Professional UX Credentials: Are They Worth the Paper They’re Printed On?
By Anna Wichansky
UX certification is a serious and hotly debated issue. Unfounded statements like “The ‘gold standard’ of UX professional certification is available through the Board of Certified Professional Ergonomists (BCPE),” as noted by Anna Wichansky, are not useful.
A useful certification program has a useful website that answers all relevant questions from users. For example, it should explain who judges applicants’ qualifications and what qualifications the judges possess. It should also clearly explain the various types of certifications offered, and how they differ. BCPE offers User Experience Professional certification. It is not clear—at least to me—how the UX certification differs from other types of certification offered (Human Factors Professional and Professional Ergonomist).
A precise and usable curriculum is essential. A list of 25 primary references and 23 secondary references is hardly useful.
Let’s have an unbiased article about what a 2015 state-of-the-art certification program should and should not include to help UX professionals make informed choices about these programs.
Certification questions for UX professionals must be useful. Questions like “In designing an industrial sewing machine that will be sent to China for a female workforce to use to manufacture dresses, what is the popliteal height to accommodate 95 percent of the workforce?” are not useful. Questions addressing essential skills for UX professionals are missing from the BCPE sample test, for example, the ability to recognize leading or closed contextual interview questions, bad usability test tasks, and how to communicate usability findings in a useful way.
Certification questions must be easy to understand and the correct answer must be indisputably correct. This, of course, also applies to publicly available examples of certification questions.
Finally, a clear separation between training organizations, certification providers, and providers of curricula and certification questions is essential.
Please, let’s have an unbiased article about what a 2015 state-of-the-art certification program should and should not include to help UX professionals make informed choices regarding certification programs.
Since this is a forum about the Business of UX, I chose to share my professional experience on the value of certification, both as a recipient and as a hiring manager. It is not a review article about all the certification programs that exist, and there are many others internationally. I referred to Arnie Lund’s 2011 book for that, although Rolf’s program is too new to be included.
I stand by my opinion: The BCPE certification is still the gold standard for the UX profession. That means it’s the best we have today. After 25 years it’s stood the test of time, across multiple generations of human-machine interfaces. Experts in human factors and subspecialties such as HCI develop BCPE tests to modern psychometric standards. It is potentially a conflict of interest to sell applicants a training program and then test to it.
In addition to testing, it also requires academic credentials, proof of work experience, and recertification over time.
To be helpful, I’d suggest applicants ask the following questions when considering certification options:
- How long has the certification program existed?
- Who are the people designing and grading the test?
- Do they have any expertise in professional certification activities?
- Are they also selling the training, potentially a conflict of interest?
- Where do the test questions come from?
- Do they have any evidence of psychometric reliability or validity for professional practice?
- How many people have applied, and how many people have been accepted?
- Are there any other requirements for certification, such as work experience and academic degrees (certification), or is it just a test (certificate)?
- Are there any employers or professions requiring or even mentioning the certification as desirable?
- Do the leaders of my field have the certification?
It’s also important to remember that over the course of a career, professionals need to demonstrate a broad base of skills and knowledge to keep up with a changing world. Certifications may be used as predictors of future potential, as well as acknowledgments of past success.
I invited Carol Stuart-Buttle, Executive Director of BCPE, to comment on their 25-year-old approach to certification. Below is her response.
Response from the Board of Certified Professional Ergonomists:
BCPE provides certification for Human Factors/Ergonomics (HFE) professionals. HFE professionals contribute expertise to multidisciplinary teams in many domains with the collective goal of user-centered design, for example, in the user experience and product usability fields. Lately, in the design of medical devices, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration requires human factors testing of all devices before approval to market, which has further increased HFE involvement in product usability.
There are many other talented professionals who may seek training and credentials in domains in which HFE professionals work. While some individuals might aspire to certification by BCPE, others may wish for opportunities from other groups. The following provides context for the BCPE certification.
The BCPE, a non-profit organization established in 1990, offers a single certification with a credential that indicates a baseline breadth of knowledge, demonstration of competence in HFE, and requires adherence to a code of ethics. The certificant chooses the designation that works for their work domain, CUXP being one of the choices along with CPE and CHFP. Unlike a certificate program that tests a student’s comprehension of a specific training program, professional certification attests to a minimum level of professional competence and therefore must be independent of any specific training program to avoid a conflict of interest. In addition, the certifying body is not permitted to accredit the training or educational programs.
Accreditation standards call for stringent, frequent field surveys of practice for development of core competencies, with psychometric validation of those criteria. The core competencies are the base of an exam, which also undergoes specific, rigid psychometric analysis and validation, including item validation and reliability, as well as exam equivalency. In the U.S., programs abiding by such stringent accreditation standards are often referred to as the gold standard of certification and by definition have state-of-the-art processes.
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