User Experience certification
Last week, I spent three days on an intensive course to consolidate my knowledge on creating an effective user experience, and now hold the certificate of ‘Certified Professional in User Experience (Foundation level)’, or CPUX-F.
The course was run by User Vision, who have been in close consultation with Rolf Molich, one of the godfathers of User Experience (together with Jakob Neilsen, he wrote 10 usability heuristics which, although not officially part of the curriculum for this course, are widely considered to be UX standards).
What is UX and why does it need to be certified?
User Experience – UX – is an increasingly common term and often people mean subtly different things by it. One of the aims of this course, which is designed by the impartial UX Qualifications Board, is to try and standardise what we mean by such terms, to allow better communication.
The curriculum is based on an international standard – ISO 9241 – that has been around in its current form since 2006 and defines user experience as the wider experience someone might have interacting with some kind of system incorporating the usability of the system.
For our purposes, it’s what we tend to call the Student Experience. Whilst our students will invariably interact with our websites and online platforms throughout the course of their programme, we always need to bear in mind how that interaction relates to the wider experience of our students and staff.
The main core of the course was focused on usability and human-centred design. The term human is quite purposefully used over the more common term ‘user-centred design’. This is because it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, any system – from a mobile app to a vacuum cleaner – has a human being interacting with it at some stage, who brings with them a set of expectations it’s important to meet. The CPUX-F course teaches the core principles of how to engage with those humans in such a way as to leave them satisfied. Things like:
- Systems should be as intuitive as possible – don’t make your users have to think more than is necessary about how to interact with it.
- If there is a learning curve associated (after all, there needs to be room for innovation) then it should be as easy as possible to learn, with clear help and instructions.
- When mistakes do happen, it should be easy to recover from them.
- Users should always understand what’s going on and be able to control it.
Understanding who your ‘humans’ are
One of the key things to understand about effective user experience is that you have to understand who your users are and what contexts they’re coming from. A medical screening system for example, might not be intuitive to the layperson but may make perfect sense to a doctor.
Personas are great way to do this. Our CMS editor personas have been central to the development of EdWeb and we keep them at the centre of all enhancement work.
Other organisations have gone even further – in the lobby of the old Orange headquarters they had a ‘persona beach’ where cardboard cutouts representing their key user groups sat on beach towels with personal effects to represent their needs.
Our UX Manager, Neil Allison, developed a bespoke training course in persona development in 2013, with the support of an external usability consultant. We haven’t had the capacity to run this course in a while, due to the migration to EdWeb, but do get in touch if you’re interested in us running a session for your unit.
We can also provide training in:
- Prototyping: how to start sketching out interfaces, interactions and content at an early stage to meet your user’s needs without wasting development effort
- Usability testing: working out whether your system – be it an early prototype or an existing system – does what you need it to do
- Google Analytics: How to gather data about the user experience online.
One of the objectives of our Writing for the Web course is also to help people to keep the user at the forefront of their mind. Anyone in the University, including students, is welcome to come along to this course for free.
Keeping things objective
One of the dogmas of the course is that ‘opinions are not facts’. We can schedule meeting after meeting after sub-committee about what staff want from a website, but the only way you can really decide anything is to look at the empirical evidence and decide what it is your users need from the site.
We can help teach you how to do this and our vision is of a University where everyone understands the principles of human-centred approaches. However, sometimes it can be really useful to have an outsider come in and help your process – someone who is objective, but really knows what they’re talking about.
That’s somewhere else we can help. This certification has increased our capacity within the area of usability, where Neil has been leading the charge for many years and we’d be happy to come into your unit and provide this objectivity. This might include things like:
- developing personas through collaboration
- testing and revising your content with real users
- defining your objectives, user groups and use cases
- evaluating your existing or draft content through heuristic inspection.
Of course, the tenets of a great user experience are key to any work we do in the Website Programme, so when we work with staff across the University to develop new sites, we bring with us a unique combination of understanding, of UX principles and of the needs of a large University.
Get in touch
If you want to know more about the CPUX certifications, or how we can help your unit create online content that really satisfies your users’ needs, get in touch.