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Project: Certification of Usability Professionals

Report from CHI 2002

There were three events at or around the SIGCHI 2002 Conference, including a UPA Minnesota Chapter meeting.

SIG: A Proposed Scheme for Certifying Usability Practitioners
Facilitated by Julie Nowicki and Nigel Bevan

Attended by 35 people.

  • A majority were familiar with ISO 13407.
  • Only a few had taken the certification survey.
  • Based on the introduction given at the SIG, 16 indicated they would probably apply for certification, 3 would not, and 16 were undecided.
  • It was suggested that CPE could do a subspecialty on software to cover usability.
  • It was suggested that candidates should have some options to choose from for certification, so everyone wouldn't be expected to be competent in all aspects.
  • In terms of submitted case studies, how would reviewers assess individual efforts in a team project?
  • Should certification include a competency as a team member?
  • What should be included in the competency and what should it be called -- the ongoing problem with the label "usability professional" being interpreted as usability testing only?

Other questions included:

  • Are we planning to restrict it to software or include hardware?
  • What would be the individual cost? How are we going to finance the effort?
  • How will we get consistency among assessors about what is acceptable?
  • Who would the peer reviewers be and what exactly would they do?
  • Will certification be graded or all-or-nothing?
  • What if someone hadn't performed all the required competencies in the case studies (projects) in which they'd participated?

SIG: How can usability be certified? A Practical Test of Your Skills
Facilitated by Rolf Molich

Tested participants' ability to identify problems in plans for a user-based evaluation of a web site, and to suggest how to improve error-handling in some car rental web pages. The conclusions included:

  • This type of problem-solving questions would be excellent for self-assessment, but would be very difficult to use for a certification exam because of the wide range of potentially acceptable answers.
  • There was an apparent cultural bias in some of the model answers (e.g. against humor).
  • Should the solutions be quick fixes or fundamental design changes? There are several potential solutions, and lots of scope for intelligent disagreement.
  • A lot of the benefit is in the discussion of the potential solutions.
  • The test only covers ecommerce.
  • The ability to answer depends on previous experience with the ecommerce domain and particular type of content. It assumes consultancy experience.

Minneapolis UPA Chapter Meeting

Julie Nowicki explained the certification plans at a meeting with 13 members of the Minneapolis UPA local chapter, and got a generally positive response, with 10 interested in being certified and 3 not sure.

There was some discussion of what type of design skills should be required of a usability professional. Suggested areas for elective skills were: accessibility, internationalisation, and expertise in specific domains such as web, hardware or software. The majority felt that a usability professional needs to be able to design a screen, as in some organisations if they don't do it, nobody will.

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