Designers are swamped with a host of quality assurance standards, which causes confusion
The introduction of the British Standards was, by and large, a very good thing. Giving products a rating for quality, performance and suitability gave designers the chance to compare "like for like", taking into consideration the price and aesthetics. These days, more products are made abroad, which gives us wider choice, but also presents us with the standards in use in those countries. So, along came the European Community Standards and the ISO Quality Assured Standards. Confused? Read on.

OK, let's go back to the simple British Standards. Most interior designers and architects will recognise BS4800 as being concerned with paint – more specifically a set number of colours that can be manufactured by anyone. (The colours in this standard are another rant entirely, which I do not have space to vent here.) This was meant to ensure a certain continuity in refurbishment works where paint colours could still be matched several years down the line (though why you should want to, I am not sure). However, some contractors on PFI and design-and-build ask us to use these colours so they can shop around. The standard is no longer used as quality assurance but as a bargaining chip, which severely limits the choice of the designer and client.

With the use of products from abroad, which bring their own sets of standards, would it not have been prudent for the British Standards Council to try to bring these all under one umbrella, and issue some kind of comparative guidance on the varying standards, tests and measurements? Although the EC standards are supposed to supersede individual countries' standards, they are being introduced very slowly. And that still leaves those countries outside the EC with their own standards – how can we ignore American imports? Without having copies of all the standards and knowing exactly what is tested and how, designers are right back where they started, unable to make like-for-like comparisons.

Recently, checking out the technical specifications on the back of a linoleum sample card (I had a few hours to kill), there was the usual list of standards for the wear properties, the flammability properties and the application of the product. These standards are vital to ensure the safety, value and suitability of the product. There was also a host of standards covering width of roll, length of roll and thickness. Does this mean that if a manufacturer tells us its product is 2 m wide by 20 m long by 2.5 mm thick, we cannot trust its word? It needs a standard to prove that its product is the size it states? Or is this a case of "let's find as many standards as we can that our product conforms to, to fill up the back page"? Who thinks up these standards in the first place, and do we need a separate standard for each of these items? Surely if these are related to manufacture and shrinkage, the same criterion works for length, breadth and depth.

If the standards cannot be compared in a straightforward way they are useless, confusing and generally ignored

A set of standards for ensuring the quality, safety and recommended suitability of products is vital to enable the designer to choose products with confidence and leave them with time to get on with the other components of their job. The standards need to tell us, in plain language, what the product is capable of, and give a means of comparing the properties of like products that are produced by different manufacturers. At the moment, manufacturers seem to use whichever standard for a particular property is the easiest for their product to get through. So, on the technical specification of one product you can end up

with British standards, EC standards, American standards, German standards, French standards, and so on – because the manufacturer has to have a standard for everything it can think of.