Graphic design is built upon relationships—relationships between the designer and the client as well as the designer and other members of the design team. Creative directors, illustrators, photographers, art directors, videographers, programmers, developers, copywriters, copy editors, project managers, and graphic designers are all collaborators in determining the success of a project. Not all projects require all roles and these roles often overlap or are filled by the same person, the designer.

The most successful projects happen when there is a bond of trust between the client and the designer. The most effective way to assure that the expectations of all the parties is met is to validate the relationship with a written agreement.

AIGA offers graphic designers a standard form of agreement in a modular form to allow them the flexibility to adapt it to different needs and different types of engagement. The written agreement protects the designer, the client, and all vendor relationships. It describes the scope of the project, the timeframe for the project, and the estimated costs. It is the touchstone that all parties can use to keep a project on track—and on time. It should also state copyright terms and image usage rights—and address any issues of intellectual property. It’s the responsibility of the graphic designer to make sure that the written agreement accurately reflects the scope and terms of the project.

AIGA has also written a guide for clients, “A Client’s Guide To Design: How to Get the Most Out of the Process,” which gives clients a detailed description about the design process along with expectations about cost and quality. It outlines what type of professional behavior a client can expect from a designer. It also provides designers with a framework for the type of behavior they can expect from their clients as well as what type of behavior is expected of them among their peers and colleagues.

In addition to their clients and colleagues, in today’s digitally connected world a graphic designer’s responsibility extends to their responsibility to the world in which they live. Many graphic designers believe that they are responsible for the products they make with respect to sustainability as well as the cultural influence that they have. The organization Designers Accord believes that the creative community has a responsibility as a social and cultural force to create positive impact and support environmental social justice issues.