The problem with web designer associations as fake regulator is exposed

It’s common for web designers and agencies to place accreditation logos on their websites. But while they may look reassuring, the truth is they are meaningless at best.

Hiring a web designer is not easy these days, so many potential clients look for a designer or developer with some kind of external accreditation or guarantee.

In this post we’ll look at whether web associations offer any security if you’re buying a website, and if you’re a web designer, whether you should join one.

A fake regulator selling dodgy sales leads for web designers

A few weeks ago, a murky organisation called the Internet and Web Design Regulatory Office, or IWDRO, was exposed as falsely claiming to be an official regulator of web designers. Update June 2020: IWDRO has apparently disappeared.

The publication of this excellent investigation by Darren at the Smallbizgeek blog, which points out that it’s illegal to pose as a regulator, among other things, apparently ruffled a few feathers.

The self-appointed regulator responded by hastily removing the claims on their website and deleting their Facebook profile and even YouTube videos.

Too bad they forgot the false claim is in their name!

Stock image used by IWDRO for a testimial
Even IWDRO’s testimonials are false. The image is a stock photo and the business named does not exist.

With their official-looking website, ties with a law firm (since removed) and code of conduct they almost certainly fooled some unwary people into trusting them.

They fooled both the web designers who paid fat membership fees and the people who went through the IWDRO to find a web designer.

IWDRO created the impression that they were offering protection to website buyers and designers alike, but they didn’t guarantee anything. They didn’t even vet their members.

If you wanted to join, you just had to fill in the form, pay your money and you could put their logo on your website.

Members also paid fees for ‘qualified’ sales leads, many of which turned out to be duds.

So what?

OK, so they may not have fooled many people, but what’s concerning here is that the IWDRO not only got away with it, but have done so for four years.

At the time of writing they are still at it.

For example, IWDRO was recommended to business start-ups as if it were an official regulator (clue: there is NO regulator, official or unofficial).

And members themselves were not against trying to claim a commercial advantage simply because they can fill in a form and pay a fee – as in this forum post:

We have benefited a lot from the recognition we get and often tell clients to check on the IWDRO website to see if others who are quoting for the job are accredited and if they are not then we use it to our advantage.

IWDRO Member

IWDRO members are still happy to overstate the benefits to clients of their membership, like this one, which describes its work as ‘quality assured’ (it isn’t!).

The exposing of the IWDRO casts doubt over any organisation or association offering credibility to web designers.

While IWDRO was the worst offender, many such associations operate in a similar way.

recommended photo

There’s the UK Web Design Association, the UK Web Design Company, Which Web Design Company, and many more who offer some kind of rating system, usually accompanied by the word Recommended.

Often they have a directory of web designers as well, but directories are a can of worms for a different blog post!

Suffice to say, a recommended badge with some stars on it from one association or another is meaningless. Even the more successful ones only require a few testimonials and a hefty fee.

We only know of one such organisation that appears to be a genuine attempt to set standards and vet its members, and that’s The Web Guild.

Web designers – like estate agents – are entirely unregulated

There is no regulator, and some have argued that there’s no such thing as a Web Professional or even a Web Profession.

There is no approved register of web designers, and no way to stop a bad or incompetent designer from trading.

If things go badly wrong with your web designer, there’s no regulator to go to and your ultimate redress is through the courts.

Darth Vader with a clipboard
Is this what a web regulator should look like?

Creating websites is such a broad skillset that it’s impossible to pin down a definitive list. What’s more, it changes all the time. Even university courses have trouble keeping up and often teach obsolete technology and practices.

A web designer isn’t someone who just makes a web page look nice. There’s the soft science of human behaviour to consider, quite apart from the technical aspect of creating something that actually works, across all devices and won’t take an age to load.

And that’s before we even look at content that does the job and can be found on searches, web marketing, and the things that people never think about – security and ongoing maintenance.

Anyone can call themselves a web designer

No two web designers are the same and to equate web designers to professions like lawyers and doctors, who have a structured path to qualification, is not realistic.

Doing websites for his mates
Doing websites for his mates

It is understandable that people who earn their living from web design describe themselves as web professionals when faced with cut-price competition from people who have knocked out a website or two for friends.

Anyone can call themselves a web designer, and there is a low bar to entry. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.

And since anyone can be a web designer, anyone can join an association.

Choosing a web designer is hard

For those new to buying a website, it must be tempting to use a lead generation website – just fill in a form with what you want and your budget, and wait for designers to come back to you with their ideas.

The trouble is you’re only likely to get those web designers who are – to put it bluntly – desperate. And most of them will be inexperienced.

IWDRO and UKWDA badges
They may look reassuring, but they are meaningless

Everyone has to start somewhere and when you’re starting out clients are hard to come by. When you’ve been going a few years, if you’re doing it right, you’ll have built a portfolio, a reputation, repeat business and recommendations.

Once established you don’t need to pay for a one in six chance of landing a website project. It’s just not worth the risk.

Yes, since you ask, we paid for a couple of leads when we were starting out but they never came to anything. You might even still be able to find our listings on one or two of the sites mentioned above. But you won’t see their badge on our pages.

If you’re buying a website, don’t use a lead generation site

A website is essentially a computer programme that needs to be kept running, and that means you need to have a relationship with whoever builds it for you. You need somewhere to turn if and when things go wrong.

Hiring a desperate or inexperienced web designer is not the best start for your project.

You’re better off asking friends and acquaintances for a recommendation, or doing a local Google search and talking to some designers near you.

If you are a web designer and you’ve joined an association

If you are a member of IWDRO and are displaying their badge or repeating their claims to be a regulator then you need to address that or you could be in trouble – read this to see why:  Seriously. Don’t join a fake web industry body to get a membership badge.

If you’re signed up to another association, you need to think carefully about how you present that to your clients.

More on IWDRO

Photo by jm3

Photo by JD Hancock

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2 thoughts on “The problem with web designer associations as fake regulator is exposed”

  1. Great post, although i’m surprised their are not more like yours on the internet.

    As an experienced freelance web designer myself, I really do feel the need for a ‘real’ offical web association, standards, as well as a recognised qualification.

    However with the amount of skill sets we need to learn (HTML, CSS, JS, PHP, SQL, Visual Design, Database Design, IA, UX, UI, PPC, SEO, Image editing, etc etc etc)…. an offical web qualification covering everything needed for modern web design would take far longer than it takes for doctors to become qualified….. Plus once we had finished and got qualified, most of what we had just learned would out of date….. I guess that’s the reason there is no such thing…

    • Thanks Stephen, though much of the credit goes to the authors of other posts I’ve linked to, particularly Heather and Darren.

      The IWDRO first popped onto my radar a good few years ago, but I never had the time to look into it properly. But Heather’s work in particular caused them to drop their claims of being a regulator at least.

      As for an official qualification, I don’t think it’s possible because people come into our trade from so many different angles. If you use WordPress, for example, you don’t need anything more than a rudimentary understanding of most of the code-based skills you mention. Our skillset is very different to yours, but that doesn’t automatically mean we are better or worse than you – just different.

      And as you say, things move so fast that it would be impossible for any qualification to keep up.

      This is a huge subject, but the central point of my post was to help educate people looking to hire a web designer that all associations are simply pay to join and don’t offer any assurance as to quality. Sadly, I’ve heard of people like local authority usiness advisors steering clients towards the IWDRO (among others) and this can be a costly mistake.

      I hope this post helps people make better buying decisions when it comes to web design and development.


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