Ethics & Web Design

I think ethical standards are important. The purpose of this site is to provoke discussion about the role of ethics in web design. If you care about ethics, please share your ideas.

Reader Comments

Picture of Annie Smidt Annie Smidt

Kudos on an excellent and accurate description of the way this all goes down, and why, all the time.

In a way, it all comes back to the same old “education and expectations” thing — explaining to the potential client WHY you want to know the budget before you write the proposal. Reassuring them that it’s not so you can take them for all their worth, but so you can give the the best site they can afford.

Being a person/company that acts and seems (and IS) honest, transparent and forthcoming also goes a long way towards gaining trust and making the money conversations easier from the outset. Of course, this is much easier in freelance and small/indie settings. In the agency world things get so formal sometimes, and there’s so much jockeying and power-positioning in the RFP and proposal game (hate that stuff!).

Picture of Siedah Johnson Siedah Johnson

Very informational - this is all common sense but it is nice to have a wake up call - so to speak. Your perspective is appreciated it. I look forward to reading more articles from you. =) Do you have subscriptions? You should look into that. I would love to receive a e-mail from you.

Picture of Lily Lily

Thanks for shedding light on the two sides of web design pricing. As a newbie to the field of web design, I don’t have much experience with the bidding/pricing aspect. But you’ve brought some good points that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own about why the client may not reveal a price and how to communicate better with the client.


Picture of Freelancer34 Freelancer34

Just today I received a call from someone a website, with some specific functionality, for his clothing company. Typically I don’t talk budget over the phone. I prefer to write a proposal first and work out what features the client can afford. Well, good thing I asked about his budget. It was “less than $500”!
I was curtious with him and encouraged him to contact others in the area and get back to me once he had a fair minimum. I realize now that I should have asked that in the beginning of the conversation. He just cost me a half hour!

Picture of Catherine Azzarello Catherine Azzarello

This should be required reading for all creative service providers. Thanks!

Picture of Anthony Anthony

@Freelancer34 - good that you did and many still do not.
Part of qualifying the client which at times we forget, we can chose our clients.

Picture of Patrick Patrick

Agreed, this is an article that ALL creative service providers should read- whether it’s website design, video production, or any kind of marketing services.

Picture of benjamin benjamin

Overall, I see a huge problem with designers not being able to justify their services with solid business benefits, and clients not attaching their web presence to any business strategy outside of JUST PUT A SITE ONLINE.

This is a major problem on both ends. Both approaches totally devalue the many solid business benefits of having a website. Thus, pricing issue occur. And at this point all that’s being guaranteed is another blown opportunity to better business.

Picture of Dennis Dennis

I think you’re right on the money, Benjamin. For a long time I thought that good design shouldn’t require explanation and that quality would speak for itself. Maybe this does hold true when your work is under peer review, but not so much when dealing with many clients. Rarely will a client set aside their own preconceived notions of design and defer to your expertise if you are unable to intelligently communicate the reasoning and strategy behind your decisions. And very few things can be more frustrating than that.

Picture of Jon Black Jon Black

I like the analogy of taking the car to the mechanic to explain the mistrust issue that commissioning any third party professional carries. Nobody wants to look uneducated and nobody wants to be ripped off, particularly if you are a marketing professional accessing the purse strings of a PLC company. You need to be delivering value and you need to be commissioning agencies or designers that bring added value. This rarely equates to the lowest cost and it begins with a full and open exchange of all available information from both sides. Our experience has proven that those unwilling to engage in open dialogue at the outset to help fully define the scope of the brief, their current requirements and future considerations are invariably the most problematic to work with. Trust is never a one way street and both client and agency need to be willing to engage in the open communications that will ultimately deliver the best solution.

Picture of Kristine Jubeck Kristine Jubeck

Thanks for this, I like your defense of the client. Realizing that in fact the client may be feeling mistrust or lack of confidence really shapes how a designer might approach the subject.

What about accounting hours to clients in the final bill? I’ve taken up the practice of being completely transparent with my billing and hours. During the course of a project, I enter detailed notes along with every time entry, and then include all those time entries and notes on the final invoice. It is my belief that this will help the client understand all the work that actually went into their project as well as alleviate feelings of mistrust. If the final fee is higher than my original estimate, we can examine the hours to find out exactly why.

I have not heard of anyone else doing this. Maybe because the fixed fee model is so popular? I guess accounting hours to the client serves no purpose when they pay the same amount no matter what. Either way, it still seems like a missed opportunity to demonstrate the value of the project fee.

I’d love to hear the opinion of others on this.

Picture of benjamin benjamin

@ Kristine - I think that transparency is essential too.

When billing hourly, I think the client needs daily updates. If the client is unaware that the project is over budget at the time of completion, then I’m just asking for a fight (or a lost referral or no repeat business) when I tell them the final cost.

To correct for this I use Teambox, an online project management tool, to do what you’re talking about.

The client can login to Teambox and see the project “tasks” and the “time” I spend on them each day. I started doing this to eliminate job creep payment arguments.

I’ve learned that clients can be horrible project managers. Using Teambox has helped me keep project roles, tasks and budgets understood at all times.

Teambox has help me out a ton.

Picture of Dennis Kardys Dennis Kardys

@Kristine @benjamin - I agree with both of you. I think that a lot of clients vastly underestimate the amount of work that goes into design projects. And when hours exceed estimates, which can frequently be the case, it can certainly cause trouble. I’ve had people get upset for a project just being an hour over estimate.

Nowadays, I’ll do an hourly rate for any smaller or safe projects where I’m confident I can complete the work within the estimated time. With larger projects I make sure to define scope and a fixed rate (based on an estimate of hours). Anything outside of scope, or any alterations to the scope are added in at an hourly rate.

I’ll have to check out Teambox, sounds like a pretty useful tool. Thanks for the tip!

Picture of Kristine Jubeck Kristine Jubeck

@benjamin @Dennis - While Teambox does look very good, I will add that I have been using Cashboard since the beginning of the year and am quite happy with it. It makes estimating, invoicing and time tracking nearly painless. It’s also very affordable. The only downside some people might find is that it has minimal client collaboration/project management features—it displays your hours versus estimated time stats and allows you to grant access to clients to log in and view your hours, but has no messaging interface.

What are your thoughts on this?

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About Me

Hi, I’m Dennis Kardys. I’m an experience designer living in Chicago and Design Director at WSOL. You can contact me at Check out some other things I’ve written here: WSOL Blog - Design.