The Design Maturity Model And The Five Disciplines Of The Learning Organization

Dennis Hambeukers
Sep 12 · 6 min read

I have written before about the Design Maturity Model that was crafted by InVision. In that post, I switched the Connector role and the Architect role that designers can take on as they grow in maturity because that felt more natural to me. But the unfittingness of the linear architecture of the model stuck with me like a splinter in my mind. If design, the designers mind-set, can help with one thing it’s going to war against linear thinking. In complex environments, linear thinking is limited. Systems thinking is a far more natural mental model to look at developments, organizations, projects. So I think it is fitting that the Design Maturity Model should be presented as a system, not a linear development model.

The original Design Maturity Model of InVision looks like this:

Design Maturity Model of InVision

I turned it into this in a previous post:

My Designer’s Growth Model

I added some crisises into the mix in addition to switching the Architects and Connectors roles. But it is still a linear model. In the comments to the post, I had a small discussion with theo ploeg about the appropriateness of the linear thinking.

The linearity didn’t sit right with me.

Today, I bumped into the Design Maturity Model once again while reading up on some insights generated by the Design Leadership Forum meetings I attended. And for another project, I was reading up on Systems Thinking in Peter Senge’s seminal book The Fifth Discipline. The two got together in my head and, since everything is a remix, I though it might be a good idea to mix up the Design Maturity Model, Systems Thinking and the Five Disciplines of the learning organization.

Here goes.

The five roles as defined in the Design Maturity Model are all related. If you want to develop from Producer to Architect, if you want to scale up your operation to more touch-points and more complex applications, it’s good if you have also developed some of the skills of the Connector. And if you want to move from Producer to Connector, it’s good if you have some over the overview and scaling skills of the Architect. If you are working on leveraging data to become a Scientist, this helps you to connect departments, stakeholders, and ideas in a Connector role. The Visionary role benefits from all the skills developed in the other roles but that doesn’t mean you can’t move from Producer direct to Visionary if you have some good ideas about the strategical implications of the product you are designing. The visions will become stronger, broader, more impactful if you also mastered the other roles, but it’s not necessarily a linear progression.

So maybe a systemic representation like this would be better suited:

Systemic view of the Design Maturity Model

Then you see you can grow in any direction at any stage and that you can move from any role into any other. Every time you add skills, the impact in the different roles grows. You also see that anyone can start to develop in this model. People who work as a Connector can improve their impact if they add any of the four other skills. If you learn to leverage the power of data, this can help you connect better. The Design Maturity Model starts with designers being producers which is a natural starting point for design. But now that more and more non-designers try to leverage the power of design under banners like Design Thinking, you see in this model that if you pick up Producer skills as a Connector: visualizing, prototyping, making stuff, this will greatly improve your facilitation impact. The same goes for any other starting point. This would make the Design Maturity Model usable for anyone picking up skills to better solve problems in complex environments.

These 5 roles a designer can take on are all about learning. It so happens that the developments people go through on their journey map nicely to the Five Disciplines that Peter Senge defined in his model for a learning organization:

  • Personal mastery: the whole Design Maturity Model is about improving your personal skills, personal mastery.
  • Mental models: both the artistic mental model of the Producer and the scientific mental model of the Scientist form the two most basic mental models you can use to look at the world. Dexterity in both improves anyones ability to solve complex problems. If you move into the role of Scientist as a Producer, you add the mental model of science to your collection. If a Scientist would move into the role of Producer, they would add the mental model of art to theirs.
  • Team learning: the ability to facilitate team learning is the skill you need to develop in order to become a Connector.
  • Shared vision: the skill to bring it all together and create a vision that is shared by all stakeholders is the thing to master if you want to move into the Visionary role.
  • Systems thinking: seeing the whole system and how the different moving parts contribute to the whole is what you need to learn if you want to scale up to bigger, more complex projects as an Architect.

So, if I add the Five Disciplines of Peter Senge to the systemic model of the Design Maturity Model, I arrive at this picture:

Systemic view of the Design Maturity Model with the Five Disciplines of Peter Senge

What you need to master on a personal level is the same that organizations need to master in order to become learning organizations. The whole model of Peter Senge of the learning organization is built on top of personal mastery. Without personal mastery there can be no learning organization. The Design Maturity Model is also both about personal development and development as an organization. The skills of the employees and the roles they can take on determine the design maturity level of the entire organization. I believe the Design Maturity Model should not be limited to design agencies. Any organization these days needs to become a learning organization and design skills are a quintessential part of this transformation.

“In the end, the Design Maturity Model is about Design Transformation, not just of design agencies but of all organizations that face complex challenges.”

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or talk to my bot at :)

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

Dennis Hambeukers

Written by

Design Thinker Thinking About Design — Strategic Design Consultant @zuiderlicht.

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.