Turning over files…


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Sometimes client relationships go south, or your client just decides to find another designer for their project. How do you handle when they request the files you’ve created for them?

I go both ways, since I’m an illustrator as well. With illustration, we create the art and the client (usually) pays for the rights to use that particular illustration for set uses and set amount of time. With graphic design (in my experience) it’s a little different. It’s always been work for hire.

And with work for hire arrangements, the client owns the rights to use the imagery for whatever they want… but you can’t use a print file online and you can’t use a web photo in a brochure, so they still need the services we designers provide.

But if they own the rights, and you really can’t use that web design you created for another client, does it really matter to give your former client copies of the PSDs and other working files you’ve created for them? In the interest of good will and professionalism, I say go the extra mile and give them what they’re asking for. I’ve had at least one client relationship sour after I said no to the request years ago – and for good reason I refused, but still. With a few years of experience under my belt, now I look back and think “what harm is REALLY done by giving someone the working files they paid me to create?”

I’d love some other designers’ thoughts on this. Please chime in below…

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4 Replies to “Turning over files…”

  1. Christina, if you are talking about the client relationship that went bad a few years ago, I had said no because they wanted all the working files that went into designing their site – the layered Photoshop files, etc. They didn’t ask for other design concepts they did not choose, they were just referring to all the working files that went into their specific site (layered PSDs for pages, etc.) I had thought at the time that the only files I’d turn over were the html and optimized graphics that were already live on their website – something I look back on now and regret. Like I said in the orig. post, what harm does it to since layered files for a website (not other preliminary concepts unused in the end) couldn’t be really re-used for another site.

    In a recent occurance (that inspired this post actually) the client that I parted ways with didn’t ask for the files, but he works with many designers at a time, and I figured maybe the working files would help someone else – I wanted to “take the high road” since I was blamed for production issues I had no knowledge of, and I’d rather show that I’m willing to go the extra mile, even if he and I never work together again.

    Might as well help out the other designers down the line since even though the template was wrong, my working files were very clean and professsional.

    But I agree with you and Jesse, no reason to give over working design directions that weren’t ever used. I keep thinking I’ll go back and revisit them for future projects, but I seem to have a hard time looking back. I’d always prefer to come up with something fresh and new.

  2. Could you elaborate more on why you didn’t turn over those files to that company? Were they asking for ALL the preliminary files or just the finished product files?

    I figure the client owns all the files pertaining to the final piece but not the preliminary ideas/concepts, especially if the final design is vastly different from those earlier ideas, as Jesse suggests. But I’d love to hear what other designers think, as well.

  3. I honestly think it depends on the client and on the agreement. I’ve done several different “initial designs” for clients that I’ve stolen elements from for other projects. My general rule of thumb is to give the clients any elements they want from the design route they chose. If there’s a fundamentally different vision I offered them at the outset and they didn’t go that route, I usually consider it fair game for picking and won’t send that stuff over.

    However, I don’t usually reuse the design in it’s entirety. Design is highly specific to a client’s needs anyhow, so it’s not good policy reusing a design wholesale anyhow.

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