UX maturity: is your company really user-centric?

Eva María Pérez

25 May 2022

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In recent years, the development of apps, websites, and e-commerce platforms has become a top priority for brands. There’s no wonder why: as more and more areas of our daily lives are going digital, consumer habits have completely transformed. But it’s not just being present in digital: it’s also about ensuring that the experience we deliver to our users lives up to their expectations and standards. 

However, even though most companies understand the importance of hiring UX professionals and incorporating user-centred design (which is at the core of business strategies of giants such as Google and Apple), not all of them have managed to implement it successfully. That’s exactly what we mean when talking about UX maturity, which measures a company’s desire and ability to successfully deliver user-centred design. 

But how is it measured? Back in 2006, Jakob Nielsen developed one of the first UX maturity models, which classified companies into eight stages depending on the level of maturity of their user experience. However, given that methodologies and knowledge of the user experience world have changed a lot since then, nowadays this model has been redefined by NN/g Nielsen Norman Group, reducing the levels to six, which encompass the different stages of companies in terms of UX.

At this point, you may be wondering… Is my company really placing the user at the centre of everything we do? Keep reading and find out what elements you need to address to get to the last stage!

Factors defining UX maturity 

Four factors affect the UX maturity of an organisation, which are made up of several sub-factors:

  1. Strategy: UX leadership, planning, and prioritisation of resources.
  2. Culture: Knowledge about and attitude towards UX, as well as fostering UX careers and the growth of UX professionals.
  3. Processes: Systematic and efficient use of UX research and design methods.
  4. Results: Purposeful definition of objectives and measurement of the results produced by UX work.
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However, since all four are very interrelated, it is impossible to evolve only in one aspect if our goal is to achieve high levels of UX maturity. Therefore, the first step is to identify the aspects in which our company is strongest in and start working on strengthening the others. 

“We must work in parallel on evolving the four factors if we want to reach a high level of UX maturity.”

The six stages of UX maturity

The UX maturity model provides us with the exact framework we need to assess our company’s UX strengths and weaknesses, helping us determine the stage we are at and giving us information to improve and move up the ladder.

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As we have already mentioned, we distinguish six levels of UX maturity, which we will see in detail below:

Level 1: Absent

At this stage, there is no work focused on user experience. There may even be a refusal to adopt UX practices in some cases.

Most companies at this level are outside the field of technology and software. 

To evolve to the next stage, these companies need to foster UX awareness.

Level 2: Limited

Here, companies approach UX erratically, with small efforts, usually by legal requirements, by an individual taking the initiative, or by an experimental team starting to test UX methods.

Occasionally, companies at this stage take some UX-related actions, but they occur in silos, within one or two departments, while the rest of the organisation is still in stage 1.

To evolve to the next stage, they must make people aware of the small successes achieved through UX and foster relationships with the leaders who have driven this change.

Level 3: Emerging

At this stage, companies promote UX work in more than one team, and may even have budgets dedicated to it. However, these efforts are often small, unstable, and based on individual initiatives rather than organisational policies. 

This is a tricky stage, as it is easy for companies to get stuck in it thinking that there is nothing left to do on UX since they are already seeing some progress. At this point, it’s necessary to build a culture of support for all UX levels and move on to the rest of the organisation.

According to our latest study, “UX to the point: User experience design in large Spanish companies”, in which more than 100 design professionals responded to a detailed survey, and we interviewed several industry leaders, we found that in general, most of the companies analysed are at this point, although some have already moved on to the next level.

Level 4: Structured

Companies at this level recognise the value of UX and have a dedicated UX team. Leaders support UX and sometimes apply it to high-level strategies, even going so far as to apply user research throughout the product life cycle.

This level is where most acceptably functioning organisations are and is likely to be the highest that many can reach. This is because the structure or capabilities of the organisation do not allow for further development of the UX culture globally. While it may grow in some areas of the company, others remain stuck, and so the business will not be able to move to the next level of maturity.

“Level 4 (Structured UX Maturity) is the level at which most organisations that perform acceptably are found”.

Level 5: Integrated

The UX work will be comprehensive, global, and complete at this stage. Almost all teams in the organisation will be performing UX-related activities regularly and efficiently, and UX will be at the service of business objectives.

This is the state that most organisations should aim for.

Level 6: User-driven

Let’s emphasise that there are very few companies in this state, and they don’t stay there for long. Here, UX is the norm throughout the organisation. Understanding user needs through research is the primary driver of the overall strategy and project prioritisation. Leaders, teams, and individuals are user-centric. Organisations in this state of maturity have invested in contributing to industry standards and rely on user research to drive new investments and markets.

This state is challenging to maintain over time as growth, acquisitions, and changes in company direction can push us back to the Structured (4), or even Emerging (3), state of UX maturity.

But how do you assess the UX maturity of an organisation?

The truth is that it is not as easy as it sounds. Only by conducting a comprehensive assessment including observation and interviews about work practices with people at all levels of the organisation can you understand the state of current UX work. As a first step to start thinking about where your company stands in terms of UX maturity, the NN/g Nielsen Norman Group has created a free test, which takes no more than 10 minutes and can provide a fairly accurate guide.

But be careful! You may be surprised by the result. Even if your company is doing an excellent job at the UX level, the chances are that you can still explore ways to use  your user-centric work to help you improve product and service development and teamwork dynamics.

Whatever the current level of your company is, however, you must not forget that it is better to consider small changes and consolidate them before introducing the next ones in order to progress little by little and achieve a solid evolution in terms of UX maturity.

For this, a single team will not be enough; it is not much use if only a few advances in the level of UX maturity while others remain stagnant: the evolution must go more or less in step among all the teams and leaders of the company.

Are you ready to embark on the journey towards UX maturity?