Contracting for website development

Region: Ontario Answer # 352

Website development is, at its core, a creative exercise and one that can result in differing opinions on how long it should take, what it should look like, and how it should function. For these and other reasons, a written contract can help avoid many of the common issues that arise in creative work engagements.

Whether you are the buyer or seller of website design services, there are certain elements of a written agreement that you will want to outline or agree to. These can include:

  • Scope of work
  • How the client can amend and revise the work done
  • Timelines and methods for dealing with delays by either party
  • Key “milestone” stages toward project completion
  • Deposits, payment amounts and terms
  • Post-design site maintenance and technical support
  • Limitation of liability, if any, if the website “breaks,” ceases to work or breaches a law
  • Who “owns” the website and design
  • How the site will comply with important legislation, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2015 (AODA). Section 14 of the AODA outlines how organizations must develop and maintain their websites according to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The first milestone for conformance was January 2014, when websites of private companies with more than 50 employees were supposed to comply with Level A of WCAG 2.0. By January 2021, all websites must comply with Level AA.

The scope of work is an important issue since, for example, it is not uncommon for clients to add new features or requests while the site is being created and tested. If a feature or request is outside the original scope, then there may have to be additional costs involved.

Similarly, designers may wish to set a specific limit for the number of design revisions. Delays in the delivery of certain milestone events are another common problem. Whether it is the client’s failure to deliver content or text for the site, or the designer’s failure to deliver preliminary designs on time, the contract can set out what is acceptable.

To protect both parties, the contract might also require the client to “sign-off” on designs, changes or various stages of work. This can help eliminate uncertainty over what was agreed to while the site was developing.

In the event of significant disagreements or a contractual breach, the contract may also require that both parties submit their issue to an arbitration rather than force a court action.





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