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Bristol based multi award-winning, full-service digital marketing agency. We're a team of 35+ creative, marketing & technical specialists helping clients profit from the limitless possibilities of well-planned & perfectly executed digital solutions

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What are the different UX maturity levels and how can you improve yours?

by Stephanie Peschel

May 20, 2022

Every business has a different level of UX maturity. Most organisations know that UX is important, and that products won’t survive if nobody wants or needs them. But knowing where to start with UX can be difficult. Here we look at how you can improve your UX maturity.

The most logical place to start is exploratory research or user testing. User testing can help mitigate concerns, validate decisions and identify any issues. A major pitfall to recognizing the value of UX is retesting, or going live with products, where known recommendations or improvements have not been implemented. It wastes time and resource. This normally happens when a business’s processes don’t realize or appreciate the value of research. An organization must think of research, not as box ticking exercise, but something integral to the organization’s strategic direction and part of the organization’s fabric.

Whilst research and testing this is a good starting point, it’s the bare minimum, and not something that should happen in isolation. What you really need is a culture that is ready to discover new things, that go against your expectations, and an openness to changing course.

UX maturity model

At true we use a 6 level maturity model, based on the updated model by Jakob Nielsen. The UX maturity model is a framework which can be used to assess your own organization. It is important to remember that most organisations don’t get to level 6, and that is okay. Businesses like Google, Apple and Microsoft are only a handful of organizations that make it to that level. Moving yourself up the ladder, regardless of where you start, will improve overall product quality and user experience.

What level is your business at?

It’s important to know what level you’re currently at, so you can plan how you will move to the next level and understand what you need to do to get there. There are a few questions you should reflect on:

Does anyone in the company champion for the user and their experience?

Do you routinely do user research or testing?

Are insights from research actioned and implemented?

Is research happening at the right time?

Are user-centered design practices consistent across your various delivery teams?

Do your colleagues know who the UX professional is outside of project team?

Do you consider user insight when making strategic decisions and adjust plans accordingly?

Does everyone in your organization feel they have a responsibility for the final user experience?

With the answers to these questions in your mind, use the below to identify what level your business is at and find out how to graduate to the next.

Level 1: Unrecognized to interested

If UX is not at all important to your business, you’re at level 1: unrecognized. To move level 2: interested, you need to start with the basics. If you have a project that is already in flight, allocate time for user testing. This will tell you what is working and what isn’t.

If a full user journey is not yet developed, you can test early code and combine that with prototypes. Most importantly allow time for the team to action recommendations. Going live with known usability issues doesn’t help anyone. Yes, you will get more validation for the obvious problems, but this will overshadow more nuanced issues.

Level 2: Interested to emergent

If you are only just getting started with user-centered design, think two steps ahead. You are likely to have a clean slate. As you start testing and doing research, lay down foundations. Start creating templates and process for how UX activities are delivered across the business. Consistent formats for recruitment screeners, discussion guides, and analysis documentation will all benefit you in the future. Just as we refine our digital products, these tools can also be refined. So don’t worry about making a template too soon.

Consistent processes don’t just apply to research activities. Think about design artifacts you need. Design systems and libraries will ensure consistency across projects and teams. Spend time thinking about the governance of these artifacts and how you will translate expected behavior to development teams.

Level 3: Emergent to committed

Focus on embedding UX thinking with the wider team. Make sure findings from usability testing are shared, not just the change request. This helps everyone to learn how to design better in the future.

Encourage the wider team to take part in user testing. Giving them an active role, as the note taker, so they don’t become a passive observer. Get the team involved in the analysis; a few hours to debrief and think through ideas together can be very useful. Each discipline or department sees a problem through their own unique lens.

Your whole team should start to feel responsible for the final experience and advocate for the user. You might consider introducing design sprints and should be keeping up to date with new tools and techniques.

Level 4: Committed to engaged

Moving an organization from committed to engaged will require significant cultural change. You will need an executive leadership advocate who values the UX contribution. Executive Leaders should be considering the user when making strategic business decisions and creating visions or road maps.

The UX function is seen as accessible to all teams to help add the user’s voice to any decision. User insights should have an increased transparency across the organization. Research repositories can help increase visibility of findings.

You may conduct workshops or sessions with other departments to help them understand how more consideration of the user can help improve their teams’ outputs.

Level 5: Engaged to embedded

When UX is truly at the embedded level, it becomes habitual and integral across the organization. Everyone is fully onboard with user-centered design. From discovery to development, everyone encompasses a user-focused approach and understands the importance of iterative design. UX is considered at the highest-level and in the smallest detail.

Level 6: Embedded

Organizations at this level are likely contribute back to industry standards. As we said previously, think of the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and GDS. These are the types of organizations others turn to for guidance on UX.

Areas to focus on

There are two key areas to focus on as you increase your UX maturity.

Process

The tools and techniques you use should be continuously refined. Aim to complete UX activities throughout the project life cycle, not in reaction to specific business needs. The UX function should be integrated with other disciplines to help increase the team’s overall feeling of responsibility for the final experience.

Culture

Increase the awareness and importance of the UX team. UX professionals need support from the project team and senior leaders in your business.

As well as valuing the expertise of your UX professionals, your organization needs to be flexible and open to change. Strategic and delivery priorities should adapt in response to new insight. Internal and personal biases shouldn’t be held too strongly. People need to be open to changing direction, and remember; there is always something new to learn.

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