BCS Certificate

In January 2019, we contacted 292 people who had taken and passed the BCS Foundation Certificate in User Experience. Each person had sat the exam after attending one of Userfocus's face-to-face training courses (either a public course or an in-house course). Since candidates can sit the exam independently and take the exam through other training providers, this is a subset of the total number of people who hold the BCS Foundation Certificate in User Experience.

43 of the people we contacted had moved jobs or were out of the office, leaving a final sample of 249. Of those, 60 (24%) replied.

We asked each of these people a single question by email: “What impact has attaining the BCS Foundation Certificate in UX had on your job?” Participants were free to write as much or as little as they wanted and there were no pre-defined categories. Some participants wrote a single sentence whereas others wrote a few paragraphs.

Working independently, we examined the responses to identify common themes. (“We” in this article refers to the authors, both PhD psychologists experienced in thematic analysis). We then compared results and agreed a final set of over-arching themes. Every participant's comment was encapsulated by one or more of these themes.

The final list of themes is as follows:

  1. “It helped me improve my career”
  2. “It has increased my self-confidence in my day-to-day work”
  3. “It has boosted my credibility with the development team”
  4. “It has helped me make my team / organisation more effective”
  5. “I’m a more reflective practitioner”
  6. “It gave me a broad knowledge of UX”
  7. “I learnt general principles that I apply in my job”
  8. “I learnt specific tools, techniques and skills that I apply in my job”
  9. “It gave me a common language to talk about UX”
  10. “I’ve not had the opportunity to apply what I learnt”

We expand on these themes in the following sections.

To capture the spirit of each theme, we have included verbatim quotations from participants in the research (in some cases these quotations have been edited to remove identifying information). We also specify the number of participants who volunteered material that we categorised as belonging to that theme. Note, however, that this is qualitative research: this means we can't use the number of participants mentioning the theme as an indicator of frequency in the wider population. Moreover, this was not a survey so the fact that a participant did not volunteer a theme (such as 'self-confidence') in their freeform answer should not be taken to mean that this did not apply to that participant.

Theme 1: “It helped me improve my career”

6 of the participants volunteered the fact that gaining the certificate had resulted in improved career opportunities. In some cases this was around promotion; in other cases gaining the certificate enabled them to break into the field of UX. A consultant who had taken the course mentioned that gaining the certificate improved the way their firm marketed their UX services. For example:

  • “I had never held a position in UX Design or Research. Once I had the UX certification, I put it at the top of my CV. I got a job as a UX Researcher with a London company within a short few months of completing the course. I am certain that holding that certificate had a big impact, because it is the UX job agents that read your CV first, before they put you forward for a role.” (P17)
  • “Since attending the course, our insights team has successfully sold in and delivered multiple UX services to clients — generating a new revenue stream for us. Since delivering a new innovation to clients was in my goals last year, I can say it went some way to helping me get promoted too.” (P5)

Theme 2: “It has increased my self-confidence in my day-to-day work”

18 of the participants mentioned that gaining the certificate had helped them trust their own answers to UX-related questions. This gave participants self-belief when approaching design issues and when discussing UX. Here are some examples:

  • “It has given me confidence to participate in discussions on UX. I now have the means to actively engage with internal UX subject matter experts on appropriate methods for my projects.” (P1)
  • “It certainly has given me more confidence in my day to day work. The certification is a good grounding in techniques which are mainly performed in a group away from any computers.” (P27)

Theme 3: “It has boosted my credibility with the development team”

5 of the participants pointed out that holding the certificate displayed competence in UX. Whereas the previous theme (“It has increased my self-confidence in my day-to-day work”) is about gaining self-belief in one's views, this theme is about using the certificate itself to demonstrate a certain level of competence. For example:

  • “Since attaining the Certificate in UX I feel it has helped to demonstrate to my wider team the skills I have. I am also hoping to apply for a promotion within my company and hope that by having this skill on my CV it will help me to get promoted.” (P6)
  • “This certification really proved to my colleagues that I was [competent] and enabled me to implement some of this into practice.” (P12)

Theme 4: “It has helped me make my team / organisation more effective”

10 of the participants specifically mentioned that gaining the certificate had helped them influence their team or their organisation to become more user centred. This was usually because they now felt they had the knowledge to persuade team members of the benefits of UX activities. For example:

  • “The impact of the certificate has been immense, as it provided me with the technical expertise to execute UX practices properly, but more importantly being able to explain the benefits and value to stakeholders who would otherwise be reluctant. This all led to an opportunity to lead the Global UX practice within [my organisation] which has grown from initially 1 personnel 2.5 years back to over 15 UX practitioners (employees and consultants).” (P54)
  • “I have been able to push the benefits to development team members of speaking to users themselves, running 1-2-1 sessions on the work we are doing and validating the solution as we build. I had great feedback from the team on this. I have had a promotion since then, I have been able to also negotiate a higher salary due to my demand from other organisations.” (P24)

Theme 5: “I'm a more reflective practitioner”

A further 6 of the participants noted that gaining the certificate had made them “more aware of the user” and that they now valued the importance of considering the user's experience. For example:

  • “It's early days, but the course has been invaluable in my new role so far. I think it’s actually changed the way I look at problems and I’ve found the user goals and red routes techniques particularly valuable because it provided me with a place to start and helped me cut through a lot of noise in what is an extremely complex area.” (P29)
  • “Since completing the Foundation Certificate, I have really begun to appreciate the value effective UX plays in the delivery of the systems that I work on. As a Business Analyst, it has helped me to be more effective when supporting User Research sessions and has brought closer working between the BAs and User Researchers. I think this course is really valuable and I have recommended it to a number of my colleagues.” (P57)

Theme 6: “It gave me a broad knowledge of UX”

5 of the participants highlighted that gaining the certificate had given them a greater understanding of what is meant by “user experience”. Unlike the previous theme (“I'm a more reflective practitioner”), this theme is more to do with knowledge acquisition. Here are some example comments:

  • “When I did the course last year I was just starting out on a career change. The course gave me a broad view of the whole ‘workings’ of the user experience and how all the stages fitted together. This gave me a good grounding for the rest of that year of development, which helped me move onto our internship programme as a researcher for the next stage of development in my new career.” (P10)
  • “The impact that the BCS Foundation Certificate in UX has had on my job is that it has given me a greater understanding and appreciation of user centred design which I have applied to the projects I deliver, increasing client satisfaction.” (P4)

Theme 7: “I learnt general principles that I apply in my job”

8 of the participants commented that gaining the certificate had enabled them to apply the principles of user experience to their way of working. For example:

  • “I am convinced that the conceptual thinking learned during the course is helpful when it comes to working with our third parties on further customizing some of our applications and user interfaces for Project Services.” (P21)
  • “Following the UX Foundation I compiled a list of 39 'UX problem areas' that I felt needed significant improvement in our product team and programme. I reviewed the list today, it seems the things in my control as an experienced practitioner, e.g. research methods, journey design approaches have improved quite a bit following the training.” (P20)

Theme 8: “I learnt specific tools, techniques and skills that I apply in my job”

6 of the participants mentioned they were now able to apply new tools and techniques in their job. Unlike the previous theme (“I learnt general principles that I apply in my job”), this is about gaining specific, practical skills such as in how to run a usability test. For example:

  • “The UX course has altered the way I approach development projects. I’ve run workshops using the persona development tools exercises, user journeys and storyboards perhaps three times now in order to better inform design, and this is now built into the way I work with clients on new projects. It feels like the quality of the systems created is better for it. This is now a very rewarding part of my job.” (P46)
  • “As a tester/QA I think the main thing since the course is that it’s enabled me to spot usability issues quicker so they can be rectified before the code is released to our users.” (P36)

Theme 9: “It gave me a common language to talk about UX”

2 of the participants mentioned that gaining the certificate provided a common language to discuss UX issues. One of these was new to the field of UX and felt that gaining the certificate helped him understand the way his colleagues in UX worked:

  • “As a Product Owner and Business Analyst the principle benefit I got from the course was a greater understanding of why my colleagues who specialise were adopting some of the approaches and behaviours that I had encountered.” (P7)

The other participant managed a team of designers and she felt that, as well as making team members more reflective (theme 5), gaining the certificate meant they could speak a common language:

  • “It made people I worked with (who enrolled in the course) more UX aware in their approach. This meant that it was easier to talk to them about some tools and methods, etc.” (P44)

Theme 10: “I’ve not had the opportunity to apply what I learnt”

4 of the participants said that gaining the certificate had not had an impact on their job because they had not been able to apply what they learnt. For example:

  • “While I really enjoyed the course… I’m afraid I have been unable to utilise it so far in my workplace.” (P50)
  • “I don’t recall applying many of the techniques in work and I recently left my job. I think that’s more down to the employer than what I learned from the course.” (P52)

Ideas for future research

This research was a pilot study into the impact of UX certification and like all pilot studies requires further research to triangulate the findings. In particular, we acknowledge that the majority (76%) of people who have gained the certificate through Userfocus did not respond to our call for participants. This may be because they didn't want to take part in the research, or because they fall into theme 10 (“I've not had the opportunity to apply what I learnt”) and felt there was no point replying. If we had been able to include these people in our research, perhaps other themes would have emerged.

A second area for future research is in disambiguating the effects of certification from the effects of training. Indeed, as you can see from the quotations above, some participants talk about the “course” (i.e. the BCS syllabus) whereas others talk about the “certificate”. Although theme 3 (“It has boosted my credibility with the development team”) is probably wholly due to certification, other themes (such as “I learnt specific tools, techniques and skills that I apply in my job”) would have emerged in the absence of certification. Other themes (such as “It has increased my self-confidence in my day-to-day work”) are probably equally due to the training syllabus as to the certification itself.

To decouple the effects of training and the effects of certification, we would need to carry out research with people who obtained the certificate in the absence of attending a training course (for example, through self-study). Unlike vendor-based certification schemes, people can sit the exam for the BCS Foundation Certificate in UX without first taking a training course from an accredited training provider. This means such people exist in the real world and we would like to see further research carried out with that cohort to see if the same themes, or other themes, emerge.

A third area for future research is to provide estimates of how frequently these themes appear in the population of people who have obtained UX certification. We could address this with a survey. Indeed, the ten themes we list in this article should serve as a useful set of options on a survey that aims to collect quantitative data on the impact of UX certification (for example, “To what degree would you agree or disagree with the following statement…”)

We hope other training organisations that offer UX certification will carry out a similar research activity to establish the impact, or otherwise, of their certification programs.

About the author

David Travis

Dr. David Travis (@userfocus) has been carrying out ethnographic field research and running product usability tests since 1989. He has published three books on user experience including Think Like a UX Researcher. If you like his articles, you might enjoy his free online user experience course.


Anna-Gret Higgins

Anna-Gret Higgins holds a BSc in Psychology and a PhD in Counselling Psychology. She is a Chartered Psychologist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Anna-Gret manages the usability testing team at Userfocus and has logged hundreds of hours in usability tests of public and private sector web sites.



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David Travis Dr. David Travis (@userfocus) has been carrying out ethnographic field research and running product usability tests since 1989. He has published three books on user experience including Think Like a UX Researcher.

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