UX maturity: what it is and why you should care?

Micky Front


What is UX maturity?

At this year’s Webstock conference, Jared Spool talked about the growth stages of organisational User Experience Design (UX) maturity; the level of UX competence throughout an organisation across teams and disciplines. Starting in the ‘Dark Ages’ where there is no resource allocated for UX design, businesses start experimenting with ‘Spot UX design’; attempting occasional UX projects with limited success. Once a successful project clearly demonstrates the value of UX, organisations invest in building an internal UX design team who work on projects on an as-needed basis (‘UX design as a service’). Increasing demand for UX capability means the business then allocates UX resource per team (‘Embedding UX design’), through which all team members eventually become fluent in design processes, infusing UX design within the organisation.

Spool told the story of Disney Parks & Resorts UX maturity journey, starting from a clunky website that was so difficult to navigate that people would unknowingly book a hotel on the other side of the country at the wrong adventure park. 17 years later, after investing in both team capability and constant exposure to their customers, Disney has instilled UX into their organisational culture and become the biggest investor in a UX project by spending one billion dollars on the Disney Magic band

Why invest in it?

Studies have shown that organisations who invest in UX are known to reap clear financial advantages including lower cost of customer acquisition, lower support cost, increased customer retention and increased market share. Spool used the example of the Nest Learning Thermostat to demonstrate the competitive advantage of organisations that have UX infused into their practice. Instead of focussing on technology or features, these organisations compete based on the experience of their product and what technology can enable their users to do. In the case of Nest, the outcome was becoming the leader in the thermostat market, and ultimately being purchased by Google for more than three billion dollars.

In a market which is becoming increasingly infatuated and saturated with UX and other design approaches, the need to assess the UX maturity stage of teams and organisations is becoming critical. Improving UX literacy to be able to distinguish between low and high competence enables organisations to continue building capability where needed, implement better solutions, and achieve more ‘wins’ for their users and ultimately their business.

Why do we care?

UX maturity impacts our approach to projects every day at DNA. We work with a diverse range of organisations that sit all along the UX maturity scale, and how we work with each client varies greatly depending on what growth stage they are at. From leading a project and introducing the team to user-centered processes, to coaching them in their own UX projects, to expanding their UX resource in a team.

As UX experts, our job is rarely to just get the work done. Our projects often involve a huge amount of upskilling with our clients, their teams and stakeholders; taking them along with us on the journey and helping them to find the lightbulb moment where they understand the importance and value of understanding their users. Although this capability building is rarely articulated as part of our service, it’s often the most valuable outcome; growing curiosity, confidence, capability and UX champions within the business.

It may seem counter-intuitive for a design agency to upskill their clients in the very work they do, for us it’s a win-win. By improving UX literacy and building trust in design processes, we are able to work faster and more collaboratively with our clients, moving from basic UX education to working on the big complex challenges. Together, we can be more daring, more innovative, and create more impact for users and businesses. That’s where the true value of UX maturity lies. 

Check out Spool’s full talk here.

Rachel Knight - Experience Designer.