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graphic wombat journal
April/May 2011

Graphic Design Certification

Graphic Design has become increasingly popular over the last decade. Accessibility to desktop publishing applications in a home environment has allowed anyone to create graphics. Because of this, formally educated design professionals are forced to lower their rates to compete. Due to business owners' general lack of knowledge on graphic design, they focus more on the bottom dollar rather than quality of work. It's not just the financial aspect which concerns designers. It's about the way people view graphic design as a profession. This is why many American designers are pushing for a voluntary certification. Canada, Britain, Norway, Switzerland and Australia have all established successful certification programs for graphic designers. In these countries graphic design is treated the same way architecture is treated. Certification is acquired through an accredited organization who accepts designers based upon business practices, work experience, education and portfolio reviews; much like the discipline of architecture. There is much debate over the success of such certification in the States. To help gain a retrospective view on this topic I asked Stephanie Ezra-Dieude, an architecture student studying in Scotland, to an interview.
    Sean Mullins:
Do you believe voluntary graphic design certification will be successful in the US?
    Stephanie Ezra-Dieude:
With regards to such a program working in the USA it would need to first be decided as being a state by state certification, such as the current architectural, engineering and teaching certification programs. Secondly, anything voluntary often results in lower participation than expected or predicted. So with regards to that I would say that for a voluntary certification scheme to work it would need to come with perks, such as a slightly better pay, a bit like what a Masters degree does contrary to an undergrad only.
Do you believe the certification will help weed out the bad designers?
Certification will by no means weed out bad designers, but it will help create certain acceptable standard. As design is subjective, there will always be someone that doesn't feel your work is good. Yet if criteria's have been meet though a level standardization it becomes more a question of personal taste then lack of capabilities and knowledge.
The certification would be acquired through the DCCA (design certification
council of America). Unlike the Graphic Artist Guild and AIGA, potential members must meet a rigorous set of standards... rather than just paying dues for a member status. Controlling the standards plays a key roll in the success of the certification program. Do you believe these standards can be objectively controlled across the nation? Or do you think some cities will have a more successful following of the program?
As I know very little about how American certification works I can only compare a future program to what I have observed here in the UK. The architectural certification has a main body, ARB, which works to protect the title of 'Architect' against any miss-use, essentially policing and making sure only fully qualified architects can call themselves so. In order to become a qualified architect and gain the right to register as such you must sit 3 exams, and have logged a certain number of work experience hours. Most school of architecture are accredited as such meaning that as long as you graduate with a Masters degree you are exempt from the first two exams, other means of exemption also exist. Such control enables the ARB to ensure that individuals wanting to use the label 'Architect' meet certain standards. Being a member of ARB is mandatory to practice under the title of 'Architect'.
    There is also a second organization, RIBA, which acts more as an organization in charge of informing clients of their rights, they also provide a directory of registered members, a publishing house and several other member advantages. This organization is also in charge of the accreditation of architectural schools across the UK, making sure they are of a certain level and standard so as to exempt students from the first two exams. The membership to the RIBA is not mandatory to the practice of the profession.
    As I do not know if the DCCA plans to protect the title of Graphic Designer legally as is done by the ARB I'm not sure how successful controlling the standards nationwide can be. Here in the UK all 3 countries (England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) answer to a unique organization, the ARB, with regards to the use of the title 'Architect' which is only given when certain standards and requirements are met. While the RIBA acts at a more local level, region by region, informing clients and providing CPD classes and other services.