Control quality to restore faith

The design industry needs an accreditation scheme with high standards if it is to improve output and reassure clients, argues Michael Peters

During a recent stay at a wonderfully designed spa hotel I was alerted to one of the major problems facing the design industry today. As I chatted with the person giving me a massage, I was told that being a masseuse was not her ‘goal in life’. Indeed, she was currently doing a ‘four-week course in graphics to become a designer’.

Wow – design teaching must have improved. Skill, talent, craftsmanship, intelligence, creativity, inspiration and commercial nous? All in four weeks? I wondered if the massage ‘course’ had taken as long…

The experience made me ponder on the pluses and pitfalls of the industry we love, and how we can continue to be relevant and respected in the future. If we want the design industry to thrive I believe we need to take a radical look at our business models and the way we train the talent that will eventually become the lifeblood of our industry.

At present I feel we are in a rut of our own making. There are simply too many amateurs purporting to be first-class creative brains who are simply not up to the job: too many people claiming excellence in the creative and the strategic arena, with no talent or experience to back it up. There is no quality control; mediocrity has become the norm.

The mediocrity has to stop. Clients will simply walk away and abandon us if we don’t halt the rot. In the years I have been in the business, we have seen amazing changes. Design has grown from a cottage industry into a powerful player in the transformation of businesses. We have embraced and promoted change at the very heart of our society, creating better commercial and social conditions everywhere. I feel passionately that we should not let our contribution be undermined by laziness or ignorance.

Two of the major problems good design businesses are faced with today are due to this oversupply of mediocre design consultancies.

I often hear designers talk about the scourge of free pitching and I agree that it is one of the most divisive practices in our industry today. I also know that the equally frustrating, time-consuming process of being assessed by procurement teams is an everyday nightmare for many consultancies.

But why have these two trends grown up in our midst? Why did clients need to put these filters on our work? I believe it is because clients find it impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, and they have turned to these processes out of desperation. They are keen to find the talented, in an ever-increasing pool of the average.

The only answer I can see is the creation of some kind of elite industry accreditation scheme. Not another cosy membership scheme that anyone can buy into, not another forum to air our woes, but a strict accreditation scheme that distinguishes talent, experience and excellence in all creative and strategic standards. Surely it is better for us to regulate our standards and know the value of our service, than have the bean counters assess it for us.

As a designer who is proud of his work it breaks my heart to be regarded as a mere number on an ‘approved suppliers’ list. If we are to be recognised as a profession then we must adopt stringent, professional standards.

Just as I saw the massive upheaval in the industry as pencils gave way to computers, I believe that major changes are coming. We’ve witnessed the way many traditional advertising agencies are crumbling as TV ads give way to digital, and we must put our own house in order to meet the challenges ahead. New partnerships, new business models and a new belief in the contribution we make must be at the heart of our efforts if we are to succeed.

If the four-week graphic design course becomes a common reality, we also need to start a radical overhaul of the colleges that provide our talent – but that’s another article in itself.

Michael Peters is former chairman and chief executive of Identica

Securing design’s future
• Mediocrity is the enemy

• Accreditation for excellence is the way to combat the procurement process

• New business/financial models will need to be created

• The design industry needs unanimous support from one representative professional association – like architects/doctors

• We need a highly visible ‘design champion’ spokesman/woman

• Embrace change – it is your only friend and the path to a successful future

• We need fewer but better art and design colleges

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