INside Track: Certifiably So

Lack of respect is clearly the number one challenge facing in-house designers (or at least the number one complaint). Clearly there are ways to mitigate this problem including educating peers on the value of design, entering design competitions and forging personal relationships with non-believers. These tactics can only go so far, though, especially when dealing with accountants, lawyers, engineers etc. who have professionally bestowed official certifications.

So why not designers? Our profession has been negligent in its inability to establish a certification process that would be recognized both within and outside of our community. There are models that already exist, most notably RGD Ontario. It’s time to start exploring this option with our established  industry organizations and get this big ball rolling.

3 thoughts on “INside Track: Certifiably So

  1. InMD

    If certifications are not government regulated or required, I’d be down with that.

    I’m seeing a disturbing trend in certifications. Some states are *requiring* certifications for professions such as florists and interior designers now. These people MUST go through training and undergo a certification process that is often very costly….even if they have been in business successfully for years and have no desire to get a certified. No certificate, no business. From a freelancer’s point of view, that’s a scary possibility.

    If it was a current option in the design profession and in the realm of possibility for me, I’d seriously consider it. But on the other hand, I have a strong portfolio showcasing my talents and references to back up my performance and work ethic; perhaps I’d rather not waste the time and money.

    It should be up to the client to decide whether or not they choose a ‘certified’ designer….it shouldn’t be the government’s call.

    If it’s *my* decision to be certified or not – and is not mandated to keep my freelance business, all good.

  2. Chris Jones

    It’s a good question, no doubt.

    There has often been discussions within designer organizations, like AIGA, around the possibility of certification. From the details that I’ve heard, there is a divide over the ability to implement something substantive versus the outlay of costs.

    I feel that both sides have salient points and believe that the point can be debated, so that however one feels, there is an understanding of the underlying issues and, perhaps more importantly, understand one’s position in the changing design world.

    I think certification is certainly useful in professions where processes have to be followed like accountants and doctors, but may be less so for designers for whom a variation in approach and style are of significant value.

    The nature of change in the business of design has been so quick that the implementation time of a certification program, things may change beyond what a program can offer. In just ten years, the ability to have a viable, mobile workstation has become a reality, making a designer choice from Michigan to Minsk a reality in competing for work, that in the past may have otherwise been geographically specific. It’s a statement of the obvious to discuss how the business of designing communication has changed.

    Compliance is porous even in some of the current positions the design organizations like AIGA takes. For instance, organizations regularly use spec-work to forward their business interests despite protestations of national or local AIGA organizations. Yet often designers enter contest for work they might otherwise be paid.

    From what I hear, the development costs associated with the Canadian model and implementation are at least worth consideration vis-a-vis the results and are said to be beyond the ability to implement.

    Lastly, the new technology of the “flat world” is more likely to tear down the walls of a guild rather than build them up.

    Looking at what iTunes did to the ’90s oligarchy of the music and radio world, or what the e-book/internet is doing/has done to the printed world, one question that comes to mind is that the tools of the trade are relatively ubiquitous. But what may be less so is the notion of what design should do for its audience.

    I believe we’re in a new economy and the best examples of how to find our way is to become assets to communication through understanding of the value of well-targeted design to help develop distinctive communications that create conversations. And while a requisite level of skill is assumed, being a pair of “hands” is less and less useful than developing a skill set that speaks to the work. I draw an analogy similar to dilm directors where there is no set formula for what works but a body of skills that assist an effort.

    While the lack of certification, can be represented as troubling, I see the opportunity for designers to bridge the gap of viability as the same or similar whether or not certification exists.

    As a working designer, I feel like it’s my job to respect myself and not fall for anything that devalues my work: crowd-sourcing models that refuse to recognize I do this for a living—, not just for fun, spec-work models that obfuscate my ownership rights, and even standing up for myself versus clients demands.

    While I think that while designers could benefit from higher visibility general market campaigns that targets the good of their positions —to the general public of what successful design is all about, it is ultimately the rationale that we have to work at being knowledgeable about the role that design plays in the world.

    And I think we have to help designers know that. I am particularly reminded of a lecture where I heard Khoi Vinh of the New York Times maintain that as the head of the in-house design staff it was his job to constantly remind the organization of the value of the in-house designers and often that meant his job was to meet with various segments and be a part of the solution to the business model. Taking that thinking into my own in-house experience, I would agree that the main task is for us to respect our work and communicate that role to the company regularly.

    —Chris Jones, AIGA Baltimore

    1. Andy Epstein


      What a thoughtful and insightful response. I believe it speaks to the need for an extended and more formal dialogue on this subject. For example, I know many designers have expressed concerns about testing for creativity but, as the certification process for architects illustrates, there can be a focus on procedural, technical and business knowledge without attempting to measure talents and aptitudes that defy quantification.

      To the point of design business practices, there would not only be an opportunity to educate designers on spec work and similar issues, but also a mechanism to reprimand designers who violate codes incorporated into the certification program. (There are obstacles to this that Ric Grefé touches on in an article on design ethics written by D.K. Holland in Communication Arts.)

      Bottom line, perception is reality and from an in-house perspective, the corporate culture values titles, though, there are many more potential benefits beyond a mere professional face-lift that make pursuing this dialogue worthwhile.