Contracts Should Spark Joy!
The Minneapolis Central Library is a gem of a building! Situated at the apex of numerous bus lines and the Hennepin Avenue light rail stop, it sees perhaps more random foot traffic than any other building in town. Its unique “V”-shape lets in an abundance of light and directs Vikings’ fans towards the beautiful Twins’ stadium. It also serves as a hub for homeless citizens of our city who are looking for a warm place to rest in the winter, a sink to wash their hands in the summer, a place to surf the Internet, job-hunt, and more!
It’s a beautiful intersection of culture and humans…and there’s also an amazing library attached! But there’s one thing that bothers me every time I visit…
I don’t know how to open the doors.
When I visit Minneapolis Central Library, I see doors, and I understand that they open and close, but it’s never clear to me if I’m doing it right. (For a funny & extreme take on this concept, check out Giuseppe Colarusso‘s comical artwork of useless junk here.) Opening the doors at this library is difficult – I push and pull as hard as I can, and the door budges a little bit, but I’m not sure why or which way it’s moving due to the relatively-central location of the hinge. Then all of a sudden, for some reason unbeknownst to me, the door starts to open on it’s own…with a motor! There are probably all sorts of great reasons why the architect designed the doors this way, but none of that matters, because it’s difficult & confusing for actual humans to open the darn doors! These particular doors conform to none of the norms I’m used to dealing with in doors!
Further reading, check out Donald Norman’s excellent book about design, where he points out how to design common things better.
Our Contract Is Confusing
Contracts shouldn’t be confusing – they should bring out the best, clarify, & amplify the great work that’s about to happen! Contracts should spark joy! For example, my biggest consulting contract to date included a single page contract with bullet points that outlined of the types of challenges I was about to embark upon, followed by payment terms. It was simple, clear, concise, and it felt like the right amount of definition and gave me focus, which sparked ideas & joy in me!
I’m sure your legal team will be up in arms about such a short, human-readable contract, but know that I haven’t left them out completely (they get their own section below). It’s just that the success of every contract is dependent upon the quality of the communication between the two parties. For example, if two legal teams are negotiating the sale of a business, it might help for them to be deep in difficult-to-understand legal jargon, because that makes sense to them. But freelancers and designers & the companies they partner with need something very different – They require clarity!
Here’s an example contract we all can understand:
You give me money, I’ll give you creative.
I’ll start when the check clears.
Time is money. More time is more money.
I’ll listen to you. You listen to me.
You tell me what you want, I’ll tell you what you need.
You want me to be on time, I want you to be on time.
What you use is yours, what you don’t is mine.
I can’t give you stuff I don’t own.
I’ll try not to be an ass, you should do the same.
If you want something that’s been done before, use that.
PRO BONOSegura contract via SignalvNoise.com
If you want your way, you have to pay.
If you don’t pay, I have final say.
Let’s create something great together.
Clarity in Communication is Worth 1,000 Lawyers
“We thought that was a small scope,” I was told by a design agency after we completed (and billed) for a rather big custom website feature. Even though we told them it was a big scope that would cost big dollars and they agreed to the work, they did not listen. It takes two to tango, and this was an epic fail. We could have sat back and pointed to our email and phone records describing exactly what we were building (and charging for), but what good would that do? (Actually, that’s what we tried first, but they didn’t listen or read the first time – why would they start now?!) They were surprised by the bill, and no amount of pointing at the rather clear communication records would resolve this impasse, because this particular agency didn’t listen well nor seek clarity in any medium! In business, when you have a party that doesn’t listen and doesn’t read emails for understanding and doesn’t communicate well in general, you have a disaster in waiting! No amount of lawyers and legal documents can save you!
But when both parties are 100% clear on the communication side – Oh, that’s when the magic happens!
Still…You Need to Cover Your Ass with Legal Docs
Legal documents are for worst-case scenarios when you need to hire a team of people to communicate for you (lawyers & judges). I require every customer of The Mighty Mo! to sign our difficult-to-read, crafted-by-smart-lawyers legal docs, however, signing & conversing about those legal docs are a necessary formality that happens after all the fun docs are signed.
In the case of our country’s current President, we actually pay someone $65k/year to tape torn up legal documents back together! – a good investment (though we could save the $65k/year if our President would simply stop tearing up the documents…). Legal communication is important, but it’s not what makes-or-breaks business relationships.