Recently at work we’ve been discussing the merits of various UCD training courses, with particular focus on those offering certification.
Our UX team is in its infancy, and still relatively small, but we’ve managed to establish a solid base of enthusiastic advocates in various areas of the business, eager to learn more and develop new skills. Because of this, we’re in the process of defining a new training syllabus, to help support the wider team as much as possible. In order to gain more sponsorship, recognition and legitimacy for our advocates, within their respective LOB, a certified course could be a useful standard to introduce.
Our counterparts in North America have already adopted a certified course as their standard, encouraging all UX practitioners to take part. But, with the right resources, we could be better off using the training budget to develop our own curriculum, tailored specifically for our industry/LOB, and structured around our established processes, rather than something more generic. This would involve considerable effort and investment. You could also argue that keeping everything in-house puts a ceiling on our abilities and knowledge, which overtime could potentially deteriorate if the courses weren’t maintained.
Is UX certification worth it?
The issue we keep returning to is – how relevant would a certified course actually be? Would it provide significant ROI? And, although it may provide our practitioners with a greater degree of legitimacy, unless the certification is aligned with our processes its practical value would, most likely, be limited. In short, is it really worth it?
A few months ago a similar question was posed on UX Stack Exchange. Having had first-hand experience of such a course, gaining ‘certified’ status in 2008/9, I felt well placed to provide an answer to the question. With the pros and cons still fresh in my mind I wanted to explore the topic further.
Why did I need Certifying?
I graduated in 2000, with a degree in Graphic and Interactive Design, and began my career at Deepend, a Digital Communications Consultancy in London. While there I was exposed to a new breed of people, ‘Information Architects’, who were strong proponents of ‘user centered design’. The concept was new to me, but made perfect sense, I wanted to know more. Over the following years I taught myself as much as I could, and tried to guide my career toward UX wherever possible. By 2008 I was working in a great agency, that openly supported my desire to progress further. I’d gained knowledge, first-hand experience, and was growing in confidence. But, the more the agency grew (putting more emphasis on UX and by association, me) I felt I needed to validate the things I’d learnt, and supplement my formal qualifications with an industry recognised accreditation, or at least the nearest thing to it I could find.
The User Experience of getting Certified
The course I picked was divided into four parts; User Centered Analysis, Practical Usability Testing, Effective Design, and Research in Practice, followed by a final exam.
The 4 courses were certainly of use at the time. For the most part, they reassured me that my level of knowledge was adequate, and helped to highlight and improve certain areas of weakness. Having formally studied Design, and not coming from a particularly research orientated background, the module on ‘research into practice’ was of particular interest. Although, the Design module didn’t seem all that great, and in hindsight made me question the quality of the other courses. If, as an experienced Designer, I didn’t rate the Design modules that highly, who was to say the other topics were any better?
At the time, the certification helped me gain recognition as the UX specialist within my agency, as well as the confidence I needed to fulfil the role. It encouraged me to have faith in my abilities, and provided me with various levels of support; be it from the course handouts, my notes, or the attendees I met along the way. When pitching to new or existing clients, it helped to define me as an ‘expert’, and arguably gave a fledgling service offering slightly more structure and gravitas.
For me, the impact soon faded. Today I’m still glad I have it on my CV, but I no longer feel it bears much significance, it’s not something I consciously reference anymore.
Weighing up the benefits of certification
- Helped to position me as a specialist within a team
- Gave me the confidence I needed to fulfil a specialist role
- Indirectly contributed towards winning new business
- Arguably strengthened my CV when looking to progress my career
- The topics covered were varied and helped fill gaps in my knowledge
- Would be good as a recognised benchmark across a team with mixed abilities and experience
- Expensive if undertaking the whole course + exam
- Any difference it made, when applying for new jobs, was most likely superficial – although I’m sure it would be of greater help if practical experience was limited
- Attitude, experience and knowledge counts for far more, in my view
- Some certificated courses are recognised within UX, but opinions are mixed – I’d question how much weight they’d garner outside of the industry
- I had mixed opinions on the course material, and didn’t feel like my level of knowledge improved significantly
Certification vs. Bespoke training
For our advocates and aspirant UX practitioners, certification could be of use. But, I believe the return on investment is short-lived. Although each person who completes the course would gain knowledge, some basic skills and grow in confidence, there would have to be a degree of ‘on-boarding’ on our part in order to take what they had learnt and help apply it to our ways of working. Our ‘customers’ are senior managers and internal product owners, our ‘users’, the people sat around us. The apps we work on are all internally facing and highly technical. We work in an agile way, often constrained heavily by Business processes and system architecture. To find externally run, certified courses, that easily transfer to these challenges would be tricky.
Because of the environment we work in, I believe taking the time to develop a set of internal training courses would be of far greater value to us in the long run. Although this comes with its own set of challenges the benefits would far out way the negatives. It’s down to use to ensure that standards remain high, that we keep a handle on what’s happening outside of our bubble and make sure that any courses we do develop can evolve easily.
We’re very much in the early stages of creating a training plan, so there’s still time to back out if it begins to feel like the wrong thing to do, and if it doesn’t work out at least it’ll be an interest experience.
I’m really interested to hear other people’s opinions on specialist UX courses (certified or otherwise). Are you UX certified? Have you developed or taken part in in-house training? Would you do it again or recommend it to others? Please feel free to add a comment.