve been writing about this issue rather inquisitively to consider the options, but I’ve long decided my take on this issue. I agree that work for hire should mean that those doing the hiring get the full results of the work. I believe it’s in both mine and the client’s best interests to make source available to them, if they so desire. I’m willing to give up small amounts of control to keep the relationship open, and I’m willing to place a bit more trust in their hands that they won’t drastically mess up the design in the process.

What I’ve found, though, is that this opens up a whole series of time requirements. Naturally, offering my input along the way can do wonders to ensure the quality remains high. But where does that input start and end? Should I be giving Photoshop tips to help them recreate the graphics in question? Should I split up each individual GIF and JPG for a site into its own PSD, so they don’t need to second-guess the image-slicing process? Should I be documenting and cleaning up my PSDs in order to make them easier to understand?

I’ve been discovering that the time I spend supporting the source is a not-insignificant factor. While I think those hiring my services deserve to have access to my work, I also prefer not to spend half my waking hours supporting that work when I could just do the updates myself in a fraction of the time.

So what’s the actual solution here? I’m still not sure; I’ve been trying various things to make it worth the while of both myself and the client. It may be releasing the work as unsupported source, or it may be charging a nominal fee for giving them access to the source and some of my time to support it. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, at any rate. Some will need the extra support, while some clients will have design departments with Photoshop users who are probably more knowledgeable than I am when it comes to working with PSD files.

What do you do? How does it work for you?


June 20, 01h

I’m not a designer, but I have worked with Dave on websites, and I’ve done a lot of freelance writing and editing work.

I think the best way to approach this is through pricing: If the client wants the graphics source files, and you want to avoid the hassle of repeatedly making semi-trivial modifications to them, then ensure that your price includes any potential lost revenue from doing that. If they see an option where it’s cheaper, but they don’t get the source files, or more expensive and they do, they can then make a reasonable choice.

It also depends on how heavy your workload is. If you’ve got more work than you can handle and you’re making a good living, it may be more pragmatic (as it seems to be for Dave) to let clients have the files to update graphics so that you can concentrate on frying the bigger (and more profitable) fish.

It does mean that they might do an amateurish job of making the updates, but I’ve certainly had to come to terms with that for written content, so designers may have to do the same for graphics too. And if they _really_ mess it up, they might come back to you for fix-up. :)

Dan says:
June 20, 01h

When you’re talking about handing over things like PSD files and such, you’re really talking about the materials and techniques of your trade, not the final delivered product. The problem comes in the release of how you did what you did IMHO.

Look at it from another perspective. When you hire a plumber, do you require him to leave all his tools so you can figure out how to tweak his work after he’s gone? Of course not. You pay him to deliver a serviceable end product. If you want to learn to be a plumber so you can tweak his work or fix it yourself, you buy a book or go to trade school.

Maria says:
June 20, 03h

Hmmm. Assuming it was standard practice, I’ve been giving native files to those clients who’ve hired me for a custom template design. Reason being: I’m just providing a set of templates and a few sample pages, but my client will need to create other images to populate the whole site and keep my intended design… the one he/she paid for.

To facilitate things, some times I may even create 1-2 mini graphical templates for certain elements my client will need more often. I also provide a small guide where I document the use of the templates, and point to the graphical assets they’ll need to use. I don’t explain the assets or native files, or provide further support (that is: free of charge). But I do bill the client for the time I spend documenting the deliverables.

I believe this is the right thing to do when you are creating custom design for a client. If I were selling the same template to several clients for a smaller charge, then it would be a whole different deal.

What your posting makes me realize, though, is that I probably need to bake some additional language in my contracts to make sure my clients won’t turn around and resell the templates and graphical assets to others. I would not be hapy with that.

ebukva says:
June 20, 05h

Slightly besides the topic: is there a document for web designers which would specify the things that AIGA Standard Form of Agreement specifies for print designers for example?

(http://designforum.aiga.org/content.cfm?ContentAlias=%5Fgetfullarticle&aid=272730)

June 20, 06h

I like the plumber analogy.

Reading everyones comments has been great insite for me.

I do feel layered files should be charged for, it’s only right since they possibly can license or resell it. I think it may prove everyone happy providing the client with some sort of Style Guide and a handful of common (files) elements that are essential to the branding/look of the design, like static logos in various sizes, color guides, and even font recomendations/usage. Imagine the client trying to match that awesome purple you spent a whole day choosing and totally screwing something up. Like I said, Style Guide even if it’s one page or twenty. Besides, that’s all billable time.

Thoughts?

June 20, 08h

Its a very deep and interesting question.

I’m still a student but my vision of this is the client is suppose to want a final product. He don’t want the tools for make it. But it have some conditions for some products. Exemple: a designer make a logo for a company. Its normal to give the .EPS to put the logo in some places to identify the company. In the other way, if you make a design for print or Web, its a piece of art somewhere. A designer is suppose to do a unique work. This is why i think a designer would not give his source to the client because you give a unique work made by you. If the client want the sources to do something with your work, you can say no because you are the one to do a work like this.

June 20, 09h

In larger companies you need a variety of skill sets and personalities for a project. If you put your creative employees on a “grunt” job, they will become disenchanted with the job and go elsewhere. If you have all grunts then your product will suffer. You need a blend from grunt to genius.

Maybe the issue shouldn’t be what you give your client, but maybe, just maybe, you need to hire a junior designer who won’t mind doing the work you find an “annoyance”.

Other than a logo or if the contract stipulates otherwise, it is my belief that you should retain all original source materials. This ensures continuing revenue and allows you to maintain the quality of future changes.

Caleb says:
June 20, 10h

Well, personally I think it is important to maintain control of your work. Coming at this from a photographer’s standpoint It is essential we retain copyrights on our material. This can turn into further sales in the future. As a freelancer photographer I can sell an image to publication X and turn around and sell the same image a week later to publications Y and Z. I can also sell outtakes from a shoot I did for a particular client. The client will always get only the finished product unless agreed upon otherwise, but I always retain copyright.

I think the same should go on the design side. You are the creative mind behind the CSS layout and the graphical elements on the site, so you should reap the benefit of being able to resale that as well. You have to remember you are in business to make money, just like your client. Now, if you go releasing all your PSD files to your clients you have the potential of them selling them to other clients as you stated rather than them referring them back to you for the extra sale.

Bottom line, you are in business to make money. You can’t play Mr. Nice Guy all the time or you will not succeed for long.

June 20, 10h

It would be awesome if great designers were to share their designs as open-source ones. However, open-source is defined to be non-profit, and this contradicts the basic principle of designing for a living.

But of course, designing as a hobby could be converted to open-source. It would be nice though. I’m not exactly a designer and I’m not quite familiar with the rituals and techniques involved in this kind of publishing.

Dave S. says:
June 20, 10h

Caleb – thanks for making those points. I’ve thought about it in terms like that before, and ultimately I’m not sure that’s the right mindset for me to take.

I find small change requests here and there to be an annoyance, I’m sure as much as clients do. When three graphics have to be modified slightly, all of a half hour’s worth of work or less, and it takes me a week to get to them, neither of us is too happy.

Content Management Systems, for example, were developed precisely to reduce this reliance on the web designer. Instead of having to wait for them to schedule a minor copy update to their site, a client can now make those changes themselves.

Obviously the client demand is there for self-reliance, so I’d prefer not to create the same type of dependency on myself for the graphics. But everyone’s opinion will vary.

11
Angie says:
June 20, 10h

Personally I stipulate in my contracts that the client gets the end product (whether it’s print or web) to pretty much do whatever they want with it, but source files (such as native PSD and FLA files remain my property). I can clearly see arguments for both sides and I think I understand them. In my experience, however limited those mere 5 years may be, I’ve only had one situation where I was even asked for source files. It was for a Flash file. I didn’t get the job because I said no unless he were willing to pay extra. But no love was lost and I still stand by my decision. But it’s also crucial to note that my clients (so far) all are small businesses and individuals who frankly either don’t have the time to update things themselves or they don’t have anyone on staff (nor do they want to hire anyone) who can do the updating. And by updating I’m referring to the PSD files more than the content since that’s easily solved with any good CMS solution. And it gets more complicated I think in the realm of print design.

It’s a tough one, but I think that to charge for source files is appropriate. Part of this (and I used to have a good source for this argument, but I can’t remember where the heck that is!) has to do with the fact that you’re not JUST giving source files. Designers - be it web or print - go through a definite process to get to those source files. There’s a definite value in that that shouldn’t be given away easily.

There’s more to it than that I think, but it fails to come to mind this Monday. :)

cam c. says:
June 20, 10h

Dave, you should really get on the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada listserve (www.gdc.net has a signup page)… I’ve mentioned it to you before…

The general consensus is that the layered files are never given to the client… however, some designers have a clause in the contract where they get 50% of the original contract price if the client needs the files.

Rights to any work leading up to the final design never belong to the client, even without a contract, according to copyright law in most countries, I believe…

cam c. says:
June 20, 10h

Dave, you should really get on the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada listserve (www.gdc.net has a signup page)… I’ve mentioned it to you before…

The general consensus is that the layered files are never given to the client… however, some designers have a clause in the contract where they get 50% of the original contract price if the client needs the files.

Rights to any work leading up to the final design never belong to the client, even without a contract, according to copyright law in most countries, I believe…

14
Design Customer says:
June 20, 10h

As someone who regularly contracts out website design (I’m more interested in the technical side of things) it’s a very easy decision for me: I either get complete control over everything that was involved in creating the end result or we won’t have a deal.

I’m paying for it, so I sure want the ability to change it myself.

(further anonymous, mildly flamebait, remarks deleted. -ds)

Dave S. says:
June 20, 10h

Cam C. – Rights are one thing, and the copyright law may allow for it. So I don’t necessarily think anyone is wrong for holding onto their source.

But GDC consensus doesn’t really change my view here. Approaching this from a more pragmatic sense, I’d rather not be handling all the little detail updates here and there. Maybe it’s recurring revenue, but it’s not really the kind I’d prefer to encourage. The updates have always been a nuisance to me, and I’m sure anyone who’s been at the low end of the totem pole can relate. There’s better work out there, than continuously changing text in graphics.

June 20, 11h

I held a talk session at reboot 7.0, here in Copenhagen, just the previous weekend. As far as I know they recorded it, but they haven’t released any of friday’s sessions yet.

I’ll be sure to drop a comment here when they release it; until then, you can reach a transcript of it from my site: http://binarybonsai.com/archives/2005/06/10/open-source-design-talk-done/ (though the reboot wiki is really untrustworthy just now).

Kyle says:
June 20, 11h

I generally give the client a working, coded version of the site or product, and hang on to the original assets (psd/ai). This ensures my involvement in future updates (which 99% of my clients already plan on anyway), and protects my techniques, styles, and tricks from a design aspect. I don’t want some second-hire designer snooping around my files to see how I did something, or how I accomplished this certain look, thus eleminating the need to use me in the future for work. It’s my bag of tricks, not everyone’s.

Nathan says:
June 20, 11h

I decide on a case by case basis. I try to look at how limited they are with updates.

Sometimes, providing sections of a psd or a large graphic that is used in the header will suffice.

I think that a lot of clients would not be happy knowing that they get something the cannot control, just as designers don’t want to lose control.

So I try to meet in the middle, or make the site more editable, or something.

But like I said, I have no definite standard.

June 20, 11h

I’m in total agreement in regards to HTML & CSS files (how would you protect those anyhow?). Regarding images and their source files, we’re very protective at Firewheel.

Deliverables typically include the final static GIFs, PNGs, or JPEGs, but nothing more.

Like you, we very often run into minor change requests. In situations like these, we are certainly willing to turn over certain portions of source AI or PSD files – however, these are rarely, if ever, turned over without some form of additional payment. Anywhere from 25-75 percent of the orginal cost is billed, depending on the project specifics, for the rights to AI files.

Obviously, the extra charges are in proportion to the actual work done and files delivered. While we may have delivered 30 static images to the client, if they would like AI files for 5 of those images, we simply bill them the additional for those specific source files (as opposed to a percentage of the entire tab).

Finally, it’s important to include all of these considerations in the orginal contract. It’s typically one of the earliest details we address… “Images will be delivered in PNG, GIF, or JPEG format… Original source files (AI, EPS, PSD, etc.) will require payment of an additional, mutually agreed upon, charge.”

We let them know what this is going to be up front, so its not a shock should they want to add it on later. In the end, we certainly don’t hold them for ransom, but we do treat them as a valuable commodity.

20
Nickolas Nikolic says:
June 20, 11h

There is another aspect that I feel thus far has been missed. How reliant are those previous posters on open source in its various forms? For instance, various designers will often use a Mac platform. As we all know, the core of this platform is built from open resources, and many (some may say all) of its extended features are built on top of open resources. This is a clear example of just how open technology has eased and enriched the work that a designer does.

There is a distinct effect on time to market, as well as the quality of more feasable usability when efforts are time-tested in more scenarios. This is just the value that opening resources carry. The end effect is that worse ideas die off and better ideas gain traction through war-testing.

There is also the effect of ballooning the skill of the entire community, since the “harrowed” secrets of the trade are now openly displayed for learning and improvement.

I feel that this issue really relies on the long-term maturity of the design community in order to build itself in a fashion that is sustainable. Some of the habits that are commonplace in design are outright insanity. For instance, purchasing rights to a single stock image for use in a design for thousands of dollars. This is a habit that can at some point be a thing of the past, since Creative Commons or some other organization may build a large enough image directory for most needs. There is also the insanity of regularly spending $30-$80,000 in order to educate oneself to become a designer. As well as the assumption that one must work in small groups or individually - leading to greater surface-area risk to fluctuations in marketing spending by clients - not to mention far greater prevalance of offshoring - what an American designer was willing to do for $5000 two years ago, an Asian designer is willing to do for $50 today.

All of these pressures will force the hand of any industry, regardless of what its individuals may say or feel.

One can only guess that an industry will have to change with current requirements, and that resources of flexibility and organization be present.

21
Chris says:
June 21, 04h

If somone pays you to make a web site then that’s what they get. They don’t get the source as they did not pay for that they paid for the finished site.

2 different things and people need to understand that.

22
Michael says:
June 21, 04h

Oliver: “However, open-source is defined to be non-profit”. No, it’s not, Oliver.

Moreover, the title “open source” was specifically chosen to avoid that misconception, the previously used term having been “free software” (where what was meant by “free” was freedom of information not “no charge made”).

http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/

The source code to the Linux kernel is published. Therefore, it is “free” - in the sense of its being freely available knowledge. However, Novell, for example, which uses that kernel in its products, is not “designed to be [a] non-profit” organization:

http://www.novell.com/products/linuxprofessional/pricing.html

And if a company doesn’t charge under any circumstances for its software -

http://www.ubuntulinux.org/

- that still doesn’t mean their activities are non-profit-making. It merely means they make their money from providing technical help. That’s always been a big money spinner for IBM, for example.

Heck, what’s the hang-up about profits, Oliver? Anyone would think there was something wrong with making a profit. There isn’t. Everyone needs to make a living.

No, the issue is a different one. It’s being able to know what the software on your machine is doing. How could you know that, even if you were a programmer, if you couldn’t see the code? It’s about being able to adapt software to suit your particular needs. And again, if you haven’t got access to the code, how can you re-write it? It’s about being able to share technical knowledge - as people in universities are used to doing in all fields (and don’t forget, in this connection, that computing grew in the universities) - so that peer review is possible, so that improvement and development is easier.

In short, have a look at Eric Raymond’s essays that I referenced above.

As to how any of this applies to Dave - frankly, I’m not sure. It’s a different situation. Dave does discuss his techniques in great detail here, so he’s not keeping his knowledge closed anyway. If benefits can accrue to the development of CSS coding from openness, then they’ve already been taking place, because of what’s happening here.

June 21, 05h

One killer argument for open, layered (and sensibly named layers too!) .psd or .ai files is that it might prove invaluable furtheron in the workflow. I recently had the pleasure of working on the redesign of a rather large site and the designers handed me dozens of Photoshop files with literally hundreds of layers, organized into layer sets and all named acccording to a rather strict naming convention.

Now if I had to find a certain icon that I needed to cut out I would just type the name into Spotlight and it would find the layer for me.

If the had given me .jpegs I would have had to open 20 files just to find that particular icon.

June 21, 06h

I’ve done freelance web design and photography on a work-for-hire basis. I have no hesitation about giving the client the totality of the project when I’ve done what I was contracted to do. However they don’t get exclusive rights, so I’m free to re-use or re-sell the materials later as I see fit.

If it’s a web project they get the commented CSS, the HTML templates, the JPG/GIF images, and the layered PSDs. If it’s a photo they get the original JPG or CRW (raw image) as it came from the camera. If I’ve retouched or manipulated the photos extensively they also get a flattened composites, and, if they want them, the layered PSDs.

Will they mess it up? Maybe. But they’d mess it up even more without the originals to draw from. Will they re-sell it? Probably not - they’re running their business, not competing with me. Most of the photos are rather specialized anyway, and as a practical matter I can’t really stop them.

I did struggle with this, and if such work was my sole source of income I might have struggled even more. But in the end I concluded that this is how I, as a knowledgeable and capable customer and client, would want to be treated. I insisted on these terms with my own wedding photographer and with the contractors we use at work. I’d be something of a hypocrite if I provided anything less. If my value to a client is primarily defined by how much I withold from them then I figure I’m doing something wrong.

25
Johan says:
June 21, 07h

When youa re getting paid to develop a site. You can go either ways.
- You apply what you know and start from scratch.
- You can see who others work eg CSS layout and try to copy and then apply it.

There are different levells of copying.

I guess javascript and css should not be full of dull copyright notices. Just let anyone use it. Why? Because it are all scripts that were based on others most of time or enhancements.
It is not a full customizable software package that just puts out a website.

Concerning digital art - that is personal - an original creative idea - so just copying that I do not agree. Only maybe studying it and make derrative work that have a new added orignal idea incorporated I can agree on. The javascripts and CSS I feel that they do not belong there. It should be there for everybody.
The same goes for open source like php - there is no copying code there except for these *.phps files which output source code. Of course database connections, all that can be filed under private and data to be secured do not fall under that category.

If people are not confident with using css they will not produce elegant css DOM javascript whatsoever. They will be limited to copying css or whatever and therefore not be commercial productive and just too slow. So why bother using copyright. The source code is a help for thousands. It is there to learn from - same goes for HTML. Of course CGI scripts are not viewable and others. But that is just a limit that is there.

26
James Mason says:
June 21, 08h

I think it’s really an issue of control. Who has the final say over a design? When you design a website, do you use flash or HTML? When you use HTML, do you create a fixed or liquid layout? Do you use absolute or relative font sizes? Does your design still work with CSS off? Images? Do you even care?

When you create a design for a client, is it your design to which they’ve purchased a license, or is it the client’s design that you were paid to bring forth from the mists of creativity?

Every designer needs to think about how much control over their design they’re willing to give up. It’s a very personal decision, and while there probably isn’t one right answer, I know I side with Dave on this. For anyone who doesn’t understand why I’ve made that decision, you should probably spend some time thinking about whether a medium that is inherently open, interactive and distributed is the right outlet for your creative expression.

Kev says:
June 21, 11h

I totally agree with Chris (28). Source files are not the web site. Anything thats rendered in a browser the client can have. Anything else stays with me unless the client wants to pay double _and_ they sign to say they absolve me of any responsibility to chnage anything they break as a consequence of having the soource.

June 21, 12h

I come from an IT background: Windows, Databases etc. In designing database systems for clients I always provided complete access to the source so that should I not be available they are able to improve, update or correct the system. But in giving this I have always maintained that if the client or someone else appointed by the client breaks it I’m not going to fix someone else’s mistakes.

I think for me this is the most discouraging aspect of allowing someone else to work on a design, whether it be ‘creative’ such as web design or more mundane such as database systems: I dread the thought of what someone with less skill could do to my work and would lose interest in the project if I was asked to fix what another person had broken.

I’m still just starting out in web design, but think that the idea of employing a junior for the minor updates would be the best for both client and designer. Perhaps one day I’ll actually be in a position to need one. ;-)

29
Vito Tardia says:
June 21, 12h

I experienced several different situations.

Usually big firms pay me to have the whole source material, but I’m usually able to use it for self-promotion.

When I work for small companies, they only want the site online and the logo in vector format. If there’s need for updates we sign a support agreement.

There’s also some client in the middle for whom I provide guidelines for style and content and some piece of the source for common updates.

In my opinion, it’s important to find an agreement before the job begins, in order to avoid future incomprehensions.

30
Sunshine says:
June 22, 02h

For me there is a difference between the psd that I use to generate the final website and the psd that I use to develop a website. One (assuming I ever went back and cleaned these things up) is a fairly un-exciting mockup that usually only resembles the final product structurally. The other is generally huge and is the canvas I use to test ideas and explore possibilities that lead up to the final product.

I tend to agree with Bryan (25) and when passing off a finished product I try to give them everything they may need to maintain it which in my mind includes source files. But they would be specific to the final version of the site and unlike handing over an original artboard I would maintain ownership.

Rostislav says:
June 22, 04h

I have developed an open source ActionScript framework called EnFlash ( http://www.asual.com/enflash/ ) it comes with a couple of rich graphic themes. They consist of pure FLA/SWF files that are distributed together with the software. This means that if one day a designer creates a custom theme for his hobby app/site, he can release his graphics/sources under a free license. It’s a good choice for someone who’s looking for recognition and experience exchange.

Since open source comes from the world of software I think that this movement will first affect the designers in that field. Think of a free Winamp skin that comes with the PSD file or a blog template where you can change the drop shadow or gradient parameters.

With all types of work sometimes it’s a matter of business and sometimes it’s a matter of pleasure. If you’re willing to share the second one, this makes you a better man I think.

Dave P says:
June 22, 04h

Quite Frankly, comming from the programming world, Brian’s comment (25) makes the most logical sense.

There’s no reason to withhold the client’s ability to make future changes to their site - by doing so you’re retaining a good chunk of value of the service you provided.

That plumber analogy up there was way off - unless your clients are asking you for your copy of photoshop - your psd file isn’t a tool any more than a pipe is a plumbers tool!

How would you feel if the plumber used non-standard, self-designed fittings and pipe for the job - which no other plumber could work with in the future?

What kind of business ethics are those?

By all means pass on the implied “freedom” to the client through a price tag, (or conversely, a discount if they only want jpegs.) and retain the rights to use the images (or portions thereof) elsewhere.

But don’t provide half a service - give the client what they’re looking for in good faith and they’ll no doubt treat you the same.

Giovanni says:
June 22, 12h

Hi,
as Open Source here is referred as a philosophical choice and not only as a technical or commercial option I wonder how many of us is choosing Open Source software as a daily tool.

I’m mostly off-topic, but not completely I think.

I would like to know if you choose your software for making websites only for the technical virtues.
By example: someone else here prefer The Gimp (www.gimp.org) over Photoshop?

Sorry if I’m too much OT.

34
Ronald Keith says:
June 23, 10h

About the plumber analogy being way off. In a reasonable world, maybe that’s true, but the other side of this is the house owner who calls the plumber, gets the work done, but then refuses to pay. What do you do then?

Personal experience: after working on a web project a few years ago – and getting quite far into it – the account manager requested that I send the psd files to the client. I complied, of course. A week later our company was fired from the project and the website popped up live in a slightly altered version (the colors had been changed) but basically everything our company had done – from info architecture to writing and my design and html coding – showed up on the new live site.

The client had taken the psd files (layers and all) and all the code off the development server and sent them over to another company who used them to “finish” the site.

We came close to a lawsuit before getting paid about a third what we were supposed to. I’m assuming the new company pocketed most of the budget for the site development, but who knows, they may have been scammed too.

I can’t imagine that this is a lone case. Bottom line, if you hand over everything, then you risk winding up with nothing.

Now you can say that we should have picked our clients better. And that’s probably true, but if nothing else, your source files are an important asset for your company.

June 23, 11h

I don’t know. I’ve always thought that design was something that comes from the inner realms of the creator, and when someone replicates the design… they are just doing that one face value, and not linked to it like an artist. The reason why software can easily be open source is because it’s a generic layer of functionalities. Of course you can add functions to it, but you can’t do the same with design. Look at comment #31… even though it’s flash, but still it’s functional. Adding to a design changes the design itself. My 2 cents. Here is a link full of open source design links http://www.gataga.com/explore.php?q=%2B%22open%20source%22%2B%20design.

36
Erica says:
June 24, 08h

Hey there, first off - this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog, though I’ve been reading it for ages. You’ve been a great source of inspiration and information for me while forgoing university studies in web design :)

Now, for the question at hand…

I don’t mind giving out the source files to my clients (the very few that I’ve had thus far) because it makes them feel in control, and it does give them the opportunity to make changes if they wish without having to come back to me.

(I’m totally agreeing with you on the annoyance part of minute editing for previous clients. o.O)

I generally base my desicion on *how* to hand over the source files by finding out how much they know about photoshop, how confident they are in being able to edit the full PSD, etc.

If they’re a photoshop guru that just didn’t have the ability to produce whatever they hired me for - I’ll glady hand them over the photoshop file.

However, if they’re a newer user, or someone who’s only opened an Image Editing Program to add lime green text to their favourite photo… I go ahead and slice the image up myself, and then make seperate PSDs of the important parts for them to edit.

For instance, they would recieve header.psd so they could change their Header Text, button.psd to add new buttons, etc.

This makes editing much less intimidating for the end user, and gives them the ability to change the text/fonts/etc as much as they’d like without potentially wrecking the design.

In my opinion, if an inexperienced user wanted to edit something more extreme than just the header text/button text/whatever other small elements, they need to come back to me for it anyway.

It’s an easy way to keep things simple for the simplistic users, and give the experienced clients the robust ability to totally change the design as they see fit. :)

It brings about a nice balance, anyway.

June 24, 08h

I try to maintain control of my source materials and here’s why: I often reuse parts of my work, and it might cause trouble if one were to do work for two related clients and they had any idea that I had just re-used the work they paid me for for the other client, it could cause problems for me as far as billing goes. If the client owns the source materials too.

I always mention this, and I bill at a flat rate anyway, and my clients are mostly happy with what I provide, so it hasn’t been a problem, especially if it means getting it to them faster, but I would rather not give them the source materials unless they explicitly ask for them.

38
John says:
June 27, 03h

Huge problem is that when ever you as a one-person freelancer try to make a kind of agreement on the work to be done. There is in Europe - I live there so I do not know for Canada or US or anywhere else. There is simply no standard contract available or even a kind of union to protect your rights. It seems that clients do not get by forehand a well written paper agreement which states all work that is to be done, the copyright on creative work and so on. I think the European Communnity where I live in should make work that our kind of work is protected by means of meaning full and workable contracts. Lots of people that work in the web design business do not know how to handle the business side of things. The client can benefit of these discrepancies. I guess the whole issue of open source design is also due to these kind of working conditions. I agree that a certain level of controll might be given to a client but it still a kind of guessing what is right and what not. It is time that the big guys try to make a global statement in US, Canada, Europe that clearly describes the do’s and don’ts in this business.

For instance, an architect makes a design for a house. They have good contracts, why dont we …

June 27, 09h

> Should I be giving Photoshop
> tips to help them recreate the
> graphics in question? Should I
> split up each individual GIF
> and JPG for a site into its own
> PSD, so they don’t need to
> second-guess the image-slicing
> process? Should I be documenting
> and cleaning up my PSDs in order
> to make them easier to
> understand?

I consider these practices to be minimum requirements for participating in a multi person user experience team in a production environment. Making your source files easier to understand is going to help YOU work more efficiently, not just your clients.

But more importantly, I think your attitude about openness is commendable and a prime example of how to accomplish the kind of collaboration necessary for the interdisciplinary design that is considered cutting edge these days. You can’t have interdisciplinary design without collaboration. You can’t have collaboration without openness.

Design is a dialogue between multiple parties. When “experts” try to command their clients onto the one true path (that always conveniently lines the expert’s pockets every time) these self-same experts often find themselves in an adversarial relationship with their clients. Dialogue means listening well and speaking clearly. Keeping your source files intuitive is just another way of speaking clearly. Educating your clients in the ways and means of collaborating with you as a designer is only going to increase the chances of the success of the designs you create together.

Start thinking outside the browser and look towards integrated design strategies that cut across multiple media/channels/products, etc. and you will begin to understand the need for interdisciplary collaborative approaches based on open communication and mutual respect.

If you need to charge your clients more for this time well spent, lets hope your clients are mature enough to appreciate the effort you are putting into your relationship with them. If they don’t, then perhaps they shouldn’t be your clients.

One final thing to help you get there: more PSD files, less slicing. Also, attempt to minimize the number of required image files as much as possible for achieving a desired effect. CSS is typically much more reusable/extendable than binary image files.

I find it interesting that I seem to be in the minority amongst your commenters…

June 29, 06h

I am primarily a programmer, but with the web I have to either produce or sub out design work as well. My take is that anytime the firm is small-ish, I ask for the original PSD file, or it’s a no go. I can’t risk losing the ability to make minor changes if the freelancer decides to roll back into the corporate world or just decides to pursue a new line of work (I’ve seen both happen). It is virtually impossible to get an identical source file from delivered assets, the end client would see the difference and complain. I also check that I have a copy of the fonts used to produce the images. I personally think both are absolutely critical requirements for complex graphics like a webpage.

Having said that, at that point I will generally make copy changes in the source image (buttons etc) and have the original designer work on any necessary artwork if there are new graphical requirements (one example - a client had their 10th anniversary and wanted to modify the logo for that one year).

As a developer I have seen similar protections. I worked on the AWACS and we would only license compilers if the compiler source was put into escrow against the event of the vendor going out of business.

Maybe there needs to be a graphics escrow clause in your contracts :)

CC says:
July 04, 12h

Open source web design exist and can be seen here: http://www.oswd.org/ . There is a good design once in a while.

July 10, 01h

I have always thought that the strongest part of the design community is the fact we share a lot of our best practices with others in the community. Which does resemble the open source community.