UX Maturity levels

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 products is about users and every activity your business does should be designed around your user. You are keen to implement the design thinking and design process in your organisation, but where do you start? This article will help you evaluate and understand where does your organisation stand today in terms of design maturity, based on your maturity level you could decide the right course of action and get started with the right UX design process.

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 team are not very keen on understanding the user needs. End users these days get awesome experiences delivered to them across 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 same and UI is mostly done by developers.

What to do in this situation – 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. Another option would be to hire 1 or 2  junior UX designers and get started with the basics of UX design in your organisation.

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 UX design process brings to the table. You would have a team of 1 or 2 graphic designers who would be discussing the advantage of having the user at the center of 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 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 ad-hoc basis based on individual’s interest. While the interest level for UX design is certainly is there at this level, but 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 – The best thing to do is start observing, documenting and presenting the before and after scenarios with respect to the ad-hoc UX activities that were carried out. Share this with business team and see if there is a positive impact after the UX activity being done and the findings being implemented. Also, you could train your graphic designers with UX learning initiatives. This would also be a good time to power the organisation with a UX lead or Senior UX designer who can take the responsibility of UX design.

UML – 3 – State of competency

Level 3 is essentially a major game up. In 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 dedicated budget for UX activity now. There is a small team comprising of a UX designer and 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 are towards the end instead of being at the start.

What to do in this situation – This is definitely a better maturity level where the UX importance is just not a thought, but is a project specific practice. Start implementing UX activities at the start of projects and products. As you do have UX budgets allocated, identify your target user group and test and interact with them throughout the product/project development journey. 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. 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 an activity only for the project or product being developed. At level 4 you have matured 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 in 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 get relevant information as per their needs which results in an awesome User experience.

What to do in this situation – First and foremost ask the UX team to identify and map the dependencies between different customer touch points and business departments. For eg: In an eCommerce solution, the supply chain team on the field would need an awesome light weight mobile application with live data view of the transactions relevant to them, to support the last mile in a user friendly manner. 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 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 setup a User centered design process for a strategic UX culture. At this level you have setup your own design system and have your own pattern libraries. An example of pattern library is Material design library of Google or the earlier Metro design library of Microsoft. Setting up a design systems 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, 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 – In trying to setup User centered design as a strategic culture, effort needs 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. The work team members are doing can have field study, need understanding as an important element while trying to setup a process or while trying to create a new product/project. 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 more human 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 – As UX is a culture and every member of the organisation practices and understand its importance, you are in the state of Nirvana. 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. At this level and with years of experience you should engage in building design tribe across the globe and help in creating an awesome global design culture.

The above 6 levels will help you understand where you stand in terms of your organizations 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 one day session and help you identify your organization’s UX maturity level. Please do give us a shout at pg@bicsom.co

If you think 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 cost invested in a poorly designed digital product.

Prashant Gupta – Founder & Chief Maverick, BiCSoM