Earlier this year Design Week reported that the Chartered Society of Designers had filed an application to the UK’s Privy Council to approve a system of professional certification for designers. This would allow them to join the ranks of other ’chartered’ professionals, such as accountants and engineers. In a closely argued article in Creative Review, Frank Peters, chief executive of the CSD, laid out his reasons for this move. It’s an extraordinary article.
For a start, it reads as if Peters has reheated the manifesto of a go-getting design group of the Margaret Thatcher era. He writes, ’Design must embrace and adopt the culture of its new environment and cast off notions of artistic grandeur… Above all, it must begin to speak the language of those it will need to work with and ultimately those who will pay for its expertise.’
In fact, the mainstream design industry shook off its ’notions of artistic grandeur’ 30 years ago and become hyper-professionalised. And to say designers ’must begin to speak the language of those it will need to work with’ is verging on the insulting. Does he think they turn up at client meetings wearing berets and carrying easels? Hasn’t he spoken to any designers lately? Hasn’t he heard about the new generation of digital designers who are, in many cases, ahead of the clients he urges us to ’speak the language of’.
In building his case, Peters goes on to berate designers who rely on a ’portfolio of examples of work’. He should take a look at designer’s websites. They are groaning with case studies, mission statements, branding philosophies and client endorsements. And besides, as the recent debate surrounding procurement has shown, many clients no longer look at portfolios anyway, relying instead on clumsy point-scoring questionnaires more suited to the purchasing of office carpets than creative services.
I support anything that elevates the status of designers and design, but ’certification’ is a waste of time. Design has been professionalised for years/ it has strategised itself to the point where creativity is often eliminated. In fact, in my view, designers have made themselves too business-friendly, so that design is widely seen as something that marketing departments can buy off the shelf and spray on to their products and services. Too much professionalism has led to a decrease of status rather than an increase.
Designers are not accountants, surveyors or engineers. The designers who created Cool Britannia, which Peters mentions approvingly, are exactly the sort of designers he berates for their ’notions of artistic grandeur’. They certainly won’t want to join the CSD after reading the views of its chief executive.
But there’s a more serious flaw at the heart of the CSD’s plea. The debate has shifted from the need for professionalism and certification to the ethical and the social dimension. Here’s an area where the CSD could show leadership, yet there’s no mention of either in Peters’ article. Look at the US. Designers there are being welcomed into the social enterprises that are springing up, and the expertise they bring to commercial projects is now being harnessed to make social projects fly.
We will always need designers who can design shampoo bottles and do the layouts for celebrity magazines, but there is a growing need for designers with Green and ethical credentials to help build a new world of sustainable development in the post-financial meltdown era. Turning us into estate agents is not the answer.
Adrian Shaughnessy is an independent designer, writer and broadcaster, and co-founder of publishing company Unit Editions