Why Designers Require Down Payments

Many industries, especially service industries, require down payments (retainers) when intangible goods or services are being provided.

In the world of graphic and website design, this practice is a necessity. But, many people wonder why this is so. Let me shed a bit of light on the reason for this practice.

Why a Non-Refundable Down Payment is Necessary

Down payments are beneficial for both the client and the graphic designer. A down payment gives a sense of urgency, a feeling of commitment, and holds both parties accountable for the project.

Protecting the Designer

Many clients are likely to feel that as long as the designer does their job, then they will always get paid for their effort. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

There are so many situations where a designer can be left high and dry, not even out of maliciousness, but due to circumstances. Here are some scenarios where this can happen:

  • Some clients start a project and then run out of money. They may have set aside $1000 for a project with the designer and had every intention of following through with the project, and then something unexpected happens in their life — an air conditioner or car breaks down. Then that $1000 needs to be spent on a repair they weren’t anticipating when they contracted with the designer. The graphic designer, who has spent 40 hours working on the client’s website, has now lost a week’s worth of income because the client wasn’t able to follow through on their commitment.
  • Another situation that arises often is the client has some grandiose ideas about their website or logo design and are eager to get started. They contact a graphic designer, who starts working on their vision, and then for whatever reason, their ideas never come to fruition. The designer, who spent three days preparing designs for them, can no longer get them to take their phone calls and pay them for the time they have already put into the project because the “client needed it yesterday.” Sadly, I have seen this one happen more than once. To me even.

Without a deposit in place, the designer is left high and dry and has just spent precious time working for free when they could have been working for other clients who would have paid them.

And, these situations don’t even begin to cover the individuals who are being malicious. Perhaps they want a premium design or concept but aren’t willing to pay for it. If they can find a good designer who doesn’t charge up front, who comes up with a great design for them, all they have to do then is tell the graphic designer they don’t like the idea they came up with and aren’t going to pay for it. They will then send that concept to a cheaper designer to “copy.” Believe me — it happens!

Stolen design work happens all too often, sadly. This is especially true when people use “design contest” sites or sites like Fiverr to get work done. The designers there can hide behind a curtain of anonymity, which makes it easier for them to rip off legitimate graphic artists.

You Can’t Return Time

Time is not tangible, like goods that can be purchased and returned to a store for resale. Often clients will bail after the designer is more than 50% of the way done, feeling like since they don’t have a “product in hand” then the designer is out nothing.

Obviously since an artist’s time is money, they can be out quite a bit when this happens. And even if you consider a finished design an actual product, designs are customized to the client and not likely to be able to be resold to the next one that comes along.

Ways for a Client to Feel Secure in Making a Down Payment

Of course, it’s entirely understandable that you may not want to pay money up front for a service like graphic design, logo design, or website design, so it’s important that you have done your homework before you work with a designer you have never worked with before.

Be sure to read their client testimonials.

Don’t just go with the testimonials they have on their website either. Anyone can “make-up” testimonials and slap them on their website. Check out their clients’ comments on Google Places, the Facebook page, Yelp, or LinkedIn as well. It’s much harder to “fake” testimonials on third party sites.

Review their portfolio.

One of the first things I tell all of my new potential clients is to please look at my online portfolio before they decide to sign with me. Not every body has the same tastes and styles. Be sure that you like the previous work a designer has done and that they will be a good fit for your particular project.

Get a written contract.

I always provide new clients with contracts for things like websites and logo designs. When things are outlined in print, it sets the expectations for both of us and holds all parties accountable to the project.

Make sure you keep the lines of communication open.

Communication goes both ways. Always provide your designer with excellent instructions. We are creative, but we aren’t mind readers. The better you able to convey your wishes, they better we can meet them.


Dealing with a professional designer is the best way to ensure you have a smooth project. Hopefully this article helps you to understand why non-refundable down payments, or retainers, are important for a designer to have in place when they are running a business.

Believe me, many of us would just as soon not deal with the “money” side of things and would be happy just sitting in our offices making beautiful artwork all day long. But the reality is, we make our living doing what we do, and offer a much-needed service to those that either don’t have the time or are less creatively talented, to help them build their businesses. So, dealing with the money issues is a necessity.

Recently Completed Website Design & Development Projects

CVG Advisors - Website Design for Financial Services
Wellcome OM Center - Website Design for Health Providers and Spas
Smart Interiors - Website Design for Furniture, Household Products and Retail

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