I am a design architect as my day job, so this exam should be pretty complimentary to what I do. Going through the study material in the blueprint was an experience all by itself. I downloaded around 130 papers, probably over 5000 pages in total. I don’t believe there is any easy way to study for this exam if you are not already doing this role. From the experience of doing the exam, 95% of the questions I answered based on experience (or guessing), and 5% was thanks to studying before the exam. I have to say the VMworld 2010 material has been very useful, and the session by Chad Sakac and Vaughn Stewart helped me through at least 1 question!
If you want to transition into a design role, then the blueprint is essential reading to get you focused and get an idea of what you’ll be doing. I think a lot of people would benefit from the study material of this exam. A course that covers all the topics would be essential (the current Design Workshop course is not quite detailed enough).
So my experiences of the actual exam, I actually think it is a huge improvement on the previous Design exam I sat last year. The interface is much more slick and most things are quite easy to understand. The “Visio” type interfaces are actually pretty neat, and although I highly recommend VMware introduce an “Are you sure” button on “Reset”, I think the interface works quite well. Some questions lack space to put detail in them, but I think they accommodate by putting less detail in the questions, and simply asking more questions to get more detail! I think this works quite well. A couple of drag-and-drop style questions had snap issues where numbers and items would simply disappear or snap to the wrong section, but reset fixed the missing items, and repeated dragging fixed the others. This was only really frustrating due to the number of questions and the time limit. I did manage to finish all the questions, but I did rush and it was down to the wire on the last question. Usually I finish exams with plenty to spare (simply because I’m terrible at checking my answers). The one point is that I hope in the final exam VMware introduce the ability to review questions and go back!
Overall I think this exam is really good. It tested my knowledge a lot, and I definitely relied on experience more than anything, and I think that’s really what this exam is all about. A good design architect is someone with knowledge and experience (in my humble opinion). I definitely see this in the day job too as customers like to test you and ask very obscure and awkward questions, these stick in your head and help you learn more than any study guide.
A few people have started putting together study guides, and I can’t fault the content of these at all. For the less experienced these are vital, and I would also highly recommend the Design Workshop (almost essential I’d say). If you are a VMware Partner, I’d also check the “Plan & Design” Services Kits that are available (go to content, search for “Plan & Design”, specifically the vSphere one). For people planning to go through to the VCDX, I think the study material for this exam is absolutely essential, and the Design Workshop will help you put together a framework for your documentation for the design submission.