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Navigating Design Maturity

Posted by Raffaele Di Meo on

I want to talk about design maturity, as it has been a heated topic on the old good LinkedIn. I have watched the conversation unfold and learned a lot from what other people shared. It’s a topic close to my heart, as I have worked in businesses without an established UX practice. I have often taken it upon myself to educate the business on the importance of user experience design.

Marco Paulo auf LinkedIn: UX Designer (Web & Motion) - Coverflex

So, let’s start from the beginning: what do we mean by design maturity?

Design maturity

Design maturity measures the level of user-centred design adopted by a business. Different companies in the industry measure design maturity differently, but the concept is simple. If you are in a business that doesn’t care about user experience, you aren’t a design-mature business. On the other hand, you are mature if the user experience is embedded in everyday activities and drives the business forward.

Even if the concept of design maturity is simple, designers in the industry haven’t agreed on the best framework to track and measure it, and some do not even agree on its importance altogether.

In all fairness, we can’t have a conversation about frameworks among designers without someone asking if we need the framework altogether; it’s our nature! The perfect answer to the question, though is ‘it depends’.

Maturity frameworks

There are a few different frameworks that aim to measure design maturity.

Businesses are different, and therefore, their needs won’t be able to be captured by a one-size-fits-all type of framework. When it comes to steering businesses towards a more user-centred approach, it’s essential to understand the business well and identify the best approach for that business to reach its goal.

However, does this make a case for ditching a framework altogether?

Peter Merholz, in one of his posts on LinkedIn, talks about the NN/g design maturity model as being effective for businesses just starting with UX design as it helps them find their ground and fire up the discussion. He ditched the maturity scale for more mature businesses in favour of the 12 qualities he identified in his book. A scale can be too reductive, and when the conversation becomes more nuanced, the 12 qualities can be better-addressed design maturity.

A framework might not be the be-all-end-all, but it can start the conversation in the business, and teams have a structure or process to organise themselves around it in the way that best works for them.

How do we measure maturity?

In the tech world, design is highly interlinked with product and engineering. If you are in a mature business, aligning yourself to clear outcomes that positively impact the business and the user is more straightforward. You would imagine product, engineering, sales, marketing and the other teams working together towards a clearly defined outcome considering user behaviour.

The article from Jeff Gothelf (great read suggested by Scott Purcell) shows the importance of aligning the work we do as designers to the business, starting from the main impact metrics the business is interested in shifting to defining the outcomes we want to see, talking about outcomes as the measures of these different customer behaviours.

What happens if you are in a business that isn’t as mature? Teams work in silos, and they might track the number of features shipped? Or what if they are obsessed with a metric that doesn’t positively impact the user?

When we work in businesses that don’t see the importance of understanding user behaviour, there might be more nuanced outcomes that are important to achieve and more difficult to track. This is where conversation about design maturity might allow to put in place foundations for the business to create better outcomes.

For example, what about implementing better research methodologies or tracking better data usage to help the business make better decisions? This can take a long time to be done in a business, and whether at the beginning might not contribute to an impact metrics, it sets the foundation to be able to better influence that in the future.

Is design maturity worth talking about?

Thinking about design maturity and looking at a few available models can help create the right environment for a business to thrive and achieve the right outcomes. As with every model or framework, it doesn’t need to be applied by heart. The concept of design maturity can provide a guideline for creating better design practices. It’s essential to understand the business well, evaluate their goals and identify what could best work for them.

This is not for the sake of just doing better design. Businesses can make smarter decisions and create better solutions when they are better connected to their users. Therefore, driving businesses towards user-centricity allows them to achieve their goals.

Raffaele Di Meo

Design, mentoring, workshops, strategies and innovation

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