I am not a designer. I don't claim to be, and I don't want to be. I am a programmer.

I have a handful of clients that are small "web designers". Some are great, and I have recommended friends and family to them when they were looking for websites. Some are not so great.

One in particular makes okay looking websites that just have (in terms of usability) bad design. The client pays well. I charge them a little more than the others because working for them usually means getting my hands dirty and doing some "hacking" that I am not always proud of. My work for them includes anything from wiring forms to the occasional quick-and-dirty back end CMS.

My question is: when I see something "wrong" - is it my responsibility (morally, not contractually) to point it out and/or fix it. E.G. I often see form element inconstancies when wiring forms - they may use select menus for selecting the user's state in one area, but then 2 sections down, use a text input for entering the state where the user works.

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Purely from a due diligence point of view, you should always point out these issues. Presumably you are working together for an end client who has requested your combined services (either directly or indirectly) and wants a usable website which has been designed consistently. Nobody wants to use a website that provides an inconsistent experience and it reflects badly upon you professionally if you have allowed obvious inconsistencies to make it through to a production website.

Every website that you build and deliver for a client acts as part of your marketing portfolio that showcases your abilities to future clients, so it is in your interest, both contractually and morally, to ensure that every project you put your name to has been built to the same high standards. Reputation takes a long time to build up, but once it has been, it holds a lot of sway and can keep you in business and get repeat work with existing clients, which is gold dust in this industry.

  • Thank you. I appreciate the thoughtfulness in your answer. You are very eloquent. – drewwyatt Jun 9 '13 at 0:55
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    I agree with this, except with 2 caveats: 1) As professional courtesy, I try to never to 'slam' another developer's work. Try and discuss design flaws in a positive way (i.e. "We can/need to improve [insert what needs to be improved here] and get the following benefits...."). 2) Ask the client if they would like to you to review their current site/code and provide an evaluation on it, first. If they so no, then just do your job the best you can. If they say yes, you'll be recognized for adding value to the project engagement. – NivF007 Apr 7 '14 at 21:17

To be honest, my view is slightly different. Instead of a rule of always disclosing, I think you have two issues. First is a question of customer priorities and the second is one of professionalism. I think if you follow my rules the answer will be usually to disclose but do so carefully.

The issue of customer priorities is the first one. Reporting these problems takes some time which you are probably billing them for. In general my rule is this: if it is within the scope of your project, always report it. If it is not, ask the customer if they would like reports of other unrelated issues you find. Chances are they will say yes. Then report via email.

The second issue is one of professionalism and being respectful to other contractors. You don't want to come across as cutting everyone else down because this reflects badly on you and will eventually alienate others you would like or need to work with later. When you report an issue you should do your best to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Instead of saying "this is what is wrong" say "here is an issue I found during my review which may have been missed by the designer." It's best to frame this as another set of eyes and a benefit of peer review rather than "this design is bad."

  • This is a great answer, but one that does not completely fit my situation. In my scenario, I am the silent developer - as far as the end-client is concerned, I don't even exist. My "client" is the design company. What are your thoughts there? – drewwyatt Jun 10 '13 at 2:06
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    Ah, definitely tell them you have some usability thoughts about the site, and you'd like to discuss them with them. Usability is in your project scope if you are doing the back-end. But again be respectful. Same rules apply generally. You don't want to tell your customer that they are incompetent ;-) – Chris Travers Jun 10 '13 at 4:40

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