Why UK design needs a quality mark

MBC Group’s Robin Horrex outlines the benefits of establishing a fair, inclusive professional quality mark.

Everyone has their passions. Two of mine are good design and good designers. Back in the day before computers were the norm – yes, that time did exist – I graduated with a degree in graphic design. It wasn't easy breaking into the freelance game, and for those of you about to set out on that path, I salute you!

The problem is that whether you continue as a freelance designer or go on to run your own business as I did, it is a competitive and, many will tell you, a subjective industry. In what respect is it subjective?

Well, how do clients distinguish between a good designer who understands how to use his or her creative skills to enhance and increase their business, and one who has all the gear and no idea?

This is the reason why the MBC Group of creative agencies has produced a white paper, in association with Onyx Media and Communications. The publication has allowed us to discuss ways of ensuring the sector has consistent and consistently high standards, in order that UK design maintains its reputation and credibility both here in the UK and abroad. We believe a professional quality mark for the UK design industry is the answer.

Client confidence

Such a quality mark would allow people who have done all the hard work training in design to have something to show to potential clients. The clients would have confidence in knowing that as well as your work being creative and eye-catching, it also helps them achieve their goals.

So if you are designing a website for a business that trades online, for example, the mark indicates that it is easy to navigate, the sales cart works and it doesn't take forever to load because you used the same template for another client who just wanted a showroom rather than a shop.

Of course, you may well wonder who is qualified to be judge and jury on design if it is so subjective. Well, none of us can stop clients who want something that we don't like, but that isn't the point of the quality mark. You can't tell a client how to spend their money, but you can certainly protect them against poor work. A quality mark will show that you understand what works and what doesn't.

At what cost?

With so many channels, from online and mobile to print, potential clients need to know where to go to get the professional help they need. Some people have voiced concerns that a professional quality mark will price the little guys out of the market. I don't agree. In fact, I believe the opposite is true.

Standards are established to ensure fairness. They exist to enable you to compete in the industry, whatever your size. Establishing standards will also encourage agencies to invest in and educate young designers in order for them to meet the expectations of the industry.

The debate has been welcomed by the Design Council and the All Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group (APDIG). We don't know yet who will decide on the professional quality mark, but no-one is suggesting that we should set up another body to do that. I've also been asked about the cost of qualifying for the quality mark.

Again, this is something to be discussed. As a small business ourselves, we would be in favour of a sliding scale to ensure that no-one is priced out.

Reputation to protect

With software so cheap and easy to download, thousands of templates available for everything from animation to graphics, and the possibility that anyone with a good computer can claim to be a 'designer', we need to be able to ensure that our industry retains its good name. I mentioned the importance of brand before and I mean it. Our brand as designers is key.

You may not realise it, but the design industry currently delivers £2.5bn a year to the UK economy. It's a growing employer and we want to make sure our British creativity, which is so welcomed abroad, is of the highest quality so that we can maintain our high standards.

When potential clients go looking for a designer, we want to make sure the ones they choose uphold these standards, otherwise it could have an impact on us all. Both Japan and India already have quality marks, proving that such a concept is not so out of the ordinary. Why not do the same here in the UK for our own designers?

So please, do let us have your thoughts on the matter. The White Paper is available to download now. Get involved in the debate trending on Twitter with the hashtag #designdebate.

Illustration: Żaneta Antosik
Words: Robin Horrex

Born in Chelsea and raised in Southwest London, Robin Horrex worked in advertising and design agencies in and around London before starting his own agency in 1996, which merged with Zone in 2006. He is also the CEO of MBC Group.

The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 233, a special issue with a photochromatic cover revealing the UK's top 30 studios, plus how to craft the perfect folio and make more money as a student...