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Should AIGA Certify Designers?

August 29, 2013 / By tim mckenna

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, and the perspective expressed is solely that of the author. That means feel free to disagree. In fact, feel free to write a post for us to debate it! We’re stronger when more voices are heard.

 

This summer, I received my Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM) from the Project Management Institute (PMI). It’s an important credential in the field and is notorious for being tough to pass (don’t even try if you’re not at all familiar with PMI). I was incredibly proud of the achievement, and it got me thinking about the hot issue of certification in design.

We’ve all heard the joke about a client saying that their nephew could just make them a logo—but we’re also wary of the idea of certifying designers. I’ll agree that a certification isn’t inherently valuable—you need to have the work to back it up. But I believe AIGA—the oldest and largest organization for the profession—is best positioned to certify designers. But what would that look like?

 

Membership vs Certification

First off, AIGA membership should not be dependent upon certification—we seek to include rather than exclude, but we also want to strengthen our members’ skills. Membership, therefore, should be a pathway to certification because it should both build members’ skill-sets through programming and showcase the value of professionalism.

Like membership, credentials show others (colleagues, managers, potential employers and clients) that we are serious about the work we do. Design is a job and promoting that mindset leads to better relationships and work for all of us.

 

Promoting Best Practices

One of the primary roles of a leading professional group ought to be setting and promoting industry best practices. If we want to be taken seriously as the leader of design standards, we must publicly hold ourselves to those high standards. These standards should not only include skills like typography and page layout, but also include business practices and project management basics.

It is our responsibility to ensure that design programs are appropriately preparing students for the real world (we’ve seen too often that they’re not) and encourage professionals to keep sharpening their skills as the industry changes.

 

Don’t Limit Standards to Testing

While a knowledge-based test is relevant for ensuring an understanding of core principles, this alone shouldn’t be the stick with which we measure candidates. As an organization with industry leaders at the national level of governance, we’re more than capable of determining what should be tested and what should be measured.

 

Offer Appropriate Levels

I received my CAPM because PMP certification requires more than 3 years of experience (the CAPM has less strict experience requirements, including counting educational hours instead of just professional projects). Likewise, design certification ought to be leveled based on years of experience and perhaps even more specific types of design (e.g., product versus interaction). Starting with a Certified Associate of Design and Certified Design Professional would be a solid starting point for AIGA.

 

Let’s Set the Bar Higher 

I’ve heard designers try to explain why clients should trust them in terms of the trust that’s inherent in many other professions, like doctors or architects. And I don’t disagree with the analogy. But if we want that kind of trust, we have to earn it—both from our clients, by proving our value in the work we do, and from our peers. And honestly, if a profession like hair styling requires licensing, why shouldn’t we embrace setting industry standards for a craft we believe can change the world?

My project management certification gives me a greater sense of pride in what I do. Studying for the test inspired me in the discipline I practice, and gave me fresh perspectives for my real, everyday work. I’m happy to be a member of PMI, but I’m more invested in AIGA and I want to see us do the next big thing in our space. Seeing my colleagues be recognized for the very real skills that separate them from mere hobbyist would be deeply satisfying.

 

About the Author 

Tricia Rosetty is a content strategist and project manager with Inovāt, a digital agency in Elizabethtown. She’s been an AIGA member since 2012 and currently serves as the communications director for AIGA Central PA. Visit her website at www.triciarosetty.com or follow her on Twitter @thewritersdoula.

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