08 November 2006
Albert Ng, R.G.D., Founding President
Albert Ng, R.G.D., Founding President

The idea for professional accreditation for graphic designers was not new to the design community in Canada or around the world for that matter. The topic had been discussed, debated and argued about for decades.

The aims of accreditation for Ontario graphic designers were to ensure and enhance professional standards in graphic design; to encourage high standards in graphic design education; to promote rules of professional conduct and ethics; and, to protect and promote the professional rights of graphic designers. The objectives included developing the status of the graphic design profession and its recognition by the government, the business sector, other professions and by the general public.

The impetus for the drive to accreditation was a 1988 survey commissioned by the Canadian federal government which identified 3,000 firms across Canada offering graphic design services and approximately 8,000 graphic designers working for these firms. Just three years later, Canada's national census put the number of graphic designers in Ontario alone at 12,000; for the entire country, the number of graphic designers and illustrators was set at 26,000. The survey identified four key areas that Canadian graphic designers were most concerned about: the impact of new technology on the design industry (enabling a large influx of people with no training into the field); the lack of recognition and public awareness of the profession of graphic design; the need for industry standards and professional qualifications in graphic design ( the only one of the five core design disciplines whose members were neither not licensed or registered); and, the quality of graphic design education offered in colleges and universities. The rational and perceived need for proceeding with a drive for accreditation was evident.

First steps
Members of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) National Council at the time and some Ontario graphic designers were initially slow to be convinced of the need for professional accreditation. Finally in late 1990, after a year of research on the feasibility of accreditation by Albert Ng, R.G.D. and Rene Schoepflin, R.G.D. and with less than ten people (including practitioners, educators, representatives from related industries and students) the Graphic Design Professional Accreditation Committee was established. In order to convince the Ontario government to support the legislation required for accreditation, the group needed to demonstrate that a majority of the industry in the province was behind the idea. Since the Ontario GDC chapters, which became the founding bodies of the Association, could only claim a few hundred members from a population of over 2,000 graphic design practitioners and educators in Ontario, the first task was to build membership.

In late 1993, professional advisor Joanne Radford was hired by the
Accreditation Steering Committee to organize and orchestrate its
political lobby. In one year, the GDC in Ontario grew from two chapters to five chapters. The Steering Committee also recruited many volunteers and began networking on an extensive scale to enlist designers' agreement and financial support. Graphic designers in Ontario had to make the transition from belonging to one of several regional chapters in the province within the framework of a national organization (GDC) to being united under a single legislated body encompassing all of Ontario.

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario
The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario is the self-regulatory, professional body for graphic designers in the province of Ontario. The Association was created by an Act of the Ontario Legislature which received Royal Assent on April 25, 1996. It is the only graphic design association in Canada to have such legislation, and only the second such organization world-wide. The founding bodies of the Association were the former Ontario, Ottawa, Northern Ontario and Windsor chapters of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), an organization that has been devoted to serving the graphic design profession and the public since 1956.

The Association grants graphic designers who qualify the right to the exclusive use of the designations Registered Graphic Designer and R.G.D. and is the governing body and disciplinary body for its members.

The Association's mandate is to serve the best interests of both the graphic design industry and the public in the province of Ontario by establishing and promoting uniform standards of professional knowledge, skill and ethics for all graphic designers in Ontario.

Definition of a Registered Graphic Designer (R.G.D.)
A Registered Graphic Designer (R.G.D.) is a graphic design practitioner or educator who has met the Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario's qualification criteria and been granted the right to use these professional designations. No one else may use these designations. Persons in Ontario who are not members of the Association are not excluded from practising graphic design, but they would be guilty of an offense if they either used the designations Registered Graphic Designer or R.G.D. or implied, suggested or held out that they were Registered Graphic Designers.

The Association's requirements for Registered Graphic Designers
After passage of the legislation which created the Association, a grandfathering provision was established and was in effect until December 31, 1998. This provision granted Registered Graphic Designer or R.G.D. status to graphic design practitioners or educators with five years of relevant experience or education and experience totaling five years. After expiration of the grandfathering period, the new rules for qualification for registered membership in the Association required that a person be able to demonstrate either three years of relevant education and four years of professional experience in the field, or vice versa, and also pass the Registered Graphic Designers Qualification Examination, a test created by the Examination Board for Registered Graphic Designers, which is a corporation founded by the Association. The Examination Board is responsible for administering the examination.

What accreditation is all about
Accreditation varies from region to region and country to country. It can be defined as a voluntary continuing education and testing program to determine the professional competence of individual designers. It can be seen as an aid to help young designers on their way up the career ladder. It may level the playing field for those who have graduated from design programs found lacking in one area or another.

Accreditation should be granted to graphic designers on the basis of a combination of education, experience and verification of minimum standard of professional competency, not merely on the basis of either diploma, degree or professional work experience. Professional accreditation should determine whether an individual has attained the level of skills and knowledge required to serve a client independently.

The best certification programs are educational programs that bridge the gap between what's taught in school and what's expected of a professional. This kind of program is about professionalism, not style. Accreditation will not regulate or standardize style.

What exactly may accreditation accomplish?
(None of these things happen overnight).
- Professionalism: The standards of the profession will be raised.
- Quality Education: Design programs will have some benchmarks on which to base their curricula. - Designers who are limited in their experience may be able to move into other areas, for example, from print into multimedia or exhibition/packaging design.
- Companies and design firms may have less trouble finding qualified designers.
- Certified designers may feel more comfortable in business situations earlier in their careers, because they've learned about business practices and client relations.
- Certified designers may have an edge - Clients may be protected when they can find someone capable of providing a certain range of professional services.

Rome was not built in one day
Accreditation is a gradually evolving process. Notes Jean-Pierre Lacroix, R.G.D., current President of the Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario: "We have laid a good foundation on which to build. Now we meet the many challenges we face as a new professional body. We must constantly expand membership to include the registration of as many qualified graphic designers in Ontario as possible. We must intensify our speaking tours in high schools to promote graphic design as a professional career choice. We have to gear up our information campaign aimed at the business community to promote the idea that good design is good business and to explain why R.G.D.s do it better. We have to help the rest of Canada achieve accreditation. Ontario has set a precedent for North America. An exciting new age of graphic design has arrived. The legislation that enabled accreditation for graphic designers in Ontario is a mere punctuation mark in the entire story that is about to be written."

About this article

Submitted on behalf of The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario by Albert Ng, R.G.D., Founding President
Copyright: The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (2000)

Albert Ng
Albert Ng, R.G.D., FGDC, AIGA

Albert studied graphic design, architecture, calligraphy, drawing and painting in Canada and Hong Kong. He began his career in a multidisciplinary practice with architects and designers and relocated to Toronto in 1974. Currently, Albert leads the graphic design team of the Toronto Hydro Electric Corporation. He is also a part-time professor of York University's Hon. Design Degree Program. Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario