Thus, I enjoyed reading Chris Becker’s article on UXmatters, “Accreditation for UX Professionals,” in which he promoted the idea of a UX organization-led accreditation program. While my goal in writing this response to his article is not to offer an opinion for or against certification, I want to share my observations about why it is difficult to make a business case for UX organizations’ offering certification in User Experience. Creating a UX certification program would be a huge and expensive undertaking, and it is unclear what the cost justification for such a program would be.
How Many UX Professionals and Employers Want UX Certification?
A professional organization that wanted to create a UX certification program would need to understand the market and know what percentage of employers and UX professionals would like such a program to exist. This is true for both philosophical reasons—Would they be helping the field of User Experience as a whole?—and practical reasons—Would they be able to justify the cost and effort of creating a UX certification program? About this point, as Becker points out, the answer is rather vague.
Over the years, I’ve had conversations with people who really would like UX certification to exist as an additional job credential, an indication that they’ve gone through a program of required training, and general validation that would help hiring managers to know who to employ. But I’ve had just as many conversations with people who would not want UX certification to exist because they don’t believe that certification would, in fact, be a valid indicator of a person’s ability to do a UX job.
To make the business case for UX certification, a large-scale market research effort would need to assess whether there is enough market demand for such certification.
Certification Must Not Mean a Static Approach to User Experience
While a UX certification program could, in theory, be flexible, the field of User Experience continues to change very rapidly. This change is a byproduct of both changes in technology and the development of new methodologies—both within and outside of User Experience. Would a UX certification program of today need to include responsive design and touch-screen interfaces? Would a certification program that was created five years ago have included these aspects of User Experience? And what is the landscape going to look like in another five years? Any certification program would have to take into account the rapidly evolving UX landscape and continually be updated.
Certification Would Mean a Common Definition of User Experience
Becker suggests that UX organizations should come together and create a certification program. While several of my recent publications describe my strong belief that UX organizations should work together and collaborate toward the betterment of the field, I acknowledge that each organization very legitimately has a little bit different lens on the field of User Experience. While that diversity of perspective is welcome, to develop a certification program, UX organizations would have to agree more firmly on exactly what User Experience is—and that could be difficult.
What Aspects of User Experience Should Certification Include?
There are so many aspects of User Experience—Becker describes a good number of these in his article—and so many job titles that overlap each other that UX organizations need to try to be as inclusive as possible. To actually be inclusive of all aspects of User Experience, a UX organization’s certification program would likely need to include training modules in visual design, interaction design, qualitative user research, quantitative user research, evaluation methods, information architecture, accessibility, and, perhaps, in coding good user experiences and UX project management. Each module would need stand on its own, so someone could be certified in only specific aspects of User Experience. I don’t think any UX organization would want to demand that UX professionals be the elusive UX unicorn.