What should you look for in a usability trainer?

On the User Experience Stack Exchange, Sushil Bharwani recently posted a great question asking for advice on how to choose a trainer to provide instruction on usability techniques. I responded with the following suggestions:

If I were hiring a usability trainer, I’d want evidence that the trainer…

  1. knows the appropriate material well;
  2. has real experience in the field; and
  3. is a good teacher: he or she can explain complex ideas clearly, has a good stage presence, and can engage and captivate the audience and provide a memorable experience.

A certification or a relevant academic degree can serve as a certain kind of proof of knowledge, but in reality, these credentials rarely guarantee actual competence.

I’d personally prefer to see “portfolio evidence”: Do they have a resume showing real-world experience doing usability-related work?  Can they show software that they’ve designed?  Have they actually used usability techniques like card sorts and have they gained better insights into what works and what doesn’t?  Can they show and discuss something like a usability analysis report and recommendations that they’ve written?

If they’ve written a book or if they have a decent blog, that’s another form of proof, and it gives you insight into their communication style.

To judge teaching ability and classroom presence, ask whether they can provide snippets of video recordings from past training sessions.  If not, maybe they could give a short sample lesson as a preview.

Ask for the proposed course outline. Is the content appropriate and is it customized for your organization’s specific needs?  Does it integrate any live activities or exercises to get the participants actually thinking and doing?

Ask for references, and also ask for the results of previous course evaluations, but be aware that a lot of course participants give the trainer high ratings just to be “nice”. A lot of courses are enjoyable to sit through but the students don’t really take away any practical skills. Ask what specific learning objectives the training will address and ask what the participants should be able to do afterwards.

Training is an interpersonal activity, a soft skill, and you have to be comfortable with and generally like the trainer. So in the end, even after considering all of the above, you might well just have to trust your gut feeling about who you like best.


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