Taking the labor out of collaboration (part 1)

Pam SaxonWhen you look at a website, you know it took a team of people to put it together, even though you may only see credit for one creative entity in the footer of the site.

Having multiple players involved in a freelance job — art director, designer, copywriter, photographer, illustrator, programmer, etc. — is not unusual. The design business, like any industry, is a business based on people interacting to mold the outcome of a creative process.


“Collaboration” literally means “to work together.” Two or more people combining their efforts toward a common goal. It happens at all stages in the development of a web site project — conceptualization, site architecture, user experience (UX) design, wireframes, page design, coding, copywriting, photography/imaging, illustration, back-end programming.

And let’s not forget the ever-important client relations and project management piece. No one person is likely to do all of these things with great success (although it’s not impossible!).

When multiple people contribute, some kind of understanding is necessary as to how credit and payment are to be shared. As an art director, if you hire someone to write the copy or do the photography, a fee-for-service is typically negotiated. This means that the person you hire has no ownership interest in the actual copyright.

However, your interaction with that person will certainly be collaborative in nature if it involves mutual input. When you work together with a programmer on the functionality of a site, you are collaborating with them even though they may typically receive a flat one-time fee and they have no claim of ownership of the site.

If you wish, you could alternatively give some portion of ownership in lieu of a flat fee. Whatever arrangement you make, be sure to put it in writing before you actually start working together.

To keep the collaborative process on strong footing, here are a few things I’ve learned. It’s important to be sure that:

  • all parties feel fairly treated
  • the value of their contribution is adequately recognized and compensated
  • agreements are written down in clear and precise language, at the start of the process


So, that’s the business side of collaborating, but what about the human side? I will talk about this in Part 2, where I’ll outline the aspects to achieving success in the human side of collaboration.

Check out the Independent Contractor agreement I got from Shane Pearlman, of Shane & Peter, Inc., who very graciously have shared it with the rest of the world.

BTW: Shane Pearlman is one of many special guests who will be leading Breakfast Roundtables at the Creative Freelancer Conference on Friday, June 24. Register here if you want to meet him in person.

And if you missed Dyana Valentine at CFC 08 on “Creative Collaboration” you can still download it here.

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