"It's just a simple website." If you've heard those words before you'd be forgiven for thinking you're accepting a straightforward job with little room for it to develop into a nightmare project. However, if design expectations aren't set in advance of the project it can cause problems.
In this story a designer was hired to create "just a simple website” that ended with their client threatening to sue them.
The brief was to replicate an existing website by another brand. This story (surprisingly) isn’t about a copyright claim, which is always a risk if you’re heavily influenced by another design.
The issue this project ran into was that the client didn’t provide assets the other brand had implemented to give their website the look and feel that they wanted to copy.
If you're asked to draw influence from a style you have to consider things like third-party assets. Does the website have high-end product photography or slick illustrations? If it does but the client hasn't provided similar assets, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recreate the style.
Whilst this seems obvious to you, a designer, it puts you in a vulnerable position. There’s the possibility of client expectations not being met if design expectations aren’t discussed and understood in advance of the project beginning.
That’s what happened here. The client felt like their brief hadn’t been fulfilled and the blame fell on the designer.
With the client feeling unhappy with the final product, they threatened to sue the designer if they weren't refunded. Refunds aren’t covered under your professional indemnity insurance, but the threat of legal action meant the policy was triggered. The insurer was able to provide some help to resolve the situation.
The first suggestion was to offer a settlement. Sometimes it's better for all parties to resolve disputes before things escalate further, but the freelancer wasn’t happy with offering a settlement because they felt they'd fulfilled their role.
In most of the claims we see at With Jack, the freelancer usually isn’t at fault or doesn’t feel like they’re at fault. In most cases the freelancer feels like the client's been difficult to please or has unrealistic expectations.
That’s how this designer felt. The client provided a brief asking for a certain style, but was unwilling to invest in the assets needed to help the designer bring that style to life.
After giving it some thought, the designer decided not to offer a settlement and instead drafted a letter to their client. They highlighted their contract—showing that they'd adhered to the agreed terms—and referred to the project scope—showing that they had fulfilled their role.
The designer had done what was asked of them and therefore didn’t think a refund was fair.
The insurer's involvevement at this stage was providing input to the letters that were sent to the designer's client. They did so with the various letters that were sent back and forth trying to reach an agreement.
This helped the situation develop positively. In the end, the client was happy to walk away and leave the designer with the money that had already been paid.
This is different to the stories we usually share where the insurer's role is larger—both from a legal and financial perspective. Lawyers get involved, negotiations take place, compensation is paid.
In comparison, this was quite a straightforward claim. Instead of lawyers getting involved and a lot of money being at stake, the insurer—whilst unable to cover the cost of the requested refund—helped the freelancer reach an agreement with their client.
There was some input and guidance that helped the designer get an outcome they were reasonably happy with.
To recap, here are some things to be mindful of when hired to design "just a simple website":
- If you’re hired to fulfil a brief where you’re asked to replicate another design, be wary of copyright infringement. Drawing inspiration from an aesthetic style is OK—copying is not
- Set design expectations with your client. If assets like original photography and unique illustrations are used to achieve a look and feel, the client should take this into consideration. If they don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recreate a similar style and therefore won't meet client expectations
- Refunds aren't covered under your professional indemnity insurance, but the request for a refund was accompanied alongside a legal threat which triggered the policy
- The insurer originally suggested offering a settlement, but the freelancer wasn’t keen. The insurer helped the freelancer draft various letters to the client, achieving an outcome the freelancer was comfortable with
- Being insured gave this freelancer confidence in dealing with this situation and negotiating with their client