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Ask Eric: Questions & Answers

Each month Dr. Eric Schaffer answers selected questions on usable interface design. Recent Questions
Archived questions and answers about ...

The Usability Profession

December 11, 2002 – submitted by Max William of Mumbai, India

Question: I am an User Interface Designer from Mumbai, India. Since there are no formal training or certification programs for Usability Analysts or Usability Engineers, where do I turn to for getting such certification? I went through your course curriculum and was very inspired by Human Factors International, but being in India and being a student I can't afford to pay the high fees for doing such a course. Is there any way I could get a chance to do a course to become a Certified Usability Analyst.

Please, please, answer my e-mail, as this really means a lot to me to get a formal training and certification in this field as Its going to influence my career as an User Interface Designer.

Eric's response: I feel that usability expertise is key to moving India's infotech industry up the value chain. This is why I have created a strong team in India (currently our main office is in Mumbia, with others in Bangalore and Pune). We are also working to provide training and certification of individuals like yourself in India. I have found so many people in India who have the right perspective and good intuition for usability work. I think it is wonderful to have individuals like yourself having the benefit of the most current usability engineering research and methods. I am also seeing that the pricing of our training and certification is properly adapted to the India market.

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July 4, 2002 – submitted by Sam of Calcutta, India

Question: I am very interested in usability concepts, and want to get into usability. I am currently working as a Web designer.

Do I need to take an academic course or studies related to usability? What is the future in store for me if I choose usability as my career line from today?

Eric's response: Sam – I am delighted to hear of your interest in usability. It is a wonderful field. We are the key to the continuation of the information age. The challenge is no longer to create software that works. People care less and less about flashy and wiggly graphics. What people want are applications that are practical, useful, usable, and satisfying. That takes usability engineering work.

It is not clear from your entry if you are in Calcutta or the USA. In the USA it would be very good to take a masters level program in usability. There are a number of good programs (Virginia Polytech is excellent). There is a comprehensive list of graduate programs in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Web site.

If you are in India it is a bit harder. I do feel that usability work will be the key differentiator that can move India's infotech industry up the value chain. However, we have seen a somewhat slow growth in programs within India. We are working with NID and that might be the first solid one. In the mean time we do offer professional level seminars in India. You can also get some related experience from the design programs at both NID and IIT.

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May 12, 2002 – submitted by Azrie Rie of Malaysia

Question: What is human factors? Can you give me a definition?

Eric's response: Sure Azrie. Human Factors is a technical field that strives to guide the design of equipment and systems so as to optimize user experience and performance. We use a whole set of methods, skills, and research-based principles to increase user speed, accuracy, self-evidency, satisfaction, and safety.

Most software designers think about the system's capabilities and limitations. We think about the user. We design the user interface based on systematic data gathering and testing. We then let this design drive the technical development. This is called "User-Centered Design."

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