An Ethical Statement for Web Companies

ethical-for-web

I found an interesting page this weekend: an ethical statement for a webdesign company,

Stuff and Nonsense is the website of Andrew Clarke who wrote “Hardboiled Web Design” and runs the Unfinished Business podcast.

In the footer of the site, where you normally see legal mumbo jumbo, is a simple “Ethical statement” link.

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The ethical statement covers four simple points:

  • Working with charities
  • Saying yes to workers’ organizations
  • Saying no to military
  • Saying no to the grant funding

It ends with this:

“We don’t wish to sound judgmental, after-all business is business, but we think it’s best to ‘put our cards on the table’ and be open about which projects suit our priorities and values. If you have a comment or a question about our ethical statement, we’d love to hear it.”

All in all, it’s a fascinating page.

The line on pacificism was particular interesting to me. As a Englishman living in the U.S. for a decade, I’ve almost forgotten what a strong streak of pacificism runs through the British. That anti-war statement is just rarely heard on this side of the pond, although I suspect it was much more common in previous eras.

Also, the line in grants was one that rang true for me. We always find it easier to deal with people who have their own skin in the game.

Some thoughts on ethical statements in general

Stuff and Nonsense explicitly pre-qualify their customers.

However, every business pre-qualifies their customers subtly and perhaps sub-consciously. They pre-qualify customers through their design choices, their language, the clients they showcase and more.

For example, even without the ethical statement, I doubt Andrew would attract many military clients anyway.

The whole site is radically different from any military contractor site that I’ve ever seen. Andrew site is playful from the fonts and language, to name of the company (Stuff and Nonsense) and yes, the Planet of the Apes creatures on the header:

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So all business pre-qualify customers but not many are blunt about it.

I suspect that being blunt is an option for several types of business:

  • Companies in high demand who can afford to turn down business
  • Those who have a “punk” aspect to their marketing and use strong pre-qualifiers as a tactic. Cards Against Humanity is a good example.
  • Companies with opinionated and strong-willed owners.
  • Companies with religious owners or those with very strong ethical beliefs.
  • Small companies without a very wide diversity of different opinions.
  • Companies who are confident their ethical stand is shared by a lot of potential customers. For example, a lot of businesses here in Atlanta will advertise with a small, Christian fish symbol on their signs,

I suspect Andrew’s company falls into several of those categories.

Would we create an ethical statement? Would you?

No, we probably wouldn’t.

We are blunt in some situations. For example, we’ve sold a lot of copies of Drupal 7 Explained and Joomla Explained partly by being blunt in our advertising:

“This is book is 100% aimed at Drupal beginners. Drupal 7 Explained contains no code and that is absolutely deliberate. If you want to learn how to create themes or code modules, there are other books for you.”

However, our goal there is to mainly to make good training material with a clear audience. That principal is summed up in our OSWay.

I guess the closest we come to an ethical statement is the use of open source. Personally, I can’t ever see us doing any training on propiertary software. That ethical statement is in our full company name: Open Source Training.

Finally, I’m not sure it would be a good fit for our team. A lot of us have low-key personalities and we have pretty diverse religious (and non-religious) backgrounds. So, an ethical statement like Andrew’s doesn’t quite fit our style.

Still, I can see an ethical statement being useful for a lot of companies and their customers.

  • Have you done something like this?
  • Would you consider it for your company?
  • Is your web business a valid place to bring ethical concerns?

Instructor

  • Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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Dan Knauss

I think it works for him. Great site! I did something similar in the past (long ago) because I saw someone else who had a list of things they didn’t do. It was never about any political or religious alignments though. After a while I felt such a statement was unlikely to be read — at least by the people who should read it most — and it might come off as pretentious to others who did read it.
Now my position is this — you qualify prospective clients when you interact with them directly. Trying to do it through a list of dos and don’ts deprives you of the opportunity to decide for yourself rather than never know who you are turning away and why.
Marketing copy and testimonials speak a lot more clearly about who you are, what you do, and what kind of client is a good fit. I think it’s better to do that directly and briefly — here’s who I am, here’s who I tend to work with, and here’s how I work.
That said, I do currently articulate a “how I work” ethic that is based around the Confucian/Dirty Harry maxim that greatness can only be achieved when you have the ability to say no and maintain limits on what you will do. It is an ethic of scale, not an ethic of “we don’t serve your kind here,” but it does suggest there are things we won’t do. It’s not too prominent, and it might be more for me than others.

steve

Thanks Dan
Yes, you and I share a lot of the same qualms.
I think this can work for some people who have a particular personality, but I know I don’t have it.

Guest

Not picking on anyone – definitely…you guys are great. But I loved the post one of you did about “the potter and how he would destroy his work if it was flawed.” Likewise, you guys talked about not publishing your copy/post/article unless it was perfect and had been gone through with a fine toothed comb. Take Pride in Your Work – Lessons from The Potter / October 24, 2013 | Written by Robert Sutherland
Which brings me to this: “Companies in high demand who can turn afford to turn down business…”
Just letting you know it is there – you can delete my comment or not post it by all means. I’m not really meaning for others to see it. Two “turn” in one sentence.
It kind of disappointed me because I’ve been working hard on my own site and copy ever since reading the “potter story.” It was inspiring and so very true…But then I see that a month after the potter story “principle” and you guys let it fall by the wayside on your own site. My two cents.

steve

Hi Guest. You’re referring to this post, I presume: [url=http://www.ostraining.com/blog/marketing/potter/]http://www.ostraining.com/b…[/url]
No, you’re completely right. We did miss by letting this typo go by in the post.
If we have any excuse it’s that this week is our busiest of the year, but we should still be catching errors like this.
Thanks for calling on us to do better.

neilrobertson

I love this and see it as a measure of success when companies can be choosy about who they work with.
I enjoy working on projects with positive social outcomes and have expressed this sentiment in project proposals to help convince clients I share some of the same values as them.
Adding a similar statement to my website would hopefully attract more like minded clients and lead to more personally rewarding projects.

steve

Thanks ozneilau
It sounds like you have a common approach …. including ethics in your business decisions, without ever quite explicitly stating that on your site.

kimskim

I don’t know… as a potential customer even if I agree with your principles, the fact that you had to make a special “statement” about it makes me think that you may be too opinionated, strong-headed or inflexible to work with on creative projects.

steve

Yes, you wouldn’t be alone in that.

harishchouhan

Nice article. I really would consider this for my business as well. Being a web design firm, I do get inquiries from very shady business such as spam companies, religious organizations, etc. I can’t afford to be so blunt, but having few subtle points might be useful.

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