Posted on 6 Comments

What’s really ‘Our Work’

Other than book writing, working at church, working with clients, and being a hard core ‘family man’, I post on here maybe twice a month.  This is mainly my digital playground to test code, break it, learn from it, and look at layouts.  Every now and then, I see something worth having a discussion on.  So, I’ll fire up my own site, write out the scenario and get people’s contribution and thoughts.

This is one of those times when I really want your contribution and thoughts!

I was in a discussion with some folks over on a Facebook group when someone made a comment that really stood out – significantly. Here’s the comment that I want to talk about:

 calling someone else’s design your own work is fraud, it’s dishonest and it’s disappointing

Now, let’s take a look at a typical, normal, random, totally-not-related, normal web person’s “Our Work” section of their own site.

Screenshot 2014-06-03 09.35.21

Now, here we have a typical portfolio / our work type of page.  It clearly states that the work they did was Design, HTML/CSS, WordPress Template, SEO.  Ok, fine.

Now, put their work in contrast with the comment of ” it’s dishonest and it’s disappointing”….

The basic notion in the comments section and in the thread was that it’s not ok to claim someone else’s work as your own.  Ok, I agree with that, but clearly this is (yet) another example of someone who is NOT giving  attribution to the original authors.

Let’s look at it piece by piece.


Well the theme used here is actually a child theme from  Did the web guy tweak this theme? ABSOLUTELY! Let’s make that very clear. But is it really honest to call the design necessarily his ‘work’?  …with no attribution to the theme, original theme authors at all?


Again, is the html and css all his work?  No.  But – continuing with the fairness – Was the css tweaked and modified? Absolutely!  But again, the question remains:  Is it “dishonest and disappointing” to not give the person or entity who did the overwhelming majority of the  html / css creation any attribution and simply label this “our work”?

Or would it be more honest to give the theme author credit?

WordPress Template

Ok, I think we can clearly tell by now that this “wordpress template” is clearly not work of the the website owner who has listed this as his ‘work’. Again, no honest attribution / credit to the person or entity who has done the overwhelming majority of the template development.  So is that considered dishonest and disappointing?

I’ve seen it done a billion or so times.  Do I have an opinion? ALWAYS!  😉

But I want to keep my thoughts out of this and open a discussion.  Either put this in contrast to the comment they’ve made, or process the thoughts with this site being a standalone issue completely separate from the above mentioned comments. I really want to simply point this out and get your comments and thoughts.

Do the comments match their website?  Or is this simply “dishonest and disappointing”? Let’s think this out together.

6 thoughts on “What’s really ‘Our Work’

  1. Brad, you’re absolutely right. Proper attribution is more than just stuff you stick in the header of your theme. When I was starting out and used parent themes a lot I made explicit in my portfolio descriptions that I customized the site based on a parent theme. Or I made design alterations. There’s LOTS of ways to do it correctly as long as you are following the typical parent-child theme structure with proper attribution.

  2. Brad, I agree, but I’m curious how would you reword this so it doesn’t misleading yet still shows that they did put in “work” just not the full body of work. (Oh boy, we both work at churches our church-isms are coming out in full force here!)

    1. I don’t really know if it was ethically, morally, socially, or what specifically led me to this decision, but… I finally got the point where I decided that I simply could NOT give all authors correct credit. Just bottom line, it’s not pragmatically possible. So… I don’t have an area or page talking about “My Work”, “My Portfolio”, or anything like that. Actually I have much better success with complete transparency. Hey [customer] I’m going to show you a bunch of themes that will serve as the ‘base’ for your site, tell me what you like about each one, and what you don’t like.” They’ll get back with me, and the end result is usually a mash-up of all the features that they want. …which is actually a huge collaboration of a bunch of folks! Hence, I don’t have a portfolio section. Word of mouth and recommendations work just fine. < --HA! Love it!!

      1. It’s like when clients say “I just want a fully custom site, I don’t want a template to be used” they don’t understand the idea behind what a child theme is, nor do they need to, but what we can doeducate them on is how we’re working with something as, like you said, a base. Everything in this base theme, this parent theme if you will is the technology subset we’re going to be working with. From there we can customize it to your hearts desire.

        I’ve heard the term “cobbler” as a description of a “developer” or “designer” that cobbles together a few technologies with very little change. This is how I started out before really taking an existing parent theme, child theming it and then hacking the daylights out of it to make it what the client wanted. Now I call myself a WordPress Developer since I know more about the frameworks, APIs and other things that make be a good candidate to be hired to work on your WordPress specific project.

        I think the real question here is, if you want a portfolio to showcase the work you have done and you want to explain truthfully what you did to come to the end result you have a bit of a challenge in the restrictions you have setup in this post. You want to be truthful to the potential client looking at it, but you also don’t want to have a buzzword filled description explaining that you based this code off of an existing open source theme, created a child theme, designed all the UI elements for it, applied it to your child theme (be it one you made or used a base child theme and hacked the daylights out of it) and installed WordPress, installed plugins to add functionality and lastly handed the resulting site to the client.

        So where is the middle ground here? “Built using Genesis framework by StudioPress with Foundation by Zurb and Yoast SEO….” and end up with a lot of NASCAR like stickers all over the post and complicating the core message to your client or something with less info like: “Yeah, I know the right tech to use and chose wisely and here is the result of my efforts.” which doesn’t describe much. Both are extremes to make a point but I think a mix of the two would work in your requirements to be truthful to your potential client.

        My other site is WPMedia.Pro 🙂

  3. I think that there’s a gray line where something has sufficiently been altered to claim it as your work. It’s something far beyond adding a logo, but somewhat short of inventing HTML, CSS, and being the single core dev ever ever ever on WordPress. Agreed? Agreed.

    I don’t have this problem on my own portfolio. I use a custom version of the Genesis sample theme as the base theme for most of the sites I build. If you were to put it side by side with any of those sites, I would defy anyone to tell me that the designs are not custom. But I realize that that’s not really the thing we’re discussing here. We’re talking about someone taking a $40 theme off of Themeforest (ugh) then slapping on some text and some graphics, maybe changing a color or two, then putting it up in their portfolio. And I do think that’s bad, in part because it gives everyone a bad name. To a large degree, when that’s what you’re doing, your work is not your own.

    Here’s a rule of thumb: if you created a .psd or a .fw.png for the site without screenshotting anything at all from the theme that you’re using, meaning that virtually every part of the design is yours, you should feel free to show off your work. If you didn’t, perhaps you didn’t design it.

    All this is not to say that a template tweaked isn’t what some clients really, actually need – but if the work is substantially not yours in terms of DESIGN (not functionality, because design is the thing you’re showing off in a portfolio anyway), then it shouldn’t be in your portfolio, period. Anyway, here’s my awful little portfolio (awful because it needs a bunch of sites added and I need to redo how the portfolio itself works). The top two projects listed were built as a from-scratch theme (starting with a blank file), and the bottom four were all created starting with the sample theme from Studiopress (most of those have layouts which were entirely rebuilt). Regardless, I’m comfortable calling all of these my own work, though I’m ashamed to say that I used a plugin to add Bootstrap Twitter to one of them. A plugin! We were all young and stupid once…

    1. I think the challenge developers have (I’m not a designer btw) is that you cant show off your code to a client for them to see the end result. Clients are visual people looking for a visual piece of work to be purchased and then they want the functionality you can build, but have a hard time showcasing. Doing something like “Hey client, I have 50,000 lines of code in GitHub, wanna see?” is a challenge for us developer types that designers don’t really have to deal with.

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