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certifiable

In most U.S states you can’t be an architect, you can’t cut hair, you can’t be an electrical engineer, you can’t do about anything without some kind of official license.—from a recent Speak Up post

The discussion of certification and licensing of graphic designers hasn’t progressed much in the US since Ellen Shapiro’s July, 1993 Communication Arts article, “Certification for Graphic Designers? A Hypothetical Proposal,” and my January/February 1995 Print article, “The Case Against Certification.” (Both are reprinted in Looking Closer 2: Critical Writings on Graphic Design if you’re interested.) The idea still seems to have some appeal, though. The subject comes up frequently on Speak Up and anywhere else where graphic designers express our aggrieved condition.

This isn’t about whether the idea is vitally important or one of the seven stupidest things anyone has ever suggested. For question 1, assume that certification of US graphic designers will happen. For question 2, assume that licensing of graphic designers in the US will happen.

First some definitions:
Certification means that some group makes an affirmation of qualifications. That could involve portfolio reviews, written tests, background checks… you name it. Only people who are certified can claim to be certified but there are no restrictions on practicing and doing business for non-certified folk.

Licensing means a state law prohibits anyone from practicing unless they have met particular qualifications. You can’t practice law, prescribe medicine, braid hair, operate a taxicab, or act as a building contractor most places unless you have a license.

Question #1: What should certification certify? What specific qualifications or skills should be demonstrated to be certified? Why? (No complaints about the impossibility of testing for talent, just what should be considered and why.)

Question #2: What should licensing allow? In other words, what specifically should unlicensed people be prohibited from doing?

No debating legitimacy of either certification or licensing. Just stick to answering what you think certification or licensing can or should be. Relevant comments on how RGD (Registered Graphic Designer) status in Canada has worked or what the tests are like are welcome.

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ARCHIVE ID 2340 FILED UNDER Business
PUBLISHED ON Jun.10.2005 BY Gunnar Swanson
WITH 256 COMMENTS
Comments
Darrel’s comment is:

Why should we assume something as silly as certification would happen? ;o)

On Jun.10.2005 at 04:38 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

All right, to be serious...

Question #1: What should certification certify?

Whether or not you've paid your certification fee and if you are properly insured.

What specific qualifications or skills should be demonstrated to be certified?

In terms of graphic design skills? None.

Question #2: What should licensing allow?

The right for you to put 'fully licensed and bonded' in your yellow pages ad.

On Jun.10.2005 at 04:41 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Why should we assume something as silly as certification would happen?

So we can better understand.

I assume your second set of answers was even less serious than your first rhetorical question.

On Jun.10.2005 at 04:43 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I assume your second set of answers was even less serious than your first rhetorical question.

I was completely serious. That is the jist of professional certification in this country. The only other variable is when the profession requires some sort of safety/code education.

On Jun.10.2005 at 04:50 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I think the mistake people make is assuming certification = some sort of level of quality. There is no correlation between the two other than certain professions, when you're grossly negligent, you loose your certification.

On Jun.10.2005 at 04:51 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

If the only goal of certification is to ensure that someone has insurance then insurance companies already provide that certification.

Many certifications do assure some level of skill or knowledge. I used to be a NAUI scuba instructor and an American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor. Merely paying insurance will get you neither. Certified Public Accountants have to take a significant exam for that certification (but accountants are also licensed.)

Certification as such does not need to mean anything but saying no certification means anything or that none can is absurd.

On Jun.10.2005 at 05:17 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Many certifications do assure some level of skill or knowledge. I used to be a NAUI scuba instructor and an American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor.

Right, both have a 'safety/code' training aspect. Any industry that involves direct human safety requires that. That's a bit of a stretch for something like graphic design, though...not that it wouldn't hurt for us to be CPR certified...

Certified Public Accountants have to take a significant exam for that certification (but accountants are also licensed.)

Again, code issues. A CPA has to be up on legal accounting codes. Just as an architect would need to be up on housing or zoning codes.

I suppose we could come up with some laws/legislation that effect kerning tables and PDF optimization, but that seems a bit far fetched. ;o)

Certification as such does not need to mean anything but saying no certification means anything or that none can is absurd.

Huh?

On Jun.10.2005 at 05:43 PM
John’s comment is:

This is a tough one, just a few thoughts...

What should certification certify?

I’m with Darrel on this one, certification cannot and should not certify one’s design capabilities or try to put a grade on their portfolio, but I think that it could certify the following:

The designer has an understanding of: professional best practices, work for hire issues, US copyright law, tax law, how to bill and invoice and related laws.

The designer has proven compliance with: applicable business law, copyright laws, software/font licensing, paid federal and state certification fees, federal and state tax laws, employment laws (for business certification),

Why?

It gives businesses a reason to hire a “certified designer.” They will want to hire a certified designer so that they can feel comfortable that they are not going to run into things like copyright violations, use of unlicensed photography, fonts, etc. It would allow them to better focus on the quality of design when choosing a designer or design firm.

What should licensing allow? In other words, what specifically should unlicensed people be prohibited from doing?

Unlicensed designers could be prohibited from claiming tax-exempt status for creative work. Businesses who hire unlicensed professionals can also not benefit from a tax-exempt status for hired design work.

Unlicensed designers would have no access to services provided by the licensing and certifying organization. Services like: sample contracts, pricing guidelines, legal help and protection when clients won’t pay or lawsuits against compliant designers. Consulting on copyright law, licensing issues, etc. Example: Lawyers have access to libraries and information provided by the Bar that they are licensed through. The licensing organization could work out a deal with Adobe to subsidize a lower price for licensed professionals. I mean, if part of your certification was to prove that you were using licensed versions of ALL your software and fonts, maybe they would cut us a deal.

Unlicensed designers or design agencies could be excluded from bidding for government contracts.

On Jun.10.2005 at 05:54 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

"Unlicensed designers or design agencies could be excluded from bidding for government contracts".

HUH, that's like putting a Band Aid on a Bleeding Ulcer. What's the use ???

Approximately, 45 to 60 per cent of people Procuring Government Contracts in Graphic Support are not Educated nor Trained Designer(s).

They are people with Small Business License. And minimal understanding of software applications.

No knowledge of Design.

The Government doesn't care. They have an OPEN DOOR POLICY.

Apologies Gunnar, I know you want to stick to the topic.

On Jun.11.2005 at 12:22 AM
elv’s comment is:

Unlicensed designers or design agencies could be excluded from bidding for government contracts.

It's the same old problem, just like ISO certifications. It doesn't necessarily mean the job will be well done, but it surely means the overall cost will be higher :)

On Jun.11.2005 at 08:51 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Unlicensed designers or design agencies could be excluded from bidding for government contracts.

My doubts are perhaps more functional than Maven’s or elv’s—what sort of government contract? Would a graphic designer’s license be required for taking a 200 page report in Word format, putting it into a specified typeface and size in a page layout program, and handing it off to the printer? Could a printer who isn’t a licensed graphic designer take the Word file and convert it to final type specs? Would the answer be different if it involved choosing typeface and size?

How about government employees? Could an unlicensed employee do things that an unlicensed contractor couldn’t? Why? You can’t hire a staff physician who isn’t licensed.

Licensing isn’t licensing if it’s just a government contracting provision. Does anyone have a vision of licensing restrictions that cover private entities?

As someone who thinks of himself as a systems designer, I’m trying to think of certification and/or licensing as a system. How would that system function? Especially those of you who wish for licensing or certification: What specifically do we want?

On Jun.11.2005 at 11:42 AM
John’s comment is:

Unlicensed designers or design agencies could be excluded from bidding for government contracts.

I’d hate to see this forum get hung up on this one, I suppose that I put that one in my original comment because I live near an Air Force Base that employs around 25,000 people and is the largest driving force for the local economy. The Base and other government agencies also spend lots of money on design work (national park service, books, websites, city/state and federal websites, etc.)

I assumed that licensing would have to be government regulated for it to be useful at all, so as part of that, only licensed designers would be able to bid for that (large) pool of work.

The Government doesn't care. They have an OPEN DOOR POLICY.

If there was a licensing system that required it, they would have to care.

I guess the point was that there should be benefits for the licensed designer, and from my perspective it could be a small benefit that might allow serious designers to do some work that typically goes out to the lowest bidder.

But again, I really didn’t want the part of my comment to be the main drive, or for other designers to hung up on it in this forum.

That said, I'm really more interested in what others have to say about licensing in general. Please forget that I brought up the government thing...

On Jun.11.2005 at 01:09 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Dateline: June 18th, 2075

The Design Police and Homeland Security Forces arrested Gunnar Swenson IV, age 7, on grounds of kerning type without a license it was reported today.

The young so-called "freelance designer", working with an unregulated computer, had

written online forbidden words urging his blog readers to resist current free speech abuses by The Speak-Up Central Committee. His written accounts were confiscated amid tensions between certified and uncertified designers. He is whereabouts are currently unknown.

This altercation came just days before Design Day celebrations in New New York, New San Francisco and New Chicago. The event may be the best known Design Appreciation holiday by the 6,000,000 faithful certified designers in the New United States.

President Chelsea Clinton, is expected to make an official visit to the grave of the Unknown Creative Director later this week.

On Jun.11.2005 at 01:32 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

A substantial part of me wants to join Mr. Peskman in just mocking the notion of graphic designer licensing but rather than dismissing the idea out of hand, I hope we can take it seriously enough to understand the implications. There are places where you need a license to braid hair. Corn rows without a license isn’t much more ridiculous than kerning without a license.

Although I understand the kerning without a license thing is meant to be a lampoon (I have used the same line in the past) it might be revealing to take it seriously:

Is kerning type a central definer of graphic design practice? If so, what did I do back when I paid typesetters to do that for me and what are any of us going to do now that software can do it better than most of us can? Trying to arrive at a serious answer might do a lot to reveal what is important to us.

On Jun.11.2005 at 02:22 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Gunnar, don't blame me, I just channel the stuff from the Future...

On Jun.11.2005 at 02:38 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

John:

I know the feeling, and didn't mean to bring attention to your comment. Only to say, I'm in D.C. which is an 89.9% Government Oriented workforce.

The BIG Money Contract Procurment work is handled by Legitimate Designer(s) and Consultancies. With that a thorough background check to include credit check, tax returns, any outstanding unpaid Federal, State, and/or local balances.

A Secret Clearance is needed. Referencing, Lockheed Martin, Booze Allen Hamilton, Nothrop Gumman, McDonald Douglas. (others) Of Course First Tier Identity and Design Consultancies are awarded the Upper Echelon work.

Generally, the run-of-the-mill, everyday work,

brochures, flyers, booklets are awarded to Design Enthusiast, whom generally are not Professional Caliber Designer(s). Big Brother, has to keep every-body happy.

Allow me to clear up and earlier statement. Yes, the Government does care. They overwhelmingly try to Accomodate everybody. To include Trained (Professional) and untrained (Enthusiast) Designers. Referencing both Administrations.

Again, Gunnar apologies for going off topic.

I have no witty retort for your query.

PESKY: seems to be on a ROLL.

On Jun.11.2005 at 03:53 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Trying to arrive at a serious answer might do a lot to reveal what is important to us.

Don't ruin my good mood! What is important, for me, Mr. Swanson, is getting enough work and fees from that work to sustain my family by my own efforts and not some controlling oversight by governmental certification boards. I pay my taxes, why should I pay dues too?

If it's concern for the whole future field of graphic design, the problem inevitably is one of control and regulation, not improvement and protection. Just one issue: regional differences in pricing of a similar project are complex enough. I wouldn't count on any committe to validate my business transactions or my craftsmanship.

In the meantime, Gunnar IV wants to borrow $500, so let me give you a mailing address.....

On Jun.11.2005 at 04:55 PM
matt_in_brooklyn’s comment is:

Do those envisioning "Design Licenses" see it as a single license covering all manner of designers, or — just as there are car vs motorcyle licesnes — would there be a Print License, an Interactive Media License, a Motion Graphics License, etc? I personally find the whole notion preposterous, but since we're discussing it... should there be certification, I certainly wouldnt want some guy with a Print License flagrantly violating the law by designing a website!

On Jun.11.2005 at 04:58 PM
matt_in_brooklyn’s comment is:

Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

A substantial part of me wants to join Mr. Peskman in just mocking the notion of graphic designer licensing but rather than dismissing the idea out of hand, I hope we can take it seriously enough to understand the implications. There are places where you need a license to braid hair. Corn rows without a license isn’t much more ridiculous than kerning without a license.

In Louisiana you cant even arrange flowers without a license. No joke.

On Jun.11.2005 at 05:00 PM
Patrick C’s comment is:

Question #1: What should certification certify?

This is awfully tough in this day and age. 20 years ago you could, maybe, have put something reasonable together, but now graphic design is all over the place. Branding, web design, motion graphics, and of course print, etc., etc.

And John, I don't agree with the idea that certification should mean you understand tax law, billing, etc. These are things that are not specifically related to graphic design and things which some designers may never have to deal with in their lives.

Bottom line: certification can't be based on subjective criteria. But how can it be based on relevant and applicable criteria when there is so much diversity in the industry?

The only possibility is a broad based test that covers the basics of design—maybe some history, terminology, typeface styles, colour theory, etc. Unfortunately, because of the diversity of the industry, the one thing you really want to test for—production knowledge—you can't without separate tests and thus certifications.

Question #2: What should licensing allow?

I think like RGD status, licensing should not prevent non-licensed individuals from doing something. It would simply be a way of indicating, potentially, your dedication to the field and give clients additional reassurance that you know what you're doing (assuming you can work out the certification process properly).

As a side note: I, along with a fellow designer, have looked at trying to get RGD status and discussed the advantages and disadvantages. The conclusion we reached was that it was time consuming, expensive (that was a big negative), and ultimately useless. No one in Ontario cares if you have RGD beside your name on your business card. That's if they even know what it means, and I'm pretty confident that close to a 100% don't.

On Jun.11.2005 at 06:44 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Patrick—licensing should not prevent non-licensed individuals from doing something.

What you are saying is that you are against licensing since by definition the word means that non-licensed people are not allowed to do whatever the license is for (whether that’s fishing, driving a car, or running a nuclear power plant.)

The “accreditation” (as it’s referred to in Canada) of RGD status is, for all practical purposes, the same as certification in US lingo. The legal mechanism for it is slightly different but basically it doesn’t stop anyone from doing anything except falsely identify claiming certification. (Government in Ontario won’t hire non-RGD designers and the RGD folk of course hope that corporations will choose to hire only registered graphic designers.)

On Jun.11.2005 at 07:04 PM
ps’s comment is:

i think "pesky" summed it up quite nicely.

On Jun.11.2005 at 08:36 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

It strikes me that designing is imagining something different than the current state of things and exploring the implications of that idea. If a designer has no more ideas than one or if a designer never considers anything that turns out to be a choice worth rejecting then that designer is barely worthy of the title.

The headline is too big to fit on the page? So what happens if we make it even bigger? How would people deal with this website if it worked completely unlike every other website they’ve seen? The very nature of design is exploring dead end streets. Glancing quickly to the left and saying “It doesn’t look like a freeway to me so it must be a dead end” is just plain weak.

Even if you conclude that any scheme isn’t worth the trouble, a cost/benefit analysis is impossible without asking what the benefit is (and who the benefit goes to.) Saying “That idea sucks rocks” before understanding the idea strikes me as a very bad working method. Even if we are sure that the Pesker is right and the “dues” will be too high, we can speculate on what sort of a system would or would not create real advantages.

So I repeat my ground rule: If you want to talk about how stupid the very idea of either certification of licensing is, go find old threads on the subject, talk to your office mates, corner someone in a bar—just don’t do it here. This thread is about the possible nature of certification and/or licensing, not a discussion of the wisdom of a plan that hasn’t been described. As I said in my introduction to the subject:

“For question 1, assume that certification of US graphic designers will happen. For question 2, assume that licensing of graphic designers in the US will happen.”

So assume someone is going to carry the cost anyway; what good could come of certification and/or licensing and how?

On Jun.11.2005 at 09:09 PM
gregor’s comment is:

first I'll have to say that I'm neither for or against certification. From my reading on the issue, which I'll admit is limited a few articles and blog discussions, the cry for certification is largely from within the industry: associations, designer's who believe they already have the necessary skills and knowledge certification would require, academia, and to a lesser degree, software developers.

Really, a move toward certification/licensing needs to come from outside -- those who rely on our creative services and feel that the profession is chock full of 'imposters' and need certification combined with licensing to trust the industry, period. Short of this it's meaningless.

Problematic is that many of the arguments I've heard from the "floor" (i.e. blogs, etc) is, more than anything, designers whining about protecting our jobs from the 'untrained,' as opposed as a way to ensure the standard of design is raised and remains so.

Sounds kinda like a nation/state approach: "buy american."

Equally problematic is that certification and licensing will create a sub-mileau of non-certified or non-certifiable group of (non) designers that clients will hire. One can only imagine what those titles could be: from, content beautifier to whatever...

Associations should in fact be pushing toward certifications as a service to, and way in which to advocate for their memberships. Howevever, for many associations, including the AIGA, membership is not based on a desgner's ability and knowledge, but their ability to correctly type the numeric sequence of their credit card into a web-based form. (I failed that test 3 times until I finally typed in the correct numeric string). Associations being businesses, can't necessarily afford to restrict it's membership through some type of assessment process, although they should. (Here I acknowledge some associations do in fact screen applicants to some, limited and often subjective, extent).

Also problematic is the extreme difficulty it would be to certify designers. While a designer could pass a certification exam, it in no way represents the myriad of complex issues they will be required to contend with or solve in their career as a designer.

Certification of Ethics (which includes font and software licensing) and Professional Practices is certainly a possible measurement, but it's a bit harder to certify high level thinking of the design process or the even ability to use a vector path.

Additionally, much like the medical industry, I for one would be concerned with how any certification and licensing process would flatten design, much in the way western approaches to medicine have dominated alternatives to such -- if not outright made other approaches (holistic, eastern, etc) to medine appear as if quakery.

as a very divided community, I dont't think the design profession has the where-with-all to even begin formulating an effective and trustworthy methodology for certifiations outside of software prowess, pre-press knowledge and similar issues. Going into licensing issues is even deeper water.

On Jun.11.2005 at 09:42 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Gunnar — I believe that what you're asking for is beyond this group. It's a complicated topic, with an enormous initial hypothetical barrier to cross. It's beyond this group not because they're stupid, but because I think most readers probably can't get past the question of do or don't. They can read past threads, but I don't believe they've had enough history with the concept in order to think past it.

I also believe that in order to produce a list, you're going to have to find a group of readers that do, in fact, believe in certification — so much so that they've had time to rationalize methodologies. They've actually dreamt and seen this brave new world.

Personally, I do believe in some form of certification, but only for a very specific portion of our field. Portions of the industry where I believe it would help foster growth. How would it help specifically? I'm not certain yet. How could we fairly implement the program? I'm not certain how either.

But it's sort of like the issue of stem cell research — follow me for a bit here. That issue has such an incredible barrier of entry — the morality and ethics of it— that most people will never get beyond that point. And you have to get past that point before you can start talking about benefits, methodologies, and other practicalities.

But if your aim is to prove the futility of certification in the first place, by pointing out the difficulty of generating methodologies — then it would seem I've just missed your point.

On Jun.11.2005 at 10:20 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

I think what might be missed in this discussion is the fact that certification can bring about a more unified design field. Not in the terms of creative experimentation, but in using a more unified visual language. For instance, I had a design director that had no clue how to correctly use the words leading, kerning, and tracking. To her, they were interchangable. This is obviously a problem. Were a governing body to come to a final say on terms every designer should know, I think it would be to the positive benefit of our field. A certification doesnt mean you have to know everything, rather that you understand the technical aspects of our field. Knowing what the typographic definition of "10/13" means or the difference between 4 color process and pantone may seem like something all of us know, but I still think it bears necessity. And in our field, where (for some reason or another) rebellion is praised, it may be that a governing bosy needs to pull the discipline together in one form or another.

Is there anyone familiar with AIA certification or the Professional Engineering test? I know the very basic ideas behind both of them. I would consider them to be the closest ideologically to the design field. The PE test in particular, because it tests all fields of engineering, which could help approach matt_in_brooklyn's question. For sure, there is an emphasis on technical issues in both certifications, but I think there are just as many technical aspects of our own field.

I hope, in a roundabout way, that answers Gunnars question. Or raises more questions.

On Jun.11.2005 at 10:22 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Tan,

I have to disagree as I don't believe by any means that the post is beyond this group as a whole, but as I stated, as a very divided community, I dont't think the design profession has the where-with-all to even begin formulating an effective and trustworthy methodology for certifiations... and here i'll emphasize a very divided community with more personal interest at stake than any other determing factor.

but more so, this is a blog, not a think tank. ideas will be tossed around in sound bites, snippets and longer ruminations. Methodologies and strategies are beyond the scope of the post in the sense of depth of research required, strategic planning and sheer volume of writing to do full justice to the topic. However, from here, those relevant sound bites, snippets and longer ruminations could be useful in writing a case for or against certification and/or licensing.

but then, we'll of course have to see how this thread plays out to see if anything relevant comes out of it. In your case you indicate some thought has been made on your part -- even just the smallest elaboration may help kick this thread to life.

On Jun.11.2005 at 11:06 PM
gregor’s comment is:

and Gunnar,

I'll have to apologize for not dircetly addressing the post in the manner of using the (hypothetical) assumptions:

that certification of US graphic designers will happen.

that licensing of graphic designers in the US will happen.

it's been a long week. next post though....

On Jun.11.2005 at 11:43 PM
Eric Benson’s comment is:

I think the main problem with "certifying" designers really boils down to who will "certify" someone as a designer? I mean, who is the all knowing body of individuals that will certify a new graduate or "self-taught" designer as a certifiable, able to conduct busines designer? I really don't think the government is knowledgable or qualified enough to appoint some design committee to watch over this testing, nor do I think designers amongst themselves could decide who are the key figures to run this testing. Basically, as a collective we can't even agree to a definition of what we do. How could we test ourselves upon something that, by definition, doesn't have one?

Going back to school has taught me a few things... one that I love what I do, and two I even the faculty in school can't develop a cohesive definition of the craft and its impact on society/business. One of my favorite moments was when a student asked a professor what the difference was between art and design. He replied "What's the point in discussing this? No one can derive a definition for either one, so I have no opinion on the matter?"

Back to the discussion of certification... I'm also concerned about what rules will be set in place for testing? Is their a test like the LSAT? ARE? Although there are many objective things to be test someone upon to understand if they can function as a designer, I would argue there are twice as many that are completely subjective. If you simply test someone on if they understand how to do well in business as a designer, knows technical whats-its for the web or could send something to the press without corrupting the printer's machines then I would be all for that, but I feel the rest of the test is a bit questionable... anyway... that's my two cents and a half.

On Jun.11.2005 at 11:52 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Eric—who will "certify" someone as a designer?

You. You and Ric Grefé have pictures of Bill Frist and George Bush in a three-way with Noam Chomsky so you have the full power of anything you need behind anything you want.

You don’t have to worry about how it will get done. You don’t have to worry about who has standing to comment. You are in charge. What do you think standards should be?

You can start out with a general description. Derrick thinks typographic terminology and color reproduction techniques in printing are important aspects. From his comments I’d infer that he envisions certification as a fairly low-level process where most people who know technical aspects of type and printing can be certified. He sees it as a tool for better communication between designers. (Derrick—let me know if I’ve mischaracterized.)

Tan thinks certification for specific areas or activities makes sense. I’d love to hear specifics.

Since you are now in charge, what do you think? What should certification and/or licensing demonstrate and/or allow someone to do?

On Jun.12.2005 at 12:20 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Alright, alright. Let me see if I can draft something coherent about my vision of certification nirvana.

Had to open my big mouth...

On Jun.12.2005 at 01:37 AM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

Gunnar more or less got part of my stance right.

If you compare it to AIA or PE licenses (which I only do for comparison), these licenses do not say who is good at what they do, only competent enough to do it. A lot of what goes into this business is intangible, no one can deny that. But that doesnt mean that you cant nail down some tanguible aspects and say "designers should know this." Eric was asking who gets to make these decisions—I'm sure everyone in a profession that has licensing asked this question before licensing occured. It is merely that someone has to sart the ball rolling, and the answers eventually come out. I find it slightly wierd that for creatives who tend to ask clients to take a leap of faith cannot take a leap without needing concrete evidence on every minute detail themselves. Sorry, I hope thats not offensive to anyone, merely an observation.

I had a conversation a few months back with Craig Berger (SEGD's Chair of Education) who was discussing the reluctance of Environmental designers to accept certification/licensing. Environmental designers, it would seem, have more architectural aspects to their work and yet there is very little support for it. I wonder, and maybe this is a forum thread in and of itself, why there is such an immediate opposition to this idea. As evidenced by the first 15 posts or so to this thread, l/c isn't even open to discussion by a lot of people.

I look forward to seeing what Tan comes up with.

On Jun.12.2005 at 02:12 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

These are good questions, Gunnar, although complicated as Tan pointed out. I'm a member (and a Board member) of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC); an organization that is firmly in pursuit of some form of licensing (though the word "Certification" is often used), although I, myself, have veered a bit from the party line in the past year or so ... probably due to hanging out with too many Americans.

Although I am no longer deeply committed to the idea of licensing, I am not uncommitted either. How I would do it is pretty much how the GDC does it:

Students enrolled in a 2- to 4-year+ program can become student members (though the GDC would love to up that to a 4-yr+ program, it is unlikely); upon graduation, they become Graduate members; after practicing design for 2 years they submit a portfolio for review and become Licentiate members; after practicing design for 5 years they become Members (MGDC). Anyone regardless of education can currently submit a portfolio for review to become either LGDCs or MGDCs.

There are pages of material on how the Portfolio Review is conducted, but basically, it is confidential (names of the reviewee or reviewers are not known to each other) and is conducted by 3 MGDCs overseen by the Board Membership Chair.

The review of work is based on (and here I paraphrase and edit heavily from official documents): strategy, creative concept, intelligent aplication of available resources, successful application of design to the improvement of the client's interests, not containing demeaning material [racism, etc.], not plagiarised.

Furthermore the work is judged on appropriate application, typography, skill, craftsmanship, use of imagery, implementation, etc.

A bit more on this is here.

Once accepted, GDC members are bound by a code of ethics (fair practice etc.) and receive all sorts of goodies and advice re contracts etc. just like the AIGA.

Now, if this process were applied to an actual License, I think it would prohibit anyone who had not "passed" from hanging out a shingle calling themselves a graphic designer.

Would the government swoop down and arrest little Tiffany for making business cards? Not likely. But presumably you don't get Tiffany to cut your hair because you don't know if she can cut hair ... mostly it's a buyer beware thing. If Tiffany butchers your hair you pretty much shrug your shoulders and say "Well, i get what I paid for." You don't go off on a rant saying "Hairstylists are maniacs, someone should do something about this!" because someone already did, and you chose to ignore it.

Under a License (not sure of exact terminology here), a client has at least some confidence that the person they hire knows something about what they're doing. Further, a client knows that there is something to know ... that their nephew actually can't do the same thing for $100. And there is some kind of governing body (not the gov't, the licencing institution, eg. the GDC) that clients and practitioners can go to for mediation if they feel they've been treated unfairly.

So licensed people would be prohibited from behaving unethically (according to the Code of Ethics), and unlicensed people would maybe just have to call themselves something else.

At this stage of course, no one cares. And maybe they never will. But if there were licensing, and if it was massively promoted, clients would expect designers to be licensed and would be wary of those who were not.

For most of us it would not be a big deal; for J. Smith just coming out of the 2-month "design" course, it would be a problem, unless he was smart and talented, in which case, it would not.

Americans seem to view this issue as government meddling in their affairs, but it really isn't a government issue, it's a professional one.

Well, that's the GDC party line, anyway. My verdict, for the moment, is out.

On Jun.12.2005 at 03:05 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I think licensing graphic designers is absurd. Telling a thirteen year old kid that he can't create his own webpage because he's not licensed, or telling a church secretary she has to pass a test before she lays out the next church bulletin is unrealistic. Design happens so often every day with so many people that telling all those people they have to stop and hire some 50 dollar an hour hotshot to do the thing they could do by themselves just wouldn't happen. So, Gunnar, I can't agree with the first premise. Sorry.

Certification, however, is another story. I think acreditation of design schools by some sort of Graphic Design Board would do a lot for cleaning the profession of those that thought to themselves, “Hey, you know what, I have a computer and some software, I'll be a designer today.” Certification is a badge of quality, and I think that if designers started self-regulating like that businesses would follow suit and start hiring only board-certified designers.

I realize that there are plenty of good designers that didn't go to school, though, so maybe some sort of test would be a good idea. Nothing so subjective as “kern this paragraph” or “design a logo for...” but maybe a brief definition of terms, some tests on knowledge of software, and a portfolio review. The review wouldn't necessarily be for a grade, but more like helpful suggestions by area designers about the work. Something like that would be very beneficial.

Most schools are harder than that, I know, but graduates also get to list the school on their resumés, so it all evens out. And we're not exactly trying to limit the type of person that becomes a designer, rather we're trying to gauge the motivation of people who want to be designers. I think certification would slow the influx of 17 year old nephews into our profession. Unless they could pass the test, that is.

I dunno. I'm just thinking as I type right now. These are my ideas. Any suggestions? Anything that wouldn't work?

On Jun.12.2005 at 08:41 AM
mandy’s comment is:

There are places where you need a license to braid hair. Corn rows without a license isn’t much more ridiculous than kerning without a license.

Granted, but you should consider why licenses are required for braiding. At least in NYC, licensing arose for salons out of concern about increased competition from immigrant workers who undercut the established salons' prices. The move to require licensing came from within the salon community and was a direct attempt to make it more expensive for new salons to open. It was about squashing the competition. A lot of the talk about requiring design certification seems to be coming from the same place.

On Jun.12.2005 at 09:53 AM
Patrick C’s comment is:

Gunnar—you're right of course. I was grouping the two together. Like Greg, I don't believe in licensing at all (for the reasons he mentioned) and so I wont deal with it. But I didn't really contribute what you asked for in the way of certification. So here it goes...

Certification is something I could get behind and encourage. If it is promoted well by the certifying body it would hopefully play the role of licensing without using law to prevent someone from practicing.

Question #1: What should certification certify?

Education

1. That you've been to a recognized design school and completed at least a 2 year diploma/degree in graphic design (or a program that contains a significant amount of graphic design instruction). The length of the program could be open to debate. 4 years is silly, but 3 is probably reasonable. You would have to look at the length of all the programs across the country to get a feel for what will work.

2. There would have to be a grandfather clause, of course.

Practical Knowledge

1. Certification would ensure that you have a good level of practical knowledge. This could be categorized by the different areas of graphic design—print, web, motion. Or you could make one test that deals with all three based on the assumption that your school taught you at least a little of all three.

On the print side, for example, it would ensure that you understand the terminology, pre-press practices, printing techniques, paper, ink...everything technical/practical one needs to know to bring a job to press.

Something very similar could be done for web.

And there would have to be testing to prove a reasonable general level of knowledge—typefaces, layout, colour theory, etc.

I don't believe there should be any sort of portfolio evaluation.

During school you could not be certified or even have partial certification. Every school program would have to have some sort of work period where students intern. Once completed they write the test and are good to go. I don't believe in having students wait for a period after school before being eligible for certification.

On Jun.12.2005 at 10:22 AM
James Reeves’s comment is:

This is a compelling thread, as I have often found myself muttering that graphic design ought to be federally regulated so that humanity may be spared things like purple, teal, and Comic Sans. However, I've never given the matter much formal thought until now.

The drastic comparison to practices such as taxi driving or hair braiding sounds right to me at first, but then it begins to fall apart when I consider what, exactly, certification should certify. Cornrows, transit, and buildings are incredibly tangible things, whereas graphic design is so enormous, democratic, and fluid that it is difficult to properly define it without starting an argument - so I think a more appropriate parallel might be to the act of writing rather than such specific and service based professions.

At the one extreme, the 13-year old designing his first personal website is akin to the high school student writing bad poetry - this sort of thing ought to be encouraged rather than regulated (so long as it is not inflicted on too many unwilling people). At the other end of the spectrum, a designer working for the public interest, whether for the government or some other vital group, could be regarded along the same lines as a journalist. The writing profession manages to effectively regulate itself as a diverse discipline with a variety of specific functions (I'm overlooking the state of mainstream journalism under the Bush admin.) and it seems like graphic design ought to do the same without resorting to standardized testing and paperwork.

On Jun.12.2005 at 11:40 AM
Amie Fournier-Flather’s comment is:

I feel the plans the GDC have laid out (and marian pointed out, thank you) are good ideas to stem from and I would happily comply with those standards. What it seems some people here are missing is the point that you (if this was to happen) will be evaulated by other professionals in the graphic design field and not the government. The gov't. has nothing to do with certifying. It is a membership based on peer evaluation from what I understand. Their are other professional bodies out there for other creative arenas such as architecture. My father is a member of the AIBD - he follows a certain code of ethics and is proud to have this membership. Apparently it means something in the architectural field. The way the GDC has their plans laid out is identical to how the BCS (British Computing Society) does for their members (and my husband is a proud member of the BCS).

I certainly do not have a problem with these aspects and would be happy to have something that said graphic designers are "certified" because it would mean that you are qualified and competant to do work in this field and follow a code of ethics that I generally think people should practice.

Having just graduated college and seeing my peers' portfolios being presented to the president of the college, I was frankly embarrassed for them. There were certainly some bad design practices into work on some of thier pieces - and I don't mean I don't like them or they were not creative - they were just generally bad. They would be some of the people who would not get the certification based on the poor work in their portfolio. That does not mean they do not know good design practice or have creative talent - they just don't know how yet to express it.

On Jun.12.2005 at 11:57 AM
Amie Fournier-Flather’s comment is:

Greg said:I think licensing graphic designers is absurd. Telling a thirteen year old kid that he can't create his own webpage because he's not licensed, or telling a church secretary she has to pass a test before she lays out the next church bulletin is unrealistic.

This is where you are confused. I don't believe anyone is saying that little Suzie can't create a webpage because she's 13 and not certified or Gladys can't create a church bulletin because she's not certified. What is being said is that "certification" testifies you are a credible graphic designer and you've got some sort of qualifications to say "hey, hire me". Little Suzie and Gladys aren't hanging a shingle out to drum up some business but you are.

On Jun.12.2005 at 12:04 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

I think acreditation of design schools by some sort of Graphic Design Board would do a lot for cleaning the profession of those that thought to themselves, “Hey, you know what, I have a computer and some software, I'll be a designer today.” Certification is a badge of quality, and I think that if designers started self-regulating like that businesses would follow suit and start hiring only board-certified designers.

Greg, NASAD is a fairly common accredidation organization for design schools. I'm not sure how high their standards are, but I know it was a huge deal when they came to recertify my school.

On Jun.12.2005 at 12:57 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

Students enrolled in a 2- to 4-year+ program can become student members (though the GDC would love to up that to a 4-yr+ program, it is unlikely); upon graduation, they become Graduate members; after practicing design for 2 years they submit a portfolio for review and become Licentiate members; after practicing design for 5 years they become Members (MGDC). Anyone regardless of education can currently submit a portfolio for review to become either LGDCs or MGDCs.

Marian, this is somewhat similar to AIA practices. Does each level contain its own level of responsibility or rights? For instance, full-fledged AIA members only can sign off on final building design documents, but anyone can be involved int he actual design process. I realize this is certifaction and not licensing, but does the GDC hope that (in time) only MGDC's will be able to head design firms or departments?

On Jun.12.2005 at 01:04 PM
Christopher Flather’s comment is:

In the interest of full disclosure I am an Associate Member of the British Computer Society; an organisation that certifies IT professionals.

I am not to sure on the issue of licensing Designers but I feel I can make remarks on the issue of certification. There seems to be some confusion in the post of some earlier posters on how certification works in most professional fields. In the architecture, design and accountacy fields certification is performed by Professional Bodies. These bodies are established organizations consisting of existing professionals in their field.

The process of certification is then, in essence, one of peer review of the general quality of ones work often coupled with the consent to follow a standardized Code of Ethics or Conduct and a set of Best Practises. It is not necessary for government bodies to understand the issues involved in design because they will not be reviewing the quality of applicants attempting to become certified; rather work will be reviewed by other established and credible design professionals.

Other posters seem to be confused as to the impact of certification/licensing. Many seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that immediately upon starting certification/licensing any non-licensed design will result in the police barging down the door. Obviously it is ridiculous to think that any thirteen year old designing their own website could, would or should be put behind bars.

Luckily; this is quite simply not the case. The fact that there are registered architects does not stop kids building tree-houses. The fact there are chartered engineers doesn't stop garden-shed tinkerers. The fact there are IT professionals doesn't mean your son can't fix your computer. The fact that there are proffesional accountants dosen't stop you doing your own taxes. Similarly, the fact certified designers would exist would not prevent you from hiring non-certified designers to do design work - or from doing it yourself.

Certification merely ensures that all those who are certified meet a basic level of common competence and conduct themselves in a manner that can be considered professional. Licensing; which I personally do not feel is necessary in the field of design; merely states that anyone using the title "Designer" complies with the basic standards established by the certification criteria. If a person who is not licensed continues with a different title they can continue to offer their services. I personally believe that rather than insisting on licensing professional bodies should actively encourage their members to make the distinction between themselves and non-certified designers clear (i.e. they are Certified Designers and not just Designers).

As an earlier poster said certification is not a matter of government interference; or for that matter even one of preventing non-certified designers from doing business; it is simply a matter of professionalism.

On Jun.12.2005 at 01:07 PM
Eric Benson’s comment is:

Since you are now in charge, what do you think? What should certification and/or licensing demonstrate and/or allow someone to do?

I resign.

On Jun.12.2005 at 01:12 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Some of the confusion here is clearly my fault. I mixed two topics that often get confused in on thread. Thanks to Chris for clarification but I have a couple of quibbles:

“Certification merely ensures that all those who are certified meet a basic level of common competence and conduct themselves in a manner that can be considered professional.

Certification could certify just about anything from being able to pronounce “graphic design” to esoteric knowledge to skills or knowledge specific to particular activities such as managing specific sorts of design projects.

Licensing; which I personally do not feel is necessary in the field of design; merely states that anyone using the title "Designer" complies with the basic standards established by the certification criteria. If a person who is not licensed continues with a different title they can continue to offer their services.”

A licensing law could take different approaches but protecting a phrase is unlikely to be one of them. I’m not allowed to practice medicine or agree to remodel your bathroom for a set price even if I call it something else. Licensing proscribes taking money for certain activities. The interesting problem for graphic design licensing would be defining what activities are the purview of graphic designers to the exclusion of others.

Licensing would have to be specific about activities that would be allowed licensed practitioners and disallowed unlicensed individuals. As a general rule, licensing just prohibits commercial activity. I can give you legal advice; it’s only when I take money for giving you legal advice that I run afoul of the bar association. (There are two sorts of licensing. Most licensing is conducted directly by a state agency. Some “professional” licensing is done by an organization like the state bar association. That organization has a relationship with the state but is a private organization.)

So nobody could be stopped from making a personal website. Nobody could be stopped from doing pretty much any graphic design activity for free.

Certification could be done by anyone. I could issue Gunnar Swanson Approved Graphic Designer certificates. The standards would be up to me. The good news is that nobody would care.

For certification to be successful it would require that someone be convinced that dealing with certified people had a real value. If any group put together a certification program in hopes of it really meaning anything it would require a compelling argument. Businesses should only hire those certified as Pan American International Designers because they have all sworn to forsake purple and teal so you can be assured that the ski parka you bought in 1987 won’t haunt you so check that your graphic designer is PAID.

Like graphic design projects in general, one would have to understand who the audience is and why they should care. Like brand development programs in general, one would have to make sure that the reality matched the promise for long-term success.

Certification might indicate particular skills or particular knowledge. The obvious question is who would care about that? One might also assume that certification should require

The term “accreditation” is used for the legal arrangement in Canada that allows for the RGD version of certification. In the US the term is usually used to describe the process of reviewing schools and programs. As Derrick points out, NASAD is the group that handles accreditation for art and design programs. The AIGA has worked with NASAD to make sure graphic design standards are reasonable.

It may be worth noting that a certification program that replicates other certifications is probably not worth the trouble. If a BFA from a NASAD accredited school is the standard then there is no reason to bother. Everyone who has that BFA already has a certificate that assures that standard. It’s called a diploma. If having insurance is the standard then insurance companies already provide such certification.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer to either of my questions. Any given answer has advantages and disadvantages.

We accept Eric Benson’s resignation with regret and hope that a good replacement will emerge.

On Jun.12.2005 at 01:40 PM
Greg’s comment is:

This is where you are confused. I don't believe anyone is saying that little Suzie can't create a webpage because she's 13 and not certified or Gladys can't create a church bulletin because she's not certified. What is being said is that "certification" testifies you are a credible graphic designer and you've got some sort of qualifications to say "hey, hire me". Little Suzie and Gladys aren't hanging a shingle out to drum up some business but you are.

No, I understand. Certification is fine, as per my previous statement. Licensing implies that there would be some force or regulatory body investigating any instance of possible fraud being committed according to a set of laws regarding the license. In other words, the “design police” would enforce the laws created by a licensing bill, probably introduced into the national or state level legislature (though at the state level, different states would have many varying practices and penalties). What I'm saying is that any laws governing the license would have to be clearly spelled out, or there truly might be thirteen year olds taking money to design “personal” websites or church secretaries being booked for doing design work without a license, unless there is a provision for doing work for non-profit organizations, but there are already agencies doing pro bono work for non-profits, so is that stealing work from agencies that could have used that for their own portfolios? Should agencies be allowed to use work created for non-profits for their own monetary gain? There are a whole bevy of things that would have to be denied, and allowed, and most of them are at the point of being absurd. Essentially, you can either license and deal with a whole mess of issues like above or not license and accept things the way they are now. Clearly it's more cost efficient to accept the way it is now.

On Jun.12.2005 at 04:48 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

There are places where you need a license to braid hair.

Again, it's a SAFETY (and, in this case, HYGENE) issue. All of the examples of licensed professions fall into that safety/legal requirement. It just doesn't work as an analogy for Graphic Design.

This thread is about the possible nature of certification and/or licensing

You ask folks to do that and not expect a lot of us to think it's stupid. It's like George Bush asking us to talk about how great his social security reform program is.

On Jun.12.2005 at 06:44 PM
HQ’s comment is:

Just another layer of bureaucracy! Seems like just another way to take more of my hard earned dollars. And for what?

Aren't my excellent portfolio, creative thinking, solid concepts, good words from happy clients, enthusiasm for the project at hand and my sparkling personality enough?

Do I really need more than this?

On Jun.12.2005 at 07:22 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

You ask folks to do that and not expect a lot of us to think it's stupid. It's like George Bush asking us to talk about how great his social security reform program is.

Lousy analogy, Darrel. It’s more like saying “What could or should be changed about Social Security?” I haven’t asked you to endorse anything. I’ve asked anyone who is interested in the topic and especially those who have made comments in favor of certification and/or licensing to speculate on the possible nature of licensing and/or certification.

I have also not asked anyone to not think it’s stupid. I’ve just made it clear that stupidity is not the question at hand. As the author of what is, I believe, the only published article against the idea of certification, I can hardly be accused of partisanship of the nature you imply. I will, however, say that there is something stupid in opposing something without first gaining some idea of what it is you think you’re against.

Tan and I have both made reference to specific certification. Saying that certification would waste your time and money is dumb since there is a significant chance that one of us will suggest a certifications scheme that couldn’t include you, thus something that could not waste your time or money. That’s why asking “certify what and to whom?” before rejecting the idea is the non-stupid approach.

And for what?

Helene—If I’m not mistaken, that’s the question I asked.

Aren't my excellent portfolio, creative thinking, solid concepts, good words from happy clients, enthusiasm for the project at hand and my sparkling personality enough?

Enough for what? Clearly not enough for everything; seemingly enough for you right now.

On Jun.12.2005 at 07:39 PM
HQ’s comment is:

... seemingly enough for you right now. and the rest of my career. Amen.

On Jun.12.2005 at 09:08 PM
matt’s comment is:

Gunnar wrote:

Lousy analogy, Darrel. It’s more like saying “What could or should be changed about Social Security?” I haven’t asked you to endorse anything. I’ve asked anyone who is interested in the topic and especially those who have made comments in favor of certification and/or licensing to speculate on the possible nature of licensing and/or certification.

Actually, you kind of did. Specifically, you wrote:

This isn’t about whether the idea is vitally important or one of the seven stupidest things anyone has ever suggested. For question 1, assume that certification of US graphic designers will happen. For question 2, assume that licensing of graphic designers in the US will happen.

Which would be kind of like Bush saying "assume Privatization of Social Security will happen: How do you envision it being structured?"

Unfortunately, like privatization of SS, Certification/Licensing of GD is a hot-button topic, so it may be difficult to just toss it out there as a given, without triggering a pro/con debate instead, even if your intentions were good.

On Jun.12.2005 at 09:46 PM
ps’s comment is:

certification is in place already. it might not be called "certification" but "qualifications". i tend to think that in a creative field that has to be enough.

anyone that cares to hire a designer that went through a design education, can simply look at someone's resume and see what schools are listed. not enough? see what else is listed... work-experience, clients served, software mastered. by nature there will be various levels of certification: from fresh out of school to 5 years of work practice, ad agency experience etc.

if that is not official enough. maybe schools should take the lead and educate the public and the business community what their foundation courses entail and what a student in order to graduate will know. certainly there is a foundation that all can agree on and that could be the lowest level of certification. it would make the education price-tag more digestable as well.

so, i think in essence the certification is already there, it just needs to be promoted.

but then again, i'd still would want to hire a good designer. and not the one that is officially certified...

On Jun.12.2005 at 11:20 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Matt—Which would be kind of like Bush saying. . .

More like saying something is going to change with Social Security and asking for a discussion of possible paths. (Bush pretended to do that but didn’t do a very good job of pretending.)

It actually does disturb me that a group of designers can’t make a hypothetical assumption long enough to consider the pros and cons of an actual strategy (as opposed to a vague shadow of a strategy.) I don’t have time to lay out my certification proposal tonight but it doesn’t revolve around production manager skills. One of the things I would think would be worthwhile in certification of graphic designers would be an understanding of strategic action. I am not sure how people who won’t think about the implications of an action—even an action they consider inadvisable—can work on any strategic level.

ps—i'd still would want to hire a good designer

What distinguishes a “good designer”?

On Jun.12.2005 at 11:27 PM
ps’s comment is:

What distinguishes a “good designer”?

i won't go there, (but an official certification does not cross my mind as a criteria.)

On Jun.12.2005 at 11:45 PM
Rebecca C.’s comment is:

Minimum Requirements: Presentation (some level of craft must be established,) Client Interaction (don't lose the job,) Production (define CMYK & paginate for print people--or HTML, Flash, etc. for Web Designers, other specific test for specific skill sets,) and History (Designers & movements in specific field.)

After that, it--the Work--becomes too subjective to define. How can you test it objectively when your Grandmother still doesn't understand what you do for a living?

Why: why not? If the argument is being made that it WILL happen, why not just discuss for discussion's sake? With my U.S. Associate's degree and no awards to get past AGIA's door I'll probably be out of a job, or at least working illegally/without standing as a Designer, but what the hell? I can always bus tables... Maybe Designer will become the new Actor. [But what I really want to do is (Art) Direct.]

On Jun.12.2005 at 11:46 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

This should NOT be about making your own website. Licensing or certification are commercial contracts. This is about getting paid.

But what if, instead of about worrying about getting paid, you couldn't even get the work printed or the server space?

It seems that the focus of either certification or licensing has been, up to now, based upon the designer’s interaction with the client. What about the service provider, such as a commercial printer? What is their role?

The printer might have an obvious stake in desiring third-party work to be supplied by certified designers, especially if bonded or similarly insured against errors and omissions.

The paying client usually is in an agreement about this. When the work is done by a third-party designer, when do they pick up the liability? In their contract with the client? How many independent designers use contracts?

A printer would be in the best production position to enforce such a requirement, although they are often economically in the most vulnerable.

Certification would require a minimum understanding of copyright and trademark issues, the ability to read a basic contracts and understand responsibilities and potential legal liabilities. It could give a printer the peace of mind that a designer’s screw up will not cost the printer the paper, time, and client.

Standardized proofing conventions might also be a possible goal.

Am I Crazy?

On Jun.13.2005 at 03:00 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Good grief, don't you people have anything else to do on a beautiful Sunday?

Ok, so here's my certification plan and rationale. Mind you, it's rough as a rhino's hide, and more shallow than one of Mazzei's posts. *wink*

But please bear with me.

....

First, some considerations.

One of the strongest objection that people have about certification is that it will lump all designers into one large, homogenous pile. They ask — how can you systemize an industry that's so diverse, so individualistic, so unconfined?

But you see, as ps stated, try to think of "certification" as "qualifications" or "capabilities," if you will. And by that definition, we already have system and structure in place, even if we don't realize it yet.

This system/structure can be defined, but not limited, by the following criterias:

1. Degrees of professional education — earned by various methods, including self-taught, in-field practice, or via more formal academic institutions.

2. Our industry is comprised of acknowledged specialties that can be separated further by several pillars:

• By client industries — music, healthcare, financial, retail, biotech, etc.

• By client categories — private, corporate, nonprofit, government

• By project specialties — annual reports, packaging, merchandising, branding, strategy development, direct marketing, interactive, e-commerce development, etc.

• By project scale and scope — from small jobs ($3-5K) to large retail/corporate campaigns ($100K - $500K) to global, network agency-level brand engagements ($1mil - $you can't even fathom)

3. And lastly, there are the industry codes, client-driven guidelines, or a specific set of knowledge that most of us have gained as a result of doing work for certain types of clients, such as:

• FDA regulations for packaging — for designers that have familiarity with consumer packaging for food or pharmaceutical products

• SEC regulations for corporate financial reporting in annual reports

• Structural regulations for environmental design, signage, wayfinding systems

• Familiarity with protocol and/or clearance for municipal, state, or federal agency work

• Familiarity with international restrictions on packaging — the European "air" tax on form factors, environmental biodegradability regulations for inks and substrate, etc.

Ok, so given these basic considerations (I'm sure there are more), we can start to see that there are constructs of our profession that go beyond the intangible and subjective evaluation of design work. It also goes beyond the mundane skillsets and software proficiencies that are actually irrelevant to a designer's ability to deliver a successful design solution. Our "qualifications," "knowledge," and "capabilities" are the determining factors of our profession.

So, with all of this in mind, here is my formulated plan for certification—sort of. Please remember that this is just a rough outline. I have absolutely no pretense of having worked out any of the specifics. The division between categories below is just a stab. I'm clearly bullshitting from the hip here — self-admitted.

Having said that, this should give you some food for thought.

....

Proposal for Graphic Design Certification

I propose that GD certification be comprised of the following three levels. These certification levels reflect an individual designer's earned qualifications, training, and in some cases, earned specialization in certain facets of design or industry work. These certification levels are not meant to indicate a level of quality in the creative work, but rather a specific set of professional knowledge and relevant experience.

Certified — Level I

• Individual has completed necessary training/education for graphic design/graphic communications in an accredited university, collegiate-level design program, or vocational college— and have completed a minimum 2 years of professional practice; OR

• Individual has completed a degree in an associated field to graphic design (fine arts/marketing/web development), has taken additional training in design — and can show no less than 3 years of professional practice; OR

• Individual has no academic training, but has had in-field, practical training — and can show no less than 5 years of professional practice.

• Individual has shown understanding of professional code of ethics in business practices (copyright/trademark, spec work, whatever)

Certified — Level II

• Individual has attained requirements for Level I certification; PLUS

• Individual has shown familiarity and at least five years of experience with several of the following design specialties, including annual reports, packaging, merchandising, identity development, direct marketing, and interactive/web design.

• Individual has gained experience with strategic development in conjunction with either brand, interactive, retail, environmental, or investor relations-related design projects and campaigns.

Certified — Level III

• Individual has attained requirements for Level II certification; PLUS

• Individual has significant experience with all varieties of clients—including private, corporate, nonprofit, and government

• Individual has shown leadership within industry (this is totally sketchy thinking here) — his/her work has been recognized by numerous industry sources; he/she has been published in industry periodicals or other editorial sources; he/she has taught design in a collegiate-level program

• Individual has specific familiarity with FDA design regulations; and/or specific SEC financial reporting regulations as related to a graphic design project or campaign.

• Individual has a minimum of 7 years of professional practice experience.

....

Before you start picking this apart, the idea here is that this system of certification is correlated to a designer's level of qualifications. How, what, and when can be debated on to death — my list is just a quick stab.

I also think it would be helpful to have a designer's resume and work reviewed by a professional panel, at each step of certification — much like the GDC's method. You want to just make sure that the work does indeed match the claims and qualifications. It can be as objective as you make it.

And it doesn't mean that you need to be a Level III certified designer to be successful. If that's not the kind of work you do, then don't bother getting certified for that level. And yes, you can still work without any type of certification at all — it all depends on your type of clients, and your type of work.

A certification system creates a tangible set of professional standards that can be used as a tool by clients. A certification system can also be used as a career map by designers — if you gain this type of experience, then you can build an arsenal for higher certification — if that's what you want.

I believe certification has real uses for certain clients, establishing more credibility for our profession as a result.

But enough — Gunnar asked how, not if and why. So that's my way to how.

On Jun.13.2005 at 04:57 AM
Tan’s comment is:

And I still think it's beyond this group.

On Jun.13.2005 at 05:07 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Tan is wrong in thinking that it is"beyond this group". With all due respect, Tan, underestimation of your peers is superficial when they are only asking questions that need to be asked. How else are we to arrive at a change of opinion?

I, for one, by reading thru the more specific ideas think it's not as bad a medicine as I originally thought - if it means that some elevation of the profession were possible. Detals can be worked out logically. My issue was about control and regulation.

Secondly, it just may be inevitable regardless of the arguments against it.

Thirdly, with technology becoming more complex, a client that doesn't seek out a skilled designer just gets what he or she pays for. Being unlicensed isn't a crime, it just means one chooses to carry on without credentials.

I appreciate the effort that went into making the arguments for and against it.

On Jun.13.2005 at 08:13 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Note to self: Detals is spelled details.

Which goes to show that spelling and proofreeding ought to be included in the certification process.

On Jun.13.2005 at 08:40 AM
Matt’s comment is:

At the risk of getting people even more riled up, perhaps rather than certification, what about Designers...Unions? Similar to the way its done in the film industry, or theater, for cinematographers, lighting, actors etc?

On Jun.13.2005 at 09:48 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Q: What distinguishes a “good designer”?

A:i won't go there, (but an official certification does not cross my mind as a criteria.)

(A negative tautology. Cool.)

Since there is no such thing as a recognized “official certification” then said certification does not describe what it would be meant to certify if it existed which it doesn’t because we’ve rejected the idea based on the fact that it has been shown to be meaningless based on the fact that it doesn’t describe anything because it does not exist. Can’t argue with that.

How can you test it objectively when your Grandmother still doesn't understand what you do for a living?

(I don’t know if there’s a name in logic for this one. Just old fashion misdirection, I guess. In rhetoric it would be called a red herring.)

My grandmothers are both dead. I suspect that your grandmothers would not be on a certifying board for graphic designers.

So forget official anything and grandparents. Describe what you think is important to be recognized. Or is “good designer” like Justice Stewart’s not defining pornography but knowing it when he saw it? But even Supreme Court sophistry doesn’t save us; we could just choose the graphic design equivalent of Potter Stewart and say that we want to certify a subjective but expert opinion.

Nobody said it had to be a test and nobody said it had to be objective. I can think of some reasons why both test and objective might make a more successful certification program but we should arrive at restrictions, not start with them.

With my U.S. Associate's degree and no awards to get past AGIA's door I'll probably be out of a job

Do you think you should be out of a job? If not, why? Maybe that’s the first step in getting to what you think standards would or could be. There is, of course, no reason to assume that either certification or licensing would affect your position. Most people working in an architect’s office are not licensed architects.

Good grief, don't you people have anything else to do on a beautiful Sunday?

When I wasn’t dealing with this thread I was getting a report done for a meeting that was supposed to be last night but was instead postponed until late this afternoon. Meets non-existent deadlines? Perhaps one criterion for a “good designer.” The good news about self-employment is that after I get done with my next post about certification and licensing, I get to go on a nice, long bicycle ride. Well, about thirty miles into the hills it may not seem nice or good.

rather than certification, what about Designers...Unions?

A union could only cover employees. Tan could join a union but I couldn’t. And he already makes more money than I do. What would you want a union to do?

On Jun.13.2005 at 09:56 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

It actually does disturb me that a group of designers can’t...

With all due respect, Gunnar, it disturbs me (actually, that's too strong of a word...perplexes is perhaps better) that you are so upset about how the internet works. You post a topic on a blog/forum/newsgroup and the conversation goes in whichever direction it will. Fighting it is usually futile. ;o)

Now, Tan is playing along with your assumptions, so we'll go from there. I'll offer some counter-points:

Degrees of professional education

I liken this to IT certification. It just means you took a class, for the most part. Yes, the industry believes that is a valid way to measure skills. In reality, it rarely, if ever is.

I used to work for a design firm that only hired designers with BFAs or BAs in graphic design. They finally started hiring a few outside of that 'rule' when they had to expand their interactive department. Without a doubt, the most talented/creative folks they hired didn't have any formal training in graphic design.

Our industry is comprised of acknowledged specialties that can be separated further by several pillars

Very true. Though I'm not sure how that fits into any sort of certification. Most of the examples listed still have the same basic business goals when working with a graphic designer.

FDA regulations for packaging

Now here is the one area where things begin to make a bit more sense. Whenever there are legal understanding requirements, than some sort of certification can make sense. That said, if one is doing packaging for a medical company, my guess is that company is going to make sure they adhere to FDA regulations anyways.

So, to go back to the original question, I'll simply say that if you want to use the opening statement of hair dressers and architects, the only things that could/should be certified for graphic designers are the niche areas where the work they are doing needs to meet some sort of legal and/or safety requirement.

In the end, though, if we're going to play this game, the more important question is 'what value does certification bring to the industry'?

Looking at Tan's 3-level system, one thought would be to unionize the industry and then peg wages against the level one reaches ala the trade industries. The more experienced you are, the more money you make. Of course, that would require legislators to pass legal requirements that only those of certain levels may design specific items. Perhaps only level III folks are authorized to art direct corporate annual reports. Level II folks can act as the designer underneath Level IIIs.

I think it's an absurd idea, but one of the few ways I could see certification really being of any value to the individual designer.

Matt brings up unions. I like the idea of unions in general. I think the IT industry needs to start considering that. Whether they'd work in the context of Graphic Design, I don't know.

On Jun.13.2005 at 10:05 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

How can you test it objectively when your Grandmother still doesn't understand what you do for a living?

(I don’t know if there’s a name in logic for this one. Just old fashion misdirection, I guess. In rhetoric it would be called a red herring.)

That's not a red herring at all. The point, which was well made, IMHO, is that how can you possibly 'sell' the idea of certification to the population as a whole when the industry, itself, has such a hard time explaining what it does (or, to be fair, perhaps we simply work in an industry with very blurred skill-set boundaries.)

People assume a certified plumber is someone that does good plumbing work. People assume a certified electrician is someone that does good electrical work. People assume a certified doctor is someone that does good medical work. Ask people what they assume certified graphic designer is, and you'll likely get answers across the board. So, that goes back to asking ourselves, if that is the case, what value does certification bring?

On Jun.13.2005 at 10:08 AM
HQ’s comment is:

Is anyone Adobe certified? And is so, has it made a difference?

http://www.adobe.com/support/certification/ace.html

Give yourself a promotion. Become an ACE.

Adobe Certification

It can be difficult to get ahead in today's market. To stand out and be noticed. More than ever, you need a clear and focused way to tell the world about your expertise. The solution? Become an AdobeŽ Certified Expert (ACE). It's an industry standard of excellence, and it's the absolute best way to communicate your proficiency in leading products from Adobe.

What is an ACE?

An Adobe Certified Expert is a person who has demonstrated proficiency with one or more Adobe software products. To become an ACE, you must pass one or more product-specific proficiency exams and agree to the ACE terms and conditions.As an individual, an ACE credential allows you to:

- Differentiate yourself from competitors

- Get your résumé noticed

- Attract and win new business

- Gain recognition from your employer

- Leverage the power of the Adobe brand

As a business, use the ACE credential as a benchmark so you can:

- Find the right person for the job

- Quickly assess candidate skill level

- Invest in, and promote, your most promising employees

On Jun.13.2005 at 10:16 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Darrel—

how the internet works. You post a topic on a blog/forum/newsgroup and the conversation goes in whichever direction it will.

Sorry. You aren’t describing the way the internet works. You are describing a particular social interaction based on what people choose to do or are able to do. Pretending that there is some technological imperative is a crock. If I’m being rude or a fascist or something that isn’t because of my misunderstanding the internet and if others show that they cannot or will not think in an abstract and speculative manner then they cannot hide behind packet processing.

how can you possibly 'sell' the idea of certification to the population as a whole when the industry, itself, has such a hard time explaining what it does (or, to be fair, perhaps we simply work in an industry with very blurred skill-set boundaries.)

There are two ideas here. My reaction to the first one is so what? How many people can tell you what an actuary does? I’ve never figured out this kvetching about people not understanding what we do is all about. I guess people think they have an idea what my brother the fire captain does but I’ll bet more people have a handle on my job than can tell you what my sister and brother in law, both electrical engineers, do.

The parenthetical part is, IMHO, a vital insight. The blurred boundaries part may be very important in all of this:

We could decide that not only are our boundaries blurred but that every area of what we do overlaps with other trades that have an equally legitimate claim on each activity. This could make proscribing any activities for those without graphic design licenses highly problematic.

One way to deal with the blurred boundary thing is to say that graphic design licensing doesn’t have to cover everything a graphic designer does. People who don’t have an architect’s license can do almost everything that an architect does. Almost is the key word in that sentence. So graphic design licensing could cover only a small part of what graphic designers do.

It might also be that some combination of activities is what would create a legal graphic designer status. Anyone could do x. Anyone could do y. Anyone could do z. Only licensed graphic designers could do x, y, and z.

Or we can say that what we call graphic design is actually a set of different graphic designs that need to be considered separately. So it doesn’t matter that my sister and brother in law are electrical engineers. What matters is that they are information theorists. Tan started to deal with the idea of specialized areas. I’ll try to get to that in my next post.

On Jun.13.2005 at 10:52 AM
Brian Brooks’s comment is:

Certification = Worst Idea Ever.

On Jun.13.2005 at 11:00 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m going to concentrate on certification in my next post because licensing has some problems I haven’t worked out. But first I should explain why licensing isn’t quite as absurd as it might seem at first glance.

Some licensing laws require everyone practicing to be licensed. All physicians need a medical license. On the other hand, not everyone who works in a hospital or physician’s office has a medical license. Some have other licenses. Some have no license. Their licensure describes what they can do individually but as a general rule they can do more under supervision of the physician than they can independently. I can imagine graphic design licensing where only one person in a design firm needed a license.

Assuming we could describe activities (either singular activities or sets of activities) that we would define as within the purview of graphic designers, it could be required to be licensed to run a business that offers that/those service/s. It might be unlikely that someone would be prosecuted for practicing graphic design without a license but if someone can’t get a business license and properly pay taxes, that could place then at a real disadvantage. After all, Al Capone never got busted for his real crimes. He went away for income tax evasion.

On Jun.13.2005 at 11:03 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Certification = Worst Idea Ever.

And this, Pesky, is why I think this topic is beyond this group.

It's not underestimating — it's because I know this group well, and know its absolute unwillingness to get past Gunnar's hypothethical question.

On Jun.13.2005 at 11:22 AM
ps’s comment is:

(A negative tautology. Cool.)

Since there is no such thing as a recognized “official certification” then said certification does not describe what it would be meant to certify if it existed which it doesn’t because we’ve rejected the idea based on the fact that it has been shown to be meaningless based on the fact that it doesn’t describe anything because it does not exist. Can’t argue with that.

...

well thanks for trying.

On Jun.13.2005 at 11:23 AM
pnk’s comment is:

I just have to say that one thing I really like about Tan's sketch is that the certification levels he proposes allow designers who don't ever wish to become managers to have a career path to follow. I've seen a bunch of really good designers move into mamagement roles just so they can earn a little more money, and as a result wind up doing less design, which leads them quickly to burnout mode.

It's easy to imagine studios adopting a strategy where billing is tied to Certification Level, and therefore opening up incentives for designers within that structure. Could be a boon to career longevity within the field...

On Jun.13.2005 at 11:54 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Whatever you say, Tan...I haven't been here long. Nor do I want to be disagreeable. The issue affects people's livihoods and that's important if you want to persuade them and overcome their resistance to just the first of many hurtles. But disdain accomplishes nothing and I don't think you meant it as harshly as it sounds.

Brian, you're in Absolute Big Trouble now, buddy.

Oh well, I need a cup of cafe au lait as I wait for a client to make up his mind....

On Jun.13.2005 at 12:08 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

I'm having a bad spelling day apparently. livelihood, is what I meant to say......

On Jun.13.2005 at 12:10 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

You aren’t describing the way the internet works. You are describing a particular social interaction

OK, whatever. Point being, you are trying to shape an open debate in a very specific direction with a very specific set of assumptions. Good luck with that.

How many people can tell you what an actuary does?

Probably anyone that hires an actuary. Also, and actuary has a very specific task: A statistician who computes insurance risks and premiums. Ask folks that hire graphic designers what they do. You're still going to get a wide range of answers...even ones that DO know what a graphic designer does, you're not going to get a one-sentence 'licensable' definition.

And, finally, an actuary needs to be up on legal regulations for the insurance industry. Again, there's the legal aspect making it licensable.

We could decide that not only are our boundaries blurred but that every area of what we do overlaps with other trades that have an equally legitimate claim on each activity. This could make proscribing any activities for those without graphic design licenses highly problematic.

Yes. Absolutely.

It's not underestimating

Right. It's overestimating the validity of the premise in the first place. ;o)

I don't think there's anything wrong with debating this topic, but there are few (any?) solid arguments for licensing. All of the comparisons to other industries fail when applied to graphic design other than the few Tan mentiones (FDA regulations, etc.)

So, given that there are so few arguments for licensing, I find it absurd to get upset when folks point out the obvious.

Now, I realize you're trying to push us to come up with arguments FOR licensing. I think a few of us have come up with those. But I haven't seen any that are that valid yet (my own included).

On Jun.13.2005 at 12:40 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’ll try to look at Tan’s suggestions a bit harder and talk about its implications but in the mean time I guess it’s time for me to put up or shut up.

So why is the idea of certification or licensing appealing to so many people? I am suspicious of the goals of many advocates. (The fact that none of them have chimed in makes me wonder what’s going on with them.) If the only reason is reduction of competition and raising or stabilizing fees, I suspect the effort would be ineffective as well as having some legal problems.

There is no reason, of course, that a better financial environment can’t be happy bi-products of a scheme with other, more worthy goals. Adding clarity to the way people talk about graphic design, allowing designers to see their positions within a design ecosystem, and encouraging further education and professional advancement all seem worthy. In the end, I think the reduction of confusion on the part of buyers about their needs or about designers’ capabilities may be the most compelling argument for certification. Let’s look at some ideas about what certification would certify:

Supposition #1: Certification would indicate that a graphic designer functions at as general minimal level, say, that of anyone with a BFA plus several years of experience. This might allow someone to easily eliminate drastically under-qualified designers as candidates for some situations but for the most part I don’t understand what value this would have. A résumé could provide most of this value.

Supposition #2: Certification would demonstrate that a graphic designer functions efficiently as an assistant designer/production artist. This would allow design firms to know whether to hire junior employees. The Adobe certifications that Helene mentioned might accomplish much of this. There’s probably a good business in setting up some sort of standard tests for production skills but it seems to me that this is a legitimate business expense for design firm owners. They might even require applicants offer some proof of skills. I don’t know why anyone else would want to pay part of their business costs, however.

Supposition #3: Certification would show that someone is prepared to manage graphic design projects. (Maybe it would be called a graphic design management certification? Is my thought that a designer who can understand and control a project—rather than a manager who is a non-designer—correct?) This would actually be in the interest of potential graphic design clients. Most design firm employees would not be certified. These were the assumptions that Ellen Shapiro made. I think she was right. (I also think she’s the only proponent of certification who has made a good, clear case for what she believes.) I’ll make some suggestions about certification based on this supposition.

For a designer to offer full value to a client I believe a real understanding of graphic design as a strategic tool is a basic requirement. Certification as I would envision it would test for an understanding of the relationship of tactics and strategy. That would include analyzing the strategic value of different design approaches in a given situation. Since this would be a certification of a designer rather than a non-designer manager, demonstration of having done design with clear strategic intent would be part of the process.

Knowledge of use issues also seems basic to me. Obvious issues include an understanding of the elements of legibility and readability. Knowledge of design methods including the use of personas would also be on the list.

Understanding research including marketing research would be on the list.

I’d also include craft issues of graphic design. This wouldn’t be software tests. Software is going to change; why certify, essentially, that someone used to be up-to-date? This would include the ability to produce readable text type up to fine traditional standards. Another issue is the ability to understand, create, and use design systems including grids. (Note that I am not suggesting that every graphic designer needs to use these abilities regularly but I am saying that anyone claiming to be a high-level graphic designer providing general graphic design services needs to be able to deal with this.

I suspect that some specialized technical information needs to remain specialized. Just as a doctor has a medical license plus board certification in a specialty, the general certification I described could be supplemented by specialized certifications in, say, packaging, web, interactive design, signage, financial reporting, brand identity, etc.

On Jun.13.2005 at 12:44 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

People assume a certified plumber is someone that does good plumbing work. People assume a certified electrician is someone that does good electrical work. People assume a certified doctor is someone that does good medical work.

Absolutely incorrect. People (or at least I) assume that those people have taken the proper training and passed some sort of test.

You still have to find someone who you think is "good." (I, for instance, am very reluctant to go see any doctor, unless it's my wonderful GP, who I've had for 20 years)

Ask people what they assume certified graphic designer is, and you'll likely get answers across the board. So, that goes back to asking ourselves, if that is the case, what value does certification bring?

Well, for one thing, it would help define what a (certified) graphic designer is/does.

Marian, this is somewhat similar to AIA practices. Does each level contain its own level of responsibility or rights? For instance, full-fledged AIA members only can sign off on final building design documents, but anyone can be involved int he actual design process. I realize this is certifaction and not licensing, but does the GDC hope that (in time) only MGDC's will be able to head design firms or departments?

I don't have an answer to this, as I'm not that deeply involved with the process. But levels of entry seem a possibility.

BTW, to clarify, I sortof tricked myself into using the term "licensing" for all that GDC shit, but really we're on the path to certification, as licensing has proved too bueaucratically difficult. And the GDC has realized that yes, GDC members already Are "Certified" due to our acceptance process. The rest is just PR.

I'm really interested in Tan's "proposal." There's some very interesting thoughts there. Not that I expected any less from Tan, but thanks for that. Something to mull over.

On Jun.13.2005 at 01:12 PM
the pessimist’s comment is:

There aren't a hundred different ways to perform CPR , fix a car, fix a computer or manage accounts. If you license designers, where is the creativity?

If you are in the AIGA, it means nothing other than you are in an exclusive club. No one will hire you because you have that membership card.

I can fix my own car, but if it seems like a problem I can't handle, I'm going somewhere where the guy knows something. Whether he is ASE certified or not doesn't matter as long as he does a good job. My friend is actually working on this now, and he calls it a necessary evil. He knows how to fix cars with ease, but he has a hard time getting jobs because many require this certification.

Saying graphic designer's need a license is like telling a ghost to crap a turtle. It just doesn't make sense.

If I must state an answer to the question, I would go with:

1. History & General Knowledge. 2. Printing. 3. Practice. 4. Legal.

Those are pretty much the unarguable parts of the industry. But there are still many variables involved in all aspects of the job. There are a thousand different ways to do the same thing in photoshop... you can't test people on that.

You are trying to put a standard on art, and that my friends, is an oxymoron.

On Jun.13.2005 at 01:56 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Interesting thoughts from Tan, as well as Gunnar’s 6/13/05 post. I like the acknowledgement that there are specialties in our business that require more than a basic understanding of design. I also like the suggestion that skills such as project management be included at some level.

While I love (the late) Gordon MacKenzie’s observation that Orville Wright never had a pilot’s license, I also appreciate the value of looking closely at the issue of certification/licensing.

I believe a significant benefit of seriously considering certification/licensing is the not-so-easy task of answering one of Gunnar’s basic questions: what is the essential benefit that we can provide that others cannot? This soul-searching (along with some fact-finding) may be a necessary step towards a professionalism that goes beyond mere certification/licensing. Our business/activity/profession is still very young, in comparison to engineering or health professionals. Coming to terms with what we do, and the value that we provide, is a process that can help us grow into a more mature profession.

On Jun.13.2005 at 01:57 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Well, for one thing, it would help define what a (certified) graphic designer is/does.

Good luck in getting the industry to agree upon that. ;o)

On Jun.13.2005 at 02:12 PM
Rebecca C.’s comment is:

Do you think you should be out of a job? If not, why?

Maybe. Depends on what people (clients) expect a Certificate to stand for. I agree, Marian, I hire a Certified plumber 'cause I assume they have passed a standards test to ensure they know what they are doing. And licensing, for accountability should something go horribly wrong.

Red herring? Maybe just a little pink... The entire premise of certification and licensing depends upon clearly-defined objectives and accountability to those standards agreed upon by the overseeing body. I think part of the beauty of Design is that the work/process is ephemeral and varied from one practitioner to another. I think it also contributes to the "cool" factor craved by so many directionless students. Certification &/or licensing may go a long way towards curbing the aimless wanderers with Photoshop out there, but educating the public and changing clients' expecations will be a huge part of that. To educate, you must define that which is being taught.

On Jun.13.2005 at 02:32 PM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

Gunnar has asked me to add my thoughts here, calling me “one of the few rational voices on the subject over the years.” I appreciate the compliment, even though his “The Case Against Certification” response to my 1993 C.A. article was a tad unkind.

Twelve years ago, certification did seem like an idea worth exploring.

But big names in the profession didn’t think so. Remember that David Carson was the demigod of graphic design then, and not having any formal training was a big part of being the coolest dude on the planet. The death knell for any hope of even a feasibility study going forward happened in Washington, DC, at a 1995 joint AIGA/Art Directors Club event. Phil Meggs and I (“pro”) were pitted against Michael Bierut and Joseph Michael Essex (“con”). I came armed with facts and figures and a perhaps too-alarmist message: “Graphic designers must be able to demonstrate that we are not mere layout artists and page decorators! We have to offer more. But in order to do so, many designers will have to learn more. The quality of design education is uneven at best. A professional certification program—setting standards, providing educational materials and seminars and testing—may help fill the gap between what’s taught in schools and what’s needed to be a truly competent professional.”

Michael and Joseph came with big smiles and comforting words: “Here’s one sure way to convince the business community of the value of graphic design: do a really great job for your best client. If all of us did this every day, we’d win the battle the only way it can be won, one job at a time, one client at a time, one day at a time. Certification of our competence will never be enough. Quit longing for respectability and start doing great work.”

Needless to say, they won. I think it’s interesting that Joseph’s company, SX2, now sends out regular e-mail bulletins touting the qualifications of professional designers. “Reason 42,” which arrived on Friday, states that “every aspect and component of preparation is addressed, reviewed, evaluated and when judged worthy, implemented with the highest level of talent and expertise available.”

The type of certification I was describing in those days was not about whether someone understood kerning, knew what command-e does in Quark, or could explain the difference between CMYK and RGB, but whether he or she had the capability to manage a complex project—from asking the right questions of the client in an initial meeting to following through on production and delivery. Other somewhat related professions, such as interior design and business communications, had been able to implement useful and successful programs. This has nothing to do with state licensing, which gives someone a permit to conduct business in a regulated field, such as barbering. (Interesting, tattoo artists, who mop blood with one hand while drawing with the other, are not licensed). Anyway, even if a certification program were in place, there would be nothing to prevent an un-certified (or more properly, un-accredited, as the term is used in Ontario, Canada, the only jurisdiction besides Switzerland to have such as program,) person from calling him or herself a graphic designer. It would give clients a choice when choosing a designer for a significant project.

In any event, I think the moment (if there ever was one—because there truly were a lot of valid reasons not to undertake this) is over.

Last weekend I attended the AIGA design education conference in Philadelphia. The keynote speaker, Ellen Lupton, talked about her new book, DIY: Design It Yourself. “The DIY movement, the opposite of an accreditation movement, is happening around the world,” she said. "Everyone has Adobe Creative Suite and we can’t stop them from using it. Let’s go out and teach everyone how to do it right! Graphic Design is open!”

Graphic design is open, and I make less than half as much as I made in 1995. I polled a group of former students who graduated with BFAs in graphic design two years ago. They are either working in T-shirt shops or going back to school in fields where there is a recognized career path, like marketing, fundraising and public relations—and where one is supposed to be fluent in Quark in order to design the needed materials themselves—because no one wants to spend the money on an outside designer.

Graphic design is so open, in fact, that when I run an ad for an assistant I get dozens of resumes from chefs, composers, painters, principal dancers in the Jose Limon company—people in all kinds of other creative fields who think they are or can be graphic designers. I give them a little test that asks what kerning is, what command-d does in Quark, and what the difference is between CMYK and RGB. A few know the answers. Most don’t.

For those who might be interested, I have a sheaf of writing on the subject from the AIGA Journal and Communication Arts, as well as a transcript of an event on the subject I hosted at the School of Visual Arts (lots of guest speakers pro and con). I wish I could say that the articles posted on my Web site, but I don’t know how to do that. I would probably flunk the test, if it were given today. Anyway, I’ve stuffed them in a folder— just e-mail be at ellen@visualanguage.net and I’ll send it to you.

On Jun.13.2005 at 03:01 PM
Steven K.’s comment is:

I agree with Darrel. What's the social need (not the graphic design need) for graphic designers to be certified?

We live in a political society, and at this point in time, it's most likely that unless someone, some industry, or some business is continually wronged by some graphic design practice to the point where our elected officials are underpressure to do "something", we won't have certification. And if it does come down to that, the requirements for certification will be whatever it takes to prevent whatever caused the wrong doing.

Good luck,

Steve

On Jun.13.2005 at 03:02 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Ellen—Thanks for adding your voice. In the dozen years since we faced off on the subject at an AIGA officers’ retreat on Hilton Head and later in print, my views on the subject of certification have become more complex. I’m curious how yours have changed (other than just plain getting sick of the topic) and how Tan’s suggestions here and mine compare with your vision of a reasonable certification program for graphic designers.

On Jun.13.2005 at 04:14 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Thanks Gunnar, and thanks Ellen — it's great to get some perspective from people who've been around the block on this issue.

On Jun.13.2005 at 05:28 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

do a really great job for your best client. If all of us did this every day, we’d win the battle the only way it can be won, one job at a time, one client at a time, one day at a time....

I ran into Michael Bierut and his persuasive argument here on Speak Up sometime last year. (I was up against Michael and the formidable M. Kingsley). I too, lost.

And now that I think about it, it's from about that time that I became uncommited to certification; which is what I mean about consorting with Americans.

On Jun.13.2005 at 08:18 PM
gregor’s comment is:

As indicated in an earlier post, I was neither for nor against certification and/or licensing. While remaining on the fence for licensing, I feel a twitch toward certification that I can't deny.

Most posts have addressed this as outside forces acting on or against individual designers and I'd like to respond in a way that asks you to consider both sides of the issue. My apologies to interactive/web designers for my print-centric view here.

let's start with the current reality of agency and in-house structures. Agencies, design firms, in-house teams and corporations operate in some type of classification system.

A typical agency and in-house creative team classification system would look something like this:

Entry level

Junior Designer

Designer

Senior Designer

Art Director

Senior Art Director

Creative Director

e-pro figures in but I'm leaving that out of the equation for sake of brevity.

Corporate would look something like this:

Entry Level

Graphic Designer 1

Graphic Designer 2

Graphic Designer 3

Lead Designer

Art Director

Creative Director

Director of Marketing

Brand Manager

While sure there are some variations to these structures, let's stick with this sake of discussion.

These classification systems have no universal definitions, in definition are often agency or firm specific, and subsequently allow for no objective goals or career path either within the agency, in-house team or corporation -- not to mention no universality to the industry as a whole. Designers performance is judged primarily on subjective criteria and many designers jump from agency to agency and may never step up to the next level of the food chain as well as salary level, thus no clear career path is in place, and the stage is always set for a young gun to come in and move the 'old farts' out among other career affecting factors in a largely unregulated industry.

A certification sytem could be implemented in a way that benefits both clients, employers and designers. Designers, at least, by validating knowledge and skill sets with accompanying industry standard salary ranges based on certifications held.

Tan has outlined some thoughts that address a certification methodology, and l'm agreeing with that to some extent, but by no means entirely, and am also including the designer's interests in my perspective.

I'll use agency nomenclature simply so I don't have to dream up new titles.

First abolish the barbaric internship practice. Then on to:

Entry Level Designer (Level 1) Exhibits fundamental working knowledge of the craft, including grid systems, typographic conventions, printing processes, etc.

Individual has an understanding of code of ethics including copyright, licensing issues (fonts, software, photography, illustration, etc), trademark, business code of ethics.

Junior Designer (Level 2) 2 years experience as Entry Level 1 Designer plus fundamental knowlede of specialized design practices inclusing but not limited to packaging, publication design, etc.

Designer (Level 3) Certified levels 1 - 2 plus 5 years experience, with advanced experience in specialized design practices such as those described above

Demonstrated ability to conceptualize solutions to moderately complex design problems including physical prototyping as appropriate to specialized practices.

Coursework in business commuications or demonstrated ability to communicate with clients in collusion with Art Directors, Creative Directors and Account Managers

Art Director (Level 4) Level 1 - 3 certification, 7 years experience with demonstrated experience in successful client and project management. Firm grasp of billing, project expense and project mangement practices.

Coursework or demonstrated experience in leading teams.

Practical and demonstrated experience across business sectors.

Active involvement in design associations either independent of place of employment or through employer provided membership (level of which may be as small as annual AIGA student portfolio reviews or commitee work and would require that employers recognize this as part of the job and not an outside activity and performed on 'company time'), or in some way contributing to the design community via education, publications, etc)

Creative Director (Level 5) Level 1 - 4 certified: 10 years exerience, proven leadership skills within his/her career as well as within the industry, publishes or otherwise contributes to the design community annually. Has a complete knowledge of the design industry (including applicable regulations - i.e. FDA regulations for food packaging), and acts as an advocate for their staff through active dispersment of this knowledge (see Tan's comments above for more on this area.)

Human resources training for hiring, firing and general staffing issues.

///////////////////////

This by no means a complete suggested methodolgy, just some suggestions toward one. This is all fairly loose.

So now go for it, rip it to shreads, ignore it, whatever -- but consider both the benefis designers can have from certification as well as governing bodies, employers and clients.

For myself, even though with a twitch - I remain uncommited. But again, as you completely ignore this or rip it to shreds consider how a well implemented certification methodolgy could benefit all before tossing it off as foolishness.

On Jun.14.2005 at 01:19 AM
Mike’s comment is:

It seems that the administration of the program that Gregor is proposing would be difficult to administer at best. How does the certification board verify that you have attained that level of certification? Further, who is to say that your development as a designer does not exceed what this time table allows for. In the end it seems like a system which favors seniority and not quality. Not to metions is it misleading to the client that the creative director might be a level 5 but the production staff and designers who work on the task are a level 1 or 2?

Also sometimes new entrants into the design field are best able to meet the challenges of a changing market place. Many interactive designers came from various professions other than design. They were architects, marketers, artists, members of bands, etc. Should we have started them out at a level 1 although at the time they were best equipt to respond to the demand for websites. This is not to say that there were not some entrants who were not qualified but like many unqualified designers they did not stand the test of time. Poor designers for the all types of media eventually are weeded out. How many bad jobs can you do before it is impossible to get another job? If we do our job of educating the client and providing a valuable service they will likely return and refer us to their friends.

On Jun.14.2005 at 09:35 AM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

If this certification thing does fly, can we do something cool like have colorful belts we all wear? So a student has to wear a yellow belt. Entry level dudes get a green belt. But, maybe like, I could have a black belt with some fancy embellishments. I could be like a 3rd degree black belt or something?

On Jun.14.2005 at 09:42 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>can we do something cool

Or like the movie Logan's Run — when you've made the top certification, a little dot in the palm of your hands starts blinking, and you have to go to this Cirque du Soleil style auditorium where you get shot and terminated to make room for newbies.

Unless you run, of course.

....

But seriously, with all due respect to gregor — cause he deserves it for being only the 3rd poster to have offered up a methodology — I have some thoughts.

I think that the most practical certification system is one that is externally-focused, not internally-focused. In other words, its relevance to clients and the work you do for them is what matters most. That's why I structured my system around larger constructs of client specializations, industry codes, etc. Gunnar did a similar thing.

There already exists internal systems for a designer's pecking order in most firms. For clients though, I'm not certain that a certification designation would be viewed any differently than a job title.

Certification should have a macro, client-centric view, in my opinion.

On Jun.14.2005 at 10:09 AM
gregor’s comment is:

MIke:

seniority, yes it's a consideration. quality should always be a given in hiring processes and I've included an increasing level of skills and knowledge in each level. or perhaps even better, a seniority based system will attain a standard of expected quality. who knows it's all speculation and hypothesis.

who would govern it? that's not part of the post's purpose, but let's just say a design association which is a non-profit with design professionals on it's board, much like existing associations but with it's primary function being design education and certification.

Also sometimes new entrants into the design field are best able to meet the challenges of a changing market place.

the changing marketplace -- it's a vague notion when it comes to matching designers with projects, but I'll run with the thought.

You'll note that I wrote not a spentence about school or degress. If a new entrant is qualified they should be able to pass through certification levle 1 easily and from there it's up to their Agency/firm/company/ what asssigments to give and at what pay within that levels standard scale.

I know exactly what you're referring to as I did not come to design through the career path, but after a decade of practicing fine art. But I paid my dues in design to do what I do now. My timelines may seem long or unreasonable but really are not out of character with most certifable professions that require high-level thinking combined with best practices in management.

not in direct relation to your comments, but in general, the design world needs to grow up, the kids need to pay their dues. Let's get a bit in sync with the rest of the world. glorified decals for snowboards continually winning awards make me puke blood (a statement on trends more than anything really).

but it's all hypothesis. Please do dream up one you think could be an assset.

On Jun.14.2005 at 10:18 AM
gregor’s comment is:

Certification should have a macro, client-centric view, in my opinion

problem with current pecking orders is they are vague, subjective and change with a day's (or leaderships) notice.

in a balanced methodology, you'll run into less ambiguity and perhaps more design responsibility.

oops, sorry Tan, don't want to get you rolling on social responsibility again.

On Jun.14.2005 at 10:25 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

My apologies to interactive/web designers for my print-centric view here.

No need to apologize, but you bring up the point that Graphic Design is just incredibly broad as an industry.

Your example, though, seems to equate pretty much with trade unions. That's an interesting model. The problem is that we'd just have too many graphic design scabs making the union pretty weak. ;o)

I do like the belt idea. Or maybe we adopt a military standard-issue design uniform. All black jump suits and berets with the appropriate level insignia patches.

On Jun.14.2005 at 10:36 AM
gregor’s comment is:

Your example, though, seems to equate pretty much with trade unions.

Darrel, To a large degree yes the unionist viewpoint is there but also looking out as well. I suspect the inward could dramatically improve addresing client need: perhaps with added value as expertise is measurable and not hypothetical.

Scabs, yes indeed there will be and arecurrently (metaphorically) many. Publisher, iwork, P2P filesharing sure helps the unqualified get work -- but that has always been the case and always will be. I don't think it ('scabs') truely makes a significant impact on our ability to get clients or work we truely value.

I personally would like a pastel green belt - green is the new orange.

On Jun.14.2005 at 11:01 AM
Mike’s comment is:

Gregor

I agree with you about the industry growing up I feel that the we should move past the days of where a snowboard sticker receives more awards than a capabilities brochure,website, etc. which strategically fits our clients. However I have trouble seeing certification of any type as the way to get us there.

If a new entrant is qualified they should be able to pass through certification levle 1 easily and from there it's up to their Agency/firm/company/ what asssigments to give and at what pay within that levels standard scale.

Certification can be deceiving. Just because you are the level 5 in this certification system does not make you more qualified in certain instances than a competitor who is of a lower rank. This goes to specialization and this system has no way of truly making that clear to clients. I agree that this system needs to take place within an agency but it has no place in society at large.

I think that instead of complaining about the lack of certification we should be explaining to our clients and to the other members of our industry that we have to grow up and stop being the people who can make cool things on a computer and work toward being the people that can strategically convey our clients message to their target audience. I think that within the system that we currently have we need to start rewarding strategic thinking and not raw creativity. I think only then will we be truly respected by clients.

On Jun.14.2005 at 11:23 AM
gregor’s comment is:

Mike,

completely understand your points and am not necessarily in disagreement. This post is about hypothesizing a methodolgy as if certification and/or licensing is/will be a given, rather than a pro/con discussion.

As I stated, I'm committed to neither side - just working through the conceptualization process.

On Jun.14.2005 at 11:28 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I don't think it ('scabs') truely makes a significant impact on our ability to get clients or work we truely value.

Oh, now they don't. But if we were to unionize, then things might change. There's definitely two camps out there in most trades...either you are a union shop or you aren't. ;o)

The big benefit for us, of course, is no more all-nighters. Most unions are pretty strict on the 9-5 thing. ;o)

On Jun.14.2005 at 11:38 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

God. I wish I'd followed this string earlier on. Certification. When (and if) that time comes---which I doubt it ever will---what happens to schools or institutions that do not have the resources to adhere to those educational guidelines? School A has a certified program and can move you in the proper direction to become a certified designer (why do I laugh at that phrase). School B does not have the money, but will cut its Fibers and Printmaking program to make the changes required to build the curriculum, install a G5 Lab, and include all the latest software. Lastly, School C, a meager City College, cannot garner the extra funds and will be forever trapped in limbo---preparing students for the world of desktop publishing and pre-press.

Barringer used to be a frickin' lawyer. Carson was a surfer and sociology major before becoming a design hero. Did Rand have to go to grad school to get certified? Star-studded designers aside, who does certification serve? Us (the designers who are a little insecure) or them (those who want to design instead of practice ‘x’ trade) or the greater good (the customers who use, see, and experience designed artifacts)?

On Jun.14.2005 at 12:06 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>hat happens to schools or institutions

Actually, Jason — most schools offering design already have a certification program, but it's referred to as accreditation. It doesn't guarantee a job after you graduate, but it does show an attempt at parity as well as accountability.

On Jun.14.2005 at 12:19 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Thanks for the first good laugh of the morning, Tan. i think i've got one of those little blinky things on my hand right now: that's why i hide out here on this island.

It's funny how with these various proposals I slot myself into some level. On the one hand it's alarming, realizing the gaps in my knowledge, but on the other hand it's a good wake-up call, realizing there are significant gaps, and it seems totally fair that I should earn the chops before attaining the next level.

However, while the hierarchical approach seem sensible on some level, it is also the one that most provokes a "yes, but ..." response in me. It's easy to categorize experience, but so much of design requires leaps of imagination and that can come from anyone. It would be a tragedy to hold the right person back from creative decision-making just becasue they hadn't yet been ground down by the system.

On Jun.14.2005 at 01:04 PM
gregor’s comment is:

It's funny how with these various proposals I slot myself into some level.

Interesting point marian, with my proposal I've knocked myself down a level or two. Interesting what that says about ambiguity within the current state of affairs.....

On Jun.14.2005 at 01:17 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

It would be a tragedy to hold the right person back from creative decision-making just because they hadn't yet been ground down by the system.

But if I'm hearing correctly, Marian, a tiered system wouldn't have to prohibit a talented individual from creative decision-making. A talented individual with less experience could still have an active role on a team. However, a tiered system may prevent them from managing a complex, strategically focused project that involves a more complete understanding of, say, FDA or SEC requirments. (A similar set-up already exists in the engineering world.)

On Jun.14.2005 at 01:36 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I knew better. When I started this thread I shouldn’t have raised the specter of licensing. Talking about licensing confuses discussions of certification. So now I’m asking about unionization?

But if we were to unionize, then things might change. . . no more all-nighters.

I think I’m becoming humor-impaired. Soon I’ll need people to text message me smileys during phone conversations so I’ll know that they’re joking. Is the union thing serious? What would you hope a union would do? Tan and Armin could join the union. They are employees. Many of us couldn’t since we’re not.

On Jun.14.2005 at 01:54 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Gunnar, for clarification on my end unionist viewpoint is simply a balanced view of designer benefits, benefits to the professionand client & employer benefits to certifications. No call for unionization, which is not where I'm headed in my post.

I think my posted methodology simply examines the issue from a somewhat different angle than Tan's and your's, while not excluding either of your angles.

While a wonderful profession, we're also a professsion filled with anxiety, fear and angst. Talk of certification seems to hit on the angst and fear level while it necessarily shouldn't.

On Jun.14.2005 at 03:16 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Just one more observation regarding certification/licensing. (Sorry, Gunnar, this isn’t addressing your question.) I’ve worked in-house for both a healthcare system, and an engineering/professional services firm. Both are awash in levels of certification and licensing. I have no rose-colored glasses on when it comes to viewing the potential benefits from these titles/qualifications. For instance, for all the licenses and certifications present within the nursing profession, many nurses still exhibit a huge self-esteem issue in comparison to the medical field. And while there are levels of certification and licensing present in the engineering field, it has not prevented some of their services from nearly becoming commodities. Nevertheless, I’m still intrigued by the possible benefits of collectively going through the process of defining the unique skill sets and unique value that would lead to certification in graphic design.

It’s like one unbelievably huge identity project. Sometimes the process of internal alignment is nearly as important as the end product.

On Jun.14.2005 at 03:55 PM
Kris’s comment is:

Reading all of these comments is really depressing.

Interesting supposition. It scared the bejesus out of me in college when it was first mentioned (thanks Ellen), and its got me more than angered and dismayed now.

Much of this certification business will be a mute point in the hopefully near future. The Design Management Masters programs available to designers is sweeping colleges. And is something that does exactly what Ellen was hoping would happen with certification. It does all the training and education that CPA's and MBA's get. They're facinating programs. And I'd suggest that the lot of you look into it.

Some of you have mentioned the various certified professions out there. There are some non-certified professions out there that are going the next step to get certified. EG: Marketing professionals. In some states and cities the governments are proposing certification for certain groups. EG: Dog walkers.

In the case of Marketing professionals. The national organization (SMPS) offering the certification ($600 per year) is making a ton of money off of those qualifications. For some of the people getting the quals its necessary or so they say. As their clients want to know they know the industry in which they work. For others like those in NYC its completely bogus and unnecessary. And many of their clients use the persons earned quals as the last word.

---

As for this posting, I think you're creating a conversation that doesn't need to happen. Our clients use our resumes and work samples as their guide to hiring us. If they can't do their research then that's just too bad for them.

For contracts going out to the lowest bidder, well that doesn't change with certification. At my firm (healthcare architects that work with gov agencies) we routinely loose out to the low end bidder even though we're beyond qualified and those low end bidders haven't the 1/8th of our knowledge.

On Jun.14.2005 at 06:02 PM
John’s comment is:

Reading these comments has been great, it is a very interesting debate. I'd be curious to find out if other Design professionals that do have certifications((architects, etc) are debating the elimination of certifications.

I also wanted to re-iterate Gunnar's comment:

In the end, I think the reduction of confusion on the part of buyers about their needs or about designers’ capabilities may be the most compelling argument for certification.

This is a great statement. Certification should not be so much about us, it should be about preserving our profession. It shoud be about organizing ourselves and providing tools to buyers that will help them learn about the value of a graphic designer.

Thanks for the interesting topic and great discussion.

On Jun.15.2005 at 03:10 AM
Kim’s comment is:

Interesting topic. As someone who is a successful, self-taught designer, I have an instinctive distrust of any certification exam that might require one to have attended design school or have an BFA. And I would worry that licensing would become just another way for the state and the licensing organization to make money off people who don't have any choice about it.

If you look at other professionals, certification or licensing is a way of protecting the consumer and creating a certain exclusivity to the profession. As someone pointed out earlier, I don't see clients crying out for protection from bad or poorly trained designers. Likewise, from a creative point of view, I don't think the design community will benefit from excluding people. If you want an example, the AIGA already excludes plenty of folks simply on the basis of their high membership fee and their intellectual, fortune-500 approach to design issues (my personal opinion, obviously). It's a gated community for like-minded people who want to network, not a celebration of diversity.

It seems to me that there's room for lots of tiers of designers in this country. Not every client can afford to pay $25,000 for a logo design, or whatever it is the big firms charge.

As far as helping clients evaluate designers, I don't think that helps in other professions. Look how many doctors with licenses have malpractice suits against them. And how many lackadaisical electricians are "licensed and bonded." What really counts is references. What a design license might tell you is who's going to be expensive to hire.

On Jun.15.2005 at 11:39 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

There are some non-certified professions out there that are going the next step to get certified. EG: Marketing professionals.

Ewww...right there is a reason to NOT consider licensing. ;o)

On Jun.15.2005 at 12:06 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Why do people claim that certification would be of no interest to anyone and that it would force them to participate? Aren’t those mutually exclusive? Couldn’t a useful certification program be something that many people would choose not to participate in (as opposed to being “frozen out” or disallowed)?

Why do so many people assume that graphic designer certification would mainly certify that people had graduated from college with degrees in graphic design? After all, people already have certification that they graduated. That’s what a diploma is.

I’m a bit confused by Jason’s stance. I want bad graphic design programs to improve drastically or die. There are way too many bad graphic design programs around. This has more to do with school and program accreditation than with individual designer certification, I would think. I did make a not-completely-dissimilar argument in my old Print article. I made the assumption (based partly on the way people were trying to sell the idea of certification) that the process would try to be objective thus:

“Even if there is a required year or two or three between school and certification, certification rates of schools’ graduates will become a measure of success. Many schools will succumb to the temptation to teach to the test. Since the test will be objective and objective testing favors production skills, printing knowledge, and legal facts, curricula will also tilt that direction. Since technology is rapidly changing production, printing, and the law, schools with certification-adjusted curricula will be increasingly short-term training rather than lasting education and we will have dealt another blow to our already troubled system of design education.”

It strikes me that the rebuttal to what I wrote is to say that this is just one more reason that graphic designer certification should not certify specific technical skills and should not look too much like production manager certification. I didn’t argue well against certification; I argued against certain assumptions about certification.

Jason’s Barringer and Carson argument seems to be against college degrees rather than against some other form of certification. If I were the Grand Design Dictator setting up a certification program that I thought would be useful, I doubt David would be certified. I also can’t think of why he’d want to be. What he does that’s of value is easy to see. There’s no need for certification of it. For certification to be of any worth it would need to describe something not already apparent to those the certification would be for. Here I’m making a distinction between who graphic design certification would be for (purchasers of graphic design services, for instance) and who the certification would be of (some subset of graphic designers.)

(Even when I used to vehemently oppose the notion of graphic designer certification I was for certification of those who teach graphic design, BTW.)

I find both Gregor’s and Tan’s suggestions interesting. I’m a bit wary of trying to standardize ranks and titles but some sort of progressive levels of certification have the disadvantage of extra complexity but the advantage of engaging more people in an overall process.

In my old Print article I made a reference to specialties certifications possibly being like Boy Scout merit badges. I wonder if incremental progress might include acquiring specialty ratings (a bit like a school curriculum including electives.)

Finally, if I was unkind to Ellen all those years back, I apologize. I expected at the time that the conversation would develop and that Ellen or somebody would take aim at me. I’ve never figured out why the idea of certification has so much appeal but thinking about what the idea really is seems to have so little appeal.

On Jun.15.2005 at 12:45 PM
Jane ’s comment is:

_experience vs an institutionalized degree?

First off, we are not in the same league as doctors and lawyers - bad analogy. We are designers ... artists using technology as a medium.

Ive seen both sides of the fence, my friends! Ive worked for clients/studios who appreciated my work and paid me well for it. Ive also been in a corporate situatin where there was a cap on my salary for not holding a degree in my field - even with 10 solid years of design experience - no excuses - no matter how many years I stayed employed there.

_most view a certification like a 'bonus' anyway. The difference between a degree and a certificate, is the difference between having an interest, and really meaning it. Just about every art school offers a credited degree in design now. If your looking for a career in this field and have the time to dedicate, I say, go for it! _many companies are willing to help you pay for school as well. (that is, if you mean it)

A union? Id hate to see this industry restrict itself that way ... If anything, we need to raise the standard, together, as individuals! Nothing gets me up on my soap box faster than seeing an ad in the paper for an art director who's responsible for a team of web/print designers using Pagemaker, FrontPage and Word, at a salary of 30K! They should be damn ashamed of themselves for putting that out there - equally shamefull is the designer who takes that job!!

In summary

I dont disagree with the idea of having to become licensed or certified in this field ... why would I argue with the thought of bettering myself?

On Jun.15.2005 at 01:28 PM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

A former client (who is herself out of work) just sent me a link to this url

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/0,,SB111870014925158458-Idjf4Nklah4n5ynaH6HaqmJm4,00.html

an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled, "Firm Offers Designer Talent for Logos at Bargain Prices."

Does anybody, even those like Tan with the most carefully considered plans, realistically believe that certification would do one iota of good in this business environment?

On Jun.15.2005 at 02:00 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Does anybody. . . realistically believe that certification would do one iota of good in this business environment?

Ellen—This is why I can’t buy into the notion that certification will “put things right” and make us all appreciated. No design or designer will be or should be appreciated universally. The truth is that different designers and different designs should be appreciated by different people. For certification to have any value it:

1) cannot be drawn too broadly. If most graphic designers are certified without making changes or learning more, then nothing has been accomplished.

2) needs to address specific value to a specific audience. I suggested (based on your old CA article) that it would be about the ability to deal independently with a client.

One of the ways I was, perhaps, unkind in my old Print piece was in the way I took on the assumption that certification would get rid of them (whoever that is.) There’s no way certification could get the uncertified/uncertifiable to go away and take up selling Amway instead. It might, however, allow some important features that are not obvious become more dominant.

Marian’s response was a great argument for the multi-tiered approach: “On the one hand it's alarming, realizing the gaps in my knowledge, but on the other hand it's a good wake-up call, realizing there are significant gaps, and it seems totally fair that I should earn the chops before attaining the next level.” It’s nice to see that reaction. It seems like many people’s immediate assumptions are that certification would absolutely eliminate them (for unfair reasons) or that certification would be easy for them and anyone they approve of but eliminate the riff raff.

On Jun.15.2005 at 02:44 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Ellen:

Certification will not help one bit regarding this scenario which is quite prevalent and will likely be even so more as we move forward, given the amount of graduates being syphoned through the design school system annually, on top of self-taught designers.

It's also notable that the last statistics I have heard, which are some moths old, indicate 60 plus percent of all Graphic Designers, reporting that as their job title on their tax forms, are freelance designers. In that there is an equally disproportionate amount of women as freelancers over the number of men. Then a step further, out of that, those who are able to make a living w/o supplemental income or outside finacial support (spouse, family, a bred-n-butter job, etc) likely cuts that down to a very small percent of graphic designers who make a living wage.

The bargain basement prices offered by individuals or firms is a sidebar discussion to certification, but relevant.

On Jun.15.2005 at 02:51 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Gunnar, you post some good questions. The reason certification brings up assumptions of education is that there really isn't any other tangible way to certify a designer. Looking through the list, the only tangible ways to certify this type of profession would be:

- education/degree

- years working

- legal test (FDA regulations...others?)

- technical prowess (like Adobe Certification)

But none of those really indicate whether a designer is good or not...or even qualified. So, then, what does certification bring to the table?

From what I can tell, only an internal system of heirarchies for staff. Which goes back to the union model.

For certification to be of any worth it would need to describe something not already apparent to those the certification would be for.

And that is the key question. Have we established--even hypothetically--*if* there is even anything to describe that isn't already apparent that COULD be judged objectively?

Jane points out the issue of internal corporate glass ceilings based on certificates. Really, the main reason for things like IT certification is just that. It's stuff to add to the resume to increase your salary options at large firms that put this arbitrary assumption on the fact that certifications must mean broader skill set. But that really is more of the merit-badge concept Gunnar brings up. That's not industry certification as much as just receiving a certificate that you learned something/took a class.

On Jun.15.2005 at 04:00 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Does anybody. . . realistically believe that certification would do one iota of good in this business environment?

In the short term, no, of course not. But optimistically, it would be a start.

I still believe in the benefits of certification. But the biggest problem is that there is such a huge opposition from designers threatened by unfounded fears and assumptions. And as a profession, if we can't even agree on some basic definitions of what makes us designers — then how can we honestly expect other businesses to take us seriously?

Quite simply, our lack of solidarity is a sign of immaturity as a profession.

Our best solution is that we each are left to fight our own battles to educate our clients one by one. Cause we obviously can't and won't do it as a group.

I'm sorry, but I don't find anything positive about that. I think it's defeatist and rather sad.

>there really isn't any other tangible way to certify a designer

Have you been reading any of the posts, Darrel? It's not about education — as in academic institutions — it's about what you know and what you're capable of as a professional. Are you really that threatened and offended by this? I mean honestly.

....

A few years back, I remember how much of an accomplishment it was for AIGA to finally convince the federal government and IRS to officially recognize "Graphic Design" as a legitimate profession. Before that, designers were classified as either commercial artists, illustrators, or photographers. It absolutely astounded me that graphic design was so unknown and undervalued by the rest of the working world.

I see certfication as just the next logical step, with tangible business reasons to justify its existence. Emotionally-based, irrational arguments like "I wouldn't qualify, so that's unfair" or "It's just a scam to make someone more money" or "I don't want my work to be judged by other people" are just not valid reasons against certification.

On Jun.15.2005 at 05:52 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Darrel: Not to point specifically to you, it's just that your comment was the 1st to easily cut-n-paste :)

But none of those really indicate whether a designer is good or not

I wasn't going to post as I'm swamped in deadlines, but I have to address this one assumption since it has been fairly consistent throughout the thread.

If a CD or AD in charge of hiring has the fundamental skills for their level, certification is simply part of the hiring process and talent will be, as it always has been, an element in that hiring process. If a designer posseses a knowlege base to be certifiable, but is essentially talentless, they'll be serving us our next low fat, extra whip, skinny, double mocha, grande whatever.

Certification doesn't necessarily address creative capabilities or need to, but it does address tangible knowledge methodologies to execute creative work.

Additionally certification doesn't imply an easier ride up (or down) the ladder as it's just a certification -- you still have to (1) apply for a position that's open and (2) be judged on your creative capabilities.

On Jun.15.2005 at 09:18 PM
Eric Benson’s comment is:

I was just about to post that WSJ article... but I see someone already has.. but I'll post it anyway so I feel like I accomplished something today.

LogoWorks Article

Anyway what is occuring here with LogoWorks is paramount in this discussion of licensing. The majority of the people that are contracted with LogoWorks are entry level designers and people that need a side income as evident by the last paragraph's success story of Heater Frandsen who "averages about 10 new projects a week. Last year, Ms. Frandsen says she took in $35,000 in supplemental income and earned most of it from her Flower Mound, Texas home." This means she could do an average of 520 projects (at an average of 10/week) a year to make the pitiful amount of $35K. That is around $67 per logo! And not even a living wage!! I charge anywhere from $50-$100 an hour for my work and I'll be damned if I get a successful and approved logo in an hour (which is what I'd spend if I was only getting $67 an hour).

This example of exploitation in our industry could be yet another squirt of lighter fluid on the flame of certifying designers. I have my hesitations about it, but for LogoWorks to continue in this fashion (and they probably will now much in thanks to the Wall Street Journal) the profession could be pillaged. LogoWorks caters to smaller companies at the moment, where the mom and pop cookie shops etc. are more concerned with getting something "good" for less. This is the perfect opportunity for them to do this, with also a terrible introduction to the design industry and what it does. Once they taste the cheap design, and love it, they may never give the rest of us a chance. Basically undercutting the market.

Young designers, either in school, just out of school, or self-taught who are fighting to build their portfolios often jump at small projects like on LogoWorks or on eLance etc. Realizing they might only get $30 for 8 hours of work on logo concepts doesn't matter because it just adds to their commercial section of their book. But the latter consequences are more severe. They may face tough times trying to charge people $40 an hour for something they used to do for only $40.

The idea of certifying designers might correct this problem. Customers could avoid exploitative companies like eLance and LogoWorks (who don't have accredited designers) and go through the certifying organization to contact reputable designers. This way fair wages and quality work could be more certain. However, there will always be the constant "dumb client" problem, which isn't on topic for this post...

On Jun.15.2005 at 10:56 PM
poster-child’s comment is:

So certification is "really about" educating our clients and reinforcing the understanding of what design can do. OK, fine.

But between the WSJ article's part-timers and those who can case-study-justify their big budgets stretches a formidable gap.

What kind of certification will bridge this gap?

Maybe this is a functional separation caused by two factors: one based on ignorance (subject to remedy by certification) and based on the need for mediocre or poor work that meets the minimal, cheapest requirements of clients? What is the profit or cultural value from good design for clients with lesser budgets? (If you know the answer, then you have a business...)

Certification ought to be informed by an understandable, nay proveable, model of the value of design.

On Jun.15.2005 at 11:15 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Quite simply, our lack of solidarity is a sign of immaturity as a profession.

I don't see solidarity as being a sign of immaturity. It's a sign of a bunch of opinionated, creative folks with highly varied viewpoints on things.

I still believe in the benefits of certification.

I'm still trying to figure out what those are. ;o)

it's about what you know and what you're capable of as a professional. Are you really that threatened and offended by this?

Yes, Tan. I have read the posts (well, most of them...we are over 100 now...). And I haven't seen any viable tangible, OBJECTIVE ways to certify folks in this particular industry other than a few very niche little areas (FDA regulations, for instance). I'm certainly not threatened or offended by any of this. I'm confused as there is a complete lack of viable arguments on the 'pro' side.

I see certfication as just the next logical step, with tangible business reasons to justify its existence.

Oh. Great! What are those tangible business reasons?

Certification doesn't necessarily address creative capabilities or need to, but it does address tangible knowledge methodologies to execute creative work.

Maybe I have missed these mentioned...but waht ARE these tangible methodologies?

This example of exploitation in our industry

Now we're going back to the Union concept... ;o)

The idea of certifying designers might correct this problem.

I don't see how. I suppose congress could pass a law saying only certified graphic designers can practice graphic design, but then we're back at the point where we have a very broad industry with very blurred boundaries and I really wouldn't want congress defining what we do.

If you take the union model, that works. About half the time. You still have the Wal-Marts of the world that mess up that concept.

On Jun.16.2005 at 10:10 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>I'm confused as there is a complete lack of viable arguments on the 'pro' side.

There's a lack of arguments because Gunnar asked us up front to go along with his hypothetical setup — disregarding the pros and cons of certification altogether. He asked simply for methodologies.

And as I responded — I predicted that most posters, like you, would not be able to let that go and see past the same tired arguments to actually formulate solutions.

It seems that my prediction was right on the money.

On Jun.16.2005 at 12:12 PM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

I've been a Registered Graphic Designer since it was established in 1996

http://www.rgdontario.com/aboutus/rgdontario.php

It's been a great success.

On Jun.16.2005 at 12:58 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

And I haven't seen any viable tangible, OBJECTIVE ways to certify folks in this particular industry

Darrel—Your comment seems to have several imbedded assumptions that I’d be interested in having you elaborate on.

The first is the (all UC) insistence on objectivity. Why is an objective standard important to you? What do you mean by “objective”? Agreed upon by all? Measurable without human interpretation? Able to be explained in a short paragraph?

The second is that we know what certification “in this particular industry” would certify. I can name objective measures of all sorts of things related to graphic design. I don’t know whether any are relevant to your idea of what would “certify folks in this particular industry.”

The third is that we have a “particular industry.” I doubt that. Since calls for certification are a response to a wide (maybe even bizarre and random) range of people who call themselves graphic designers, the idea that anything—certification, organizations, etc.—would represent the goals, aspirations, preferences, and interests of all of these various “graphic designers” seems counterintuitive. Maybe part of the industry or some of those who deal with it could benefit from certification even while other parts might not.

Maybe I’m just slower than everyone else but I have no idea what it is that you have so neatly rejected. Perhaps a description can be reached if you abandon your assumptions about an end result and start with what the goal would be: What do you think certification should certify (even if you think it is impossible to do so)?

I've been a Registered Graphic Designer since it was established in 1996

http://www.rgdontario.com/aboutus/rgdontario.php

It's been a great success.

Nick—Care to elaborate? A great success at what?

On Jun.16.2005 at 02:22 PM
Mike’s comment is:

What is the likelyhood that things will get better if we install a certification program? Who is to say that the same clients who are using LogoWorks or are paying hacks or desperate designers pennies will care if their designer is certified.

Not to mention that this goes back to the initial problem of designers needing to communicate the power of strategic design to their clients. This is something that we as an industry are currently not doing well. What makes you think that we will do that much better a convincing our clients of the importance of certification.

I believe that I also have not seen any objective solutions. I think that what we are looking for is avoiding our responsibilities as designers to explain to our clients the advantages of our services and instead are looking toward a document or an institution to do the tough work for us. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above I think that that will not be enough to convince our clients who lack a true understanding of what we do.

On Jun.16.2005 at 04:21 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Mike—

this goes back to the initial problem of designers needing to communicate the power of strategic design to their clients. This is something that we as an industry are currently not doing well. What makes you think that we will do that much better a convincing our clients of the importance of certification.

It seems to me that there is little evidence that most graphic designers have a clue as to the meaning of the phrase “strategic design” and the way people have addressed this thread strikes me as evidence that many do not. At their best, most graphic designers manage to be tactical but many don’t even get that far.

I believe that I also have not seen any objective solutions.

What, specifically, do you expect to see an objective, subjective, or any other sort of solution for? Do you provide solutions to your clients before anyone has figured out what the goals are?

I think that what we are looking for is avoiding our responsibilities as designers to explain to our clients the advantages of our services and instead are looking toward a document or an institution to do the tough work for us. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above I think that that will not be enough to convince our clients who lack a true understanding of what we do.

I suspect that they do have a true understanding of what most of us do; it’s the graphic designers who are dazzled by our pretenses of being strategic partners.

It is interesting that (unless I have lost track of somebody) everybody other than Ellen who has made substantive suggestions about plausible frameworks for certification have professed themselves to be agnostic about the idea. For the most part the opponents have not displayed their strategic thinking in their posts and the proponents have, for the most part, been absent from this discussion. What does that mean?

On Jun.16.2005 at 07:31 PM
John’s comment is:

...and the proponents have, for the most part, been absent from this discussion. What does that mean?

Gunnar: your initial request on this post was that we don't debate the legitimacy of certifications. That would probably explain why the proponents have "appeared" to be absent from the conversation.

Personally, after this post has run it's course, I'd like to see some new posts debating the specifics of individual proposals for certification. For myself, I don't think it will be a matter of whether or not I'm in favor of certification in general. It will be whether or not I'm in favor of a specific proposal for certification.

If being certified helps me as a professional, I'm all for it.

On Jun.16.2005 at 10:37 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

John—

your initial request on this post was that we don't debate the legitimacy of certifications. That would probably explain why the proponents have "appeared" to be absent from the conversation.

Some people stated they were agnostic on the subject but made concrete proposals. Some ignored (or derided) my request and stated their opposition. There were very few other posts so I deduced the relative absence of certification proponents. At least one post did make a broad affirmation of the RGD system but I think everyone who made real suggestions were not what you would call certification boosters. Since a lot of people call for certification and/or licensing on a fairly regular basis, I’m surprised that they don’t suggest at least the vague outline of a plan they’d want. I guess I was naīve in assuming that they were actually in favor of something so that they could say what it is they want. Maybe it’s just generalized kvetching that I’ve taken too seriously.

I'd like to see some new posts debating the specifics of individual proposals for certification.

I’m a bit surprised that people have come out against certification in general but not made specific objections to our suggestions. I would have thought that my comments on a strategy-oriented rating would have at least gotten a “that’s not design, that’s business (the enemy of all that is Art and Good.)”

On Jun.16.2005 at 11:51 PM
marian’s comment is:

everybody other than Ellen who has made substantive suggestions about plausible frameworks for certification have professed themselves to be agnostic about the idea.

OK, I'll get off the fence for a bit. I know you didn't want to go down this road, Gunnar, but it's happening anyway.

I tried to get Matt Warburton (who is committed and very knowledgable in this subject) to join in, but he's either busy and/or sick to fucking death of this topic, which rages endlessly in Canada.

Let me ask you all this:

there seems to a certain amount of support for "educating the public about the benefits of hiring graphic designers."

Who pays for it? If, say, the AIGA said "we're going to do a massive campaign relentlessly promoting the profession" would you all cough up ... $600? $300? per year in extra dues for them to do it?

Let's say you would.

Next question: What is it exactly that the AIGA would be promoting? All graphic designers? How would that help? Wouldn't you want them to make some kind of differentiation between students doing their first business cards, logo hacks and you? How would they do that?

This is what certification brings. It sets a standard. It says "these people have met our standard" and then it uses the dues paid to the organization to promote that certification. (So don't give me this "they're taking my money for nothing" crap.)

What that means—what that tells the public is that there's more to design than they might think there is; that there is a collective body of professionals with standards (as opposed to no collective body, and just a bunch of people doing stuff on the computer like their nephew does). That alone would be a real eye opener to many, many people.

I was very surprised recently to learn that Chartered Accountants in Canada are not a licensed body. It's an organization who has set a standard and promoted it so well in the community that I (and everyone else I know) thought that you had to be a Certified Chartered Accountant in order to prepare tax forms for a fee.

Now how come a bunch of Accountants can manage a marketing initiative that we cannot?

Maybe it’s just generalized kvetching that I’ve taken too seriously

I think in many ways it is. This is what I just don't understand. I remember now that it was in the USPS post that I got all riled up last time. On the one hand everyone's all "this is great, teach the non-designers how to make their own marketing material" and on the other hand they're whining that they're being undercut, underappreciated and that no-one understands that what they do is so vastly superior to Joe Dickhead who just learned Quark in a 1-month course.

What do you believe?

I believe that anyone can make a sale sign for their store or a pamphlet or company report, and it'll get the job done and no-one cares and it doesn't matter. Further, I believe that template software will get increasingly better, so that complete idiots can churn out pretty good looking material. AND i don't care.

But I also believe that there's a huge difference between that and "strategic design" and that that is worth promoting to the public. I also believe that you can set standards and have them met.

As I've said before, there will still be good designers and bad designers, as here are good doctors and bad doctors; but at least there would be a simple, identifiable difference between strategists and hacks.

I am not 100% in favour of certification, but I'm not afraid of it either. I already am certified by the GDC, now all i have to do is get certified by Tan, and that's going to be the hard part.

On Jun.17.2005 at 02:25 AM
John’s comment is:

Maybe it’s just generalized kvetching that I’ve taken too seriously.

From my own experience (and you quoted my kvetching to start your article), I think it’s more than that. I think that allot of graphic designers don’t have a clear career path. I’ve personally struggled with it, wondering every time the new AIGA salary survey comes out and has “graphic designer” at the bottom of the list. Lots of “creative directors” and even “art directors” that I have met do not design. They don’t even have a design background. It doesn’t seem to me that industry job titles alone or a BFA provide enough distinction for the designer who wants to do design their whole life.

Certification- in the various forms that have been proposed on this article, seems to be a nice thing and is not a complete solution, but it certainly could help. I like the strategy-oriented idea. I also like the idea of having certifications in different areas of design (print design, website design, etc) that deal with specific crafts and skill sets. A little test in design history and theory, why not? A required general knowledge of copyright law and of legal issues that a designer should know would only be a good thing. A general knowledge of methods for managing complex design projects required for a design management certification?, great!

What’s the harm for those that don’t want to be certified? They'll save a couple hundred bucks, and might benefit from it anyway. If the organization that promotes certification is doing it’s job and is helping to boost the benefits of design, all designers will benefit. If your portfolio is really slick, and you can argue the case against certification when potential clients ask you if you’re certified (and that could be done), then don’t worry about it.

I love what Marian just said:

what that tells the public is that there's more to design than they might think there is; that there is a collective body of professionals with standards (as opposed to no collective body, and just a bunch of people doing stuff on the computer like their nephew does). That alone would be a real eye opener to many, many people.

What is the process by which one might present a formal proposal and how would an endevor like this ever get the momentum to become more than just a "hypothetical" idea?

On Jun.17.2005 at 03:20 AM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

>Nick—Care to elaborate? A great success at what?

I'll take it as understood that a group of like-minded workers in the same field HAVE to organize -- a form of "corporatization" -- to better their individual lots through collective action. OK genius free-enterprisers, you can make it on your own.

I've been involved with various organizations over the years. The trick is to move from ad hoc volunteer enthusiasm to a sustainable mode. The professional model is best, with certification, and hefty fees funding permanent offices, staff and infrastructure, regular events, publications, mailings, support material, conferences, research, surveys, marketing, group-buying discounts, group plans, bureaucracy to interact with other bureaucracies in education, government, law, etc.

The RGD is a success because does all this, and has an increasing membership.

Given the conservative social trends in the US (health insurance gone with the Clintons, pension programmes and social security on the way out), would it not make sense for American designers to organize around a model of certification/registration, with the goal perhaps of creating a pension fund?

Like many of the creative arts, design is a profession that shoots itself in the foot -- the myth of creative genius combines with that of the self-made man to leave the majority of unsupported practitioners easy prey to economic exploitation.

On Jun.17.2005 at 07:11 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

I would have thought that my comments on a strategy-oriented rating would have at least gotten a “that’s not design, that’s business (the enemy of all that is Art and Good.)”

I'll bite.

In this scenario, then, strategic design is the gold standard? After all these years, I'm still baffled by strategeerizing. To me this has always meant endless meetings and talky talk and o v e r h e a d. I'd much rather be at the drawing board making something.

Or in the words of our best client who we consistently do our best work for (that's the Bierut model?): "That strategy shit gets expensive quick!" (She doesn't come to us for strategy. She comes to us for our willingness to walk through fire.)

So there has to be some certification of equal merit for the cannon fodder, for not all of us are striving for a life of business management.

On Jun.17.2005 at 08:39 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I'll have to say that like Warburton, I'm not on the fence, I'm just fucking tired of arguing about this topic over and over again. I haven't lost my convictions, only my patience.

But thanks to Marian, John, and Nick — thanks to your responses, I've regained some faith in my fellow designers on this issue. What you've said — I couldn't have said better myself.

So what about you, Gunnar? What is your ultimate purpose in creating this bloody thread in the first place? Where do you stand, and where do you think we can go from here — if anywhere?

>get certified by Tan

Are you kidding? I'm a pushover...and a poser, too. I think Maven's the quintessential authority around here.

On Jun.17.2005 at 09:51 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

And as I responded — I predicted that most posters, like you, would not be able to let that go and see past the same tired arguments to actually formulate solutions.

A solution to *what*?

Why is an objective standard important to you? What do you mean by “objective”? Agreed upon by all? Measurable without human interpretation? Able to be explained in a short paragraph?

Sure. That's be nice. Useful.

The second is that we know what certification “in this particular industry” would certify.

We do? Did I miss that somewhere in this discussion?

Maybe part of the industry or some of those who deal with it could benefit from certification even while other parts might not.

Possibly. I think a few of the valid 'pro' arguments would fall into that. Print production artists could be certified in photoshop, food packaging designers could be certified in FDA regulations. But, really, these are pretty inane things to certify.

What do you think certification should certify (even if you think it is impossible to do so)?

Didn't I answer that in my very first post?

In fantasy land, I suppose certification would certify that someone is a skilled, trustable, experienced professional in the field that the customer is hiring them to perform in. But that's hardly true of ANY industry, let alone a highly subjective, broad, overlapping industry like graphic design.

And I admit, I'm being a bit to practical to properly play the game. So, yea, I'm being no fun. ;o)

I agree with John. I'm not opposed to the idea of certification. I'd probably be opposed to specific certification proposals if they didn't contain any tangible and objective decision making criteria.

As for Nick's experience, well, he's talking about unionizing. Which is an interesting idea.

As for the 'strategic design' points being made...what kind of metric would one use to measure the 'stratigicness' or lack thereof of a solution?

I'm just fucking tired of arguing about this topic over and over again.

Yet we always seem to get 100+ comments on the topic. ;o)

On Jun.17.2005 at 10:27 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Steve—In this scenario, then, strategic design is the gold standard?

Yup. I have nothing against various modes of design practice. I just think we need to start being explicit and truthful.

There are plenty of clients who know what their strategy is and just want someone to act as an extension of their will. They very well might look at some certification initials and decide that this person would be more expensive and not concentrated enough on getting the task done as ordered. So be it.

There are some clients who know their strategy and know how to look for a designer whose style matches their intent. All those people need is to look at a portfolio. I can’t think why they’d care about certification.

There are plenty of people who want to hire a graphic designer who is, essentially, a production person with good aesthetic sense. They just need a portfolio and maybe some sort of software/technical rating.

Tan—So what about you, Gunnar? What is your ultimate purpose in creating this bloody thread in the first place? Where do you stand, and where do you think we can go from here — if anywhere?

As you know, my initial reaction to certification was negative. Over the years I’ve come to thinking it could be worthwhile if done right.

The “if done right” phrase is, of course, the big problem. That’s why I think a widespread program to certify most graphic designers is doomed. The politics of that can result in stuff like the fact that most of Ontario’s Registered Graphic Designers were grandfathered in so if the argument is “these people have taken an exam demonstrating that they know what they’re doing” then that won’t happen until the last of the first bunch retires in about half a century.

So my initial purpose for “creating this bloody thread in the first place” was to try to figure out if any of the licensing proponents were serious. I now assume not. And whether any of the certification proponents were serious. I see that some are. (I’ll leave unionization alone but I assume that people talking about that haven’t thought it through.)

But you asked about “ultimate purpose” rather than initial purpose. I’m for it as long as it advances graphic design rather than standardizing it. Which is not to say I’m against standards. So to be worthwhile it would need to:

1) test strategic understanding and reasoning, application of graphic design to real organizational goals

2) test knowledge and ability in specialty areas

3) demonstrate that the certified person had done high quality professional work while in charge of the project. (If needs be to satisfy this one, then to hell with “objective.”)

4) test the ability to perform graphic design functions (not software expertise but a working understanding of traditional type standards, grids, and other basic tools for functioning broadly as a graphic designer.)

5) test broad understanding of graphic design issues and procedures

I think your staged approach makes real sense. A satisfactory showing of #3, 4, and 5 might be the entry level for certification.

Darrel-As for the 'strategic design' points being made...what kind of metric would one use to measure the 'stratigicness' or lack thereof of a solution?

I’m not so arrogant that I’d claim I could formulate the tests off the top of my head but I’d say this probably falls into two categories. One is testing. Here’s a given situation and several design choices. Which make sense strategically, which don’t, and why? Here’s a given need. How would you go about developing a strategic plan as it related to visual communication? What media would be efficient for that plan? What are the visual essentials of the plan?

The second would be portfolio and portfolio defense. Showing work that was designed not just to communicate a particular thing (tactical level design—perhaps needed for the entry level of certification?) but as part of a sophisticated system of tactics, a system with real goals (i.e., strategic.) Then, of course, being able to articulately explain the strategy and why the particular choices were made.

On Jun.17.2005 at 11:40 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Gunnar: So my initial purpose for “creating this bloody thread in the first place” was to try to figure out if any of the licensing proponents were serious. I now assume not.

I think it would be an error to assume that proponents for certification are not serious b/c they haven't spoken up here. I'm for certification, there's been sound logic from a couple posters, what more can I add? If someone isn't for it, fine: you can't wake someone up that is pretending to sleep.

On Jun.17.2005 at 12:14 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Gunnar:

Your list is good, but I'm afraid I'd have a very hard time believing that any of that could be guaged in any objective, measurable way that would be of any real value for someone hiring a certified designer. It really only shows that they were able to pass the test.

You mention the portfolio, which in many ways, *is* a designer's certification. We show that. That is our list of credentials.

And while one can certainly critique a portfolio, I'd be hard press to find a standardized metric to guage them against that would apply to 'quality graphic design' in general.

there's been sound logic from a couple posters

Yes. But sound logic can easily be torn apart once one delves into the specifics. That's what we're missing in the conversation.

On Jun.17.2005 at 12:21 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

One more thought...certifying the process of design seems to only make sense in the realm of design employers wanting to hire designers that fit a certain work model.

In the end, it's the result that really matters to clients. Clients shouldn't be judging various design processes, but, rather, the results of said processes...which takes us back to the portfolio/sales pitch being the certification.

On Jun.17.2005 at 12:24 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I'd have a very hard time believing that any of that could be guaged in any objective, measurable way that would be of any real value for someone hiring a certified designer. It really only shows that they were able to pass the test.

Certainly some people are better at taking certain sorts of tests than others are but the whole “What I do is exceptional and nobody can tell” thing strikes me as a dumb dodge. (Not directed specifically at you, Darrel, but at the argument in general.)

And while one can certainly critique a portfolio, I'd be hard press to find a standardized metric to guage them against that would apply to 'quality graphic design' in general.

I’ve done a lot of portfolio reviews. Most portfolios fall pretty clearly into one of three piles: quality graphic design, showing potential but some real problems, and hopeless. But I would propose that the portfolio review would look for not only quality graphic design but quality graphic design that also demonstrated specific skills. I can come up with a list (although I don’t have time right now) but I’d be interested in others’ list (assuming someone agrees with me on that.)

One more thought...certifying the process of design seems to only make sense in the realm of design employers wanting to hire designers that fit a certain work model.

I believe that certification designed primarily to make it easier for design firms to hire designers would be worthless. It is mainly non-designers such as potential buyers of design services that this should address. (Schools hiring design teachers are another such audience but small enough to make it hard to imagine doing it just for them.)

In the end, it's the result that really matters to clients. Clients shouldn't be judging various design processes, but, rather, the results of said processes...which takes us back to the portfolio/sales pitch being the certification.

It would seem that certification should address things that can’t be shown in a portfolio/sales pitch and thing that most people wouldn’t recognize in a portfolio/sales pitch.

Also, certification should advance the way people think about graphic design and the role of graphic designers.

On Jun.17.2005 at 01:33 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

It would seem that certification should address things that can’t be shown in a portfolio/sales pitch

I'm trying to think of an industry where that'd be the case. I can't think of any comparisons.

Also, certification should advance the way people think about graphic design and the role of graphic designers.

That's a silly goal, IMHO. Certification wouldn't do that. If we're that insecure as an industry, we have other problems...

On Jun.17.2005 at 01:38 PM
gregor’s comment is:

When Gunnar posted this thread the issue of certification was, and still is to some degree, one that I felt uncommitted to. While that remains the case largely, the types of responses (or I should say the lack of responses) directly addressing to the core question Gunnar posed on this thread have started to throw me to the side of thinking that certification needs serious examination/consideration, if SU is any broad sampling of the thought processes of design practioners.

While I did propose a methodolgy, with many of my points intersecting with both Gunnar's and Tan's I by no means view myself as one of the industry heavy weight strategists who could fine tune and develop a working methodology.

Nonetheless, throughout the thread comments such as You mention the portfolio, which in many ways, *is* a designer's certification. We show that. That is our list of credentials... Hit it on the nail in many ways.

Portfolio's are misleading and easily give any designer the ability to appear better than they actually are. If you've ever needed to hire someone, you'd know that an elegantly designed portfolio, with adequate to very good work, references, and a degree often play out very differently in real world workflows -- especially when hiring someone at the entry to junior level. A lot of both conscious and naive misrepresentation of knowledge and skills in our field.

Portfolios show results, and not the ability to conceptually work through high-level proccesses on one end or even if a designer knows the difference between a process color or spot color on another end.

Aditionally, coming from the designer's perspective working through the Agency or corporate food chain, you'll also know that promotions and salary increases are subjective & inconsistent across agencies and lack any standardization. Your fate is based on personality as much as it is on performance.

Some posters seem to think that certification leads to rate increases and clients running to the dime store logo factories. I think not. It (certifiaction) gives tangible credential about a designer's knowledge of their expertise, giving prospective clients an additional piece of information -- while also giving the designer an asset in the bid process or contract negotiation. Additionally, agencies and corporate in-house teams can use that information when qualifying their team for a project, hiring, etc.

groovy design is one thing, being able to successfully work in complex processes is another. As a group, getting past groovy would be a huge leap.

however, if one is content with not getting certifications and making a career out of small business, one project at a time contracts and not developing significant or long term client relations, I'm sure there will still be room for that. Always has, always will: various shades of middle ground clients between dime store and high profile clients won't fade away due to certification.

certification is different from licensing and not confusing the two is crucial to the dialogue.

Throughout the course of the thread, it's interesting to find myself being pulled over to the proponent side.... But again, I'm just running a small shop and not an industry authority to develop a fine tuned methodology.

On Jun.17.2005 at 01:55 PM
gregor’s comment is:

It is mainly non-designers such as potential buyers of design services that this should address.

I'll argue/agree that primarily yes it should, but not exclusively.

On Jun.17.2005 at 02:14 PM
marian’s comment is:

As for Nick's experience, well, he's talking about unionizing

No, what he's talking about is a certification (Registered Graphic Designer) that is already in place and functioning in Ontario, Canada. It is not a union. It is based on the system developed by the GDC.

On Jun.17.2005 at 02:26 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Portfolio's are misleading and easily give any designer the ability to appear better than they actually are.

I should have expanded upon that. A person's/firms body of work is really what they are judged upon. That may be just a portfolio, but often includes case studies, word of mouth recommendations, the proposal, the sales pitch, etc.

groovy design is one thing, being able to successfully work in complex processes is another.

I agree, but fail to see how certification resolves that issue. I can't think of any other industry where that is true.

No, what he's talking about is a certification (Registered Graphic Designer) that is already in place and functioning in Ontario, Canada. It is not a union. It is based on the system developed by the GDC.

I don't know the fine details of it, but what Nick described does, indeed, fit the union model. I very well could be missing some finer points.

From Nick's description, I didn't see a tangible benefit outside of having a collective body to negotiate certain aspects of their profession as a unified body (collective bargaining).

On Jun.17.2005 at 03:10 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

There are various organizations that call themselves “union” but at least in the US the term is usually reserved for labor unions. The Graphic Artists Guild sometimes makes noise like it wants to be a union but it’s not. A labor union member has to be labor, i.e., an employee. Freelance designers could join a union if it only dealt with their relationships with hourly employers but not with clients who pay by the job. A large proportion of graphic designers run independent businesses. If we do union-like stuff—set prices (or even “suggest” prices), set business terms (including “no spec work” agreements), etc.— then that isn’t a union. It’s collusion and restraint of trade and is a violation of Federal anti-trust laws. (We wouldn’t want a car dealers’ “union” where they agreed to charge sticker price + 20% or a restaurateurs’ “union” where they agreed to charge for bread and cut out happy hours at the bar.)

We seem to have rejected the notion of licensing—the legal requirement for official recognition before conducting particular business—because we couldn’t define what would be proscribed for non-licensed people even if we thought we could develop the legislative juice to get licensing through.

That leaves us talking about certification. Since certification would be voluntary both on the part of those being certified and those buying design services or employing graphic designers, it comes down to establishing a brand. We would have to offer something worthwhile and convince others that certification is a worthwhile attribute to consider in choosing a graphic designer.

On Jun.17.2005 at 03:42 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Since certification would be voluntary both on the part of those being certified and those buying design services or employing graphic designers, it comes down to establishing a brand.

I agree, Gunnar. Like I said many posts ago, it's similar to one unbelievably huge identity project. In fact, I can't help but wonder if the issue needs to be framed that way, instead of arguing over whether or not we should/can be certified.

We should be able to all agree that there is confusion amongst potential customers about what our product/service is. There are discounters entering the market that are capturing the bottom of the market. Relevance, uniqueness, value, and meaningful differentiation needs to be defined and communicated effectively to secure the higher end of the market. Any system developed would need to allow for product/service expansion without diluting or confusing the core identity.

It sound like a problem that we're used to dealing with...only in slightly different terms.

Physicians, can we heal ourselves?

On Jun.17.2005 at 05:05 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Gunnar flipped through his 19th C. dictionary and wrote:

"The Graphic Artists Guild sometimes makes noise like it wants to be a union but it’s not. A labor union member has to be labor, i.e., an employee."

I invite you to read this press release, which announced The Graphic Artists Guild joining the United Auto Workers/AFL/CIO.

...and I quote:

"We’re delighted to welcome a new group of creative workers into our union," said UAW President Stephen P. Yokich. "As the world of work continues to change, we’re going to continue to reach out to people in different kinds of workplaces, who work in a wide variety of employment circumstances."
"No one quite knows for sure what the workplace of the future will look like," said Yokich. "But one thing is for sure, no matter what kind of work you do: It’s going to look better if you belong to a union."

My wife and partner, Karen Greenberg, used to be a member of The Guild. The fact that we received the monthly UAW magazine made my mother (ex- NY State public employee union official) quite proud.

On Jun.17.2005 at 05:23 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Mark—The GAG may be affiliated with the autoworkers but that doesn’t make them a union. (I assume one reason to affiliate was to take advantage of group insurance rates.) Assuming I’m wrong and they are a union then they cannot set any sort of standard for you or Karen or me since the two of you are, I believe, like me—an independent business. The general trend toward micro businesses (and not just in graphic design) does represent a real challenge for rethinking unions or whatever might replace them.

In the mean time, has the GAG ever held a vote to represent the graphic designers at any company? Is there anywhere that they could threaten a strike without getting laughed at? I support their stated goals but six years is a long time to “be” a union without doing anything union-like.

Now back on topic, I hope.

On Jun.17.2005 at 05:45 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Gunnar, the point of a union is collective cooperation. Saying that The Guild isn't a union because they can't threaten a strike is a bit of a logical fallacy. They do (did? i haven't heard much from them recently) engage in collective actions like representing artists in grievances, legal referrals, etc. — all everyday activities in a union.

A strike is a strategy, not a policy.

As for "setting" standards, they do. They have policies on issues like copyright, and they they publish the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (note that it includes the phrase "Ethical Guidelines").

...and I quote again:

"As the world of work continues to change, we’re going to continue to reach out to people in different kinds of workplaces, who work in a wide variety of employment circumstances."

re: staying on topic —

Hey, you brought it up!

On Jun.17.2005 at 06:30 PM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

For those who haven't checked out the RGD site:

Being a full RGD involves --

* graduate of 3 year diploma course

* 3 years work experience

* exam and portfolio review

(Except for those in at the begining, who were grandfathered)

The RGD exam covers a lot of ground -- business, ethics, history, production (web, print, environmental, etc.), design, and so on.

On Jun.17.2005 at 07:23 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Hey, you brought it up!

Mea culpa.

On Jun.17.2005 at 07:24 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

how do you define a graphic designer? what if they do illustration or photography as well. i think a lot of the most talented people out there have skills that go beyond just 'graphic' design... just a thought.

On Jun.17.2005 at 11:16 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

how do you define a graphic designer?

Easy. They'd have a certificate. ;o)

On Jun.21.2005 at 11:31 AM
gregor’s comment is:

how do you define a graphic designer?

Sound kinda like "what is art," but I don't think it's that hard of an answer, or that ambiguous.

what if they do illustration or photography as well. i think a lot of the most talented people out there have skills that go beyond just 'graphic' design... just a thought.

Then I'd say they have a couple of extra self-promo marketing skills.

But it still comes down to all those who insist on keeping this at the pro/con level to take it up a notch and propose a certification schema.

On Jun.21.2005 at 11:49 AM
pnk’s comment is:

I wouldn't mind continuing in the vein Gregor proposes (which, if I understand correctly, is also the same one Gunnar originally proposed!) , but the exceedingly long comments window we have going here is definitely not the best venue for it.

Anybody want to take this off Speak Up for a while, then return with a proposal at a later time? We already have two similar structures to examine (Tan's and Gunnar's), so we could easily start the discussions from there...

On Jun.21.2005 at 12:12 PM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

I would like to see Ed Gold weigh in. Author of "The Business of Graphic Design" (two editions) and head of the Masters in Communication Design program at the University of Baltimore, Ed has interviewed hundreds of designers for his books and articles. He was one of the original proponents of certification -- and what he said repeatedly was that no one knew or knows what they're talking about, present company included. There is a vague wish for respectability, a gnawing feeling that something is wrong and getting worse, and that we should do something about it -- but we are a bunch of blind people grasping at an elephant. Ed proposed writing a grant proposal for A STUDY, a study of the profession, its parameters, needs, desires, problems, possibilities, perceptions. A study that might result in a comprehensive, unbiased report describing what a realistic certification or accreditation program would signify, who might be able to administer it, what it could hope to accomplish. However, at the time, there was so much top-designer poo-pooing of the whole certification idea, including magazine-article parody test questions, etc. (and Ed knew that we all slavishly followed the dictates of the latest Michael), so he dropped the idea. After I press "post," I'll give Ed a call. Stay tuned.

On Jun.21.2005 at 03:54 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I think the 'what is a graphic designer?' is the key point here. It's a broad term. It'd be like suggesting that we certify 'business consultants' or 'life coaches' or 'humourists' or 'handy(wo)men'

They're not skills specific to an industry, merely skills that some folks prefer to focus on full-time. And the skills can be incredibly varied.

It seems that in many cases, people are arguing for certification so that they finally have a definition of what the industry is/does. But I'm finding that an impossible thing to ever find concensus on.

On Jun.21.2005 at 04:19 PM
gregor’s comment is:

what is a graphic designer?

is it really that much of a brain teaser?

I think the statement of perplexion is "what a graphic designer isn't"

seems like designer's are prone to think they're much more than they are.

But that's another thread. Back to topic: thanks Ellen: looking forward to comments by Ed.

On Jun.21.2005 at 04:34 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

is it really that much of a brain teaser?

Apparently so, as after 155 posts, we really haven't come to a concensus on what we'd define that as so that it could actually be certifiable.

On Jun.21.2005 at 05:20 PM
gregor’s comment is:

after 155 posts, we really haven't come to a concensus on what we'd define that as

+1 points as a case for certification

wouldn't ya' think?

On Jun.21.2005 at 08:31 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

+1 points as a case for certification

wouldn't ya' think?

No, I'm saying just the opposite. You can't certify an industry that is so loosely defined. I'm not even suggesting that our industry should be more narrowly defined.

On Jun.22.2005 at 11:53 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Darrel — why not certify the portion that is more defined, and leave the rest alone?

I guess I'm missing the point of why we're continuing to argue about this. Darrel — what is it that you're trying to persuade us to see — that certification doesn't make sense, or that it can't be done? Or is it that certification doesn't make sense because it can't be done? What if someone here comes up with a scheme that can be done, because it makes sense of all of the problems?

Instead of continuing to turn people's arguments around and throwing it back at them rhetorically — why don't you specifically critique the 3 plans that have been proposed, point by point? Or better yet, wait for Ed Gold's response.

On Jun.22.2005 at 12:07 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

why not certify the portion that is more defined, and leave the rest alone?

I'm not sure if I've been sold on a need for that, or a real benefit to anyone in doing so, but I would agree that that would be doable.

What if someone here comes up with a scheme that can be done, because it makes sense of all of the problems?

That'd be interesting.

why don't you specifically critique the 3 plans that have been proposed, point by point?

They're difficult to critique in that they are solutions for a non-defined problem. They make sense out of any specific context, but it's really hard to critique something in that manner.

Looking your proposal, there's nothing to argue...they're all valid ideas in and of themselves, but I'm not sure what value they provide to the industry.

You stated: I believe certification has real uses for certain clients, establishing more credibility for our profession as a result.

It seems as if we're seeing certification as an answer to a lack of credibility in our profession. Is there a lack of credibility? I'm not sure how certification would solve that particular issue. Maybe it would, though...I just don't see it.

On Jun.22.2005 at 03:33 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Darrel,

Maybe you don’t see it because you don’t want to. Yes, this is a broad field. Yes it is unlikely to define all of the permutations. But why not start with the areas that can be defined?

I would like to see something along the lines of an educational certificate (tested independently of academic institutions), say a print design certificate for starters.

Educational certificates are not currently standardized in any way, so creating a type of standardization would help schools focus their programs, give students an objective, give hiring managers a benchmark, and (heaven help us) provide a dialog between freelancers and their independent clientele.

It would also create a standard that someone who

is not a student can shoot for. More skills/knowlege=more certifications.

Example: “Hey there customer, I am qualified to do A B and C. I am certified. I also happen to know D and some of E, so I can help you there too, but you should know up front it is not my specialty and maybe you are better served by getting a certified D, E, and F person (Oh, I know several I can collaborate with).”

Certified means I understand these production processes and materials, legal issues, and enough about pricing to guide a strategy within your budget. Not to mention, I know how to effectively communicate your message (as you can see from my portfolio).

Certified means no work begins without a signed agreement defining the scope of the project, a budget, and billing procedures.

Certification is not the be all and end all. It is the beginning of creating some standards within our field. Once established, these can then be more effectively communicated to others outside the industry, and discussed and tweaked within the industry.

I think Gunnar, in asking this, wanted to find some answers to: What differentiates a professional from an amateur?

Is it your education? probably.

Is it your toolset? likely.

Is it your process? absolutely.

What else? I’m sure there is a long list

I think this is incredibly important, especially because the tools of graphic design are so ubiquitous. Like it or not, Publisher is a page layout program. This is why clients are spec’ing fonts, and micromanaging designers to death. They don't know what a designer is. If we can't tell them, who can?

Tan proposed a tiered system, let’s start with that,there is plenty to chew on there. I’m sure there are a ton of ideas out there, held by people who actually care. It seems like this thread is running its course and any serious discussion will pick up again somewhere else. It will not go away.

But Darrel, if this water is not to your liking, why are you yet at the trough?

On Jun.23.2005 at 06:45 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

But why not start with the areas that can be defined?

Why not? No reason at all. I'm looking for the reasons *to* start.

Your suggestions are fine, but I'm still not sure what problem they are attempting to address. People that hire designers aren't oblivious to the quality of schools out there. They're not 'duped' into hiring someone just because they have a degree.

Certified means I understand these production processes and materials, legal issues, and enough about pricing to guide a strategy within your budget.

So, we'd have certificates in what? HTML? Application develop? Annual report layout? Pre press production art? Web printing? Letterpress printing? Embossing? Signage manufacturing? Airport wayfinding? Museum exhibit design? Set design? Type design? Type setting? Video production? Flash development? Binding? Illustration? Photography? Color theory?

At this point, it sounds like you're not advocating industry certification, but rather just skill-set certification. Ie, I took a class on letterpress printing, and now I have a certificate with my name on it.

If that's what people want, hey, I'm all for it, but I've never seen those types of certificates to be of much use outside large corporations that have a lot of arbitrary pay-raise metrics where they include these 'professional training' certificates in the mix.

I'm not against certification...I simply haven't been convinced by this thread that there's any problem that will be solved by it.

What differentiates a professional from an amateur?

One gets paid. ;o)

But I see your point. Again, though, if we need a certificate to distinguish ourselves from the 14 year old with a pirated copy of Photoshop, then we have much bigger problems.

If we can't tell them, who can?

Right. I agree with that. If some see certification as the answer, then fine. I would prefer to use case studies, marketing, PR, sales pitches, etc, rather than a generic certification.

Personally, when I hire someone to redo the plumbing in my bathroom, all I really care is that they've done good work for someone else in the past...and that I like them/respect their apparent knowledge of the profession. I don't care about any license they may or may not have (outside of being bonded) nor do I really ask to see their collection of certifications. I care about the work. That's just how I approach it. Maybe there are folks that put more weight on certificates. I don't know.

But Darrel, if this water is not to your liking, why are you yet at the trough?

Curiosity.

On Jun.23.2005 at 10:49 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

While not directly related to certification, this is interesting:

http://designforum.aiga.org/content.cfm?ContentAlias=_getfullarticle&aid=272730

On Jun.24.2005 at 07:15 PM
Tan’s comment is:

With the exception of section 6.1 (AIGA code of ethics), the rest of the contract template is similar to most agency project contracts. I've seen contracts that have been two pages, and contracts that have been more than a hundred pages. But the basic content is the same.

Interesting — but why did you bring this up Darrel?

On Jun.25.2005 at 01:37 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

I've been following these comments since the entry was first posted and it seems like there are a lot of misconceptions concerning certification.

We deal with certification quite a bit on my own blog and in some other GD forums and it seems like the same misconceptions over and over again, which prompted a couple of other designers and myself to write an entry detailing some of the most common myths about GD certification.

I think it's time our industry took a good hard look at certification.

.chris{}

On Jun.26.2005 at 12:22 AM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

obviously there are a lot of individuals out there who call themselves 'designers' because they stole a copy of photoshop, made a beveled glowing button, and made some amateur design for a company that paid them $8/hr to do it.

these people do not get hired by companies that pay competitive wages for design. so a question i have for everyone is (and i'm seriously wondering what people think about this!) — why do we bother worrying about these people?

if you do good work, have the ability to generate creative concepts, understand how to effectively utilize type and image, and possess other intangibles such as being able to work collaboratively, articulate your thoughts, etc. then you have nothing to worry about. instead of trying to keep those out that we know don't really deserve the title of 'designer' maybe we should just not worry about them, because they're not competing for our work anyways. thoughts? :)

On Jun.26.2005 at 07:34 AM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

i suppose the above post is not very in-depth, and i haven't had the time to research all of the related articles about certification, but i just think on a gut level that's kind of what i get back to after reading thru everyone's comments.

there will always be the people that want the $20 logo and the $75 website. and someone will do the work, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. in order to make money you have to spend money, and the real businesses will do that. and thats who we work for, as real designers... so i'm not sure what we have to worry about?

On Jun.26.2005 at 07:40 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

TAN

"most schools offering design already have a certification program, but it's referred to as accreditation. It doesn't guarantee a job after you graduate".

I haven't followed this thread as I should've like Gunnar, Ellen, and BIG BRO, Bierut. I followed this issue with ferver in the 1980s. The aforementioned Luminaries being in the forefront of this movement And the Old Guard didn't want it. Let's just say the LIVING Founding Father's of our Profession. You can put any picture or face to the aforementioned comment. None of them wanted anything to do with certification.

Just want to say, most all comments and concerns are valid. Allow me to throw a CURVE BALL. As some want the U.S. Government involved. Suppose the Government does get involved. Like everything else. The Government require all CERTIFIED Designer(s) to be U.S. Citizens. Not sure what Armin and Byrony's Citizenship Status is in the U.S. (None of my business) Suppose Armin, whom has undeniably achieved FAME and SUCCESS in the United States. Already, a DEMIGOD cannot get certification. Because he's not a CITIZEN. Everybody loves Armin and Byrony. Wouldn't matter, because Pentagram and all other First Tier Identity Consultancies and Design Consultancies would have to ascribe and follow the Government Model of Certification. Which mean Armin and other Immigrant Designer(s) would have to go back home or support themselves by other means. That restriction would do the Design Community and Consultancies a dis-service.

Apologies to Armin and Byrony for bringing attention to them. However, making a valid point.

Be careful what you ask for!!!!!!!!!

If not Armin and Byrony it will be some other very Gifted Designer(s) who fall victim to our well intended self serving interest.

I think a very Good Model is Nick Shinn's model in effect now, as I understand.

Graphic Design has always had an OPEN DOOR POLICY.

Which is what the Founding Father's wanted. Why, because the CREAM ALWAYS RISES TO THE TOP.

"Are you kidding? I'm a pushover...and a poser, too. I think Maven's the quintessential authority around here".

Many thanks. From your mouth to GOD's EARS. I wear a CAPITAL "P" on my CHEST. As if I were ever the ALPHA MALE. Only one ALPHA MALE on Speak Up. The Number One Stunnar, GUNNAR. He's actually never LOST A FIGHT.

If I may digress for a moment. I'd like to say. All of you are CERTIFIABLY CRAZY. And I mean that in the most AFFECTIONATE way.

I'm sure I can get ten (10) dollars apiece for each of ya.

Now Gunnar and Ed Gold Two BOHEMOTHS in the Ring. I'd pay to see that.

For all those that have a BONE TO PICK with Michael Bierut for voting against CERTIFICATON.

You can contact Saint Michael at:

Michael Bierut

Mount Olympus

Cloud Nine

On Jun.26.2005 at 02:27 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Mave—You are usually a source of amazing esoteric design information but in this case I have some corrections:

And the Old Guard didn't want it

Hardly all of the old guard. The first discussion I had on the topic was when Ellen introduced it at an AIGA officers’ retreat on Hilton Head. This was just before her CA article. I (and several others) were arguing against her proposal and Massimo Vignelli walked to the front on the room and said something to the effect of “We don’t need to talk about this anymore. We just need to do it.”

If I ever had a conversation with Michael Bierut about it, it has been so long that I have a good excuse for having forgotten. I don’t have a clue as to his current views on the subject.

I haven’t heard anything from Ed Gold on certification for many years (just as until recently nobody had heard from me on the subject for nearly as long) so I don’t know whether your dogfight would be plausible. We disagreed many years ago but my beliefs have shifted. I have no idea what his are. I often disagree with people on “my side” of a discussion when people see a subject as a binary so it’s possible we’d still disagree. I think I may still disagree with Ellen on some points even though we’re “on the same side” and my current views are largely inspired by what she wrote on the subject.

The Feds are highly unlikely to get involved even if we wanted them to. (In case you didn’t recognize it, that was an example of massive understatement.) Anyone who hasn’t checked out Chris’ most common myths about GD certification might find it worthwhile.

I just got back into town after half a week away. I’ll try to get to answering Darrel’s concerns that this may be a solution in search of a problem but I probably will not be able to for a few days. I’m not entirely unsympathetic to his objection to discussing solutions without clarifying problems first but I do believe that looking at plausible scenarios is a good way understand murky, interlocking sets of questions. I though I’d made my position clear enough that someone could object to my assumptions and/or the probably outcomes without the need for further explanations from me.

Maybe this will suffice: I think the primary problem is that people who don’t (and probably shouldn’t) have a handle on what graphic design can and should do for their organizations need something to let them know that a designer is ready to serve their needs broadly. This includes the craft of design but most importantly focuses on the use of design as a strategic communication, persuasion, and education tool. Since I’m talking about graphic designer certification it would need to involve craft standards as well as strategic issues. I do not see this as a production artist/production manager certification and I see it as long-term (even if some sort of skills upgrade or renewal is required) so the focus of the craft part would be practical and aesthetic rather than one of facile use of software.

I think the schemes that others have laid out have real merit in that they would deal with the secondary problem of many designers not seeing a clear direction for self-improvement and would bring people into the process without it being a single traumatic experience as are bar exams and the like. Aspects of what they suggest could be incorporated into my proposal.

I also believe that not all graphic designers should be certified, many because they do not reach high standards but many others but many others because what they do is not part of the direction I suggest and because certification would be of no value to them or to their clients or benefactors.

I do believe in a broader and more general certification for those who teach graphic design. I believed in that even when I was rabidly anti-certification.

On Jun.26.2005 at 03:35 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Okay. So much for catching up on work and such. Here’s the first draft of my mini manifesto. To be able to claim the ability to serve a client’s needs broadly:

A certified graphic designer should understand basic business principles and should demonstrate strategic thinking. Strategic thinking should be reflected in testing and defense of portfolio material and be apparent in the portfolio submitted.

A certified graphic designer should be able to demonstrated ability and experience in managing graphic design projects including client contact and overseeing final production.

A certified graphic designer would understand and have facility in producing work demonstrating the traditional standards of graphic design quality, especially typographic quality. A qualified graphic designer can recognize actual punctuation and its use—real quotation marks, what to do with en dashes, etc. One can choose to compress of extend type but should recognize and be able to explain the aesthetic perils of doing so. One doesn’t need to embrace the thesis of “The Crystal Goblet” but should be able to understand it and explain it articulately. One does not need to use grids or believe in their efficacy but should be able to use them well and creatively. Both testing and a portfolio review should reflect this basic knowledge.

A certified graphic designer would be able to produce highly readable text type and discuss typographic choices in terms of legibility and usability. Both testing and a portfolio review should reflect the ability to deal with large amounts of readable verbiage.

As implied by the two paragraphs above, a certified graphic designer should have an understanding of the principles of user-centered design and be able to apply the principles to graphic design practice.

A certified graphic designer should have basic knowledge of a wide range of graphic design activities. Greater specialized knowledge could then be certified separately.

That’s the start. What did I miss?

On Jun.26.2005 at 04:09 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Gunnar,

you're post lays heavy emphasis on typography, which is essential. To add to that, it's important to add a comprehensive knowledge of grid sytems. While a portfolio should demonstrate that knowledge, it should,also be backed up with a sound defense of choices in grid use or breaking the grid.

the term you use, user-centered design, suggests this, although I think that term has, at this point, become too much of a catch phrase to render any real meaning.

your post lays a groundwork for primary certification, and agreed, as in my proposed methodology and also reflected in Tan's, tiering that system based on specialty as well as increased repsonsibility of involvment in design management processes extends the validity of any certification system.

On Jun.26.2005 at 05:32 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Gunnar:

Good Catch. Perhaps an overstatement on my behalf.

I should've iterated 'MAJORITY of the Old Guard were against cerification'.

Since I wasn't in this discussion I'll stay out of it. Will say.

First Draft looks Great. Typography being the most important element of Visual Communication.

I'd like to see included in the exam; manual copyfitting skills. I ask young Designer(s) all the time. 'What will they do, if they're working on a brochure, catalog, annual report ? Suddenly, loose electrical power. Do you stop working on the Design ? Are you that dependant on the computer ? Can you cast off, count characters, and use a haberule to copy fit. The answer generally is they'd call up a friend, stop working on the assignment. They can't copyfit.

I'll go on record saying as Bierut alluded in another Editorial. Being able to copyfit separated Legitimate DAREDEVILS from THRILLSEECKERS.

Although, the exam will be standard. It should change every year or two. That will kept would be Designer(s) from creating cheat sheets and developing PAT answers.

Important, in this exam, knowledge of the Principals and elements of Design. Basic Type Classification Identificaton, Serif and Sans Serif.

Most important, in this exam some knowledge of Semiotics and Semantics. The language of Symbols and Signs.

I'll leave this conversation to the ferver of a younger generation.

My only concern, at fifty will there be a Social Security Repository. Shall I decide to retire in my twilight years.

On Jun.26.2005 at 07:32 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Interesting — but why did you bring this up Darrel?

It seem tangentally related to the concept of unionizing (sharing of formal business contracts...ie the actors union, etc.), which was tangentally related to the issue of certification and licensing.

But maybe it wasn't, either. ;o)

Christopher...thanks for the link...though that still doesn't directly answer what the benefits are. Though I did see the 15% higher income. I'd be very interested in seeing some explanations behind that...namely if those folks earned 15% more because they were certified, or it is just happened that those that earn more, took the time/effort to become certified.

Some of the other benefits, ie 'association marketing' make sense, though can also be gained outside of a certifcation system.

Maybe this will suffice: I think the primary problem is that people who don’t (and probably shouldn’t) have a handle on what graphic design can and should do for their organizations need something to let them know that a designer is ready to serve their needs broadly.

OK. And how would certification do that? ;o)

If I'm not aware of the full capabilities of a certain vendor, I'm not sure that them being certified will broaden my understanding of their offerings. That's really a job for marketing/self promotion, is it not?

A certified graphic designer should understand basic business principles and should demonstrate strategic thinking. Strategic thinking should be reflected in testing and defense of portfolio material and be apparent in the portfolio submitted.

The problem I have with that is how do you accurately certify such a vague term as 'strategic thinking'?

The rest of it seemed like a test from Typography 101. And while I do think that's important, it's actually not that important in the grand scheme of things. The only folks that are that fussy about type tend to be us. ;o)

As for what was missed, I suppose it'd be the 100+ other skills that various graphic designers posses outside of grids and type. There's just so much out there. Color. Texture. Human factors. Ergonomics. Wayfinding. Printing. Illustration. Semiotics. Packaging. Interface design. Information architecture. Usability. Art direction. Conceptualization. Photo directing. Writing. Photo manipulation. Branding. Programming. Animation. Titling. Color correction. Marketing. Keylining. Binding. Interactive. Editing. Accessibility. Positioning. Sound. Etc. Etc.

it should,also be backed up with a sound defense of choices in grid use or breaking the grid.

And how do we judge that defense? ;o)

Again, we're dealing with a very broad, often subjective industry. In design school, one of the important things one of our professors taught us was design speak (ie, the art of bullshitting). Make anything sound justified. I admit, it's a valuable skill for anyone in a marketing-related industry. Can it be certified? I dunno...

On Jun.27.2005 at 12:22 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

For an example of what I'm hung up on, look at any one of the threads on speakup where folks discuss a rebranding...or head to typophile and read a discussion on a certain typeface...or check out any AIGA event where the judges speak and, often, completely disagree on many things.

Go back to a rebranding post on speakup. A logo. One miniscule part of a designer's/design firm's list of talents. Yet 100 people will vehemently disagree on almost every minute detail of any logo that is posted in here.

On Jun.27.2005 at 12:26 AM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

> That’s the start. What did I miss?

Gunnar, your list sets the bar of basic competence rather low — to the point where I don't see anyone with such certification qualifying for anything more than a very junior position. Extrapolating from there, if I were a client; I would expect more when looking for a designer.

On Jun.27.2005 at 12:42 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I would expect more when looking for a designer.

Good. What?

On Jun.27.2005 at 11:50 AM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

Up until now, I gave certification only scattered thought (and this is different from your usual thought how?), as I found Gunnar's original essay comprehensive. But following this discussion has pushed me over to support of the idea, where I had been leaning. I look at it personally: I admire the work that professional designers do and aspire to a range of those skills. I may not employ them, but it would be an accomplishment to acquire them (and I agree with Gunnar that, as a teacher, I should have a certification). I suppose I'm saying that in drafting guidelines, we should work from our personal aspirations, rather than gate-keeping.

As a argument against certification, it's often brought up that it might cause a doctrinaire aesthetic. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't worry at all about that. The field seems rather diverse stylistically and I can't imagine one style dominating. And I don't see what Gunnar's proposed as being a pledge to design a certain way. I see those fundamentals in Martin Venesky's work (I just happen to have his book right here) and Armin Vit's (to choose another V surname).

And I think the bar should be rather low as certification is a starting point. Our system could have subsequent steps (didn't someone mention "merit badges" somewhere?) for advanced achievement. But I don't think Gunnar's proposal above is that easy (I just graded my summer classes) and is, again, pretty comprehensive.

On Jun.27.2005 at 08:09 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

OK I’ll put one type of “problem” on the table that certification addresses for me:

I am looking to enter the design profession with a 2-year technical degree. For whatever reasons, I am unable to pursue further formal education at this time.

While in Community College, most of my education consisted of production applications, general education, and some design theory, history, and actual design couses. I realized early on that I would have to push myself beyond the cirriculum to compete with 4-year students looking for positions in design firms, as opposed to being the preflight guy at the local offset shop.

So, as I study the university reading lists, and try to absorb what I can to get to that “level playing field,” I can’t help but to think that a certification would help me to focus on specific areas of study that I could undertake to reach that same level that the 4-year student is expected to have acheived.

At the same time I wish my 2-year school was communicating the differences in opportunities available to graduates of 2- and 4-year programs. It seems that nobody there is really clear. Certification would clear these issues up.

These are the issues at the bottom-most level of certification. To me, they are very real. Perhaps a useful way to get the ball rolling is to consider what makes the lowest level of professional designer. In that spirit, I propose the following certification items:

1. 2-D Design principles: color, spatial, etc...

2. Typography: history, copyfitting, grid systems, current production techniques, technology, etc...

3. Color: production issues, understanding calibration, variables, etc...

4. Project Management: beginning with the first meeting

5.

I know there is much more— all you vets please chime in and help the list grow. What do you want to see at the entry-level? At what point does a jr. become a sr.?

On Jun.28.2005 at 04:28 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I know there is much more

Look at the quick list I came up with.

I see your concern, but I think what you are talking about is more educational accredidation. Few 2-year schools are seen as worth pursuing in this field (not that I agree or disagree with that, but that's how it is)...and many of these 2-year schools take advantage of the trendiness of the profession to suck your tuition money from you without really giving a whole lot in return in terms of finding a decent position upon graduation.

On Jun.28.2005 at 10:14 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Yes, there is a problem with the accreditation.

How can any school offer a “Graphic Design” program if there is no minimum standard for what “Graphic Design” is?

That said, I don’t expect a degree from any school to equal a job. That doesn’t work in other fields, it shouldn’t be an expectation here. All I want is a clearer idea of what I am qualified to do, and if I’m not satisfied with that, a clue as to what I should focus on.

Like you said, the list is long, the specialazations are many. I want to be a generalist for now. Is that possible?

On Jun.28.2005 at 01:53 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

How can any school offer a “Graphic Design” program if there is no minimum standard for what “Graphic Design” is?

Well, there is. It's just informal. Within any region of the country, the graphic design industry will have a handful of schools they all aknowledge as being the schools to go to. Granted, it's hard for a freshman to know anything about that if they aren't a part of the industry yet. ;o)

I want to be a generalist for now. Is that possible?

I think most are...at least early on. I'm purposely a generalist and don't really have any interest in becoming too much of a specialist.

On Jun.28.2005 at 02:03 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Well, there is. It's just informal

OK— so let’s make it formal, and start holding these schools to some standards!

On Jun.28.2005 at 02:15 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

While holding schools to high standards is all well and good, there are problems with letting a discussion of (individual) graphic designer certification morph into one about accreditation of schools and graduates’ chances in the job market.

As I mentioned earlier, I have expressed the worry that certification would inevitably be technical because of the misguided urge to assure easy choices and objectivity. A technical description of “success” in graphic design would then infect the curricula of the schools that would find themselves being judged based on pass rates (the way law schools are often considered based on the rate of recent graduates’ passing the bar.) That still worries me and it is one reason I would oppose a mainly-technical graphic design certification plan.

I would hope that a good certification program would improve standards in graphic design education but I would also hope that the effect would not be too direct. There is no reason to assume that the goals of graphic design education and the goals of certification should be the same and there is no reason to assume that certification of graphic designers would designate good entry-level design firm employees. These issues are, of course, interrelated but they are not the same.

Mark criticized my incipient manifesto for laying out a too-easy standard of graphic design competence. I agree and hope we could build on my too-short list. Although I’m open to the discussion of a multitude of approaches and am particularly interested in exploring the suggestions of multi-level and/or multiple certifications, my tendency would be to set the bar fairly low, especially if we’re talking about a singular certification. Certifying design competence seems more useful than certifying design excellence.

The description I gave is, I think, pretty basic. Despite that, I believe that it would eliminate the majority of working graphic designers with a BFA degree based on the craft standards and the strategic standards (which I consider much more important) would eliminate many more as is. I’m afraid that what Mark (and I) would think of as low standards would not be the “big tent” many people assume when they talk about certification of graphic designers.

An aside: One of the possible appeals of certification is a dimension of continuing education, a general raising of knowledge and awareness as well as individual development. In light of this it is interesting that the two assumptions about certification I see most are the belief that certification would be impossible for the person objecting to it or that certification would automatically sort everyone into two groups: those who are already “as good” as or “better” than the person doing the assuming and those who are unfit. We seem to project our fears and our tribal assumptions better than our goals.

I’m a bit confused by Darrel’s worry that strategy is somehow elusive and unidentifiable. It seems to me that testing basic strategic understanding and the application of graphic design choices to strategy are pretty reasonable tasks and asking someone to defend a portfolio using strategic descriptions is fairly basic and straightforward.

On Jun.28.2005 at 04:39 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I’m a bit confused by Darrel’s worry that strategy is somehow elusive and unidentifiable. It seems to me that testing basic strategic understanding and the application of graphic design choices to strategy are pretty reasonable tasks

So, do we have an examples?

and asking someone to defend a portfolio using strategic descriptions is fairly basic and straightforward.

Oh sure, but go back to my 'design speak' comment. ANY solution can be 'strategically justified' in hindsight by a competant sales pitch.

On Jun.28.2005 at 05:41 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Darrel—

What is the difference between strategy and tactics? Give some examples from your experience in graphic design.

Here’s a company’s brand strategy. What graphic design approaches support the strategy and what would tend to undermine it?

Here’s a company’s brand strategy. Which of the following marks, typographic treatments, etc. support the strategy and which would tend to undermine it and why and in what ways?

Here’s a company’s brand strategy. In the next four hours come up with a preliminary series of possible graphic design solutions (descriptions and some visual examples) and present them along with detailed explanations of why they support the strategy, what other obvious responses there are, and why you rejected the others on strategic grounds.

Here’s a company’s situation and goals. What graphic design related strategies would you suggest and why?

ANY solution can be 'strategically justified' in hindsight by a competant sales pitch

Bullshit.

On Jun.28.2005 at 06:08 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

While holding schools to high standards is all well and good, there are problems with letting a discussion of (individual) graphic designer certification morph into one about accreditation of schools and graduates’ chances in the job market.

I understand the principle you are describing, and agree. To me, this accreditation problem would be a benefit of a certification resolution. It is likely that almost no one school could “teach the test” as it should be deep and multidisciplinary by nature.

Obviously, as a fresh student, this is an area of concern for me. I know what skills I possess and have confidence in. I am looking for insight into what will help me develop professionally. Gunnar’s focus on strategic skills is telling.

Testing strategic skills would probably be similar to a law exam I took— the answers were interpretive, but had to be based on an understanding of the the intent of the laws and relevant court decisions. This can easily be done in an essay.

On Jun.28.2005 at 06:48 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

This may be off the topic a bit but WHAT NEXT?

Gunnar & Co., as is the case when I participate in these debates, the "con" camp is typically the most vocal and tend to be more willing to make their opposition known while the folks in the "pro" camp tend to be more silent.

For the large numbers of designers out there who see value in certification, perhaps some thought should be dedicated to "what should we be doing now in order to help make this happen?"

Lobbying the AIGA? Lobbying the GAG? Lobbying the ADC? Starting a new, grass roots effort?

I apologize if this is a departure from the stated goal of the topic. If it is, just delete this comment and I'll gladly start this topic elsewhere and direct anyone who would like to discuss it to that venue.

.chris{}

On Jun.29.2005 at 09:27 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Gunnar, I get what you are saying, but those are all subjective questions. You can get two polar opposite answers and still have them appropriately justified via the right salespitch.

All you are testing for there is one's ability to bullshit. A necessary talent, no doubt, but not really something I see as being certifiable.

ANY solution can be 'strategically justified' in hindsight by a competant sales pitch

Bullshit.

Yes. Exactly. Via bullshit.

Without a doubt the most valued skill in a design firm is a great bullshitter. I've worked with some great account executives who could sell a piece of clip art and some random Pantone swatches as a great solution. And everyone would love it.

On Jun.29.2005 at 10:58 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

All you are testing for there is one's ability to bullshit.

Sorry, Darrel, but this is the sort of thing that people who neither value nor understand strategy say. A lot of people accept a bullshit pitch. Some reasons are bad (they don’t know any better or they have just given up) and some are good (they see that the work fits into overall plans and don’t care that the graphic designer has a limited view of his role) but that doesn’t mean that nobody can tell the difference between rational and rationalization.

Do you believe that graphic design cannot be used strategically? That graphic designers are incapable of taking a role beyond producing what is ordered by their smarter and more aware clients? That organizational strategy itself is a delusional abstraction?

I know you won’t accept this but your reactions are perfect illustrations of why nobody should believe a graphic designer who uses the word “strategic” and why some sort of separation is in order of those who should be listened to on strategic matters and those who shouldn’t.

On Jun.29.2005 at 11:22 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

that people who neither value nor understand strategy say

I completely understand it. I'm saying you can't easily 'certify' it.

You are also assuming I mean 'bullshit' in a purely negative context. I mean it in a completely neutral context. I consider much of marketing and design the art of bullshitting...in a good way.

Do you believe that graphic design cannot be used strategically? That graphic designers are incapable of taking a role beyond producing what is ordered by their smarter and more aware clients? That organizational strategy itself is a delusional abstraction?

No, no, and no.

What I don't believe is that you (or any certifying board) could come up with a method to accurately determine the strategic insight into a designers work process via a portfolio review and/or test.

I'd love to be proven wrong, though. Have any examples of how this would be done?

Again, I keep saying this, but go back to any of the critiques here on Speakup for an example of the complete subjectiviness of a lot of this.

It's sort of like certifying movie producers. Or musicians.

On Jun.29.2005 at 06:23 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Let me rephrase what I said. I'm not against what you are saying, Gunnar. I think as a concept, it makes a lot of sense.

I'm hung up on the reality of how one could actually determine 'strategicness' of any particular solution in any measurable way that would be practical in the context of certification.

On Jun.29.2005 at 07:13 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

I just couldn’t let this thread die, and I couldn’t live with Darrel getting in the first and last word. [in your own emoticon ;o)]

After rereading the entire thread (and the original articles) to see if there were any common ideas, or at least see if there was anything new to add, I’ve learned a few things. I also have some egg on my face for making suggestions that were sort of obvious, and had been previously addressed.

Ellen Shapiro’s original article describes certification as being the standard to “the level of skills required to serve a client independently and without supervision.”

As much as I like a tiered system (which could be devised after a singular certification is worked out), a single standard would be the easiest to effectively communicate to our clients, and be used to promote the industry in general.

This whole discussion has, in fact, been an eye-opener for me and I appreciate all of the thought that has been presented. I realize even more than I thought how necessary certification is to our industry. As much as I may be tempted to “hang a shingle” and call myself a graphic designer, I need some years in the trenches.

I want that title to be something that I have earned, and not easily.

On Jul.02.2005 at 02:03 AM
gregor’s comment is:

...the reality of how one could actually determine 'strategicness' of any particular solution in any measurable way that would be practical...

I don't think certification would be set up to determine a designer's ability to address or defend any singular solution, but their (our) ability to practically use higher level thought processes across the board for a multitude of client needs. All posted methodologies address this to some extent and more particularly those Tan and I posted.

while design isn't a mathematical equation, neither is it a ambiguous splatter painting: much less subjective than one may would think.

On Jul.03.2005 at 07:04 PM
ed gold’s comment is:

Like a long-forgotten sunken ship, the subject of certification has inexplicably risen to the surface once again. I apologize for weighing in on this subject so late. Ellen did call me, but I was out of town and didn't get her message for several days.

I did begin to write a grant proposal to raise the funds needed to do a proper feasibility study on the subject of whether or not there would be any benefit to the design profession if a certification process were to be created.

I quickly discovered that, without strong support from designers themselves or, more important, from design organizations, few foundations or corporations were interested in funding such an effort.

Over the many years that I've been researching the subject of certification I think I've learned a few things.

1) There are hundreds of organizations and groups that have created certification programs, some because their group deals with issues of public health or safety, some merely because they want to protect their turf. For some groups the process works well, for others, not so well. Usually the success or failure of the process depends more upon how diligent the sponsoring group is in advertising and monitoring the process than it does on the quality of process itself.

2) While the messages posted in this site are interesting, valuable as direction finders, and, in some cases, amusing, they are, after all, just opinions. They do little to resolve the central question: would certification benefit the design profession at all?

To answer this question, the first and most important step that needs to be taken would be for designers to stop the rhetoric and do the research.

There's not a businessperson I've ever worked with who would dream of investing any time, energy or resources in a business, product or service without doing a proper feasibility study.

3) Assuming that a well-crafted study establishes the fact that a certification process would indeed be a benefit to the design profession, then the design of the process itself is best left in the hands of professionals, not by amateurs such as yours truly.

I've worked with several of these organizations and I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that tests can be devised to measure people for anything and everything, including skills, problem-solving ability, creativity, technical knowledge, and some pretty weird stuff that couldn't be printed in a respectable web site such as this one.

4) There's nothing that human beings have created that hasn't been designed by someone and yet, it is only lately that design itself is beginning to be recognized as the most important instrument a business can use to differentiate itself from its competitors.

A certification process, if properly designed and promoted can be one of the most valuable tools an organization or profession can use to gain respect and send out the message that the organization or profession requires intensive training, has high standards and expects all its members to maintain

those standards.

All that's needed is for designers themselves to believe that their profession is worth publicly investing in, promoting, and defending.

On Jul.08.2005 at 09:57 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Great comments, Ed!

To answer this question, the first and most important step that needs to be taken would be for designers to stop the rhetoric and do the research.

There's not a businessperson I've ever worked with who would dream of investing any time, energy or resources in a business, product or service without doing a proper feasibility study.

I'm WITH you! So how do we start this process? Should it be a popular movement? Should a bunch of us who want certification flood the membership rolls of the AIGA, GAG and ADC and demand that they support certification?

I believe there are many designers who do favor certification, but we're a fractured bunch. How do we bring the message to one place where all certification proponents can be kept up to speed, then set a course of action for everyone to follow in order to see that certification becomes a reality?

We HAVE the tools. Between blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds, etc., we're at a point where getting the message out isn't the problem. Figuring out next steps IS.

Any suggestions?

.chris{}

On Jul.09.2005 at 10:35 AM
ed gold’s comment is:

As I wrote, we would need to begin by raising enough money to fund a feasibilty study. It shouldn't be difficult to get a handle on what this kind of study might cost and there are lots of research companies and institutions who do just these kinds of studies. My own University has a Center filled with professors who spend all their time doing all kinds of research and reports.

If the facts indicate that certification would be of no benefit to the design profession, then the subject could be buried once and for all.

If, on the other hand, the study offers some proof that the profession would benefit greatly, but would cost a lot of money to implement, then the problem changes to that of mounting a nation-wide capital campaign to raise the funds needed to create an implementation plan, including a timetable, organization plan and costing. My guess is that getting an organization such as AIGA to take the lead in such an effort would be the most effective way to do this, which is where all the blogs, podcasts, etc. become important.

The good news is that there's no need to reinvent the wheel to go through the process. It's been done thousands of times for countless companies and institutions. As I mentioned, hundreds of organizations have already created certification processes.

The bad news is that, while there are similarities, no cookie-cutter approach will work for all situations and organizations. As has often been said, "The devil is always in the details" and defining those details could take a long time, piss off a lot of people, and cost a lot of money.

On Jul.09.2005 at 11:55 AM
Jennifer’s comment is:

Ya'll are starting to scare me. Count me out. Certification, to me, just sounds like a bunch of designers getting their rocks off that they're...ooohhhhh....certified.

Stop worrying about those 'beneth you' and just do good work.

On Jul.09.2005 at 07:48 PM
Jennifer’s comment is:

Note to self...try to be more constructive next time.

On Jul.09.2005 at 08:20 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Jennifer—I don’t see the question as constructive vs. non-constructive as much as engaging the conversation or not. Several people have made cases for what the specific value of certification could be and the value is implied by other specific suggestions. Were the arguments specious or do you have something to counter them other than a generalized what it “sounds like” to you?

On Jul.09.2005 at 08:43 PM
Jennifer’s comment is:

Gunner,

I wasn't trying to engage the conversation. I was giving my opinion on the topic based on all that has been writen on this board. The "cases" made for certification sound -- to me -- bogus. (And I use the phrases "sounds like" and "sounds -- to me" because I know that these are only my opinions based on my perception.) As far as I know, there are no rules on this board about how to post comments. And that's all I did, I posted a comment.

But I did reread my original post and then posted again that I thought I should be more "constructive" next time. Meaning, not just posting a one-line opinion on such a heated topic. Meaning, be more constructive in my critisism over the certification of designers.

My education and my experience should be proof enough that I know what I'm doing when it comes to graphic design. Obviously, in every profession there are persons who have an education and experience but are sub-standard. But who are we to judge what is sub-standard? In fact, how dare we.

(And in every profession there are those that lie about their credentials. Those people won't be eradicated by certification.)

There are some things within my profession as a Web AD that I know a whole shit-load about because I go to work everyday and pay attention. There is other stuff that is periferal and there is some stuff that I just wouldn't trust myself to do because of lack of experience with that area of graphic design (ie. packaging). Graphic design encompasses a whole lot of very specific areas of knowledge. Who on this earth has a right to tell me what I need to know about my job? Are those that hire me concerned that I'm not certified? No. So why are we -- the design community -- concerned?

In the article "Common Myths About Graphic Designer Certification" that we have been directed to in order for us all to have a basic understanding of what certification is, the last paragraph has a line that reads:

Many clients out there do not understand the difference between shoddy practitioners who call themselves designers but have no design training and do not follow ethical design practices versus real designers with education, experience and sound ethics.

How can the author state that as an example of how certification is NOT about egos?

I'm sorry, I just don't want to have to take a PhotoShop test to show that I'm a professional. It's silly. And don't even question my ethics.

I am very sorry if I offended you with my original post. It was flippant, I admit.

Jennifer

On Jul.11.2005 at 09:34 AM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Jennifer said:

Many clients out there do not understand the difference between shoddy practitioners who call themselves designers but have no design training and do not follow ethical design practices versus real designers with education, experience and sound ethics.

How can the author state that as an example of how certification is NOT about egos?

As one of the co-authors of that article, I would say it's very easy to say that certification is NOT about egos, especially when you don't lift portions that seemingly fit your argument. The rest of that paragraph goes on to say:

Certification is a powerful tool designers need to take advantage of in order to face the challenges of today’s marketplace in order to provide a clear way to communicate to the business community who graphic designers are, why we are different, and how we can add value to our clients’ businesses.

What is ego-driven about that?

Who on this earth has a right to tell me what I need to know about my job? Are those that hire me concerned that I'm not certified? No. So why are we -- the design community -- concerned?

I don't know that those who hire graphic designers are NOT concerned that designers are not certified. To be sure, most design employers are clearly struggling to define what the professional requirements of a professional graphic designer should be. That's why the list of requirements is ridiculously broad and spans areas that have nothing to do with design.

How many times have we seen job listings like this:

Must know Photoshop, Illustrator, Freehand, Corel Draw, Quark, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Flash, Director, HTML (in Notepad), XML, PHP, ASP, SQL and PowerPoint. Ability to juggle fruit is a definite plus

Employers -- especially in this time of technological and communications change, are clearly struggling to define exactly what a graphic designer SHOULD know and what skills they SHOULD possess. Worst still, with NO help or input from our industry whatsoever.

Who could really advocate that it's better to allow that to continue?

.chris{}

On Jul.11.2005 at 10:30 AM
Jennifer’s comment is:

To answer this question "What is ego-driven about that?": Nothing. But what is it even saying??? Nothing. A certificate doesn't educate those outside the field. It's not a "powerful tool". We all need to go out and evangelize on design. I don't need a certificate to prove anything.

(Of course I quoted the part that proved my argument because that was the quote that proved my argument.)

And this comment: "...employers are clearly struggling to define what the professional requirements of a professional graphic designer should be. That's why the list of requirements is ridiculously broad and spans areas that have nothing to do with design." This is true in many professions, not just design. If an HR person choses to be naive about the design profession, how will certification help?

Thanks, Jen

On Jul.11.2005 at 11:15 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>If an HR person choses to be naive about the design profession, how will certification help?

It seems to me Jennifer, if I may, that your argument is one of utter cynicism — working on the assumption that HR people (or business employers in general) who are ignorant about the design profession are just lazy, and that additional resources like certification standards wouldn't make a difference.

Maybe that's been your experience, but there are many people here who have a more optimistic assessment of the intelligence of our clients and market. Employers aren't lazy or incapable — they simply need us to provide some leadership and tools.

On Jul.11.2005 at 12:22 PM
Jennifer’s comment is:

I didn't call anyone lazy. I said they are choosing to not understand design by writing crazy requirements lists. Proof is in the pudding.

In fact, when applying to my last two jobs the write ups were perfecly written and just happened to apply to my skill set 100%. So, no, I do not think that HR persons are lazy or that the right information isn't already out there.

And, in fact, I don't think I'm being cynical at all. I have great hopes for the design world and my place in it. It is those that think it needs to be regulated that, I believe, are the cynical ones.

On Jul.11.2005 at 12:45 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Jennifer — whether I term it "lazy" or you term it as "choosing to not understand design" — it's still a negative skepticism of the motives of others. That, in turn, is the definition of cynicism.

Regardless, I'm sure you're very confident of your place in this profession — and deservingly so. Certification shouldn't be viewed as a threat to that confidence — it's a tool for clients, not a yardstick asking you to prove your self-worth.

And at the end of the day, if you'd rather not be a part of it — then you have every right to do so, and keep evangelizing on your own.

Certification should be seen as an added service/component for the profession.

On Jul.11.2005 at 01:33 PM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

Something weird has happened that no one could have predicted in 1993 when I wrote the first, infamous article about certification. (Has anyone ever read the other 99 articles I’ve written since then? Sorry, that was rude.) Anyway, if I place an ad for junior designer or design assistant on Craigslist, for example, I might get 125 responses within three days. And 115 of those responses are serious inquiries from people whose resumes clearly show that they are not graphic designers at all. They are most often musicians, chefs, painters, film directors, composers -- some with impressive educational credentials and experience. My heart goes out to them because apparently they can’t make a living in their chosen creative fields, either, and need a day job. But somehow they’ve gotten the idea that anybody who ever bought Photoshop and retouched an image or designed a birthday card is, or can be, a graphic designer.

Would we designers, lacking paying clients, answer an ad for musician or chef — even if we’d baked a cake or sang Happy Birthday or even catered a party for 125 people? I think not. Those other fields don’t have any kind of certification, but the public seems to know what makes someone a professional musician or a professional chef. There are many, many different kinds of music and musicians, and the training and audition system that’s in place, especially in classical music, works.

We don’t have any kind of system that works. Often we have no way of knowing, until weeks after we hire people and the truth reveals itself, that the work in their portfolios represents the best thinking of their teachers, group-project partners, roommate, or last boss. They are really incapable of creating the level of work they presented because someone else had a big hand in it. One of my main arguments for certification was that it would help us make better hiring decisions.

I dismiss “the field is too broad” arguments because every field is broad. Lawyers have had to deal with the same technological changes of the last decade as we have, and they’ve managed to profit from them, not lose their place to others. A large part of our problem was caused by our friends at Apple and Adobe, who’ve spent millions since the mid-’80s advertising to the public that anyone can do it as well or better than we can for a fraction of the cost -- and with no tempermental designers to deal with. They won, and we lost. And they are corporate sponsors of the AIGA, an organization that’s made it very clear they will never support a professional certification program.

On Jul.11.2005 at 08:14 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

AIGA, an organization that’s made it very clear they will never support a professional certification program.

Ellen—Have they made that clear? One of my worries in the past was that the process would overwhelm the AIGA. Certainly the AIGA would have to change radically to become the certifying organization but are you saying they wouldn’t be a cooperative force?

On Jul.11.2005 at 08:30 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Well after posting a couple of comments back and forth to each other, I emailed Ed Gold and asked him if he would do a podcast with me on my blog, dealing with the topic of GD certification. Luckily he agreed!

Here is the link to the entry and podcast.

.chris{}

On Jul.12.2005 at 12:57 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Gunnar — I've always gotten the impression from AIGA that support for certification would alientate a significant portion of membership who would neither have the willingness to examine the rationale nor the patience to test the program — and that alientation would threaten the welfare of the organization. In other words, AIGA will not stick its neck out on such a controversial topic — regardless of how much support certification may garner — because it fears a dwindling membership base as a result.

And to date, I don't believe there's been a national president that has believed enough in certification to tackle the initiative. I think that's a shame and have always been disappointed at this reluctance from AIGA to show some leadership on this issue.

Maybe I should run for president....oh, the mayhem that would ensue....heh, heh.

On Jul.12.2005 at 01:05 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Maybe I should run for president....oh, the mayhem that would ensue....heh, heh.

Well Tan, you've got MY vote! LOL!

In other words, AIGA will not stick its neck out on such a controversial topic — regardless of how much support certification may garner — because it fears a dwindling membership base as a result.

In other words, they'd rather keep their numbers and continue to collect their dues (which are going UP) than do something that arguably could benefit the industry? "To HELL with the state of the industry, just give us a valid credit card"?

With leadership like that, it's no wonder that our industry is in the shape it's in.

Has the AIGA ever bothered to officially address the issue at any length? Are they content to unofficially and quietly just stay away from it?

.chris{}

On Jul.12.2005 at 03:12 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Ellen, I thought Fashion Plates made it 101 articles since....

If the AIGA wanted to play a major role in certification, the 1st step would be a review board for new membership applications. Currently all it takes is the money to buy it with no apparent process of validating an applicants claim to be a designer. Possessing a legal or pirated version of photoshop and other design software certainly has led to a plethora of professional amateurs and it's unlikely that will end. While few of these professional amateurs may be AIGA members, my point is it's quite easy to do either.

Typically, certifying and industry is an inititaive from 'outside' and not the rank and file calling for it. However, given page layout in a day via Indesign or, say, low end applications like iWork, designers should have a vested interest in raising the bar of clients perspective of the industry thorugh certification.

Jennifer, I'm glad your quite qualified for what you do, however Ellens' comment regarding 115 out of 125 applications being unqualified candidates is quite accurate. I've hired enough designers to see this extreme and more.

Tan as AIGA president. Hehe, if you are, can I plan 12 conferences in one year in the same city with the same speakers (I promise to have 12 unique themes)?

On Jul.12.2005 at 03:28 PM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

Never say never. I spoke rashly, based on private, remembered conversations. Here is a quote from Ric Grefe, published in a CA #310 Jan-Feb 2002 "Professional Accreditation: The International Perspective":

USA

Richard Grefé

Executive Director, American Institute of Graphic Arts

“The interest among graphic designers in finding ways to authenticate their professional qualifications is universal. Experiences related by designers from around the world reveal the ambivalence and difficulties in arriving at objective measure of professional skill. Reactions within the US design community are no different.

“AIGA, as the largest and oldest professional association of communication designers in this country, with 40 chapters and more than 15,000 members, would be a logical arbiter of professional standards. The challenge, of course, is defining reasonable standards. A third-party authentication could help employers and clients make objective decisions about a designer’s qualifications. Yet, could we trust a third party to make a truly meaningful judgment of a portfolio? A requirement for length of professional practice would not overcome the problem of ill-equipped practitioners finding clients over an extended period of time. A test of objective knowledge could be useful in measuring historical or critical knowledge, although it might not be able to capture the ability of a designer to craft effective solutions to communication problems. My review of the study guide for the RGD exam in Ontario — a test developed with thoughtful and conscientious intent — suggests questions that I would not consider central to providing a client with a meaningful identification of a relevant designer (i.e., study areas such as Victorian graphics or the fundamentals of a fax cover sheet).

“AIGA is pursuing professional validation through several initiatives that approach, but do not completely satisfy, the challenge. First, AIGA is working with NASAD, the accrediting agency for post-secondary art and design programs, to develop the expectations for an education of a communication designer. These criteria, plus the training of evaluators, will help educational institutions develop curricula that meet the needs of the marketplace. Graduates of programs that meet these criteria will be assumed to meet certain basic criteria for the profession.

“AIGA also seeks to establish that its members are committed to certain levels of professionalism. AIGA would prefer to be authoritative in establishing the standards for designers as trusted counselors on increasingly strategic, multidimensional assignments that address communication problems, rather than those who can execute stylistic requirements in the creation of artifacts. Members who sign onto the standards for professional practice will be entitled to use the AIGA initials after their name and will be listed as such in the online directory of designers.

"Thus, validation is about the professional who respects the needs of the client. The client must review the portfolio to determine if previous assignments have proven the designer’s ability to accomplish a desired outcome.

“If there were a consensus within the US design community toward certification; if a consensus could also be drawn for a methodology for setting the standards; and if the considerable resources for implementing a certification process were available, AIGA would be prepared to implement it.”

On Jul.13.2005 at 12:28 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Thanks for posting this, Ellen.

“AIGA also seeks to establish that its members are committed to certain levels of professionalism. AIGA would prefer to be authoritative in establishing the standards for designers as trusted counselors on increasingly strategic, multidimensional assignments that address communication problems, rather than those who can execute stylistic requirements in the creation of artifacts. Members who sign onto the standards for professional practice will be entitled to use the AIGA initials after their name and will be listed as such in the online directory of designers.

What's not clear here is what the designer must do or demonstrate in order to show that they actually DO adhere to these standards of professional practice. Is simply saying so good enough? What happens when someone who previously agreed to those standards is found to NOT follow them?

“If there were a consensus within the US design community toward certification; if a consensus could also be drawn for a methodology for setting the standards; and if the considerable resources for implementing a certification process were available, AIGA would be prepared to implement it.

Isn't this kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg? It would seem that if the AIGA is REALLY willing to support certification, then it should support Ed's suggestion of a feasibility study in order to find out (a) the benefits to the industry, (b) costs involved and (c) what skills need to be tested and certified. Then a proposal could be made and perhaps a greater consensus could be reached.

.chris{}

On Jul.13.2005 at 01:14 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Wow. This thread is still going!

I've worked with several of these organizations and I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that tests can be devised to measure people for anything and everything

This has been said a lot in this thread, but I still have yet to see one tangible example of this.

Take this recent thread on network branding:

http://www.underconsideration.com/speakup/archives/002365.html#002365

everyone is in agreement that these solutions suck, so would the designers of said solutions not be certified? I'm sure there was market research, 'strategic thinking', etc in all of these solutions, yet they still came out bad. That's what I see as the problem to certification. It really can't be any indicator of anything other than someone has paid their dues to the certification board.

My education and my experience should be proof enough that I know what I'm doing when it comes to graphic design.

And I can't really think of a profession where that isn't true. Is anyone familiar with a profession where certification somehow trumps the person's experience/skills/abilities/body of work?

Certification is a powerful tool designers need to take advantage of in order to face the challenges of today’s marketplace in order to provide a clear way to communicate to the business community who graphic designers are, why we are different, and how we can add value to our clients’ businesses.

Isn't there a crap-load of irony in that? Aren't we supposed to be skilled in the art of communication? Are we saying that even though that's our primary skill set, we can't communicate properly to the business world why we're needed without a certificate?

Employers -- especially in this time of technological and communications change, are clearly struggling to define exactly what a graphic designer SHOULD know and what skills they SHOULD possess.

You quoted a stock HR requirements paragraph. That has nothing to do with the folks that actually hire the graphic designer. Granted, there's a lot more that employers should know about design in general. But I'm still not sure how certification addresses that particular issue...other than a certification board would collect dues and then perhaps spend money on advertising.

On Jul.13.2005 at 01:33 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

They are most often musicians, chefs, painters, film directors, composers -- some with impressive educational credentials and experience...But somehow they’ve gotten the idea that anybody who ever bought Photoshop and retouched an image or designed a birthday card is, or can be, a graphic designer.

The most talented web designers I ever worked with had no formal design education. One had a degree in classical composition. One had a degree in geology. One had a degree in Fine Arts (painting).

A good friend of mine's wife is a competant graphic designer for an architecture firm. She has a degree in Russian Studies.

I dismiss “the field is too broad” arguments because every field is broad.

Lawyers aren't that broad. They have very niche specialities and there's a very definable set of rules and regulations that they have to understand. And, even when they know all of that, and have been 'certified' they can still be an awful lawyer. And we all know that lawyers aren't necessarily held in high esteem just because they have an 'certification' board. ;o)

On Jul.13.2005 at 01:39 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>If there were a consensus within the US design community toward certification...AIGA would be prepared to implement it.

And there we have the crux of the dilemma. This issue needs some sort of leadership from AIGA to either go forward or die once and for all. The community at large has proven time and time again that it's incapable of reaching a concensus without some sort of structured support and effort — something which our national representative body is unprepared to tackle.

AIGA/Ric's position is a cop out.

Sure, AIGA can promote "a commitment to professional standards" — and set accreditation standards for education programs. But let's face it, those things are all peripheral issues to professional certification, and everyone knows it. But still, AIGA refuses to acknowledge the importance of dealing directly with certification.

I remember when I went to my first leadership retreat as a chapter exec — all bright eyed and naive like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." During a discussion group, I brought up the topic of certification, and asked why it wasn't on any of the agendas to be discussed during the retreat? Surely it was a topic of great importance to AIGA, especially since the org was already addressing professional and business ethics standards as well as educational accreditation. Some of the new chapter execs in the room like me also gave collected support to this. But almost immediately, the veterans leadership panel up front, including a couple of national board members, all gave a collected groan and curtly explained that it was an unresolvable issue that AIGA wasn't interested in. No history, no explanation, just a dead end response.

Well, every year after that, at every retreat, there would always be a new Mr.Smith attendee — all bright-eyed and naive — who would ask the exact same question regarding accreditation. And as always, the question would either be ignored or slammed shut by the national board.

It's apparent to me that both sides have an unwillingness to rationally resolve the issue — meaning dealing with the inevitable — that certification will eventually be a reality, because it's a professional necessity.

I just can't understand this inability to resolve such a rational, common professional issue.

>..other than a certification board would collect dues.

And Darrel — your skepticism and dogged determination to discount people's belief in the need for certification is impressive. I'm not sure how to respond to you — you've ignored the tangible answers many have given, and just concentrate on rhetorical quotes that you can hammer on the same points over and over again — like your comment above. I mean, c'mon — do you really believe that certification is all just another ploy to extract more money from you? Ok, we fucking get it — you don't like paying dues to anyone.

On Jul.13.2005 at 03:05 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

And Darrel — your skepticism and dogged determination to discount people's belief in the need for certification is impressive.

As is yours. ;o)

you've ignored the tangible answers many have given

I haven't ignored them. There haven't BEEN any. I've heard lots of rhetoric...'it can be tested...of course it's not subjective...etc' but no actual examples.

I mean, c'mon — do you really believe that certification is all just another ploy to extract more money from you?

I don't think it's a ploy of any kind.

Ok, we fucking get it — you don't like paying dues to anyone.

No, you obviously don't fucking get it.

On Jul.13.2005 at 03:10 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

It's apparent to me that both sides have an unwillingness to rationally resolve the issue — meaning dealing with the inevitable — that certification will eventually be a reality, because it's a professional necessity.

Tan...just because you believe in something so strongly that you can simply state it as fact doesn't do much to win over the skeptics.

I just can't understand this inability to resolve such a rational, common professional issue.

There are 200 posts in here with very little practical implementation ideas. From what I can tell thus far, if we were to implement certification, we would test for some basic understanding of graphic design history, typography, FDA packaging requirements, and somehow, someway, determine 'strategic thinking'.

So, I just can't understand this inability to resolve such a rational, common issue of establishing tangible methodologies to further the cause.

Now, obviously we disagree. And we can certainly disagree. We can even fucking disagree. ;o)

On Jul.13.2005 at 03:15 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

There are 200 posts in here with very little practical implementation ideas. From what I can tell thus far, if we were to implement certification, we would test for some basic understanding of graphic design history, typography, FDA packaging requirements, and somehow, someway, determine 'strategic thinking'.

Well Steve I think that Ed had the best idea which is that we need to have a feasibility study to determine, once and for all, (a) what the benefits of certification to the industry would be, (b) how much it would cost and (c) what skills should be tested for.

Pro certification or con, I can't see why ANYONE would be against conducting such a study. If the study came back and determined that the benefits just aren't there or that certication would be too expensive or logistically prohibitive, the issue would be dead.

OTOH, if the study clearly showed the benefits certification would have on the industry, who could argue against implementing it? And if we had a detailed study with findings into actual benefits as well as recommendations as to what to test, anyone who STILL opposed certification would clearly be doing so based on things other than rational fact and objectivity.

.chris{}

On Jul.13.2005 at 03:40 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Did you just call me Darrel, Chris?

I'm all for a feasability study. All for it. Would love to read it.

And if this study would determine benefits, would it conversely also illuminate the problem? 'Cuz... like Darrel... I'm really struggling to see what the problem is.

On Jul.13.2005 at 04:08 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Did you just call me Darrel, Chris?

Actually I called Darrel, Steve. Either way, my bad. LOL!

And if this study would determine benefits, would it conversely also illuminate the problem? 'Cuz... like Darrel... I'm really struggling to see what the problem is.

The problem has been discussed for the better part of 200+ comments in this thread. Please feel free to read any of the comments above. You might also read A Designer's Journey Toward Certification on my blog.

.chris{}

On Jul.13.2005 at 04:20 PM
gregor’s comment is:

I think that Ed had the best idea which is that we need to have a feasibility study to determine, once and for all, (a) what the benefits of certification to the industry would be, (b) how much it would cost and (c) what skills should be tested for.

The crux is of course what skills and knowledge should be certified, but I don't believe that is really that hard to conjure a working list.

In layman's terms, by the time the study is over, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, some 15 year geeky kid will have taken his copy of OS X developers tools and built a point and click logo app/machine - using a set of multiple choice questions, there you have it -- instant vector logo. We're already close enough to that reality and it's the road we've been heading down since we hung up our t-squares and picked up the mouse. We'll all be out of jobs before we can defend our profession's integrity and need through matters such as certification.

Gross exageration indeed, but the steady influx of trained and untrained designers into the work force needs radical assessment for this industry to survive in it's rich historical tradition, or bow to the fact that increased automation and tool functionality could easily put us all in the income bracket of Safeway Bagger. Only the top of the food chain will remain somewhat unscathed, perhaps.

We'll see you at e-lance Darrel.

On Jul.13.2005 at 04:30 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

The crux is of course what skills and knowledge should be certified, but I don't believe that is really that hard to conjure a working list.

Well I have my opinions but I agree that a study that partly surveys the market for design services and perhaps trends what skills will be also necessary from now into the next 10-15 years would be best.

We've already seen the skills graphic designers must employ grow over the last 10-15 years, and I'm not just talking about software programs. Designers have had to become far more strategic in terms of communication. We have to be able to at least understand, not necessarily execute, how the solutions we craft will fair in other media and develop strategies for maximum effect.

No study has ever been done in the U.S. that reveals where are market is going and what must be done to best service it. We have to find out WHY what we do has become so commoditized that clients are going to eLance and $50 logo shops.

Whenever commoditization occurs, you must DIFFERENTIATE yourself or you find yourself competing based on price and racing to the bottom, not the top.

Gross exageration indeed, but the steady influx of trained and untrained designers into the work force needs radical assessment for this industry to survive in it's rich historical tradition, or bow to the fact that increased automation and tool functionality could easily put us all in the income bracket of Safeway Bagger. Only the top of the food chain will remain somewhat unscathed, perhaps.

Maybe. In my podcast interview with Ed Gold, he revealed that even luminaries like Milton Glaser has reported that work has been drying up. So for the folks who say "just do good work and you'll be fine", well WHO does better work than Milton Glaser? It's NOT fine.

Our industry has a long history of sticking it's head in the sand and not recognizing and confronting change. What happened to typesetters? Many had a HUGELY lucrative time in the 80's, only to find themselves driving a cab by the early 90's. Although things were seemingly fine in the 80's and typesetters were making money, major industry changes were underway that ultimately left almost all of them without a career.

We can either learn from history or be doomed to repeat it.

We'll see you at e-lance Darrel.

Indeed.

.chris{}

On Jul.13.2005 at 04:46 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Christopher,

Thanks, man. Just foolin'.

You know, I HAVE read every single comment since this thread started. I still don't see the problem. Unless it's the 'hack with Photoshop is after my can of beans' (or words to that effect) line.

On June 26th at approximately 3:35 pm, Gunnar mentioned that he might get to answering Darrel's concerns that this may be a solution in search of a problem. (Did you ever? Maybe a little...)

So I kinda' been waiting for that. In the meantime I am having no preference pro or con, but like Mr. D, I just don't think certification CAN be done, or if it can... it will prove nothing.

Thanks for the link to another blog, tho.

On Jul.13.2005 at 04:56 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

The problem has been discussed for the better part of 200+ comments in this thread.

Steve, AFAICT, the problem seems to be that many feel that people that hire graphic designers have no idea why they hire us and that, somehow, certification would remedy that. But that's still really fuzzy to me. ;o)

We'll see you at e-lance Darrel.

???

Whenever commoditization occurs, you must DIFFERENTIATE yourself or you find yourself competing based on price and racing to the bottom, not the top.

I agree. But, IMHO, certification is actually what would introduce more commoditization.

Maybe. In my podcast interview with Ed Gold, he revealed that even luminaries like Milton Glaser has reported that work has been drying up. So for the folks who say "just do good work and you'll be fine", well WHO does better work than Milton Glaser? It's NOT fine.

And certification would remedy that how?

What happened to typesetters? Many had a HUGELY lucrative time in the 80's, only to find themselves driving a cab by the early 90's. Although things were seemingly fine in the 80's and typesetters were making money, major industry changes were underway that ultimately left almost all of them without a career.

Again, how would certification have fixed that? Unionization may have helped. We could have striked and rioted and burned all the laserprinters or something.

On Jul.13.2005 at 05:07 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

To echo Steve, I've participated in this thread because a good debate is always fun, but also because I truly am trying to figure out a) what the problem is that certification would solve and b) how would certification solve said problem.

Instead, these last few comments seem to be consisting of a lot of paranoid 'the industry will fail if we don't enact certification' rantings.

So, like Steve, I'm still scratching my head. Still enjoying the conversation, though. ;o)

On Jul.13.2005 at 05:10 PM
ed gold’s comment is:

Apparently a description of what is or is not a feasibility study is in order.

A feasibity study can be conducted by anyone, but, to be most reliable, it usually needs to be conducted by a professional and objective research organization.

The purpose of a feasibilty study is to identify whether or not a planned action will be successful. By identifying the possible benefits, problems, risks, costs and timing, a proper feasibilty study would hopefully indicate whether or not a next step should be undertaken.

For years hundreds of designers have been wasting an awful lot of time debating the pros and cons of certification as it applies to graphic designers, with lots of opinions and no facts to back up their opinions.

A feasibilty study would, at the very least give designers these facts. At the very best, it might create a road map that gives organizations like the AIGA a reason to be more proactive on this subject.

According to its mission statement, the AIGA was "created to advance the design profession". What better way to do this than to take the lead in a serious study of something that might affect the futures of thousands of designers and their clients?

On Jul.13.2005 at 05:59 PM
gregor’s comment is:

If we take a historical perspective on this, let's just metaphorically say the design industry is a cottage industry, and the advent of the computer and access to software and automation, plus globalization has created the ability to create the design factory. Resist as Luddites we certainly cannot do, but taking every measure to elevate ourselves above bottle cappers at the Pepsi factory we should.

I've participated in this thread because a good debate is always fun, but also because I truly am trying to figure out a) what the problem is that certification would solve and b) how would certification solve said problem.

Yes, me too, but:

Think historically, act in our times, project for the future.

As a cranky old German Philospher, Karl Marx, once said, "History always repeats itself...."

On Jul.13.2005 at 07:17 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Gunnar mentioned that he might get to answering Darrel's concerns that this may be a solution in search of a problem. (Did you ever? Maybe a little...)

I had hoped so. This is related to my hesitation about Ed Gold’s suggestion that we should shut up and let the study pros take over. If the main direction such a study has is to determine the feasibility of certifying graphic designers, then the question is “Certified to be able to do what?” Having experts on organizational management determine what makes someone worthy of certification would be a mistake even if they base their assumptions on what they are told by consumers of graphic design services.

I agree that a study is in order. But such a study can only be successful if the people conducting the study are given some solid direction. One reason that this topic produces more thermal energy than luminance is that it is a good rack for hanging people’s hopes and fears.

So what would we like to certify people to be able to do?

I suppose it would be more convenient for Ellen to be able to run an ad that says “only class 3 certified graphic designers need apply” but the fry cooks and retired Rockettes can be eliminated by dropping their CVs in the recycling bin. BTW, this isn’t brand new: I had a similar situation when I advertised for a graphic designer in 1983—more than half of the CVs were from people who made me think “Did they even read the ad?” Design firm owners can ask for and look for prior experience. Reaching HR folk with information about what graphic designers can and can’t do doesn’t require a certification program.

As Ellen suggested so many years ago, it is dealing directly with a client that is in need of certification. Unlike design firm owners, most people who need graphic design services do not have the tools to separate the various offers that come their way under the heading “graphic design.” And there’s no reason they should. If I go in for those gluteal implants I’ve been wanting, there’s no way I can tell whether a doctor is the right choice merely by looking at the book full of butt photos and the letters of appreciation from former Fly Girls. That’s part of it but being able to ask “Are you a board certified plastic surgeon?” helps eliminate a bunch of people I don’t want to deal with. Note that board certification for physicians is specific. My endocrinologist isn’t a board certified plastic surgeon and shouldn’t be.

So the goal is not for all or most graphic designers (even those we might consider skilled and worthy of adulation) to be certified.

Despite what some people have claimed, educational record isn’t enough and shouldn’t be. Just because the plastic surgeon was #1 in his class at Stanford Med School doesn’t mean he’s qualified to do everything he’s legally allowed to do. (By the same token, many people do well at good law schools and then fail the bar exam.) It is of great value for the consumers of specialized services to have, in addition to referrals and their own interview skills, a stamp of approval from a body that has more specialized knowledge than the consumer has.

So as far as I’m concerned, the feasibility study should particularly address three points:

1) The feasibility and efficacy of certifying graphic designers who are highly qualified to serve clients’ strategic communication needs systematically.

2) Whether that is best accomplished with some specialized certifications (either in place of or in addition to a general graphic design certification.)

3) Whether some system of incremental certifications would be of value for designers in understanding their careers, as a method of “feeding” the final certification system, or for employers of graphic designers and whether this adds to or detracts from the overall feasibility.

Some principles for the study are that it not be primarily technical, that it not be narrowly aesthetic but would demonstrate mastery of the traditional skills and knowledge of graphic design, and that it not try to be too broadly inclusive. (From my perspective the RGD program in Ontario is a failure as certification because it grandfathers in everyone who has been around for a while. Forget quibbles about the content of their test; most people with RGD status have never seen their test.)

Darrel—Can I get you to suspend your disbelief long enough to discuss this as an ideal? Instead of saying “I don’t know how we can test for strategic abilities” answer whether you accept or reject that as a goal. Have faith that their may be someone better at designing tests than we are and worry more about what should be done than how it should be done. Is “strategic thinking” any more abstract than “understanding of legal principles”? The bar exam doesn’t just check if people know the criminal code number for jaywalking and the proper form for filing appeals.

Also, please let go of your insistence that people have promised you that this would be objective. A study could reveal to what extent and in what sense it could be objective but if it is worthwhile it will almost certainly not be objective in the narrowest sense of the word. The bar exam is not objective in the sense that, say, the SAT exam was until this year. Many important things require the interpretation of experts. It strikes me as foolish to start out talking about the form until we know more about agreed goals. Objectivity in the sense of an easy numerical calculation with no human judgmental intervention strikes me as unlikely. The absence of a multiple-choice test with clear answers shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

One of the arguments made against certification is that it would be a more efficient and/or appropriate use of time to “evangelize graphic design” or to use our skills to educate people on the value of design. The problem with this is, of course, the problem that certification could address: a lack of differentiation between the various sorts of graphic designers out there. If I promote the general value of graphic design then I have not just promoted graphic design as a strategic communication tool, a practice for transmitting information in the most efficient manner, and an awareness of people’s relationships with information and ideals; I have promoted everything that gets called graphic design and everyone who gets called a graphic designer. That is not in my interest, in the interest of the future of graphic design, nor in the interest of most potential buyers of graphic design services.

Graphic design is not merely superficial and cannot be judged exclusively in a merely superficial manner yet we ask people to make sophisticated judgments about valuing graphic design when they have no way of understanding its potential. They cannot rely on graphic designers for this because we tend to engage any buzzword that we think might get us in the door so “branding” and “strategic” are just this week’s version of “problem solving” and next week there will be something else that sounds important. The real problem to be solved is that these things are important but there is no easy way to tell who knows that and who just pays them lip service.

On Jul.13.2005 at 08:33 PM
ed gold’s comment is:

Well, finally, we're getting somewhere. Gunner has it absolutely right. The three points he's described are exactly the kinds of clear directions that will be needed by whomever may be hired to investigate the potential in certification.

"Worry more about what should be done than how it should be done" is a thought anyone interested in certification needs to focus on.

By the way, I am by no means advocating that designers abdicate all responsibility to the "study pros".

I am merely suggesting that there are people who are very good at doing certain kinds of complex research than most designers and we need to accept that reality. At the same time, these people will be asking for and will need as much information and direction as possible from people like Gunnar.

On Jul.13.2005 at 10:27 PM
John D.’s comment is:

I'm really liking the idea of a feasibility study.

To add to Gunnar's third point - I'd be interested in knowing:

3.1) Whether some system of professional certification would be of value to educational institutions who teach graphic design and create design curriculum. And, if this adds or detracts from the overall feasibility

There's also a strange notion (visible in this discussion) that the whole topic of certification is about trying to fix some problem with the design profession. I don't necessarily feel that certification needs to "fix" anything, it should however, provide something of value to the profession.

Why is it so difficult to see certification as a potential accessory rather than a repair?

On Jul.13.2005 at 11:25 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Darrel—Can I get you to suspend your disbelief long enough to discuss this as an ideal? Instead of saying “I don’t know how we can test for strategic abilities” answer whether you accept or reject that as a goal.

On Jul.14.2005 at 11:00 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Aw crap. It ate my reply.

Well, yea, a study would be fine. It'd certainly provide more tangibles.

Gunnar, good post, and I concede that you have a POV that makes sense. I certainly don't agree with it...I don't see any of these 'problems' as being problems that are that serious nor issues that certification would address with any effectiveness. But that's just me.

Part of it is that I haven't dealt with any other industry where certification really meant much to the consumer/client.

On Jul.14.2005 at 11:03 AM
Jerome de Scriptorium’s comment is:

Think historically, act in our times, project for the future.

Amen Brother Gregor, now is the time. If only my fellow scribes had created a certification standard for our industry five hundred years ago, we wouldn't be in this mess today. Yes that's when it started. Gutenberg's damn invention made everyone think they could read and write with no training or understanding of the art. The worst was when I was looking for a junior scribe. Good lord I even had a lyre player show up claiming knowledge of reading and writing.

NO! These people have no idea about true graphic design. Too many don't know the difference between an explicuit and an explicuit feliciter. A true graphic designer must know proper rubrication. I'm sick of untrained oafs claiming to be able to properly miniate my rubric!

It's gotten so bad that the only work a good scribe can find these days is scripting names on school diplomae. Back in the day, a monk could make a proper living and was respected by the community. Now they let dang kids play around with parchment and quill and the next thing you know, they think they can read and write. It's bullshit and I'm sick of it.

On Jul.14.2005 at 11:37 AM
gregor’s comment is:

Monsieur Scriptorium,

all cynicism aside - which is an awfully easy road to take - the lesson isn't about stopping history and the evolution of technology, but (metaphorically speaking) are we going toward the direction of factory farms, or sustainable farming. Design isn't in a vacuum, regardless of how many posters appear to be so.

In your anonymous guise, how would you propose to retain the integrity of design for the client's perspective as we move forward in an already terribly confused industry?

On Jul.14.2005 at 12:50 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

The uncertainty surrounding the policy of the AIGA toward certification along with my inability to let things go moved me to write AIGA Executive Director Ric Grefé and ask him directly. He got back to me very quickly and left his official response.

In short, the response was along the lines of "We agree with you but the timing is 'not right' right now."

I've posted the entire contents of my letter to Ric and his response to me on my blog.

This could fuel for this thread another 200+ posts! LOL!

.chris{}

On Jul.14.2005 at 03:14 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Back in the day, a monk could make a proper living and was respected by the community.

While I certainly feel for the monks, some have managed to keep up with the times even without certification:

www.lasermonks.com

:)

are we going toward the direction of factory farms, or sustainable farming.

Both. As we always have been. And I'm not sure how certification would fix that anyways. Has licensing plumbers stopped freelance handy(wo)men who may or may not be good at plumbing from making a living and competing with the highly trained, certified, licensed, unionized plumber?

As for the AIGA, they're hardly all encompassing when it comes to the broad spectrum of design...or even graphic design, so I'm not sure if they'd even be the organization to go after. I'm not even sure if there is a suitable all-encompassing organization.

On Jul.14.2005 at 06:06 PM
ed gold’s comment is:

"And I'm not sure how certification would fix that anyways".

"I'm not even sure if there is a suitable all-encompassing organization".

The fact of the matter is that almost all designers are not sure of anything when it comes to the subject of certification, which doesn't appear to prevent so many of us from having strong and clever opinions about everything to do with the subject.

"Has licensing plumbers stopped freelance handy(wo)men who may or may not be good at plumbing from making a living and competing with the highly trained, certified, licensed, unionized plumber?"

It's also a little bit worrisome that as many times as the differences between certification, licensing, accreditation, unions, etc. have been explained, it's still pretty obvious that an awful lot of designers still don't understand those differences.

On Jul.15.2005 at 10:10 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

it's still pretty obvious that an awful lot of designers still don't understand those differences.

I can't speak for others, but the differences are fairly obvious.

On Jul.15.2005 at 12:40 PM
Jerome de Scriptorium’s comment is:

"the lesson isn't about stopping history and the evolution of technology"

"how would you propose to retain the integrity of design"

Retaining what we had/have is of little value and a waste of effort. The scribes of today have to adapt, evolve and take it up a notch.

"Has licensing plumbers stopped freelance handy(wo)men who may or may not be good at plumbing from making a living and competing with the highly trained, certified, licensed, unionized plumber?"

It sure as hell has Friar Austin. But it's the licensing part that has teeth. Certification doesn't mean anything. Plumbing without a license makes thyself shark bait though.

"it's still pretty obvious that an awful lot of designers still don't understand those differences."

Yep. And the proponents of certification in this debate are delusional about the costs and results. I have yet to have an opportunity to meet AIGA Executive Director Ric Grefé. But I did get a chance to read his response to Christopher Gee's letter. It's reassuring to know that the one organization in a position to pull it off, the AIGA, has an understanding of the situation.

And lastly, Brother Gregor please forgive my "anonymous guise." I've convinced a few armarium directors who may be reading this scroll that I'm slaving away night and day on their parchments. It would reflect poorly on this monk to be wasting candle wax Speaking Up.

On Jul.15.2005 at 02:45 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

Yep. And the proponents of certification in this debate are delusional about the costs and results. I have yet to have an opportunity to meet AIGA Executive Director Ric Grefé. But I did get a chance to read his response to Christopher Gee's letter. It's reassuring to know that the one organization in a position to pull it off, the AIGA, has an understanding of the situation.

Well it's not accurate for anyone to state opinions about certification "costs and results" until a study into the matter has been conducted. HOW would the AIGA or anyone else know what the costs would be until (a) we determine what should be tested and (b) we study what the intended result is likely to be?

That's like a client coming to one of us designers and asking how much a new company web site will cost? How should I know until I have determined what needs to be done?

With all due respect to Ric Grefé -- and I have removed his letter from my blog based on reasons he and I have discussed privately -- he did not describe how the figure he provided was arrived at and what he did say did not provide enough for us to speculate about.

Perhaps it will be possible for one of us to interview Ric or another AIGA spokesman on our blogs in order to get a bit more insight into this matter?

On Jul.15.2005 at 03:09 PM
ed gold’s comment is:

If ... and I realize this is a big "if", but stay with me for a moment ... a serious and well constructed study could show that, in all likelihood, most designers in this country would become better designers, improve their relationships with their clients, attract better jobs, improve their ability to hire more qualified designers, and make more money to boot, why would those designers shy away from pursuing that study, especially if the study itself were relatively inexpensive?

While it's understandable that we can, and probably should, be skeptical that certifying graphic designers could accomplish all these wonderful things, does it hurt to explore the possibilities?

Worrying about what to test for, who will do the testing, how much will it cost, how long would it take to implement, how can the testing be kept current, etc., etc., etc. are problems that certainly need to be addressed ... but not yet. All these issues can wait until we find out with reasonable certainty that certification is worth doing at all.

If the benefits from certification appear to be huge, then almost any effort and almost any cost to make this happen would be worth it.

If not, then so be it. Say goodby, Gracie.

On Jul.15.2005 at 04:06 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Monsieur Scriptorium,

Ah, but we shall - by force of circumstance - adapt. take it up a notch is always a goal but we seem to be on the down side of the S curve, hence a rather long list of posts to this SU entry.

evolve? yes and usually as Johnny-come-lately.

Integrity we require. Suggestions in relation to the thread?

Anonymity duly noted.

On Jul.15.2005 at 04:11 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

I am one who believes that certification would, in fact, benefit the profession. For one, it would draw a distinction between those who advertise themselves as designers, but do not adhere to standards of professional and ethical practice, thus defining Design as a true profession. At present, anyone can join the AIGA, regardless of skill, education, reputation or intent. In many ways, this is one of the organization's great strengths. At some point, I believe, it also becomes its weakness.

As the professional organization for design, the AIGA has long upheld the ideals of excellence in design. Increasingly, that role is being redefined to focus less on the outcome of our work, and more on the processes by which it is achieved. Design is now being recognized as a far more sophisticated endeavor than the AIGA's acronymic moniker would suggest. We aren't so much about the "Graphic Arts" as we are about thought leadership when it comes to designing as a discipline.

I believe such a distinction in many ways requires a more selective membership base (yes, you can read that as exclusive, I'm sorry). At the same time, the governance and administration of any such qualification scheme — already nigh impossible — is made all the more difficult.

I am largely a proponent of inclusion, and democracy, and an opponent of elitism and exclusion — each of which is its own argument against certification. But if you don't draw the line somewhere you risk irrelevance and sacrifice the integrity of your ideals.

I could argue both sides of this issue ad nauseam, but these few short thoughts are all I have time for at this particular moment.

On Jul.15.2005 at 07:26 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

I think that we designers who blog -- whether we have our own blogs or write enthusiastically on others -- need to really think about the potential that we have to bring/keep issues like this on the debate and over time, affect the type of change we're looking for.

A few things happened recently that made it clear to me that design organizations are very aware of bloggers and are not unconcerned with that gets said on the blogs with respect to their organizations.

Certification talk has always been around. Typically certification talk would start up, burn very hot, enflaming passions on both sides, then flame out with no place for that energy to go.

Now we're seeing this debate continue on various graphic design forums and blogs around the Internet.

Well I say that we shouldn't allow organizations like the AIGA, GAG, ADC, etc. just skirt the issue. In the past, they could count on the debate just dying out for another 5-10 years. Not if we don't allow it to.

There is no logical reason that anyone -- regardless of where they stand on this issue -- should oppose a feasibility study looking into the possible benefits of certification in our industry.

Let's not let these guys off the hook!

.chris{}

On Jul.16.2005 at 01:12 PM
Christopher Simmons’s comment is:

I don't think anyone at AIGA is looking to be "let off the hook" or is counting on the discussion dying down. On the contrary, I think you will find AIGA consciously takes a proactive stance on most critical issues facing the profession.

The democratic nature of blogs certainly is one way to gauge the temperature of a vocal segment of the design community with regard to a variety of issues. And yes, there is great potential here to influence priorities and support a critical agenda. On that point we totally agree.

I'd also suggest that we back our thoughts and words with action.

On Jul.16.2005 at 01:59 PM
Jerome de Scriptorium’s comment is:

"...most designers in this country would become better designers, improve their relationships with their clients, attract better jobs, improve their ability to hire more qualified designers, and make more money to boot"

This monk would love to see an ironclad study show that some form of certification could do this. Skepticism still prevails though, and my belief that costs would outweigh potential benefits for the majority of graphic design practitioners. But hey, just show me the money and I'm there.

"Integrity we require. Suggestions in relation to the thread?"

The only existing model that I can think of that would work for me is that of the Better Business Bureau. What if the AIGA maintained a database of all known designers, including non-members? The database would include keyworded CVs for both businesses and individuals, emphasis would be on training, clients served and experience. Having these available to the entire certifying body will help the veracity of the claims. And any disputes between or with clients, employees, employers, etc. would either be amicably settled, or publicly noted that a complaint is unresolved. (I'd love to see the Sockwell vs. Collins issue worked out this way—or with boxing gloves.)

As stated previously, any person wanting to be known as a designer can already join the AIGA, which makes a statement that they are committed to the integrity of what that certifies. And there is another step of certification the BBB added a few years ago called Partners in Excellence, or something like that. It's an extra level of commitment from some members who sign on to a more stringent code. These members also pay for the more elevated status. The AIGA has the basis of this with their Standards of Professional Practice Agreement. The AIGA's version could require a peer board review for acceptance or denial based on qualifications and experience. (Although the politics of that are potentially scary. And no free rides for grandpa damn it!)

"Let's not let these guys off the hook!"

This monk's candle is out of wax now. But I wish you all good luck lobbying the AIGA, or finding an alternative organization and funding. And I look forward to the continued debate.

On Jul.16.2005 at 02:50 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

I don't think anyone at AIGA is looking to be "let off the hook" or is counting on the discussion dying down. On the contrary, I think you will find AIGA consciously takes a proactive stance on most critical issues facing the profession.

Yet deafeningly silent on this issue. Why is that?

>>I'd also suggest that we back our thoughts and words with action.

On Jul.16.2005 at 02:59 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

This monk would love to see an ironclad study show that some form of certification could do this. Skepticism still prevails though, and my belief that costs would outweigh potential benefits for the majority of graphic design practitioners. But hey, just show me the money and I'm there.

Now this is what I'm talking about. A feasibility study into the matter will determine whether or not we should do it, what the benefits are and how much it would cost.

Why NOT have a feasibility study? It just makes too much sense, right? Any other business matter is approached this way. You evaluate the marketplace, the costs and legistics and then make an informed decision.

That's what we SHOULD be doing and I'm baffled as to why some refuse to even do that. Skeptics, opponents and proponents alike should all be united in seeing this kind of study, even if for entirely different reasons.

.chris{}

On Jul.16.2005 at 03:03 PM
gregor’s comment is:

scene 1, take 1, action

(Boy with gun [shotgun] dressed in calvin klein overalls, Tommy Hilfiger tank top t-shirt, ipod strapped to upper arm, Fuseproject Birkenstock Footprints, in front of barn converted to design studio, client seen from back approaching.)

Boy: "You the man from the certification board? If you is, my daddy done told me to shoot you."

(camera zooms to itchy trigger finger)

(cute illustrations of eagles fly across the screen)

(bounce to center: "it our own damn right to design or not to design

Paid for and endorsed by Association of Subjective Interpretation")

End scene 1

On Jul.16.2005 at 04:23 PM
Christopher Simmons’s comment is:

I am not aware of an official AIGA policy regarding certification, but I'm not aware of a lot o fthings.

Every institution has priorities, which are addressed according to the available bandwidth. Not addressing certification in the near term is most likely a function of available resources. The AIGA has some 18,000 members, and something like a dozen staff members. Everyone else is a volunteer.

We have a lot on our agenda in both the near and long term. The list of task forces (to which more are soon to be added) should give you an idea of how active and ambitious the institution is in representing the interests of its members. (These task forces, by the way, are identified through collective dialogue amongst all local leadership, with input from any interested member.)

If you're a member, and you are adamantly interested in this issue, sign up to participate in a task force. It's that easy.

Writing, and emailing and petitioning are powerful ways of drawing attention to an issue, but participating is the most effective way to achieve results.

On Jul.16.2005 at 05:30 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

I am not aware of an official AIGA policy regarding certification, but I'm not aware of a lot o fthings.

This conversation convinced me last week to email Ric Grefe and ask him directly (a) what the AIGA's stance was with regard to certification and (b) whether the AIGA would support the idea of a feasibility study into the possible benefits of certification in our industry.

I had briefly (for a few hours) posted my letter to him along with his reply to my blog. Upon speaking to Ric, we came to an agreement which led me to later remove our discourse from my blog.

Without getting into all of the particulars, Ric indicated that the AIGA did not support the idea of certification or a feasibility study into certification, not because of a shortage of manpower or resources, but because the "time is not right" at the moment. No indication as to what would constitute the time being right.

If you're a member, and you are adamantly interested in this issue, sign up to participate in a task force. It's that easy.

I was ready to sign-up and participate back when certification was on the agenda, but since it has been inexplicably removed and in light of my correspondence earlier in the week, I think I'll keep my $275 in my pocket for now.

Writing, and emailing and petitioning are powerful ways of drawing attention to an issue, but participating is the most effective way to achieve results.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Years ago I had a membership to the AIGA and while some find tremendous value in their memberships, I did not. In retrospect, I guess was more interested in joining an institution along the lines of Design Council or RGD/ON, so I never really felt like the goals I was most interested in meshed with those being actively pursued by the AIGA.

That's NOT the fault of the AIGA, it's not their fault for not being another organization. And despite my criticisms of the AIGA on this blog, it's worth noting that the main reason I and others tend to criticize them as much as we do is because they are pretty much close to being the only game in town. Certainly the only GD organization that is truly relevant.

But hey, just like being the only superpower sucks, so does being the only relevant GD organization.

.chris{}

On Jul.16.2005 at 08:58 PM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

It's been nearly six weeks since the last posting on this thread, and I don't know what moved me to get up in the middle of the right and read all the postings since I last checked in. Maybe it has something to do with the realization that other interests have been crowding graphic design in my consciousness.

I'm sure it also has to do with the heavy, gold-stamped, blind-embossed invitations that have arrived in my mailbox. They are from the AIGA: invitations to the “Design Legends Gala” in Boston and the “Legends of the Harbor Sunset Cruise Honoring Design Legends.”

These invitations are beckoning me and repelling me at the same time.

I've been getting into percussion, and just came home from an awesome four-day all-women's drum festival, where I got into deep drumming and learning grooves with inspirational leaders. I also have been delving deeper into Judaism, taking advantage of opportunities to study with a chavurah (study group) and with some outstanding scholars.

Everyone has “hobbies,” but for me it feels like the beacons of graphic design aren't shining as brightly as they used to. And that's kind of sad.

The most meaningful projects I did this year were pro bono, a brochure to raise money for a children's home in Israel, where I had the pleasure of working with a top Israeli photographer; and a prayer book for my synagogue. It was challenge to grapple with several levels of text in English and Hebrew and develop a layout that might help others participate in the prayer service. I also designed a sweet little brochure for the Village of Irvington On Hudson, where I live.

Most of the work I do for a living I wouldn't want to show you.

Once upon a time, ALL my attention was focused on graphic design. Almost every project was a joy. And I got paid well for them. I still love writing about design and the people and the trends and all that. But given the choice of events and activities, is “Legends of the Harbor Sunset Cruise” at the top of the list? Do I really want hear the same speakers and see the same luminaries get glorified? I did the cruise in Vancouver, and it was fun, but…. On one level, yes, all the honor goes to Bart Crosby, Meredith Davis, and Steff Geissbuhler, who've held the center so many years and elevated the profession in so many ways.

But what about everybody else? At the very beginnings of my conversations with Ric Grefé about certification, he said: “The AIGA's role is to promote the design profession, not individual designers.” Isn't there a disconnect here? Yesterday I got to talking with a guy at the dealership where I was getting my car serviced. He asked about my computer, and it turns out he had been a graphic designer, too, a successful and happy one, but can't make a living at it any more. Now he does car detailing, admits it's not the same thing, but hey, there's lots of work and he's got to support his family. I hear the same story over and over. Except when I go to AIGA events, and the story doesn't exist.

I never thought certification was “the” answer. I was looking for an answer, and saw exploring the concept as worthwhile. No one appreciates being shot down at debates, though. We should all be looking at this together, figuring out how to work together. We should be finding answers on how to support design students, designers new to the profession, designers building their businesses, designers having difficulties maintaining their businesses. Seminars and conferences can help, but I think a support structure on a deeper level is missing. So even as we applaud the legends, let's look at what's in place to support the future legends, and the not-legends, just people who want to do good work and get paid a fair price for it. And the message we send has to be more than, “If you do great work and win awards, success will happen. See, X did it and so can you.” Sure, that does happen to some lucky souls, and yes, some very talented folks can come in from other educational streams and professions and even become superstars. But we've got to do more for everybody else. I never appreciated the logic that because X was once a surfer or a musician or a scientist and is now a successful graphic designer, we don't need to put any professional standards out to the world.

Gunnar, Darrel, Gregor. Eric, Derrick, Tan, Brother Gregory, et. all. thank you for your postings. All this posting and blogging has made us better writers, if nothing else. If you are starting a fund to collect money for that certification study, let me know where the tin cup is. Brother Armin, if you're there, shall we start a new thread (dangerous territory).

Now, what about those invitations? Do I want to be there, or not?

On Aug.30.2005 at 09:34 AM
Ellen Shapiro’s comment is:

Freudian slip in the first sentence. Got up in the middle of the night. Got up in the middle of the right. Right on.

On Aug.30.2005 at 01:12 PM
gregor’s comment is:

wow - has 6 weeks zipped by that fast? Ellen, I'll respond to some interesting points you brought up - later this eveniing I hope, if I can get this day under control...

On Aug.30.2005 at 02:27 PM
Christopher Gee’s comment is:

So what are we waiting for? Let's start this fund for a feasibility study on GD certification!

Proponents, let's find out if this is going to be feasible.

Opponents, this is your chance to burry this idea once and for all!

What do you guys say? How should we go about this? People will be more inclined to trust it if a reasonably well-known organization gets behind it. Does SpeakUp want to put the weight of its name behind such an effort?

.chris{}

On Aug.30.2005 at 03:33 PM