Three questions to gauge design maturity

The answers to the three question below should, if they’re answered truthfully, give you a good idea of an organisation’s design maturity. The answers will help you understand the relationship between design, business strategy and product management.

Involving end-users in product validation, involving designers in product decision making forums and conducting research are sure signs design is seen as more than just aesthetics. You really don’t want to work in The Department of Colouring In.

First question.

How does product management validate ideas with end-users?

This question is a means to determine the relationship between design, research and product management. Validation with customers was traditionally a function of product management.

Ask how product ideas — not products — are validated with end-users. Listen for any mention of “user don’t know what they want” or Henry Ford quotes about faster horses. Life is hard enough without having to fight for one of the most basic functions of design — discovery research. And yes, we’ll touch on Lean UX later.

If you’re interviewing at a B2B or B2B2C company alarm bells if the founder or sales do all the validation. The no. 1 reason for startup failure is “no market for product or service”. The failure rate for startups is more than 90%. Maybe you’ll be really lucky and have a founder who has a unique insight and spotted an opportunity but don’t bet on it.

Next question.

What kind of research has the company done in the past?

A frequent gripe of UX designers is that there isn’t any time, budget or interest in research. If you’re going to join a company you should understand their research ethos. Previous research activity is a solid indicator that gathering insight is valued.

Ask who did the research, and when. If it was outsourced ask why. If it wasn’t, ask who did it and what part of the organisation they were from. Maybe marketing are the only ones doing research.

Do they treat product research differently to discovery research? Do they consider market research to be the same thing? You’re looking for a clear description of the type of research they did and how they did it. Do they speak with end-users? How frequently? Who does it? What methods and tools do they use?

Again, alarm bells for vague allusions to “focus groups”. If research is limited to guerilla research in the local Starbucks then it’s reasonable to assume research is not being invested in. You’re looking for a track record of solid product research and comfort talking about it.

Last one.

What is the role of design in product decision making forums?

The answer to this question will tell you if design is a downstream software-delivery-process-component or something else. If designers are part of the roadmap delivery process and deliver it without any input then they’re not part of the product decision making forum.

They might get to pick the colours but many of the important decisions have already been made. Yes interaction design is important but not if the product is pointless.

Hopefully you’ll hear that design is involved in product decision making forums, and how that works. This means product management works closely with designers and researchers to envision, ideate, experiment and prioritise before delivery.

There may make mention of lean (as in Lean UX) which is a different approach— ask more questions about how it works in the organisation. Read the book and ensure you’re comfortable talking about Lean UX .