I’m angry … I’m very, very angry. On TV last night was a minor celebrity spouting inoffensively about the topic at hand and there, on the bottom of the screen, his name and … well, “title.” I happen to know this person. A perfectly nice individual. Studied something unrelated, never really practised it, vague on qualifications. Has in twenty years since leaving academia had a couple of “shows,” done some “installations,” got some “press” … much publicity, little profit. That’s fine, you go for it – you are out there, you are expressing yourself. Now my problem is with his title: “designer.” I have a very big problem with that.
He is not a designer. A rocket scientist is not a designer. A Nobel prize winner is not a designer. A copy of MacPaint and watching lots of TED presentations does not make you one either. “I’m creative” … “I’m an ideas person” … “I’m great at predicting trends” … Why do people believe “designer” is a title you can bestow on yourself?
There are plenty of real designers – some of the founding fathers and mothers of our profession – who never saw the inside of a design school (but this is mainly because they did not exist at the time). These people had grit, determination and talent, combining big-picture thinking with attention to detail. They worked long, hard hours and had an appetite for risk and entrepreneurship. They never sat in coffee shops, sipping soy-chai-eco-chinos, spouting that they were ideas people while updating their blogs, Twitter feeds and “.me” websites.
These fake designers, however, get all the publicity. They are the default spokespeople for the profession. They have lots of time on their hands, they write press releases and ingratiate themselves with journalists and editors. They have all this time because they don’t do any work – because they cannot get any work and if they do get lucky, they don’t want to do the work because they are too good for it. If they manage to actually do it, then it is usually an unmitigated disaster which entrenches the “designers are wankers” belief in the minds of the clients and people who have to live with the mess.
Surely there is a difference between somebody who is a bit of a ladies’ man and a gynaecologist? Surely there is a difference between alchemy and chemistry, between astrology and astronomy? Hands up those who would visit a self-taught surgeon. Ridiculous? Hell yes!
The true professionals have been aware of this for a long time. The DIA has repeatedly approached government, but it refuses to register the word “designer” – it’s anti-competitive apparently. Shall we apply the same logic to the medical profession? Surely this protects the public – potential clients have no way of knowing if they are dealing with a qualified professional or a self-styled individual. Portfolios help but are not enough – they are too easily dollied up and require an in-depth understanding that inexperienced clients are not in a position to make. Client testimonials and references help but are inconsistent.
Having a qualified designer on board ensures a certain baseline. It ensures that the person meets certain professional qualifications. It means the person is serious about their commitment to the profession. It means they invest time in their professional development. You might not agree with their aesthetic, but at the very least the project would have been carried out competently and professionally. It would have followed a clear process and avoided technical and legal potholes.
There is a way out. The “Voice of Professional Design” managed to protect the words “accredited designer.” If you qualify for DIA membership – which means you have a degree and/or real experience – and participate in qualifying events and programs, you earn continuing professional development points. Get enough of these and you become an accredited designer.
It is a small but infinitely important step. We must ensure that qualifications, experience and continuing learning are recognized. Critical mass is what we need. The first step is to make lots of accredited designers; the next is to publicize what this means. It is time to stand out from the crowd!
Oliver Kratzer FDIA, Accredited Designer / National President Design Institute Of Australia.
Published online: 2 Sep 2011
Words: Oliver Kratzer
Artichoke, September 2011