Auditing User Experience Design Maturity Models

What does it take for a team to legitimately apply User-Centered Design?

If you’ve visited my website before, you’ll know that I teach user experience design.

I’ve been asked to create a curriculum / syllabus for learning and applying “User Experience” eight (8) times (once, by a real-life teacher from a Global UX course!). I’m honored that I get to teach, and flattered that I get invited.*

(If you want to know why this is interesting for me, just scroll down to the very bottom of the post; it’s more of a personal note. Sorry, I’ll get to the point soon— I just wanted to express why this is special for me.)

Now, that I’ve taught it a number of times; I wanted to legitimize it little by little.

One common way that consultants use to “diagnose” and evaluate a team, when training, is a Maturity Model.

If I’m not mistaken, this is rooted in Management Consulting, and then later on adopted by Digital Strategy and also, Design — to gauge an organization’s level of proficiency in applying a particular skill or practice.

This gives organizations a quick guide or “cheat sheet” of attributes to aspire to — giving a clear path for growth in that field.

I understand how it helps, which is why I wanted to find the one that was best fit for practicing User-Centered Design in the Philippines.

Why “best fit”?

Because I believe that anything created by humans reveals the biases and context of its creators (phenomenological psychology). This is not to say that it’s wrong, okay — just to say that this is something to examine, and maximize (use for the best results.

It’s also why I look into the context of each Maturity Model’s creator, so I can infer what their goals were or their context was in creating the model.

Also because, I feel that being in an emerging market, and being in a Malay / Southeast Asian country with strong Western / American influences, puts the Philippines in a very interesting cultural needspace.

  1. A lot of our occupational culture practices are very Asian or Latin American (emotive, confrontation-avoidant, family-based, regionalistic), but we also adhere to American liberalism, pace of digital trends and norms of “hipster-ness”.
  2. Despite following digital trends, the real needs of our people are really fit for an emerging market — mobile-only Internet access; less than 15% are college-educated; half the country residing in rural areas, needing a specific set of solutions that “digital cognoscenti” won’t relate to on an everyday basis.

Why “user-centered design” and not UX Design?

Because focusing on just “UX” can be too narrow, vaguely confusing and may be self-serving.

User-centered design, has a clear goal and, at heart, isn’t just a practice for its own sake.

And the entire point of this exercise / job / role, for me, is to enable people to practice design, not for design’s sake — but to improve products and services because you care about people.

Moving on.

This is what came of my audit.

First, the list of models, starting from the most common and ending with my favorite:

1. The 5-Stage UX Maturity Model:

Ranging from:

  • Unintentional to Expert to Distributed: One that I see often in presentations. If you notice, the words themselves seem to speak of design’s relationship / place in the organizational structure.
  • Beginning to Adopting to Exceptional: For me, the one with the most concise explanation —they narrowed it down to three (3) factors (Timing, Resources, Leadership) that affect the “level” of the organization. The labels/wording conveys “expertise” of application.
  • Ad hoc / Initial to Defined to Optimized: Apparently, the one that uses levels that came from well-established software development maturity research. The labels denote an increasing maturity of purpose (Are you doing it on a project-to-project basis, or for proactively seeking solutions?)
  • Unimportant to Emerging to Mastered: For me, the labels sound most similar to the second (“Beginning” to “Exceptional”), which seems more like an expertise measure. There’s a good attempt to flesh out “values” related to practicing design, though.

First was from the UX Maturity Model, by Keikendo, now corvalius — a product and technology agency. They wanted to surface specific barriers and solutions for a company to graduate to “the next level”.

The next from Macadamian, also a full-service design and technology firm.

Mirroring the classic levels of a Capability Maturity Model (established in 1993, “as a tool for objectively assessing the ability of government contractors’ processes to implement a contracted software project”), the Design Scorecard from the Design Management Institute.

The last was created by the team at NormalModes, because they felt that even the existing best models lacked information on “understanding of the politics and dynamics of how an organization integrates UX into its culture”. They wanted stages that described the “internal dynamics” more.

2. The 4-Stage Maturity Model and 3-Stage Maturity Models

There weren’t a lot of these. But they were interesting because they gave simpler tiers.

  • No Design to Design as Strategy: Simple, and straightforward. I’ve been seeing this slide for a while now.

It’s the Design Ladder (Stages of Design Maturity), and it was made by the Danish Design Centre in 2003, as one of the first steps in assessing the economic benefits of design to their country.

  • Design as Service to Design as Strategic Resource: It’s short and simple — because it’s only one part of a matrix.

This scale measures the “utility” of design in a company — how design is usually used. It’s apparently the X-axis of the Design Management Institute’s Design Value Scorecard, mentioned earlier. So the X-axis is utility, and the Y-axis is how well the company is organized to deliver design.

3. My favorite: The Design Maturity Index by the Artefact Group.

It’s my favorite because it’s multi-dimensional, which I think is the most realistic and sensible of all.

I love how they differentiate between proficiency and organizational impact. Because that’s a divide that I’ve witnessed A LOT.

Most thoughtful one among the bunch, in my opinion.

Empathy: The maturity of the organization’s understanding of its customers;
Mastery: The maturity of the organization’s quality of execution in design thinking and crafting;
Character: The maturity of the organizational support for design, design thinking and integration of professional designers;
Performance: The market’s response to the design output of the organization;
Impact: The maturity of the organization’s actions around its Cultural, social and its environmental legacy through its design.


Service Design Awareness Model

I found the one that’s closest to what I wanted to express. And, it’s simple and straightforward.

It’s from Livework Brasil, and neatly encompasses what I want organizations to understand — that design isn’t about applying design skills for design’s sake, but really caring about people’s experiences and improving the business.

This wraps up my Design Maturity Audit. These were some of the most well-researched, or most often used or soundest-seeming ones that I found.

Feel free to send me links to the ones that you like; to see if we can build on our interpretation of these models.

In a next post, I’ll share my thoughts on what I feel separates teams here in the Philippines that practice “user-centered design” and those that don’t.

*That I get to teach this is interesting, for me, because — I have formal training and certification in market research and qualitative facilitation, and even using Google AdWords. I even have formal training in artistic gymnastics and gymnastics coaching. But, I learned “user experience design” through the kindness of mentors (front-end developers, project managers, content creators), books, online articles, teammates and, most importantly, trial by fire on actual projects.

Originally published at on October 15, 2016.

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