ethical-for-webI 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.


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:


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?

About the author

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.