08 November 2006
Lauri Baram
Lauri Baram

Eight years ago, designer Ellen Shapiro proposed a solution to help clients distinguish between novice and professional designers. Lauri Baram was listening.

Today, design is king. There are more than 350,000 graphic designers in the U.S. alone. Corporate America understands that good design is good business. But the distinction between the professional designer and the client's nephew who built his own Web page isn't any clearer.

A voluntary graphic-design certification program would get the attention of serious clients who appreciate the advantages of working with professionals. It would also help untrained buyers make qualified decisions. As other business communicators are taking advantage of certification, creating comparable credentials would reinforce our own position as strategic partners. (The Public Relations Society of America and the American Marketing Assn., among others, offer certification.)

Certification would raise professional standards and educate the public on the importance of design. It would enhance designers' profiles, increase respect for the profession and create business opportunities. Having initials after your name would show clients that you have the experience and education to understand their design and business needs.

In addition to being voluntary, certification should be based upon combined education, experience and testing. It shouldn't judge talent. It should test proficiency and skills in areas that are quantifiable and indicate that a designer is able to complete projects at a high competency level.

The Assn. of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, Canada, ( offers a model: Candidates need at least seven years of combined design education and professional experience, and must be prepared to function as "independent, responsible businesspeople." They take a written test on four topics: business; technology; design history, principles and research; and rules of professional conduct. A portfolio interview is also required, but taste and style are not judged.

The Graphic Artists Guild has studied both the demand for and methods to accomplish certification. And there are companies that specialize in creating tests, making needs assessments and marketing certification programs.

It's time for all design organizations to pool resources and form an alliance to create a certification board. A good example is the group of seven design organizations represented in the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). In 1993, the executive vice president of the NCIDQ said that the interior-design profession is as broad and diverse as graphic design, and that developing its program was a daunting challenge, but "now the research and results speak for themselves."

In addition, the Assn. of Medical Illustrators found that, shortly after initiating its certification program in 1991, clients began asking for board-certified medical illustrators; now it's pretty much a necessity for working in the medical/legal field. And in Ontario, employers increasingly are looking for job candidates with an RGD (Registered Graphic Designer) designation.

As Ellen Shapiro did eight years ago, I ask the design community to stop reading and start acting. If you want to have input into the inception of a certification program, contact the GAG or your own organization's leaders. There's a lot to do before you can have those initials.

For more information, contact:

Lauri Baram

About this article
Reprinted with permission from HOW magazine, February 2002.

About the Author
Lauri Baram is principal of Panarama Design in Clifton Park, NY, and a member of the Graphic Artists Guild s national Executive Committee. 

About HOW Magazine
HOW Magazine provides graphic-design professionals with essential business information, features cutting-edge technological advances, profiles renowned and up-and-coming designers, details noteworthy projects and provides creative inspiration.