A New UX Maturity Model
For executives and user experience professionals
As mentioned in an earlier post on my blog, for at least ten years now I have been collecting User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) Maturity Models. I’ve never really been completely satisfied with the ones I’ve found, and the main reason has been that I felt that the framework and level of detail was not appropriate for the executives with whom I’m engaging with regularly.
Perhaps it’s because those models were created to guide and provoke dialogue with other UX professionals, which is also important, but not what I am trying to achieve. So in the past year I finally decided to write my own UX maturity model.Many people in the business world still associate design or UX with the visual appearance of a solutionClick To Tweet
My primary goal with this UX Maturity Model was to make it accessible to the business people with whom I interact, and to thereby open up a dialogue about UX services. This includes technology and operations executives at our clients who purchase UX consulting services, but also people like the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Product Officer at ZS.
In most cases, once we’re engaged in dialogue, executives recognize the value of what we do, but they may not understand what a mature UX function looks like. And of course, a model like this has to resonate with UX professionals as well.
So, without further ado, here it is:
What I am solving for here is that many people in the business world still associate design or User Experience with the visual appearance of a solution. I want decision-makers to understand the value and importance of moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3; it is only when you understand your target users that you derive real and lasting business value from UX. The importance of Stage 4 for me is to help people understand that design is about experiences and services, not just about visual artifacts.It is only when you understand your target users that you derive real and lasting business value from UXClick To Tweet
When I present this to someone for the first time, here is more-or-less what I say:
In the beginning, we find that most of our clients aren’t actively thinking about the end-users that the solution is being built for. They are thinking about the technology that is needed, and what business process is being enabled. But who that user is, and how their life will change (hopefully for the better!) is rarely thought through with the same level of rigor.
Today, many of our customers engage with us at Stage 2. They want to make their solution more visually compelling, and aligned with their brand. What they don’t understand is that the true Return on Investment (ROI) for UX comes when you can measure the value and impact of the changes being made. Fixing the appearance of a solution doesn’t do that!
The only way to truly show the business value is to talk with users, engage with users, observe users, and test the solution with users. Those interactions – combined with a solid understanding of the business problem we’re addressing – is to engage as described in Stage 3. Only then can we truly deliver on the value of UX. These activities also help to minimize the risk of low adoption for major technology investments, because the project is undertaken with a clear understanding of the current situation and a shared understanding of the gap between the as-is and to-be state.
Ultimately, however, the goal is Stage 4; we want to understand the solution being built in context. That means the business context (including the other processes and tools in play) as well as the daily life of the person who will use it. Some might call this Experience Design (more on that in another post), but in any case the research and design work in Stage 4 extends beyond one particular solution or set of screens into the broader context of use.Design is about experiences and services, not just about visual artifacts.Click To Tweet
Depending on the audience, I might also explain (as I did on a Design Anthropology panel at the American Anthropology Association annual meeting late last year) that this maturity model is also consistent with the growth of UX professionals:
In the early stages of their career, a UX designer might learn to design a single screen, or a set of inter-related screens that cohere nicely.
Ideally, if they want to progress, they acquire some skills in UX research (or they partner with a researcher) to understand who their users are and what problems those users face. Then, as they defend the designs, they are no longer speaking about abstract design principles or best practices, but they are truly advocating for the end-users. Of course, to advance beyond that (and be part of a high performing cross-functional team), it also becomes important to understand the business context, to weigh and balance those user needs against the business requirements, and ultimately to partner with business analysts and business stakeholders to make the appropriate trade-offs, together.
Finally, I think that growing business awareness also leads to curiosity. What else is going on out there that might prevent my designs from being adopted, or prevent them from truly being valued? I think that curiosity and desire to deliver good outcomes ultimately leads UX professionals to develop and engage in activities that lead to Stage 4, when possible.
One of the challenges I’m seeing with the amazing but inexperienced talent in the marketplace is that their knowledge of research and design best practices may be strong, but the business experience and acumen is not there. As a result, it may take much longer to make the leap into working on end-to-end experience without a strong apprenticeship model.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of the UX Maturity Model I’m using today. I’d love your input, your perspective to identify gaps in my thinking, or any suggestions to make it stronger and more compelling for an executive audience.
Natalie Hanson, PhD — Associate Principal of User Experience at ZS
Natalie has been working and researching at the intersection of business strategy, technology, social sciences, and design for nearly fifteen years. She currently manages two User Experience teams (one in Engineering and one in consulting) at a professional services firm based in Evanston, Illinois. Natalie has a Masters in Whole System Design, and both a Masters and a PhD in Anthropology. However, she has been working in the business world (mostly in the software industry) since her undergraduate degree; those work experiences have had a significant influence on her, how she sees the world, and what she writes about. You can follow her on Twitter.
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