What is UX maturity?
User research is an essential part of the UX process, which can sometimes be a daunting task for companies, particularly when they need to know at what stage they are in when it comes to understanding user centered design. This is exactly the moment when maturity model, or more precisely UX maturity model, makes its presence known.
Broadly speaking, these models can be classified as formulas that enable organizations to determine how effective the UX user research process within their business approach is when making decisions on product features, pricing strategies, etc.
In simpler words however, UX maturity is an indicator of an organization's potential and willingness to provide better UX design. Henceforth, organizations that employ mature and seasoned UX designers are regarded as those that are better equipped to achieve the task of creating designs that are user centric.
What does the UX maturity model do?
The UX maturity model provides a profile on how an organization is doing in terms of their commitment to user experience by analyzing its assets and shortcomings. This analysis gives them a clear picture of their position in terms of their competence as a user-centered organization.
It also helps them identify the areas where they need to make improvements so that those gaps may be filled and their skillsets worked on accordingly. It’s also a great way of finding out how your company stands compared to your competitors, allowing you the opportunity to maximize your potential to beat the apparent odds.
To put it into perspective, mature companies know how important minimizing cognitive load is while maximizing comprehension by working closely together within each discipline involved.
Stages of UX maturity
One of the foremost models of UX maturity was the one that was created by the guru of usability himself, Jakob Nielsen in 2006. The first version of the model had eight stages in it, but went through structural changes to fit with the changing UX trends and got abridged to include six stages now.
Every stage in the maturity model acted as a marker of the extent to which companies took the path of user research, starting from absolutely none up to maximum levels. Of course, the purpose of these markers was to find out if the companies resorted to UX at all.
These six stages are:
This is the stage when an organization has no inkling what UX really is (surprising, right?) or simply doesn’t feel the need for it at all. And that’s because their business motto has never been one based on user-centered design. They simply do what they think is good for their business.
User-centered thinking never enters into any decision-making process within these companies as users are seen only from a distance. Their thinking is usually one that's centered around money and numbers rather than people who use their products/services every day.
So, what sort of companies belong to this category? The largest and most common groups at this stage are companies that serve a niche industry.
These organizations typically don't have much exposure to modern UI/UX practices. So, they’re, let’s say, victim of bad design decisions when it comes down to their products' usability, because there's no clear understanding on what needs fixing or improving on the front-end side.
User experience is still largely just a concept for these companies. Some are startups that never had the opportunity to implement it yet, while others exist in industries where UX design isn’t common knowledge and needs more recognition than it has received thus far.
Challenges at this stage
The stumbling block for companies at this stage is mostly instructional in nature. Many of them have employees in their payroll who are familiar with UX and its benefits, but there’s a clear misalignment in goals that leave these employees feeling uninspired without administrative assistance or resources to set up a UX process.
The only way to overcome this challenge is to recognize and accept the fact that UX does benefit an organization in achieving better ROI and promoting UX in the company.
Most organizations with limited maturity don’t look at UX as particularly necessary or of any priority. Suffice to say, there's no acceptance of UX as a credible business process nor any investment made on it, with many companies even viewing it as an add-on rather than core function.
The lack of experience or familiarity with UX makes it difficult for some organizations to embrace and implement any such initiative in their business process. And even when some of them do display any familiarity, the follow-up UX efforts may be mediocre at best, which would also explain an apparent inhibition to indulging in more frequent stints.
What makes it even worse is that in many companies at this stage, there are far fewer dedicated roles for people who do this work than those responsible for, let’s say, coding products. In other words, UX is neglected for much of the time during business cycles when funding could help the most - such as early stages before demand has been established (and revenue streams are predictable).
Challenges at this stage
The first step in getting UX right is understanding how it works. And that’s where many companies find it extremely challenging because it’s basically unexplored territory for them.
Creating a training process in UX, which would include resource and personnel management, therefore doesn’t turn out to be a smooth one and more often than not result in unsatisfactory results.
The only way to run through it is to take baby steps with what's immediately possible in order for it to make sense before expanding out into larger trends or more radical changes that may not apply right away but could be necessary down the line. Organizations need to develop routines that support the efforts of the participants to make progress in the long term, including lauding worthy efforts and organizing consultations with UX experts.
UX work is still in its infancy and organizations are just beginning to see the benefits of integrating UX to their business process at this stage. At this stage, companies can’t always agree on how best to utilize user experience design strategies, leading to obstacles in establishing rules around what should or shouldn't be done at certain points during development cycle.
Organizations with emerging UX maturity will engage in a few key UX activities every now and then, with some sort of organizational plan or budget allocation to support the design process. Team members might engage in short-term projects based on individual initiatives rather than long term policies that are set by management.
When we see this level of development take place across several departments over an extended period without much interruption then you can expect certain benefits to emerge eventually, such as increased team cohesion, which leads directly to higher employee morale. The gap between what's expected of a UX designer and how they're actually following up also keeps closing in.
As organizations begin to realize that there needs to be more than one person who can do the job, team members begin developing their own skillsets so they can focus not just on individual tasks but also take advantage from cross-team collaboration opportunities, which allows for improvement across various aspects, including research studies and design efforts, all thanks to some small investments made earlier while everyone was still figuring it out.
Challenges at this stage
Complacency can become an organization’s undoing when they start believing that what they are doing at this stage is sufficient for their business, while the truth is they’re still scratching the surface. In fact, this is the moment when they should pour in more investment, both in funds and learning methods to make inroads as a more mature organization.
There's no doubt that UX is important and organizations fully embrace it at this stage with the realization that UX-enriched companies are the future of doing business. As a commitment to the discipline they now structure dedicated teams that are engaged in all kinds of UX activities, sometimes even diversifying them into different units to handle specific tasks.
This means not just one designer, but multiple people specializing in various backgrounds, such as engineering or marketing are able get their ideas out there faster than had only designers been working on projects.
More often than not, this is the stage that a majority of companies will reach and somehow stagnate, unable to rise higher than this. There could be several reasons behind this, most notable of them being creative differences and failure to make crucial decisions like budget allocation in time.
User research process should be conducted throughout a product’s lifecycle to ensure that the company is investing resources where they will do the most good. In order not have mismanagement affect this decision, it's important that these sessions happen early on in each stage so there isn't any time spent on funding efforts that won’t deliver future ROI.
Challenges at this stage
Like I said, miscommunication and mismanagement are the biggest challenges that companies at this stage will face. Team members may feel unguided and even clueless about their tasks simply because a failsafe strategy is not in place.
Also, the idea of pleasing a few clients with fat wallets rather than focusing on a dynamic design might appeal more to team leaders that are lured by short-term gains. The devil is in the details, and it's time for designers to pay attention.
The role of discovery phase in UX projects is often overlooked at this stage, but it's imperative that strategies be mindful towards what users will want when they're done building.
The perseverant lot that reaches this stage comprise companies that can be seen as a complex system made up of various interrelated parts. The work done on user experience often crosses over to other departments within the company and its effects are usually felt more than ever before in important indicators like revenue or customer satisfaction numbers.
The best teams consistently find ways to improve and innovate on methodologies while always paying attention to what matters the most for the organization. When organizations reach the Integrated UX stage, it means they have a well-established design process that is effective at meeting business objectives.
Challenges at this stage
The organization's processes may be of great importance, but they might not align with what users need or want if their focus is too much on metrics. The leaders can also fall into this trap as there are many different ways to measure success that don't always reflect an outcome-based approach.
In most organizations today, user-centered design has become simply a catchphrase that doesn’t get the due practical attention it deserves. They also have a tendency to become too wrapped up in how things are done rather than why, which can lead them astray from achieving customer satisfaction goals effectively or even worse - missing out entirely.
To progress from this stage, companies need to set up high level KPIs for outputs like satisfaction surveys or interviews to ensure that leaders know whether their efforts are succeeding before investing more resources into any area.
UX literally becomes a way of life at companies in this stage, as they now understand the importance and value of creating an experience for customers, which drives innovations throughout their entire product range as well.
Users are at the center of everything. So, these organizations know best what users need and how to communicate it effectively with the team so everyone is aligned to business goals, which can be achieved together as one team with the mission statement - success through empathy.
Development is not just about building new products and services. It's a process in which user experience is taken from conception through implementation, and nobody stops asking how their work can be improved for future users. Mature companies invest time, money as well as intention into implementing design elements that will benefit all members of society at any stage.
Challenges at this stage
With increasing complexities in the nature of projects comes a number of challenges for UX designers. One such challenge is maintaining stability in their work as well as preventing internal conflicts from arising before they can derail the progress that the company has made.
In order to keep an organization's UX effort afloat, it is important that team leaders uphold the values of this discipline. It may be tough at first but new team members will pick up on what needs to be done and how things should work in no time. A commitment towards understanding users needs through designing around them could be what makes all difference within most businesses today.
Where is your company at the UX maturity level?
Measuring maturity in a company’s UX discipline can be quite difficult because there are so many factors to consider. It’s important for you to know that it will not matter even when your team is designing the perfect product if nobody ends up using it.
It may seem like an obvious statement to say that any company with a creative department must have mature UX practices, but this is far from being true. The design team alone cannot account for all of the different aspects involved in measuring maturity within their organization’s user experience disciplines.
Rather, these questions should be asked and answered by everyone working on projects related directly or indirectly to the users. Maturity doesn't just depend on how well-designed something actually was; there's so much more than just good artwork at play here.
The importance of UX cannot be understated. It has an effect on every single one in the company and its departments, not just those who work with design or technology. If you want your business to grow, it's important that this concern is addressed head-on from day 1 by involving all aspects, including marketing strategies, which are affected when there isn't proper user experience research being done before implementation.
The process of evaluating an organization's UX ability should include observing and interviewing all team members, analyzing processes in order to create a comprehensive understanding of the current state. This includes looking at both tangible things like tools or documents as well intangible ones such assessments delivered through surveys so that there can be no overlooking anything when it comes to determining how effective your company’s design strategy currently is.
While enthusiasm and positivity are great to boost the morale of all team members in the organization, it’s unwise to even think that you can leap from stage 1 to stage 4, 5 or even 6 by skipping the stages in between. Just because you have skilled designers and confidence in the abilities of your team doesn’t imply that you’re ready to be accepted as a mature company.
Achieving any new level takes time, sometimes years or even a decade (maybe more). So, it would be wise to make sure that by maintaining current levels, you prepare your business better before taking on higher stages.
Design thinking is a way of life in our tight-knit community at 0707. Here, every idea is a spark that may light up the darkest of days (read challenges) and bring forth innovation for us and our clients. If you would like to walk this path of self-improvement with us, just drop a message and we’ll be more than happy to share our experiences and wisdom with you.