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Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Graphic Design Business Book

Tad Crawford teams up with a collective of well-seasoned business professionals for a compendium of sage advice. Practical topics such as taxes, insurance and privacy are covered, as well as marketing tips and business issues. Essential for the newbie but valuable for an old pro as well.

In recent years, the market for business books for creative professionals — designers, writers, photographers and architects — has bloomed into a busy niche market. Tad Crawford, author of The Graphic Design Business Book and President of its publisher Allworth Press, has been riding this wave for some time.

The book is actually written by Tad Crawford and a collective of other industry stalwarts. He is only responsible for half the content. Other chapters are penned by Michael Fleishman, Maria Piscopo, Don Sparkman, Ellen Shapiro, Richard Weisgrau and more.

Tad Crawford is an expert in legal issues for content producers, and sticks to his expertise with chapters on pragmatic business issues like business plans, taxes and privacy concerns. While less sexy, these are the chapters that creative professionals — whether freelance or agency owners — need to take to heart.

The author gracefully steps down for much of the book to let his guest writers share their knowledge. The section and chapter topics are somewhat broad, but there are some key pieces. Ellen Shapiro wrote Chapter 12, “Keeping Clients Happy (and Coming Back),” which should be mandatory reading for every creative professional in existence since it covers the basics of good customer service.

Cover of The Graphic Design Business Book

Some of the best content covers topics you might not have seen before in a design book. For instance, Chapter 14 is “Negotiating Contracts” by Richard Weisgrau, a welcome primer on a murky subject. Chapter 17 covers the legal thornbush of copyright. Starting with the basics (“What is Copyrightable?”), Mr. Crawford illuminates angles such as transferring limited rights, assignment of copyright, public domain and copyright duration, work made for hire, infringement and fair use, and even a bit on the distinction between patents and trademarks. While not exactly fun bedtime reading, it’s textbook material condensed into a single chapter, and helps make The Graphic Design Business Book a worthy long-term resource. Other highlights include Chapters 19 and 20, which cover privacy, and Chapter 8, “Bringing in Clients.”

The only downside of the mixed-author approach is the shakiness of the overall structure and the inconsistent voice. From a high vantage, the book is less an all-encompassing resource and more a collection of essays (many of them previously published). If it were a work of fiction, it would be a compendium of short stories, not a novel.

That being said, what is covered is valuable. The authors are authorities in their fields, and most of them are seasoned freelancers and agency owners.

I would recommend this book to two types of people. First, those thinking about going freelance but unsure of more practical hurdles like taxes and insurance will find this book incredibly valuable. Tad Crawford does not sugarcoat his prose. He tells you the what, why and how of your legal responsibilities. Second, The Graphic Design Business Book is a welcome addition to an established business library because it wrangles with issues untouched by other books.

Overall, an excellent value, and highly recommended for those interested in the more technical aspects of leading an independent design business.

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