(Not Legal) Advice on How to Break Up with Your Designer

Dear InspirED:

I’m part way through the process of creating a viewbook with a designer, but it’s super clear this isn’t working. We’re not seeing eye-to-eye and she just doesn’t get us. Admission season is in full swing and I need this yesterday. I want to get a divorce and give it someone else. What should I do?

Frustrated Fran


Dear Frustrated:

We hear your exasperation and anger. You’re in a tough spot with no viewbook, prospective families looking for a school right now and enrollment numbers to reach.

If you think you’ve exhausted all of your options with Designer 1 and want to leave, you should negotiate a “kill fee” to get out of it. Assuming it was a good-faith effort on the designer’s part, it would be unfair to leave having paid them nothing for work thus far. In exchange, they should give you the digital assets so that you can pick up with a new designer where they left off. They get something and you get something. This kill fee should prevent push back from Designer 1 (who may possibly expect full payment), and signals a clean break.

Determining that price can be tricky and there are numerous things to take into consideration.

  • How far along are you in the process?

  • Assuming the designer contracted with a writer to develop the copy, do you want to discard that as well, or take that with you?

  • Do you have unlimited rights to the photographs and access to those files? (I sure hope so.)

  • Was there language in your contract with this designer about rights to the native files (i.e. InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.)?

  • Was there a written contract?

  • If so, what, if anything, does it say about termination of the project and payment?

Let’s assume you break up amicably. What’s next?

When looking for Designer 2, be as candid as possible about your project and problems with Designer 1. Admit any part you may have had in the break down of the process. In so doing, Designer 2 will be able to determine if they can be more successful and if they want to take on the project. Perhaps Designer 2 thinks they will be better at listening, receiving input, executing design, capturing copy, managing the process…and making you a happy client.

Be up front about your deadline, but don’t be surprised if Designer 2 pushes your delivery date out farther than you want. You might need to get in line behind clients who were there before you. And you don’t want to begin a relationship with Designer 2 that starts off by pressuring them to make up lost time caused by your ill-fated relationship with Designer 1. If they can get you in quickly, cheers all around! But keep in mind, you want a great product in the end, one that will be represent the school for 3-5 years. It’s better to wait for great than push for poor. As a stop gap, ask Designer 2 if they can give you something smaller quickly —like a search or travel piece— to use while you wait.

Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes cutting your losses and moving on is in the best interest of the school.

Read next: How to Work and Build Trust With a Graphic Designer

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