Discussions about GD certification have always evoked passions on both sides of the debate. However, in discussing this issue on various GD discussion boards and blogs, it's clear that the same myths about certification pop up everywhere. So designers Caroline Bruckner, R.G.D., William Johnston and I combined our individual experiences from past conversations and condensed the varied objections, misconceptions and fears of GD certification into one list of common myths.
Hopefully this list of myths, as well as the replies to each of them, will serve the dual purposes of correcting false information on GD certification as well as providing those who are for GD certification with valuable answers to these common objections when they find themselves confronted with them.
Myth 1: Certification means joining a union.
Professional Certification programs focus on establishing professional ethics, standards and core competencies. On the other hand, unions engage in collective bargaining with employers for wages, benefits, etc. Certification gives individual designers the tools and training to successfully negotiate their own contracts.
Myth 2: Uncertified designers will be legally barred from designing.
Designers who do not wish to be certified will still be able to practice design. Clients who prefer to work with designers who don't know their rights and obligations in a contract will still be able to find many designers to exploit. Clients who don't know the difference between amateur or professional design will still be able to hire someone to design a $30.00 logo. No, certification is not for everyone but it will clearly identify the difference between the two. Certification will delineate core competencies and can assure that a designer has a bedrock of knowledge and experience—an assurance that buyers of graphic design services do not currently have.
Myth 3: Certification only works if it legally bars non-certified designers from practicing.
Voluntary certification can accomplish so much for the graphic design profession. By joining together through certification, designers can speak with a unified voice to government and businesses. This unified voice can be leveraged to lobby the government against speculative projects, tax benefits and more. In addition it can serve to educate clients on the business value of design.
Myth 4: Certification is expensive and doesn't add to the bottom line.
Study fees or program costs are actually an investment in your career and are soon made up. Studies show that certified practitioners make 15% more on average than do uncertified practitioners. Source: 2003 Business Marketing Association Salary Survey
Myth 5: Certification won't help me advance in my profession.
Certification proves that you are at a high level in your field. It signals to clients and colleagues alike that your knowledge, experience and professionalism in design places you in the highest order of the profession. It also can serve as a means for networking and your association can keep you on their list for prospective clients to view.
Myth 6: Certification won't help promote my business.
Certification shows your prospects and clients that you take your business seriously and follow ethical business guidelines. A design certification association can use their resources to fund the promotion of businesses with certified designers, and also work towards raising awareness of the value of certification, along with the value of good design.
Myth 7: Certification is a way to measure talent or creativity.
Talent and creativity are intangibles that are difficult to measure in a consistent manner. Designers need to accept that creativity and talent can not be certified. Instead, the purpose of certification is to put in place a system that can measure the elements of our profession that are tangible—the business side of design. Education, experience, ethical business practices, technical knowledge—these are clearly measurable. Certification places all of these elements into a neat package that is easy for clients to identify and understand when they go about hiring a graphic designer.
Myth 8: If all graphic designers become certified it will become cliché and loose any value.
The point of certification is not to separate one qualified designer as better than another equally qualified designer. The purpose is to separate solid, well-educated designers who follow ethical business standards apart from those people who call themselves designers but do not follow proper business ethics, have design education or relevant experience.
Myth 9: Certification is just about egos and being elitist and has no other real purpose.
Over and over again designers fall back to this line of reasoning against certification. As already mentioned in myths one through nine, there are many valid reasons for certification that have nothing to do with ego and everything to do with the business of graphic design. Defining your profession and asking fellow designers to follow a set of standards does not equate with being elitist.
The Bottom Line
Our profession is a powerful force—we take the essence of a company’s strengths and communicate these to a target audience to make our clients profitable. Yet somehow our own profession is in the midst of an identity crisis. Many clients out there do not understand the difference between shoddy practitioners who call themselves designers but have no design training and do not follow ethical design practices versus real designers with education, experience and sound ethics. Certification is a powerful tool designers need to take advantage of in order to face the challenges of today’s marketplace in order to provide a clear way to communicate to the business community who graphic designers are, why were are different, and how we can add value to our clients’ businesses.