What’s happening

IX.1 January 2002
Page: 7
Digital Citation

Certifying usability (professionals)

Marisa Campbell

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Donald L. Day, Intuit
with the assistance of
Nigel Bevan, Serco Usability Services

A group of usability professionals from industry, academia, and government has formed a working group 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. The group of 13, including delegates from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, had its first meeting during mid-November in Salt Lake City, at the invitation of Surgeworks (a usability consultancy) and the Usability Professionals Association (UPA).

The group decided to consult with human factors, HCI, and usability organizations and key individuals in the usability community in an attempt to develop a workable and valued certification scheme. Members of the group will collect advice from people at six conferences during the next year; a SIG on usability certification has been submitted for CHI 2002, in Minneapolis.

The group includes Nigel Bevan (Serco Usability Services) and Jonathan Earthy (Lloyds Register) from the United Kingdom, Masaaki Kurosu (NIME) from Japan, and the following U.S.-based members:

  • Alan Colton, Surgeworks
  • Donald Day, Intuit
  • Julie Nowicki, Optavia
  • Stephanie Rosenbaum, Tec-Ed
  • Charlotte Schwendeman, Vertecon
  • Bill Saiff, FannieMae
  • Eric Strandt, Northwestern Mutual
  • Don Williams, Microsoft
  • Larry Wood, Brigham Young University

Bevan represents the UK UPA and the EC UsabilityNet project, Earthy the British Computer Society HCI Specialist Group (BCS HCI), Kurosu, SIG Usability¬óJapan, and Wood and Nowicki the UPA. Additional people in the usability community expressed an interest in the group's work, but were not able to attend the meeting. Inquiries about the group and its certification work should be directed to Alan Colton ([email protected]).

During its three-day workshop, the group was facilitated by Dane Falkner of Surgeworks. First, workshop objectives were established. Then, the group identified and prioritized key stakeholders in any certification scheme. Included were purchasers of usability services, usability professionals, usability aware employers, entry level practitioners, usability consultancies, and usability training organizations. The group next split into three subgroups to brainstorm the positive and negative impacts of certification for each of the key stakeholders.

The next step was to discuss a series of issues related to certification process and criteria. It was decided that although the focus should be on defining a minimum standard, the scheme should also make it possible for the maximum number of people who meet the standard to qualify, as well as promote professional development and excellence. The objective would not be to create a small cadre of elite individuals. The group decided that a scheme should assess knowledge, skills, usability aptitude, and whether a candidate had the relevant mindset. It should relate to the entire user-centered design (UCD) field, broadly defined, not merely usability testing and evaluation. The group also proposed that certification candidates should subscribe to an ethical code of practice.

Earthy and Bevan briefed the group on an accreditation scheme for usability specialists being proposed jointly by BCS HCI and by the UK UPA. The scheme was based on earlier work by these organizations and by the European Usability Support Centres. The scheme is guided by ISO 13407, "Human-centred Design Processes for Interactive Systems" (1999). For details, visit www.usabilitynet.org/certification.

The group decided to base its consideration of competencies on work already completed for the European proposal, including its "Technical Competencies for User Centered Design Professionals" technical report. The preferred approach decided by the group was to define core competency complemented by elective specialties. Candidates would be required to qualify on all core competencies and would be able to meet certification requirements by adding electives in their area of specialty. Likely core competencies include:

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

This list corresponds to the key elements of ISO 13407, which was voted unanimously by the group to form the foundation of certification competencies.

Earthy and Bevan were tasked with leading development of a strawman model for discussions with the usability community. The model includes pass and fail criteria for each competency element, for personas characteristic of individuals who may seek accreditation. The personas describe typical usability professionals, based on UPA survey data.

Part of the dialogue with the usability community will include discussion of how the group's scheme relates to other programs, in particular the ergonomics certification managed by the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (www.bcpe.org/). The group also will be considering its relationship to the National Organization for Competency Assurance (www.noca.org/), which sets quality standards for giving credentials to organizations.

The likely certification process proposed by the group would utilize a point system. Candidates' applications would need to demonstrate sufficient background and experience (equivalent to a threshold score), before being considered for certification. Industry experience would be required; points also could be awarded for university programs in related fields. Applicants also would need to include work experience peer references, based on a structure defined by the credentialing consortium.

Under this scheme, evaluation for giving credentials might include techniques such as:

  • Submission of a brief describing the use of UCD on a project (how and why UCD principles were or were not applied).
  • A written examination of problem-solving style questions, requiring essay responses.
  • Structured interviews with multiple assessors approved by the consortium.
  • Actual criteria and processes will be developed over the next year, as the group engages the usability community at CHI, Society for Technical Communication, IFIP, UPA, BCS HCI, UK UPA, APCHI and HFES conferences.

The group decided that the scheme should be operated by an international, not-for-profit consortium, including representatives of professional bodies and major companies.

The final task at the mid-November workshop was to define things that need to be addressed in creation of the not-for-profit consortium, including organizational, financial, marketing, and operations issues. Investigation of these issues is being directed by Alan Colton, the working group's project manager.

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