Alan Cooper, in his seminal book ‘The Inmates Are Running the Asylum’ wrote, “Change is impossible until senior business executives realize that software problems are not technical issues, but are significant business issues”.

That was in the year 1999.

Enterprise businesses have come a long way ever since. Today, leaders face the challenge of designing products that meaningfully engage a workforce that’s more digitally savvy, diverse, and dispersed than ever before. The time is now for companies to deliver the right experiences, or risk creating a culture of disconnected employees and collaborators. 

UX maturity measures an organization’s desire and ability to successfully deliver user-centered experiences. 

To sustain long requires a certain level of organizational maturity with a razor-sharp focus on user experience. UX maturity refers to the level of sophistication of UX practices applied by an organization. According to Chapman and Plewes, 

“Achieving great UX design is not just a function or talent of individuals, it is an organizational characteristic”. 

While enterprise businesses have begun to acknowledge the importance of UX design, they may harbor a misconception that UX maturity can be acquired through employing design personnel. However, it isn’t as straightforward as that. Organizational maturity transcends individual UX skills and roles and is more about the permeation of UX processes, and philosophies all throughout the organization’s business practices.

5 Levels of UX Maturity: Where does your company stand?

ux maturity

The UX maturity scale is a broad spectrum covering the ability of businesses to create and maintain high-quality user experiences. From being developer-centric and risk-averse to the wisened ones that have embedded human-centered design philosophy, there is a level that identifies every organization’s UX maturity.

Why is UX maturity so important?

A steady uptick in sales, improved customer satisfaction, increased brand perception, improved employee retention, along with lowered development costs are just a few of the advantages that come with an increased UX maturity. The higher the level of UX maturity within an organization the better the impact on the company’s bottom line.

Airbnb lost 80% of its business in just eight weeks of pandemic fallout, resulting in operational struggles and layoffs. Just a year later in 2021, a design-driven rebound helped them formalize an IPO and cement Airbnb as one of the most inventive Silicon Valley companies.

To design really well, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re designing for. People can become statistics, mass experiments, cohorts and metrics. We try to bring it back to being human. What do they need? What is their journey?

– Brian Chesky, Co-founder, Airbnb

A study by Invision revealed how a select group of companies is receiving the most value from design for business. Although nearly 80% of companies include the design on projects often or almost always, just 5% are empowering design for the greatest benefits, and 41% have significant room to grow.

5 Tips for building UX maturity

As seen in the UX maturity model above, the bottom level is that of being oblivious to User Experience, culminating at the high level of UX Design integration (full UX maturity). Between these two extremes lie different stages of maturity that classify companies based on their mindset, efforts, and capabilities.

“Some argue the big advances in our impact on design and usability will come from better methods. Some argue they will come from earlier involvement in the development process. The biggest impact, however, will come as more and more companies realize the benefits of user-centered design and embrace it.”

– Arnie Lund, Principal Director of UX, Microsoft Corporation

A majority of businesses today recognize the value of UX to some degree and have at the very least taken efforts to infuse some level of UX-led efforts at some stage of their product journey. UX finds some level of leadership support and is occasionally incorporated into high-level strategies. 

ux audit sample report

Companies such as these find themselves between the UX maturity levels of Limited to Emerging, peaking at Structured.

It is possible to incrementally advance UX maturity to make it pervasive and universal at an organizational level. To achieve this, businesses should habitually and mindfully invest in user research, iteratively test new features, and redesign existing ones while emphasizing how human-centered practices boost the user experience. 

Here’s how you can get started with leveling up your company’s UX maturity.

Network within the company to find UX champions

How does one identify a UX champion within an organization? And no, these clearly aren’t necessarily experts or practitioners of UX – they’d be hard to find in a low UX maturity company. The champions you’re looking for are those wielding decision-making or decision-influencing powers, people who can advocate for UX as a concept, push its growth, and speak in favor of UX resources in the form of budget and roles. Here are a few characteristics that are typical of potential UX champions –

  • They’re willing to spend time and energy on ideas they believe in
  • They have the ability to create and maintain networks
  • They’ve voiced their dissatisfaction with current design and development processes
  • They stand to gain immediate benefits from having a UX-led product redesign
  • They’re constantly pushing for growth and scaling

It would be an added advantage to zero in on a person who already has a seat at the decision-making table and would be willing to make way for UX design to be there.

Conduct UX awareness sessions 

Sharing success stories from other companies and inviting UX leaders to speak is a great way to introduce UX practices and methodologies. But, be very careful while selecting UX experts – just as a chef might not be the best person to set up a restaurant – a UX designer may not always be someone who can educate others on setting up a UX practice. You need an expert resource who specializes in setting up mature practices. The key attributes to look for are leadership, management, and a will to empower people.

Pick a quick-win project to showcase the value of UX methods

Bringing in culture transformation in an organization is no mean feat and requires sustained efforts over time. However, to accelerate UX awareness it is crucial that it be demonstrated by solving an unfulfilled user need. Mingle with people from development, product management, tech support, QA, marketing, and sales to understand their priorities, the metrics they’re responsible for, and what keeps them up at night. It could be a 3-step task that requires 25 clicks or an onboarding process that gets abandoned at the last minute. Find the best problem to demonstrate the influence of UX processes.

Or, build a hypothetical problem that they’d most relate to

Not everyone can be as accommodating, which is why you may have to build a vision prototype and use it to tell a story. You can showcase how your vision prototype solves a crucial, unfulfilled user need. If possible, try getting user feedback on your prototype and keep iterating until you zero in on a concept that’s ready to be built. Create a prioritized list of UX objectives, based on impact and effort, and put a budget together that will help you achieve your goals.

Encourage your team to revisit and reassess their product

The best way to get rid of any internal bias towards the product is to get a third-party performance assessment. This way, you can ensure that the feedback is authentic and honest, and untainted with any ulterior motives. A specialized UX audit is a detailed product performance analysis and comes with a list of actionable advice to elevate the user experience.

Still feel like you’re in the dark about your organization’s UX maturity and its impact on your business? Check out our free, on-demand webinar, ‘UX Audit: Finding Limits & Opportunities at Current UX Maturity’. This is aimed at helping participants accurately identify their organization’s position on the UX maturity framework and devise a practical roadmap to stem design debt.