Should You Give Clients Your Editable Files?

This topic is so, SO big.

I see it everywhere as it's a huge topic right now, and there seems to be a really big disconnect between designers and our clients.

We all have those clients. The ones that ask for the 'editable' or 'native' files no matter what kind of design field you're in. And it's a really tough and touchy topic sometimes. Until I had it challenged, I hadn't really thought about my editable files.

You know, those files that I use to design logos and labels and invitations, etc.  The files that show how I design behind the scenes. The files that sometimes show my mess of things that worked and didn't work. My files that show steps of my creative thought. The files that are my trade secret. Those files are specific to me and it's why people hire me over someone else; my style, my creativity, my work.

So in a short sense, NO, you should not give your clients your editable files.

If you haven't run into an issue already about a client asking for your native files, YOU WILL. I promise. It's just a matter of time. Learn from other's (i.e. my) mistake and include your policies on sharing your editable files with your clients in your contract, and have that client sign the contract. Seems simple, right?

I can't tell you how many times (it's an embarrassing amount) I started a project with a client and didn't have them sign a contract because I had good faith in them. I liked them; I liked their product and who they were. More than anything, I wanted to be friends and create a bond with them and not soil that by bringing in such a business-y aspect of a contract. And for the most part, it worked out okay...but then sometimes it doesn't. And that's where you can get into some real trouble.

It's really important to be able to speak to your trade and your intellectual property when it comes to clients. You need to be able to explain:

  1. Your rights as a designer
  2. Why these editable files should be protected
  3. What it means to have a copyright on your intellectual property 

I could write up and down about those answers, but to be honest, I mostly just wanted to share an amazing article that explains it all way better than I ever could, and I think every designer should read and have access to this information and keep it in their little resource file. 

Read it, and keep this link somewhere safe. It not only helped me realize just how important it is to protect my trade secret, but it helped me figure out how to explain it better to others too.

Once you've read it, there  are a few things you can to prevent this from even being questioned to begin with: talk to your client about it up front, have it written as a policy, and put it in your contracts. As designers, we sometimes take for-granted that this is more or less an industry standard, but if you're not in the industry, you may not know this and it can cause friction. 

We all make mistakes! It's part of the business and learning process. Every day we get a little bit better and learn a little bit more.