Design maturity: Yesterday vs. today

(Note: This post is by InVision’s own Stephanie Gonzalez.)

At my first job copywriting job in 2004, I worked with two designers: one “digital” designer called the webmaster, and one graphic designer who mostly produced print newsletters. With two designers in one department, we were hot stuff.

As per status quo, both designers reported to the director of marketing and neither was involved in strategy discussions. The whole point of their jobs was just to keep things running and make ’em look good.

But it’s not 2004 anymore; things have changed, praise Flying Spaghetti Monster, and for the better.

In Fall 2018, InVision surveyed designers from more than 2,200 organizations around the world to explore how companies create better business outcomes with design. We used the data to map design-forward characteristics across five maturity levels, and the results confirmed our hypothesis: design propels substantial business impact.

Three of our main learnings:

  • Bigger teams don’t equal better design outcomes.
  • Investing in UI design is only the beginning.
  • The more a company invests in design, the better business outcomes they see.

The report also showed us exactly how the design world of today has grown from that of yesterday. Let’s time travel and see how far we’ve come.

People: It’s about stakeholders, not team size

BEFORE: In the days of yore, companies were lucky to have one or two designers who were charged with mostly graphical elements a.k.a “making things look pretty.” There wasn’t a lot of consideration of design as a product differentiator, especially in the nascent digital space. And design as a C-level function was unheard of.

NOW: In this age of digital transformation, design has more power. We found that among today’s most design-forward organizations, design is well integrated into the product development process, with the senior team, and in the product roadmap.

That isn’t to say that the size of the design team is always an indication of business impact or a company’s design maturity. In fact, we found that those in Level 1 (the lowest maturity level) have twice as many designers on staff as those companies in Level 5 (the highest), where 15 is the average number of designers.

While adequate resourcing and skills on the design team are important, in more mature companies, design transcends borders. Employees from all over the org chart contribute to bringing well-designed products to life.

Today, involvement from key stakeholders signals how extensively a company has adopted design. Design is well integrated into every step of product decision-making and evolution at about two-thirds of companies.

Process: UI is table stakes

BEFORE: “Design systems,” “design sprints,” “user research”: These terms were either unheard of or in their infancies 10 to 15 years ago. Now, they’re clear indicators of a more mature design organization.

NOW: The more an organization embraces and integrates design practices, the more positive business outcomes it sees, including when it comes to product, position, and profit. In fact, nearly three-quarters of companies we talked to said they have improved customer satisfaction and usability through design.

“Our design team has had proven impact on:”

*Based on 2,229 respondents

It’s the types of practices an organization emphasizes that have additional impact on the business.

Whereas a Level 1 company focuses almost exclusively on UI design, Level 5 companies have a practice of design that includes user research, for understanding customers and their needs; experimentation, for placing bets and picking winning solutions; and design strategies, for applying the power of design to core business problems like digital transformation.

Robust design practices and an engaged organization don’t just happen, though; they’re enabled by planning, coordination, and supporting systems. More mature companies have stakeholder advocates that formalize those enablers; across the company, teams work together to make design happen more efficiently and at scale.

Profit: Investing in design = investing in business outcomes

BEFORE: 15 years ago, design wasn’t seen as much more than a marketing differentiator.

NOW: Digital design has the ability to upend industries and deliver coveted business outcomes for the companies employing it wisely.

Design teams are working on most projects in 80% of companies we talked to, but the top 5% of organizations are tackling design in a truly integrated way that is elevating strategy, increasing market share, and surging employee impact.

This is done using some of the tactics we discussed above, and some you can read about in the full New Design Frontier report. Designer-to-developer ratios are at a healthier balance, design systems are commonly adopted, and user research is baked into most workflows in these superstars.

These investments have a huge impact on the bottom line, and it’s not just on qualitative business results, like customer satisfaction and loyalty. We found that when design takes center stage, it can have a meteoric impact on tangible business results, like revenue, valuation, and time to market.

For more insights on the future of design, read the full New Design Frontier report, the widest-reaching study on design maturity today.