The Mountain beyond the Molehill

A Cassandra — who, with the gift of prophecy, no one believed — on the slopes of which even mature experience design teams predict behavior their organizations ignore.

If these last few years have been about making the case for user experience design in industries outside of technology— where it’s been through the crucible and has proven its value —like in public service, higher-ed, not-for-profits, and even government, then the next few years will be about the refinement of that practice and how to best capitalize on investments in this strategy.
 
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to argue against the role service and user experience design plays in the success of a thing. Even slow-to-change organizations — like libraries, traditionally — are reallocating resources to create design teams where there weren’t before.
 
For many, there is still an uphill battle to just get the research done: budgets and talent are so constrained where the margin for error is too small to risk shifting the resources elsewhere, let alone changing the workflow, which is often the result on an organization who embraces design thinking more than superficially.

But for those who are able to summit these growing pains there awaits a mountain, a Cassandra — who, with the gift of prophecy, no one believed — on the slopes of which even mature experience design teams predict behavior their organizations ignore.

We face an egregious point of failure on the far side of getting the research done where we need to figure out what to do with it. At best, failure to turn our investment in user experience design into practical return lowers the esteem of UX at work; at worst, it’s grounds to dissolve the practice entirely.

CMMI-based model of UX Maturity by Coral Sheldon-Hess

If Coral Sheldon-Hess’s CMMI-based model of UX Maturity were a map, then Mount Cassandra and its whispering fog are right in the middle.

Here, we find at least partially dedicated design folk — where some portion of their actual job description is in performing this research — who work parallel to, but not intersecting with, the decision-making process.

Here, the user experience is a superficial concern of leadership. The dedicated UX department is good PR, but user data doesn’t dictate most decision-making.

… changing the workflow, which is often the result on an organization who embraces design thinking more than superficially.

Years ago, when Coral first published this and I started using it as a visual, I imagined it as a ladder: it requires effort to climb, but the trajectory is up.

Now that we have more examples of two- or three-year investments in UX departments — I’m thinking about higher-ed libraries in particular — I think this model is more accurately depicted as a quest, from which failure isn’t just a setback but can mean the end of the heroes’ journey.