About UX Maturity. Insights from a series of UX leadership breakfasts.

Matthijs Collard - 12 December 2018

Fresh juice, anyone?

During the last quarter of 2018, we hosted 3 breakfasts for UX leaders in Eindhoven and Rotterdam. We discussed the topic of UX Maturity. This article shares some of the insights that were gathered from the conversations had at these breakfasts.

Of course, this post by no means a substitute for being there.

So if you are leading design in your organisation, be sure to attend one of the upcoming editions.

The UX Maturity Model

We approached the conversation through the lens of the UX Maturity Model from Yury Vetrov.

Follow the energy in the organisation

At companies where design is mature, the design department serves as a facilitator: an enabler of ideas and energy. And in every organisation there are people with ideas, energy and passion to find solutions to problems. This means that anyone in the company can be a design leader - which is by the way different from being a designer. The role of the design department then becomes to provide a design infrastructure with design skills, knowledge, design processes and one (or more) design systems.

"The design department is there to help anyone in the company to make good ideas happen"

That sounds great, but it is not easy to get to this point for every large organisation. It needs a culture that - really - welcomes mistakes as a part of the process of getting better. It requires processes and the infrastructure that facilitates plug and play innovation. Last but not least: it needs a clear set of design principles that are rooted within the company values. 

Design is a process, not a project

We also learned that, in many of the larger organisations, design is still initiated as a project. Not as a sustainable, long-term set of skills and processes.

It goes like this: When your digital platforms don’t work for your customers, you just hire a couple of designers to do some redesign. If they are finished everyone will happily continue to the next project. Project done. Next platform.

However that is not how it works anymore. User-centered design processes should be at the base and core every digital service. It is an ongoing process.

Building the right design team

Recruiting senior UX talent is difficult for larger organisations. Senior designers want to have impact and work on the bigger picture. Jobs to design in platform focused scrum teams that have little impact on this bigger picture are not attractive. Teams that focus on a part of the customer journey, or “feature teams” are possibly more interesting. We see many companies moving in this direction.

But how many designers should you hire? Most companies work with one digital designer per scrum team that is responsible for several aspects of the product (both UX and UI). Preferably with a 1:3 designer/front-end developer ratio. When a functional Design System is in place the designer can focus on solving real problems and doesn't have to spend time on every UI detail.

Find out what you don’t know,
instead of avoiding it

In many companies, working with methods like "The Lean Startup" is starting to get more and more common. But it is still very hard. It is hard to go for the things that you don’t know - instead of avoiding them. Why? Because corporates and their management make money doing the things they traditionally do, better than anyone else. So, why do things different? Why try something else? Why would that be better?

Finding out what you don’t know comes with making mistakes. Lots of mistakes. The ones that innovate fastest, are the ones that have optimised their process of making fast, but still affordable mistakes. For us at Hike One it is good to see that design methods like lo-fi prototyping and regular usability testing, play an ever more important role at corporates.

When designers can make an impact.

Designers - and the teams they are part of - can do impactful work when the following conditions are met:

  • The product owner is part of the team (i.e. he or she is capable of presenting the sprint demo’s to stakeholders) and has the mandate to set priorities and make decisions. Those decisions are made based on data, not opinions. The team, and thus the designer, has access to the data and can base his research on it.
  • Teams have business knowledge and solve the problem in close collaboration with the business owner. They don’t just work out a detailed solution based on a feature request.
  • Design can work with senior developers. A solid mature code base is in place so design can focus on new product development instead of supporting, testing and debugging dev output.

Design is a market differentiator

Designers have the skills to visualise and build the future. They use tools like storytelling, design sprints (prototyping) and design thinking (simply start by taking a marker and use the whiteboard).

If you cannot convince your stakeholders, then let users tell the story. For example, share usability test outcomes where real users give feedback. 

Remember, good design can quickly onboard new customers in a highly competitive market. Design can also be a cost-saver, for example when good design reduces customer service calls. On the other hand, bad design puts people off. One mistake and they are gone.

Design Systems are everywhere. Now let's make it work.

We concluded that there is no shortage of articles on Design Systems lately. But we are not all AirBnb or Uber. There is still a lot to figure out around this topic. This is what we learned:

  • If you haven't, just get started
    There is no need for a full-time team in the beginning. Start with designers from different teams. Introduce Design Critiques to get designers aligned. When the use of the Design System is growing and the first components are being evaluated and improved, it starts to get more complex to run the Design System with part-time designers. A full-time team is advised. Be sure to include development in the team.
  • Start with a product vision
    Start with a vision for the future product and extract Design Principles.
  • Own the Design System
    As governance is a big part of the Design System, make sure it is owned by an internal team with a librarian, design lead and dev lead.
  • Communicate the cost savings
    Design Systems work much better if components are available in code. We heard numbers of 40% less front-end development time when working with re-usable components. This argument often contributes more to budget discussion than consistent design across products.
  • Use a rebranding project to boost the Design System
    There are a few catalysts for getting the Design System adopted. One of the things that could happen is a rebranding of the company’s visual identity. Use that sudden urgency and the attention around the visual identity to introduce the Design System.
  • Show it off in a slick demo app 
    Create a demo application that uses a wide variety of components from the Design System. You can also demo how easy it is to set up a design and then switch brands with a few clicks.
  • You don't need to do a complete design overhaul of your products
    Do you really need to do a complete product overhaul based on a new design system? Integrate component by component if possible. Users might not even notice. Big redesigns also tend to get a lot of criticism, especially from loyal users.

11 o'clock: Back to work!

As mentioned in the intro, this article is just a summary of the discussion. It was great to hear all inside stories from many different companies that joined the sessions. Want to be there next time? You know what to do:

Matthijs Collard

Interaction Designer, Partner, Founder

On a mission to further modernise the company.

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