Graphic Design, Lawyers, and Sean Penn

graphic design lawyer talks about Sean Penn Website development case

Actor/ paparazzi-fighter Sean Penn is suing California Web design firm Vividminds. According to reports, Penn doesn’t want to pay for a website him commissioned, insisting that the firm didn’t comply with its $25,000 contract. Vividminds says the opposite. Let’s take a look at this case — and then toss around some opinions.

About Vividminds

Vividminds is a creative agency with an impressive client roster. It’s a full-service firm that does work for high-profile charities and big-budget brands, like Toyota. A one-man shop (with minimal overhead) they are not.

Considering Vividminds’ elevated industry status, it’s safe to assume that:

ONE: They make all clients sign comprehensive, iron-clad agreements before starting any project.


TWO: Development of a website doesn’t begin until the client signs-off on design docs.

Sean Penn to Developer: The Website Isn’t Good Enough

In the wake of the island country’s devastating earthquakes, Penn established the J/P Haitian Relief Organization. Vividminds won the foundation’s website project bid; the parties agreed on a $25,000 fee.

Vividminds built the site, but J/P Haitian Relief wasn’t happy with the results.

Mr. Penn called the design firm to complain, but executives at Vividminds didn’t bend. They informed Sean that the contract goals and stipulations were met and if he wanted more work done, it would be an additional $10,000. Outraged, Penn and J/P Haitian Relief decided to file suit, claiming the delivered website was “not up to standards”.

The Cost of Good Design and Development

These days, everybody has a website, and it’s possible to get a free (or nearly free) template site in a matter of hours. As a result, the value and importance of professional, custom design and development has significantly diminished in some sectors.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the time, talent, and multidisciplinary skills it takes to create an attractive and effective logo, website, or advertisement.

For a firm the size of Vividminds, $25,000 sounds about right. Firstly, if you’re going to choose a high-profile firm, you’re going to pay high-profile prices. Moreover, several designers, developers and marketing experts most likely contributed to the J/P Haitian Relief project.

The Nightmare Known as Project Creep (And Why It’s A Good Idea to Have a Graphic Design Lawyer On Speed-Dial)

Any designer or developer who’s been in the industry for more than a minute knows the evils of “project creep.” It usually goes something like this: A developer and a client agree on goals and sign a contract. Then, the client starts requesting small upgrades here and there. The developer / designer obliges since the requests are minuscule. But before long, the sum of those small changes and additions amounts to a considerable amount of time – time for which the developer / designer wasn’t compensated.

Established design firms don’t tolerate project creep and usually have graphic design lawyers craft air-tight contracts to guard against it. So, unless Sean Penn and co. can prove Vividminds didn’t adhere to the original contract agreement, J/P Haitian Relief will have a tough time winning this website payment lawsuit.

If, however, Vividminds failed to have a J/P Haitian Relief representative put their John Hancock on a contract, the design agency could find themselves on the losing side of this bout.

How Designers and Developers Can Protect Themselves

If you want to avoid a costly lawsuit or legal hassle, get a graphic design lawyer to draft a boilerplate contract for your business. Don’t rely on free agreements found online; many of those contracts favor the client. Moreover, an attorney  can help with any intellectual property needs that arise down the road.

Kelly / Warner Law represents many freelance designers and full-service agencies. We understand the legal needs of those in the creative marketplace and resolve conflicts quickly. You’ve worked hard to establish your design business, now it’s time to make sure it’s protected. Contact us today to get started.

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