Can accreditation be used to assess the quality of design?

The issue of accreditation has reared its head again as the Design Skills Advisory Panel steps up its action plan to build learning and skills within UK design (DW 11 May).

One of the proposals put to Design Week by the panel’s deputy chairman, Conran Design Group managing director David Worthington, is an acreditation system that is internationally-recognised and administered by an industry body.

But what value is there in this? You can check a consultancy’s finances – though DW’s 2006 Top 100 will reveal later this month how fickle life can be in the creative industries. You can establish if a group has professional indemnity insurance – the basis of the Chartered Society of Designers’ new accreditation system, administered through its Design Association arm in partnership with an insurance provider. But can you evaluate quality of design through what amounts to a checklist?

The issue caused a furore in the 1990s when design groups were urged to comply with BS5750. The contra argument, then, was that design cannot and shouldn’t be commoditised, with designers treated as suppliers. It might work for purely skills-based trades, such as Corgi-accredited plumbers, but good design presents a human, emotional face that can’t easily be quantified.

That argument still stands – and is reportedly dividing the members of the Design Skills Advisory Panel. More pressing for them, surely, is building business and technical skills within design to meet UK social and commercial needs for the future and fostering great talent.

Design bodies have a vested interest in promoting accreditation systems to boost membership. But, while they should vet new members against a set of criteria – as D&AD insists on a level of creativity – it is not the main thing.

Fitting consultancies and individual designers to do a better job will surely equip them better for the future and build design’s standing as a force for good. Give us your views as the skills panel’s consultation continues.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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