Design Council and APDIG back debate on “design quality mark”

The Design Council and the Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group have welcomed calls for a debate around a “professional quality mark” for the UK design industry.


Source: Alison’s Eyes

The call comes in a white paper, published by network MBC Group, which says a quality mark would “uphold consistent standards in a marketplace where anyone with a computer can brand themselves a ‘designer’.”

The paper proposes one solution could be a “single, iconic design quality mark which is broadly accepted as a marker of standards throughout the industry”. 

It suggests that this could co-ordinate “fragmented” industry bodies; level the playing field for smaller designers who might not be able to buy into existing registers; and improve agency/client expectations.

But the authors admit “challenges” in creating this scheme, most fundamentally in “who awards and polices these new standards, and how practical is this in such a fragmented sector?” They say they are aiming to “provoke a conversation” about the proposal rather than offer anything prescriptive.

The paper has been welcomed by the Design Council, whose CEO John Mathers says: “Advances in technology are making it easier and easier for almost anyone to claim to have design skills and it is vital to uphold standards.

“The ‘Quality by Design’ white paper has prompted a debate on how we can uphold standards for the benefit of the UK and the design industry. We’re very keen to hear people’s views on the proposals, whether pro or anti, and how they would like us to take this forward. It is important to get it right and protect good designers without adding any burdensome bureaucracy.”

APDIG chair Barry Sheerman also welcomes the debate, saying: “You need to be visible to attract support financially. You need to prove why you matter.

“Other industries in the UK are more visible (for example the car industry) and that is why they get government backing, because the role they play in the economy is there for all to see. Design is less visible, but British design is valued world-wide.”

He adds: “The white paper’s call for a professional quality mark would change perceptions and help an industry which is so important to our economy and which is growing all the time.”

However, the quality mark proposal has met with a mixed reaction from designers.

Double G Studios founder Grant Gilbert says: “I don’t think people are crying out for a mark, but much would depend on how easily it would be given out: do you pay money and get a mark or are you actually awarded a mark for the work that you create?”

True North managing director Martin Carr says: “Obviously whether this kind of initiative would work would depend on the criteria for participation. The theory is absolutely sound if it creates a shortlist of quality for clients – but awarding this would depend on whose say so?”

He adds: “As a cynical Northerner I would still be worried: everyone involved would have to prioritise and the amount of effort involved in breaking down all the different agendas suggests that this has no chance of working in practice.”

Paul Bailey, co-founder of 1977 Design, says: “There are pros and cons. One of the great things about the design industry is that anyone, a young go-getter, can start up a design business – yet one of the bad things is precisely that anyone can start up a design business and call themselves a graphic designer. In architecture you have to be registered with the RIBA – we don’t have that in design.”

He adds: “Trying to put loads of structures in place for a fluid, ever-changing industry is a massive problem. It’s like trying to get a load of frogs into a box – they just keep jumping out. That is probably the biggest issue but then again is it? We want to be a dynamic industry, we want to keep changing, that’s why it’s so vibrant and so successful – so would putting limitations on it actually hinder the creative industries because part of our vitality is this dynamism?”


You can read the Quality by Design white paper in full here.

Hide Comments (6)Show Comments (6)
  • Jonathan Ashworth November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The kitemark you refer to in the illustration is the kitemark. The BSI symbol. The BSI is a large and expensive organization to run, that made its money back by charging to have the quality assurance kitemark as a symbol that people could trust and demonstrated quality. It generally was awarded to anyone who paid.

    My point is how would this all be funded? If you are to police it and have a body who awards the distinction then the body has to be paid for. Smaller agencies like ours wouldn’t be able to pay for it, nor justify adding a fee onto budgets.

  • Angie Phillips November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I would welcome this for design standards but the article does ask the very important question – who would award it and how would it be regulated?- It could easily be faked by the would-be-designers, they would at least have that ability I would hope, so how would the general client know who was and who wasn’t without doing some online research each time they approached a ‘designer’?

  • Phil Ainley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The greatest ‘Mark’ a designer can show is client testimonials that extol the virtues of that particular designer.
    How would anyone who is not involved in a specific project be able to judge whether a design is suitable for that particular brief?
    Also, who pays for the extra design time if a design is deemed unsuitable for a design mark?

    The idea is good in principle but design is subjective so maybe there are too many variables for it to work.

  • Rachel Owen November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I would welcome any kind of system which upholds standards across the creative services sector. I feel those who remain cynical are clearly not willing to protect the integrity of the industry they are part of. If you truly believe in your craft and are proud of the work you create for clients you value, then adhering to a quality mark which underpins this, should be somthing to aspire to – not reject out of hand. Bringing this into the public arena has prompted discussion and that can only be a good thing.

  • Richard Grefé November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Wherever there are designers, a conversation will arise at some point on whether there is some way to obtain respect for one’s value and role without the tedious path of earning it each time. In the U.S., this has usually been in the guise of certification or accreditation.
    If a mark or distinction were to be developed, the issue has always been “who decides and how?” The Registered Graphic Designer certification in Ontario has revealed the challenges: can you test for quality and how do you get the marketplace to value the distinction? In the U.S., there is always an interest in what the outcome of a successful program would be, with little clarity or consensus on how one would develop and apply criteria. To place a mark on the artifacts of design would be even more daunting a process.
    There is also the risk that any process would result in a guild-like restriction on recognition of the kind of innovative new entrants to design who often define our very promise of creating new kinds of value through creativity, empathy and extraordinary commitment to the quality of execution.
    Rather than a discussion of the value of a mark, it would appear a much more important conversation would be how we can inform business, media and the public about the qualities that define great design and the kind of design they should expect from a professional designer. A mark, whether rhetorical or actual, will only be persuasive if we can define what it signifies and gain acceptance for that criterion.

  • Maxine Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The CSD fought for over a decade, despite grease being thrown under its feet, to achieve ‘Chartered’ status for designers.

    Additionally they have spent years developing a skills & career development matrix and pathway based on four corner stones: Creativity, Professionalism, Skills and Knowledge. It will under-pin the accreditation process to ensure it has real purpose and credibility with private and public sector clients and stakeholders.

    Its officially launching early in October. The Design Council and other trade bodies are fully aware of it and to greater or lesser degree have been involved in consultations leading up to it, so it begs the question why do they appear to be ignoring more than a decades work by the professional body holding a royal charter and the only body enabled at the highest level to award chartered status?

    Having personally experienced this many times before, it all seems to come down to control, status, ego and who interested parties believe should be entitled to manage a professional design accreditation scheme.

    Most of the other trade bodies (who you pay to join and do not have any rigid entry criteria) are not best positioned to run an accreditation scheme and have not put the work in to warrant it.

    There is a big difference between maintaining a professional framework and CPD path for designers and that of bestowing ‘design awards’ based on subjective opinion. Leave that to the award organisers, expert judges and public opinion.

    Graham Burbridge said ‘ no-one ever dies from poor design’ – I beg to differ, badly designed building and products have cost lives as have design faults in transport.

    Designers working in H&S affected sectors such as interiors, architecture, industrial design, product design, engineering design, have responsibilities not just to their clients but to consumers/ the public. And that means ensuring the practice is taking those issues seriously and is covered by P.I Insurance and is responsible and respectful for Intellectual Property – that is if they consider themselves to be ‘professional practices’.

    And whilst arguably the worst injury you might get from graphic design is a paper-cut, none the less poor design solutions can make the difference between business success and failure.

    Any accreditation system does of course need to be mindful of costs and do its best to be fully inclusive to avoid exclusion. But equally professional designers need to accept that if they want differentiation and higher status, that money, time and committment will be a pre-requisite to achieving and maintaining that.

    If the DC and others move to create a duplicate system to directly compete against CSD Charted Designer status then IMHO it will just serve to split and dilute the industry further.

    Chartered status was a long fought victory on behalf of all professional designers, embrace it rather than undermine it.

    A complementary kite mark can as easily exist in harmony bestowed on individual designs whether product, graphics, interiors etc, set against a criteria laid down by qualified experts, client side and dare I say it, the end consumer.

    But be careful not to confuse professional chartered status with kite marks awarded subjectively for good design

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