The problems with CDes

A designer responds to Frank Peters’ article on the CDes certification from our previous issue…

While I agree with some of Frank Peters’ sentiments [CR April], I remain sceptical of the Chartered Society of Designers’ plans for professional certification. It is a potentially alienating move, perhaps leading to a ‘those that do’ and a ‘those that don’t’ divide. There are still question marks over several aspects of the scheme, particularly regarding testing, judging, cost and penalties for malpractice.

Whether a designer meets with CSD approval or not, it will not prevent clients asking us to create 40-page brochures for £50, or offering advice from a young relative who is ‘good at art’. Since accreditation does not necessarily mean one tradesman is ‘better’ than another who chooses to do without, why should a client trust certification? While there are undoubt­edly areas where a designer can be assessed, I am concerned by how the CSD intends to establish how one designer can be more creative or reliable than another. And unless there are clearly defined benefits (financial or otherwise) for those
who achieve CDes status, a designer has little reason to load the additional cost of testing onto a business. This is the crux of the issue, and I fail to see how certification will change attitudes towards our industry or lead to an improvement in fees.

Frank Peters asks whether a client would be happy to choose a designer based on just a portfolio. Of course no client will do this, but what client would hire designers based purely on a portfolio and a CDes? If designers are not required to seek accreditation, then why will CDes persuade a client to hire one over another? Clients will always want to speak with whomever they seek to employ, and even check references. Much as a first class degree does not necessarily indicate a first class designer, few clients, if any, will be seduced by accreditation alone.

Peters’ point about designers shedding “artistic shackles” is also worrying. I have always considered the desire to experiment and try new things to be key to what we do. By turning our back on artistic expression, we lose something fundamental to the profession.

The bottom line is that the majority of clients are unlikely to care, and the public are unlikely to be sympathetic in our quest to be taken more seriously. And the issue is diverting attention from more important matters, like encouraging designers from ethnic minority backgrounds. The CSD could help make our industry less elitist by applying pressure to the government to close the loophole regarding unpaid internships, so that those from poorer backgrounds are afforded opportunities.

A design graduate should be just as comfortable discussing schedules, quotes and whether files will be supplied RGB or CMYK as discussing the rationale behind concepts. Perhaps by improving BA courses – and changing industry attitudes towards them – we can address problems of professionalism much earlier to encourage clients and industry to take more notice of degrees.

One argument in support of certification is that it will somehow enhance the sense of community. I am not so sure, and since we are often criticised for our insularity we should be more worried about how we talk to the rest of the world. Until the CSD can provide strategies to educate and open dialogue about design, and also demonstrate some clear rewards for gaining certification, its scheme is unlikely to gain the widespread approval of those it wishes to represent.

Alex Szabo-Haslam is a freelance graphic designer, who also works in education

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