Okay, so I've been urged to write about this since it took some time and effort to get me to this stage. Last month, June 13th to be more exact, I took the Human factors International Certified Usability Analyst exam. It was indeed a "doosy" since there was a lot of material to be covered in just 2.5 hours. 100 questions in total and it's an open-book exam and I had to choose the best answer - of course, there's only one answer each question.
I failed the first one 3 months before that, only because I barely studied. The minute I discovered I was only three questions off from passing, I vowed to shoot higher - 80%. So over the course of three months, nearly every day, I studied by creating an index I could use to search through during the exam. This was my way of studying - and it worked.
Now, I'm a certified anal-ist, that is, anal-ise about details meaning to be extremely thorough before a decision can be made as to what is best for certain interfaces. Of course, I don't anal-ise all the time as some designs are more apparent than others. But now I think differently.
I was doing laundry the other day and found out I almost put the dial to the wrong setting. The indicator wasn't marked completely to enable accurately setting the dial. Think of the catastrophic proportions that could have happened! Okay, so it's not life-threatening, but it could have been a pain.
So now, I'm constantly thinking about ways to improve user experience when things go awry. The second example, having to go get gas yesterday at a Mobil station instead of my usual Sunoco. First off, to cancel a transaction took over 1 minute - or it felt like that. Then I had to re-enter the information. After finishing pumping the gas, I selected to have the receipt print out - getting it out itself was a chore. I had to flip a cover up just to get at it, then it wouldn't come out entirely so it got ripped. Compare this with the experience of the Sunoco station - clear markings, no need to cancel a transaction and if you do, it doesn't take over one minute, receipt is taken out without obstacles - clearly it was a better machine.
Third example - yesterday I was also teaching my wife to drive a stick-shift. How does that happen with a beginner when she couldn't even "know" what gear she was is without having to stall it a couple of times before knowing she did all the correct things aside from shifting to the correct 1st gear? So really, it doesn't because there's no indicator, no affordance for the user to discern between the correct and the incorrect without having to put some strain on the drivetrain - it's a good thing the gearbox was built by the same company as Porsche's trannies or it might have been toast. So in the end, it discouraged her to continue - until the next time.
Fourth example - reading about someone having to modify their steering wheel to one that had aluminum sections on the top and bottom. So, what if the car has been in the sun and the wheel has been exposed for a certain time in the summer? Doesn't it burn the driver's hands? Of course, there's still other thicker leather parts. What if the driver forgets? According to the person doing this modification, he said Porsche didn't want to make the wheel too thick that the driver didn't get enough "steering response". So I asked, how about just putting less power steering into the system? A Lotus doesn't have power steering and is very responsive, and my car, a 2002 SVT Focus have less power steering than the later models - I've tried this and the later models felt like I was driving a boat! So in this case, reducing the system input could have improved the user experience.
So do I think being certified is worth it? Yes, up to a certain point. I just have to control my thoughts as now, I might be more critical than ever. The good thing is that it's about systems and not people.