UX Maturity levels (UML)

Maturity is the ability to reap without apology and not complain when things don’t go well. – Jim Rohn

As a business you are convinced that design thinking does help and you want your business to be design driven. You also know that building mobile applications and websites is about designing the product for the user and having the user at the center. Every activity your business needs to do should be designed around the user. You are keen to implement the design thinking and design process in your organisation, for your mobile application or website, but where do you start? 

This article will help you evaluate and understand where you and your organisation stand today in terms of design maturity. Based on your design maturity level you could decide the right course of action and get started with the right UX design process for your mobile application and website. 

This article is derived from the Corporate UX maturity levels(UML) published by Jakob Nielsen in 2006. There are plenty of models created on UX maturity levels but more or less they all are similar. For our reference we will stick to the below mentioned 6 levels:

  1. State of confusion
  2. State of impromptu
  3. State of competency
  4. State of design is business
  5. State of strategy
  6. State of nirvana 

UML 1 – State of confusion

This is the lowest level in the UX maturity model or the UX maturity path. This is also the phase of chaos and confusion. The key thing for organizations at this level is, the product should be functional irrespective of whether it is easy or difficult to use. Mostly the developers are given the task of doing the design and implement the same into the final product deliverable. Developers and management teams are not very keen on understanding the user needs. End users these days get awesome experiences delivered to them across a mirage of services and products, in such a situation if your product is poorly designed without understanding the needs of the users, you may lose your users. This situation may result in a complete state of confusion because the product or service is functional but users may not use it due to poor design. In short, for you and your team UX and UI are the same and UI is mostly done by developers.

What to do if you are in this situation?

  1. It would be good to work with a design team and outsource your design requirements to them on a project basis and participate actively in design discussions with the outsourced team.
  2. Another option would be to hire 1 or 2  junior UI designers and get started with the basics of UI design in your organisation.
  3. Do not jump to hire UX designers at this point of time, as it will only result in further confusions. 

UML – 2 – State of impromptu

In level 2, as an organisation you appreciate and talk about UX design and its advantages. As a business owner you would have participated in UX design conferences and would have read about advantages that UX design process brings to the table. You would have a team of 1 or 2 graphic or UI designers who would be discussing the advantage of having the user at the center of the product and building experiences around the user and sharing their thoughts with you and the business team. 

These designers apart from doing the visual design would get engaged in doing information architecture and could also do casual user testing based on their motivation level for various design problems. At this phase you would not have a dedicated budget for UX, mostly any UX activity like doing a design sprint or conducting user research interviews, doing card sorting, empathy maps etc would be more on an ad-hoc basis based on individual’s interest. While the interest level for UX design is certainly there at this level, often your UX efforts would not yield a direct business advantage due to lack of UX expertise and experience

What to do in this situation

  1. The best thing to do is to start observing, documenting and presenting the before and after scenarios with respect to the ad-hoc UX activities that are carried out.
  2. Share this with the business team and see if there is a positive impact after the UX activity being done and the findings being implemented. 
  3. Also, you could train your graphic designers or UI designers with UX learning initiatives.
  4. This would also be a good time to power the organisation with a UX lead, or a Senior UX designer who can take the responsibility of UX design. 

UML – 3 – State of competency

Level 3 is essentially a major game up. At this level, UX is important to the business and business does understand that every project/product being developed needs to go through the UX design process. Based on your success and recordings of various UX activities you appreciate the advantage of UX design. You do have a dedicated budget for UX activity now. There is a small team consisting of a UX designer and a few UI designers. Each project sees great improvement in the designs with UX activities. But the UX is majorly an after-thought, designs are tested with the end users after they have been done. Most of the UX activity is towards the end instead of being at the start.

What to do in this situation?

  1. This is definitely a better maturity level where the UX importance is just not a thought, but is a project specific practice.
  2. Please start implementing UX activities at the start of projects and products.
  3. As you do have UX budgets allocated, identify your target user group and test and interact with them throughout the product/project development journey. 
  4. As there is a dedicated UX responsibility in the organisation, make sure the team member leading the UX responsibility sets up a formal UX process, which is comfortable for your budget and organisation.
  5. Start investing in UX tools for A/B testing, prototyping, UX feedback systems and UX research methodologies

UML – 4 – State of design is business

Level 4 is business. As an organisation at this level you no longer see UX as a support function or UX as an activity only for the project or product being developed. At level 4 you have a mature and experienced UX team led by kickass UX Manager who actively participates in the key business decision making process for projects and products. The entire UX team’s UX process, UX activities and research inputs are treated as one of the key elements in the business decision making. In the previous level let’s say you were developing a mobile app to enable anytime shopping for your end users, the UX activities would majorly close with taking feedback and inputs from the users after every development milestone and incorporating the changes accordingly and polishing the designs. But at this level when you think of building an anytime mobile shopping app the UX team starts looking at  how the customer support team will help users, deal with the app problems and just not deal with transaction related issues. At this level your accounts and finance team is actively involved in mapping the financial cause and effect of transactions coming out of your digital product. One of the major issues at this level is all the departments involved may not be able to give relevant information as per their needs which results in a somewhat broken User experience.

What to do in this situation

  1. First and foremost ask the UX team to identify and map the dependencies between different customer touch points and business departments.
  2. Also once the dependencies are recognized between the departments, work towards building a 360 degree UX strategy for the organisation with your UX team.

UML – 5 – State of strategy

Level 5 is about strategy and strategy defines the culture of your organisation. Till level 4 UX design was transactional and business focused. In level 5 as an organisation you recognize the importance of User centered design process. You also understand that your strategy as an organisation requires you to set up a User centered design process for a strategic UX culture. At this level you have set up your own design system and have your own pattern libraries. An example of a pattern library is the Material design library of Google or the earlier Metro design library of Microsoft. Setting up a design system and pattern libraries helps in having consistent and uniform experience across the entire organisation and the products being designed and developed. As an organisation you have your UX KPIs defined which helps in measuring the quality of user experience. While designing and developing products, if the product does not meet your UX standard they are reiterated until the standards match. Field studies and need finding are some of the most common tasks that start with every product/project journey. Users are always part of the entire design and development process. In this level your design process is iterative with multiple rounds of prototyping and user testing. Google design sprint is a good example of this. 

What to do in this situation 

  1. In trying to set up User centered design as a strategic culture, efforts need to be invested in making every team member understand that UX tasks and activities are part of their regular work schedule and it is just not for the UX design team.
  2. The work that team members are doing can have field study and need understanding as an important element while they set up a product development support process or while creating a new product/project.
  3. It’s good to have all the team members get trained on design thinking and solving problems with design at this level.

UML – 6 – State of Nirvana: 

Rome was not built in a day. It takes years to reach level 5 and post that level 6, which is the state of Nirvana. At this level you are a Customer centric company. Organizations across the globe spend millions of dollars trying to reach this level. At this level your organisation is completely customer focused and every member of the organisation right from the central leadership to the rookie understands and practices User centric design methodologies. As all the team members are aware of the User centric design process, your products and projects stand apart from the rest, because your projects and products are more humane and are loved by the users. This is the ideal state and takes years of User centric design work done in the past to reach this level. 

What to do in this situation

  1. As UX is a culture and every member of the organisation practices and understands its importance, you are in the state of Nirvana.
  2. Being customer centric is what set’s the organisation apart from others. Key thing to keep in mind at this level is not to be complacent.
  3. At this level and with years of experience you should engage in building design tribes across the globe and help creating an awesome global design culture

The above 6 levels will help you understand where you stand in terms of your organization’s design maturity level. Please do use this to evaluate and start implementing the right UX design process practices. We will be more than happy to engage with you on a free Gmeet session and help you identify your organization’s UX maturity level. Please give us a shout for a free UX maturity evaluation consultation 

If you think the cost of UX design is expensive for a digital product, look around at thousands of poorly designed websites and apps and the customer anguish, and the financial loss incurred due to a poorly designed digital product.

Prashant Gupta – Founder & Chief Maverick, BiCSoM