Training and Certification - Setup - Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)

Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)

Part II. Setup

Chapter 8. Training and Certification

Image Training is an effective way to promote user experience design and ensure that key staff members have required skills.

Image Provide knowledge training to educate most staff members about the importance of the process of user experience design. It is possible to train hundreds of people in just half a day.

Image Provide skills training to development staff members who will be doing interface design work. Instruct them on how to do user experience design work throughout the cycle of development. It is possible to train dozens of people in 10–20 days.

Image Encourage the most highly trained staff members to become certified.

Image Use the sample training plan in this chapter as the basis for your own plan.

In the institutionalization process, training is a powerful tool, and a comfortable one to implement. The power of training is that it enables personnel to share insights and achieve shifts in perspective without the expense—and potential embarrassment—of learning while performing actual project work. The school of hard knocks is a miserable substitute for organized, research-based instruction.

Classes also provide a portal to the literature in the field. There is a billion dollars’ worth of research in user experience design, but it could take a lifetime to read and digest the material that applies just to software design. Usability training, like any other educational experience, distills the literature into its key insights, principles, facts, and models. If you start the process of institutionalizing user experience design without training, you will soon find yourself back to doing design by intuition—or trial and error.

This chapter describes the types of training available and clarifies how training can fit into your overall program. It discusses certification programs and outlines a sample training program you can use as a basis for planning your own program. The examples in this chapter are from HFI, but many other qualified companies and schools provide similar classes (e.g., Nielsen Norman Group, User Interface Engineering, and Deborah J. Mayhew and Associates).

Types of Training

There are two distinct types of training: knowledge training and skills training. In knowledge training, participants gain an appreciation of the need for usability engineering, an understanding of what user experience design encompasses, and an ability to identify the types of tasks required in the user-centered design process. They do not learn to complete a development activity; however, it is in skills training that participants learn how to perform actual user experience design tasks. Trainees may practice accomplishing ecosystem research, detailed design review, or usability tests. They may need some coaching to get comfortable with a task and to fine-tune their skills, but skills training will provide them with the basic capabilities.

The Difference between Knowledge and Skills Training

Dr. Phil Goddard

There are two types of long-term memory: there’s declarative memory and there’s procedural memory. Declarative memory is a repository for facts—things that you learn about, that you can recite—it’s information about things. The other memory repository is procedural memory. Procedural memory stores procedures or processes that you perform or do, and once learned they become automatic and are done unconsciously. In fact, you can’t describe them verbally; you often have to struggle to describe them and resort to hand waving.

Expertise requires both knowledge and skill. For example, consider riding a bike—with a little knowledge (rest both hands on the bars, maintain steady speed, keep your feet on the pedals) and lots of practice, you learn how to do it—automatically. Once you’ve created the procedure for bike riding, it’s ready for use anytime. So at the core, knowledge is often a combination of factual information and procedural skill that must be developed over time to result in expertise.

When developing a training program, we should recognize as user-centered designers that we can state factually some things we learn about design. For example, left alignment of all field labels and edit fields on a screen reduces the visual complexity of a page. But there are certain kinds of knowledge that aren’t factual; they’re more procedural—like performing a usability test. How to perform an effective test that doesn’t give away the answer to a specific question, how to actually practice active listening—these things need to be learned over a period of time and assimilated, and sometimes they’re just things that take more time to learn.

You must include both skills training and knowledge training if you want your training program to be powerful.

Knowledge Training

Knowledge training in user experience design does not have to take a long time. A single day of training is enough to convey the importance of user experience design and the scope of activities needed. For example, a half-day knowledge training class on Web usability can cover the basics (see Table 8-1). Because knowledge training does not require the level of close interaction and mentoring of skills training, large classes can be as effective as smaller ones. This is especially important if you need to train many people. While the course participants will not be ready to complete user-centered design work after knowledge training, they will better appreciate its importance, and a broad-based appreciation helps the successful implementation of user experience design.


Table 8-1: Objectives of the HFI Half-Day “Essentials of Usability” Knowledge Training Class

The best way to ensure a successful institutionalization effort is to get organizational support and acceptance. Knowledge training directly conveys the value of user experience design and the user-centered design process and provides a baseline of acceptance throughout the organization. Such training does not have to identify every activity and skill needed. Rather, it focuses on connecting with people’s experiences and getting them to see how user experience design is an essential tool and can be a key competitive differentiator for their organization. A knowledge training class is a very efficient, organized, and focused method for conveying this understanding. If employees do not have this type of training, the user experience design staff must convey the same information and understanding on an ad hoc basis. It takes a great deal of time to explain this information on an individual basis and is inefficient and impractical to do so.

A good knowledge training class identifies the overall process of user-centered design and illustrates the value of standards, a good navigational structure, and good detailed design. It does not try to demonstrate every design principle and research-based recommendation, but rather just enough to ensure that participants understand that user experience design is not just common sense and should not be approached with anything less than a professional and systematic attitude.

Knowledge training can help make key transitions deep in the psyche of the organization. The entire staff needs to learn how user experience design is really the way to manifest the strategy developed by marketing personnel. Everyone needs to learn how UX design engineers ensure that the brand values are reflected in the design. Knowledge training can dispel myths, such as the idea that user experience design engineering goes counter to marketing or graphic design goals. Knowledge training can help move the development organization from design by opinions and superstitions into a systematic and scientific practice.

Who Should Get Knowledge Training?

Three groups especially benefit from this type of training: executives, members of the systems community, and new employees.

Executives benefit from knowledge training because while they do not need to be able to do a task analysis or complete interviews, they must understand what user experience design is about. These managers must make informed decisions about funding and support the user experience design staff when hard choices have to be made. Without this type of training, many executives won’t have a basic understanding of user experience or an appreciation of its importance. While knowledge training is not always sufficient to instill a deep, gut-level commitment to usability, it should have a meaningful impact. Compared to other participants, executives in many cases require training that is shorter, higher powered, and more specific to their organization. They need to understand issues of investment and return, as well as the challenges of governance that they will be asked to manage.

The second target group is the systems community. Many different players are found at this level, including business owners, product managers, operations personnel, marketing staff, developers, and so on. Different organizations have different types of key staff, so your training program should have the goal of creating a core group of people who understand user experience design as a primary objective.

Regardless of which group you target as the most crucial, the knowledge must permeate the organization. Once this objective is complete, there will always be a few people in every important design meeting who will expect user experience design to be addressed as an essential success factor—systematically and scientifically.

It’s also important to make sure that new hires are aware of the value of user experience design. Many new staff members may not know about UX design, and knowledge training ensures that they understand the focus on and the importance of user experience in the organization.

Although all these groups need to hear a similar message, it is a good idea to customize the presentation to best meet the needs and mindset of each group.

Skills Training

If usability testing were the only thing involved in skills training, this training would be straightforward. But such training encompasses much more than simply testing: skills training needs to provide the ability to participate in the entire cycle of development. Key user experience design initiatives must be completed at every stage, and this training must support a range of activities from strategic cross-channel design through conceptual structure, navigational, and detailed design.

When you look at the scope of what must be learned, skills training may seem daunting. In fact, it is daunting. Figure 8-1, which outlines course topics in the core HFI Web and application development skills training classes, gives you a sense of the scope and complexity of usability skills. Going through a training program provides a foundation, but given real-world constraints, challenges, and time requirements it takes more than that for most people to become truly competent at all these activities. The best results generally come from having support for initial work experience. This support may include advanced training or a mentoring program for refining skills. Support programs can be completed before the start of real-world projects, or they can be incorporated into participation in showcase projects.


Figure 8-1: Training chart: examples of what is taught in skills classes1

1. Chart developed by Human Factors International.

It is also important to have follow-up assistance for newly trained staff. It does not matter that the people are dedicated and determined—it is simply impossible for anyone to get everything right the first time. Just as there are residency programs for physicians, so there is a need for continued mentoring for newly trained user experience design staff.

Who Should Get Skills Training?

While all employees benefit from knowledge training, those who will actually perform the user experience design work require skills training. In addition, some managers must be able to evaluate the quality of designs and the design process in depth, which also requires an advanced level of training. While the executives might not actually design screens, they must understand the process, philosophy, and design rules to be able to evaluate and support the UX design staff. It is wonderful to have managers with very senior usability experience, but it is more likely that user experience design will be new to the management group. For managers who have not had extensive experience, a few days of more in-depth training beyond the knowledge training course should be sufficient.

Both small and large organizations need the same types of training, but they differ in terms of how many people need to be trained. In addition, large organizations need to train staff in the special requirements of working in a mature, process-oriented organization. This would include, for example, use of standards and knowledge management tools.

People who work closely with the user experience design staff on user-related tasks that support the interface design will benefit from a few days of skills training. For example, the marketing staff must provide strategic and branding direction, the technical staff must support the design’s implementation, the graphic art staff must create the imagery, and the business analysts must consider functionality and business rules. User representatives may provide insights and organize data gathering with users, and other individuals may work in functional roles that surround the usability activities. With a more solid understanding of the design process, all of these personnel will be fully helpful, supportive, and aware of the importance of usability.

It is useful to pick a few of these individuals and put them through the same training that the user-experience design staff receives. Although they will not be actually completing design tasks, they will then have a clear understanding of what the UX engineers are trying to accomplish and will be more effective in working with them.

Some IT staff and developers may be involved in interface design in a serious way. They may not be dedicated user experience design staff, but often an organization does not have enough specialists to perform all the user-centered design work. In such a case, these staff members may be asked to perform usability engineering tasks. For lower-budget projects, or in smaller companies, they may have to handle the entire user experience design effort on their own, or at least with limited support. These people need about five days of training that provides hands-on skills in user-centered design, including user-centered design and analysis, user interface structures, usability detailed design, and user testing.

Some employees become dedicated user experience design staff and spend most of their work time on usability issues. They may not have degrees in the field, but they usually care a lot, have industry experience, and possess political skills. These individuals need a solid set of practical training skills. A foundation of a month of training is usually justified, and these dedicated user experience design staff should have ongoing mentoring and recurrent training every year.


You may want to consider certification for staff members who have received a professional level of training. Having trained staff certified helps instill confidence in them; coworkers will be more likely to respect their insights and decisions, knowing that the staff members who are making recommendations have a solid foundation in the field.

Different levels of certification exist in the usability field. There is the certification of a university degree, for example. Several universities and colleges now offer graduate-level degrees in a human factors field, and some of them are specifically for usability and interface design. Other colleges may not offer a degree but rather combine courses to offer a certificate. This is not the same as certification, however; it demonstrates only that the person took some courses.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has spun off a certification body called the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics. This body grants a certification in general human factors engineering called either a Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) or, in accordance with the certificate candidate’s choice, a Certified Human Factors Professional (CHFP) or a Certified User Experience Professional (CUXP). This thorough and practical certification program is not solely focused on software design, but instead includes the whole gamut of the human factors engineering practice, from cars and weapons systems to consumer products and power plant controls.

In the last 10 years, a few companies have started industry certification programs to fill the gap between a graduate degree and just taking a few courses. For example, HFI offers the Certified Usability Analyst (CUA) program. This certification program relies on a test specifically focused on software usability issues. This test, which is quite demanding, measures a person’s understanding of user-centered design and usability engineering principles. It does not test the ability to work in groups or even directly sample design skill, but it does validate that the applicant knows many approaches to research as well as a wide range of principles and methods specific to software usability. The test was constructed systematically with item analysis from various test populations. It is available to all and does not require the participant to complete HFI courses. More than 4000 CUAs have been certified since the inception of the program. There is also an advanced certification from HFI called the Certified User Experience Analyst (CXA). This certification can be achieved only after getting a CUA, and it includes user experience strategy, innovation, persuasion engineering, and work within a mature practice.

A Typical Training Plan

Every company has its own training priorities and budget limits. Table 8-2 outlines a sample plan for the first year; you can use it as a starting point. If you work in a large company, you may want to offer each class in-house to your own people. If you work in a small company, sending a few people to a public course may be a better alternative.



Table 8-2: Sample HFI Training Plan


In addition to foundational knowledge and skills training classes, it’s important to keep the usability staff up-to-date on the field as a whole. New ideas and insights occur in this field all the time, and new methods and technologies are being developed continuously. If your company does not gather and disseminate these insights, you will not benefit from current best practices. There are two critical conferences in the field, and each provides insights that will be valuable to your projects. Each person on the core usability team should attend at least one conference a year.

Each conference is different in terms of the size of the conference, the types of people who attend and the types of sessions that are offered. Visit their websites to get an overview of what each conference is like.

• Special Interest Group on Computer–Human Interfaces of the Association for Computing Machinery (SIGCHI) (

• The Usability Professionals Association (


Making training an integral part of your institutionalization effort not only helps educate your staff, but also provides an invaluable level of ongoing consensus and support. Training is one of the most effective resources available to enhance the knowledge, skills, enthusiasm, and commitment of your organization at the same time. The next chapter outlines the essential elements of a user-centered design methodology.