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Project: Certification of Usability Professionals

Report from the Salt Lake City Meeting

This was the initial kickoff meeting on certification of usability professionals, held in Salt Lake City, 15-17 November 2001.

Report by Nigel Bevan, Serco Usability Services.

Meeting Summary in PDF Format

The objectives of the meeting were to decide whether usability certification is viable, and if so to determine the criteria for certification, the certification process, and the scope and mission of a certification consortium.

Participants were invited representing interested organisations and companies that might join a consortium. The participants were:

  • Nigel Bevan - Serco Usability Services (UK UPA and UsabilityNet)
  • Alan Colton - SurgeWorks (convenor)
  • Donald Day -Intuit
  • Jonathan Earthy - Lloyds Register (British HCI Group)
  • Dane Falkner -SurgeWorks
  • Masaaki Kurosu -NIME (SIG Usability, Japan)
  • Julie Nowicki - Optavia
  • Stephanie Rosenbaum -Tec-Ed, Inc.
  • Charlotte Schwendeman -Vertecon
  • Bill Saiff - FannieMae
  • Eric K. Strandt - Northwestern Mutual
  • Don Williams - Microsoft Corporation
  • Larry Wood Brigham - Young University (UPA)

The submitted positions from the participants and other interested individuals who were unable to attend showed overall support for usability certification, but a diverse range of opinions on the scope and purpose of certification.

Summary of main workshop conclusions

Benefits to stakeholders

  • Purchasers of usability services
    Advantages: Provides criteria to choose a service provider, requires less expertise on part of purchaser to make decision, helps justify decisions to management, likelier to get better services resulting in a higher quality product.

    Problems: Needs to be properly advertised and managed, a certified person will cost more, could stifle innovation, guarantees mediocrity.
  • Usability professionals
    Advantages: Provides status and a level of authority, promotes accepted values within the profession, makes moving job easier, will command a higher salary, helps define a career path.

    Problems: Does not distinguish between the newly qualified and the very experienced, will need time, effort and money, will not cater for the specialist, could homogenise the profession.
  • Usability aware employer
    Advantages: Encourages development of less experienced employees, provides criteria to select a new employee, helps justify decisions about hires, lowers the risk of selecting an inappropriate employee, a certified employee will need less local training, easier to identify training requirements, can be part of a reward/compensation package, provides a basis for differentiating employee expertise, provides guidance for professional development.

    Problems: certified employees will expect a higher salary, the employer may be expected to pay for certification and training, leaves less latitude for personal judgment, may focus only on certification and not on other relevant skills.
  • Entry level practitioners
    Advantages: Provides something to aspire to and guidance on skills required, provides self-evaluation standard, gives status, makes the subject more meaningful, helps decide "should I go into this field?"

    Problems: Costly in money and time, the employer not as likely to pay, provides a barrier to entry to field
  • Usability consultancies
    Advantages: easier to gain credibility, provides differentiation to competitors

    Problems: cost to get employees certified, may result in higher staffturnover, more difficult to retain staff, consultancy fees will need to go up.
  • Training organizations
    Advantages: easier to get students (marketing), may increase business of certified courses.

    Problems: must meet standards (could be costly), cost of certification.

    Pos/Neg: defines a program for training.

Lower priority stakeholders included:

  • Users
  • Project managers
  • Executive sponsors of usability professionals
  • Academic teachers
  • Non-profit professional organizations
  • Industry usability trainers
  • Students in academic programs
  • Project team
  • Legal professionals (liability)


The scheme should so far as possible assess knowledge, skills, aptitude and relevant mindset.

Although the focus should be on defining a minimum standard, the scheme should so far as possible encourage the maximum number of people to qualify, and promote professional development and excellence.

Criteria for certification

The preferred approach is to define core competency complemented by elective specialities. The scope of assessment will be user-centered design as described in ISO 13407, which includes:

  • Plan and manage the human-centred design process
  • Understand and specify user and organisational requirements and context of use
  • Produce design solutions
  • Evaluate designs against requirements

Jonathan Earthy and Nigel Bevan will be responsible for developing a strawman model including pass and fail criteria for each competency item for typical personas seeking certification.

Certification process

The suggested elements are:

  • a points system to assess eligibility based on education and experience (there was little enthusiasm to accredit training courses in the US in the first phase)
  • submission of material describing use of UCD on a project. The DSDM model of a 2000 word explanation of how and why UCD principles has (or has not) been applied was favoured.
  • submission of structured peer references
  • a possible written exam composed of problem-solving questions
  • a structured interview

This will be further elaborated by Alan Colton and Nigel Bevan.

Certification body

Assessment should be operated by a not-for-profit consortium including representatives of professional bodies and major companies.

The scheme should be operated internationally (the international strategy has not yet been defined).

Developing the scheme

A business case will be prepared outlining all the steps needed to put a scheme in place. A draft scheme will be produced prior to the CHI conference in April, where a public announcement will be made in conjunction with an article in Interactions. Further consultation activities are planned for the UPA, STC, IFIP and EUPA conferences.

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