Many people have used unsavory tactics to make quick money. While it may be temporarily successful, these practices usually catch up with you at some point. It can also hurt others in the process. If you’re running your own design business and want long-term success, a code of ethics is the best way to go (and the right thing to do).
Ethical issues are often very personal, and what I accept may not suit you as well as vice versa. But there are some general characteristics that most designers can agree on. In my opinion, an ethical designer:
Services are Fairly Priced
It’s a safe bet that most people don’t enjoy overpaying for a product or service. What makes web design a little different is that there are no established norms in pricing.
Designers often cut according to their specific formula. Some price their services by the hour, others on a per-project basis, and some use a combination of the two. In other words, we all do our own thing.
Therefore, it is understandable that there can be a significant difference between designers when pricing the same project. But what can give a designer a bad name is charging an excessive fee compared to the level of service they are providing.
One example of this is using a pre-made template with little in the way of customization and then charging as if it were a completely original design. Or the hours spent on a project could be significantly increased to charge a higher fee.
The reality is that we all need to make a good living. But deceptive practices here are what separate the good from the bad.
Avoid Pushing Unnecessary Features
We live in a world full of sales. Whether it’s the perfect opportunity to have an “oversized” meal or to add that top-notch stereo to our new car, we’re always being asked to go for something bigger.
For designers, more features often mean more money. And while it’s fine to discuss bigger and better possibilities with a client, there should be a certain amount of restraint.
The most important thing is to be sensitive to the actual needs of the client. Unless they’re going to really benefit from an extra bell or whistle, you should probably avoid anything more than casual traffic – perhaps limiting it to any written content you provide.
This helps build trust between you and your client. Doing so will give them the confidence to return to you if their needs change.
It does not knowingly put Clients in a Bad Situation
So much has changed for web designers in the last twenty years. For example, it used to be common practice to get images from anywhere and use them on a site – copyrighted or not. Other shenanigans included black hat SEO tactics and even copying content from someone else. The web was like the old wild west, where “anything goes” seemed to be the motto.
Thankfully, things have improved a lot in that area. If you attempt these actions now, you and your client will be in a position of liability.
That’s why it pays to be as careful as possible when using software and design assets on a client project. The last thing you want is for a little carelessness to put a strain on your relationship – not to mention your wallet. Make sure you are using those items in a way that is consistent with their licensing and that they were obtained through legitimate means.
All of us make mistakes. But an honest mistake is far better than knowingly putting someone else in harm’s way.
Moving On After a Bad Experience
We all have our awful client stories to tell. Some are entertaining, while others make you wince in pain just remembering them. It’s one of those unfortunate side effects of working with people.
Through the years, I was insulted, threatened and even a little bewildered. These situations are not easy to deal with, and they can negatively affect you personally and professionally.
There is often the temptation to take some form of revenge. That could come in the form of leaving an anonymous negative review or some other stupidity that would put off a former client.
But when all the dust settles, it’s much more productive to move on to something bigger and better. The hope is that even though you went through a difficult time, you came out the other side even better. And you can use it as a learning experience for future challenges.
Of course, this does not mean that you cannot protect yourself when necessary. There are times when you have to answer to save your good name. But you also don’t want to be an aggressor, because it doesn’t reflect badly on you. Plus, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth.
Pursuing an Unethical Client Will Not Risk Their Reputation
And now, a story from the “sad but true” files of my life. As a young designer, I was hired by a small company to work on design projects. It didn’t happen that way.
On my first day, I was asked to sign up for an AOL account (this was a long some time ago) and pay for it with my personal credit card. Once I had an account, I was going to start listing pirated copies of various software for sale on an auction site.
I was completely surprised. So, after I received those chilling instructions, the “Boss” walked into another room – leaving me alone. I grabbed my belongings and ran as fast as I could to my car. I went home and never looked back.
The lesson here is that you will run into people who ask you to do things that you are not comfortable with. Get out of those situations as quickly and gracefully as you can. Nothing good can come from sticking around.
Stay True to Yourself
Running your own business has so many challenges. You must wear many hats, including that of an ethics officer. But although there are many gray areas, this part of your responsibilities does not have to be difficult. There’s even a little trick to help you make the right decisions.
When you’re faced with an ethical dilemma at work, think about how your mom would want you to handle it. If you have children, think about your wishes for them.
If you’ve made a mistake in the past, that’s okay (and welcome to the club). Those different experiences make us who we are. When we know better, we can do better.