Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Certification of Quality?

With the continuing output of poorly implemented, inaccessible, and unusable websites, perhaps its time the community develops a formal review system to identify the developers and designers dedicated to building websites correctly.

Is anyone else bothered by the lack of quality that pervades the web design industry? Everywhere I turn, there’s a website so deplorable in its design, so rancorous in its code, and so ghetto in its final execution that I question how and why the site builder bothered crawling from the primordial ooze to manage a career ruining building websites.

I run into this issue constantly in my freelance work. Most of my projects are redesigns. A lot of them are just old, and are burdened by all the baggage that comes from decade-old development — terrible content, inconsistent navigation, table-based layouts, the nagging sensation of being trapped unwittingly in a Clockwork Orange torture experiment. I’m not really talking about these first generation sites; to critically evaluate a design from 1999 or 2000 is akin to questioning why ancient pyramid builders did not install air conditioning. Rather, I’m discussing our contemporaries.

Clients come to me with abysmal websites that need to be revamped. This is a good thing. But what drives me crazy is when I hear, “this was developed just last year, but we’re just not happy with it.” Or worse, when I lose a bid on a project, check the URL six months later to see what the winning contractor developed, and find a spinning logo, Flash navigation running at 12 FPS, frames, primary colors, and an architecture so inaccessible it’s a wonder they haven’t been sued into the eighth circle of hell for deliberate fraudulence against their fellow man.

Clients are being deceived. They cannot be blamed; they often (and not incorrectly) go with the lowest bidder because they assume all web designers are equal. Which, as you and I know full well, is anything but the truth.

Many industries have a seal of quality, or a certification of excellence, or a symbol of trust — something of tangible value that reaffirms to customers that yes, this contractor/product/store/facility is indeed of the highest pedigree within their industry, and can be trusted to do the job right. For example:

You get the idea. The fundamental concept is a formal review process by a third party (sometimes a state government, other times a non-profit) that validates the quality of the vendor in question. Sometimes it’s simple and straight-forward (Microsoft), and sometimes it’s groin-grabbingly difficult (the CPA exam).

A web designer that wants to demonstrate her quality has to cobble together miscellaneous logos and whatnot to provide a rough illustration of her dedication and reliability. She might be a member of GAWDS, or part of AIGA, or even contribute to the Web Standards Project.

The obvious problem is the lack of a consistent banner, a logo of quality, a seal of approval, a brand of awesomeness. Something. One could argue that the web design industry is not as mission-critical as an accountant or an architect; one could counter by saying those two professions are kept in much higher regard by virtue of the review system that refuses entry to the riffraff that would lower the overall esteem of the avocation.

The web design industry needs some kind of certification designers and developers can achieve to demonstrate their dedication to the craft and of providing the highest quality product. I would propose a non-for-profit, independent third party consortium. Maybe it’s partially funded by large organizations, maybe it’s completely volunteer-driven. The details are fuzzy.

While the will to do something is there, the scope and feasibility of the idea is not well formed in my head. Thoughts?

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Tuesday October 30, 2007

A lot of the blame needs to fall on the browser application developers (ahem…Microsoft) who for many years enabled web “designers” to do whatever the hell they wanted on pages and they would still work.

Plus, there are so many ubiquitous garbage design tools out there that further enable hacks to be “web designers”, it’s difficult for those of us who like to live in Code View to be taken seriously for our craft.


wrote the following on Wednesday October 31, 2007

In a perfect world we’d be able to slap some seal of approval on our websites. Unfortunately, how would we decide which designers are eligible and which aren’t? And who would decide this, how would we be sure it was fair?

Is the criteria design knowledge? Is it code? Is it information architecture skills? Is it educational background? We’re such a diverse field with so many specialties, it’s hard to pin down under one giant banner.

Michael Dick

wrote the following on Wednesday October 31, 2007

It won’t fix things when a system finally arises. There has to be a way to educate the client.

Right before the client makes his decision to either go with your ‘good work’, or go with the other guys ‘good price’, it would defiantly help to be able to mention to the them, “Oh, by the way, is your other choice qualified?”

But, again. I pretty much do this now, I tell clients all about web standards and sell them on it to only get a response like “We don’t care about that stuff.”

If that’s the case, why will a certification change things?

(But, don’t get me wrong, I am 100% for something!!)

Jeff Adams

wrote the following on Wednesday October 31, 2007


I’ve been thinking about this very subject for the last couple of years. It is definitely something that the industry needs.

I think you would need separate specialized certifications rather than one big stamp of approval. For instance, I’m a strong front-end developer but a barely passable designer. So I would get the code-approved stamp and not the design-approved one.

As far as organizational structure goes, you would have to balance out the negatives of both types. The problem with completely volunteer-driven is that people are flaky and don’t often follow through without incentives. With an org funded by other large organizations ulterior motives and impartiality may come in to question.

All these things, and many more, would need to be thought through so people would be confident that there is a fair impartial approval system in place.

I would love to talk this over with you some more if you’re willing.


wrote the following on Wednesday October 31, 2007

Certification is a very tough one indeed.

You’d need to re-certify every few months because the technology has moved on. Best practises aren’t really nailed down all that clearly, new techniques are being discovered all of the time and technology is constantly moving forward — and that’s just on the client side, where the underlying languages haven’t moved much in aeons. Now add AJAX and server-side tech to the equation; things move at lot faster there.

Who sets the standard? What happens if a designer is certified but subsequent work doesn’t meets the standard? Who enforces it? Is it enforced at all? At a national or international level? What does it cost? What happens to great designers who can’t afford to get certified?

That’s not to say I’m against the idea. There’s just a hell of a lot of practical problems.


wrote the following on Wednesday October 31, 2007

@Michael Dick – I suspect if you’re getting a response like that, you’re not selling it in the right way. You need to pitch it in a way that’ll excite the client.

For example accessibility isn’t very exciting until you tell them and accessible site is likely to be a lot more search-engine friendly, which can lead to better ROI.

It might also help to target their niche — For instance, when selling to finance companies in the UK, relate web design best practises to Treating Customers Fairly: the regulator (the FSA) is very hot on that right now.


wrote the following on Thursday November 1, 2007

I think a certification has to be based on quantifiable criteria. If there’s anything subjective, the administering party comes into question. For this reason, it would not be design-related, as much as I want it to be; besides, a web designer’s portfolio already serves as a qualifier.

Even things such as usability and information architecture are too nebulous in definition. I think the focus would have to be on tactics and execution:

  • Are the developer’s websites built with web standards?
  • Is the markup semantic versus presentational?
  • Are accessibility provisions made within the design and code?

Things like that. Because of this focus on markup and development, “designers” focused on the look and feel are largely out of luck. What I think is a good design, others despise.

Chris Kavinsky

wrote the following on Friday November 2, 2007

Certification has its drawbacks as well. There are already certified” web designers that have done nothing more than pass a Dreamweaver class. Slapping a seal or logo won’t solve the problem, in my opinion. I’ve seen web design studios blow the W3C horn on their site, and still build sites using templates. They’re only use of CSS is to style text.

Unfortunately, the onus falls on us to properly educate clients on WHY web standards, good architecture and content, and quality design are important. I’ve had more luck explaining to people about how to improve SEO and how all the above affect their users and their company’s reputation. When potential clients get it, they see the difference of going with “cheap” sites and spending a little more on quality.

Mel hogan

wrote the following on Monday November 5, 2007

One step in the right direction would be to talk clients OUT of antiquated content management systems. Oftentimes, these dinosaurs are the guilty party when it comes to presentational mark-up. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had to “hack” CMS’ systems simply to remove in-line styles placed there by “the caring developers” of the CMS.
Word to all CMS creators: if I have to hack your CMS to remove markup, it’s not a hack, it’s a fix.


wrote the following on Tuesday January 15, 2008

Certification? 90% of my clients are morons. They know everything. They have marketeers to think for them. In their mind this will sound like give me more money, because i am certified professional. Guess what will happen next.

The lowest bidder wins.