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May I See Your Papers?

Every few months, I get an email request from a graphic design student asking me to chime in on the concept of the accreditation of graphic design professionals. It is one of those perennial hot-button topics. Canada, where accreditation is practiced and monitored by The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD), is often cited as a good example of how this can work. Here is their mandate:

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario was created by an Act of the Ontario Legislature to certify graphic designers who have met a rigorous set of standards that includes documented levels of relevant, professional education and experience, as well as demonstrated competence in the areas of business, design principles, research and theory and ethics through successful completion of a written test and portfolio interview.
R.G.D.s are prepared and capable to function as effective ethical, professional, responsible communications design practitioners, managers and/or educators . . .
The R.G.D. and Registered Graphic Designer designations are signals of quality and competence to the profession, the public and the government.
RGD Ontario is the only graphic design association in North America to have this kind of legislation.

So, can this kind of oversight work in the United States? The debate rages and the initials and certificates wait in the wings. My beliefs, subject to change, are fairly simple. Just the other day, one student asked me the following questions. My answers are below:

Do you think the graphic design profession would benefit from a voluntary certification system? Not at all. Graphic design is in flux. What graphic design is today and tomorrow is not clear. Once, the lingua franca was type. Now graphic design involves motion and time and space. Rather than certification, let’s emphasize more education. Certification is a canard. Why do you think that graphic design certification does not exist in the United States? America and American designers are too diverse. We actually allow amateurs to become professionals, and some do pretty darn well. We also allow for a broad range of styles, techniques, and levels of creative achievement. How do you certify that?

If certification was to occur should it be done through an existing body such as the AIGA? Or some other option/quango? What’s a quango? I am always suspect of self-regulating industry bodies like the Hays Office for films or the Comics Code for comic books. AIGA is a great organization for history, education, business practices, social good, and many other initiatives, but it should not be a regulating body for all graphic designers.

What are your personal opinions on graphic design certification? What do you feel are the pros and cons? Simple: Don’t need it. Don’t want it. Make the qualifications for design education more stringent. Many people are graduated with degrees they should not have. Start there, and certification will be totally unnecessary, other than a classy punctuation at the end of your name.

[Editor’s Note: Owing to a technical problem, yesterday’s DH was not sent out via email. See “What is a Line, Anyway?” here.]

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