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Creating products people love that deliver meaningful experiences—engendering the kind of brand loyalty enjoyed by Apple, Netflix or Amazon—doesn’t just happen. It’s as much a journey of becoming customer-centric as the methodologies user experience (UX) practitioners have evolved over decades. It’s an evolutionary process, and every business progresses through their journey somewhere on a spectrum from understanding the value of customer experience to making it a business priority. The goal may be the same as Jeff Bezos’s, “to be earth’s most customer-centric company,” but that’s the destination. All companies begin their journey from the same metaphorical place: the beginning.

UX Maturity Absent: A company at this stage is either oblivious to UX or believes it does not need it.

Engineering-driven organizations, those not considered digitally native, have been gaining awareness of experience design (XD) as a differentiator that can create a business advantage and drive company growth. That’s because design and designers, when embedded in an organization, can act as catalysts of innovation. Design solves problems and generates ideas that transform how we engage with the world. So, while enterprise adoption of XD has become more pervasive, successful organizational integration has shown more varied results. Like the axiom “I don’t know if it’s art, but I know what I like,” businesses understand the importance of XD, but often lack the knowledge of its capabilities or how it fits into an organization.

UX Maturity Limited: An organization in the limited stage approaches UX erratically.

With digitization an established functional norm, design processes and tools began incrementally nudging closer and closer into a co-creative state with engineering. Concurrently, the agile paradigm shift occurred, transforming business into an agile enterprise. No longer organized around a siloed, structural hierarchy, the agile enterprise reimagined organizational structures, technology, processes and leadership. Agile emphasized collaboration, speed, agility, adaptability and customer-centricity (wow, a “customer-centric” operational tenet!). Finally, XD formally finds a home…or a niche…or at least, an opportunity to create a more design-friendly environment while influencing stakeholders, strategy and process.

UX Maturity Emergent: When UX maturity is emergent, organizations exhibit UX work in more teams, engage in some UXrelated planning, and may have UX budgets.

Scrum, Kanban and Lean: these are a few of the agile framework variants, adopted by businesses, all of which mandate UX inclusion and make the customer central to design decisions. Design-thinking methodology—research, personas, data analysis and iterative design processes—that focuses on understanding a customer’s goals and creating optimal user outcomes, places experience design on a level playing field with engineering and product management. The significance of formal UX operational integration is the ability to expose UX capabilities to a broader audience, a team, a product group or an organization. The questions of how UX fits into the business are answered by firsthand experience of user research, validated product strategies and greater levels of customer engagement.

UX Maturity Structured: Structured UX means that the organization recognizes the value of UX and has established a full UX team or multiple teams.

A guiding UX principle, shared by all agile development frameworks, is continually de-risking development by actively listening, testing and iterating with end users. The most pertinent aspect of this tenet is “continually.” User research validated the product strategy, and you watched users interact with your product through progressive states of prototype fidelity. The product is built, and usability research is conducted. Success: it’s deemed ready for release! Fast forward and your metrics plan includes post-launch testing and analysis; error rates remain low, efficiency high and user satisfaction continues to score well. For organizations that embrace the “continuous” aspect of continuous iteration, the reward will be a clear data-driven system of UX evaluation.

UX Maturity Integrated: When organizations reach the stage of integrated UX, their UX work has become comprehensive, pervasive, and universal.

Establishing Design Ops means an organization values UX enough to codify how design teams organize and collaborate, how they get work done and how these practices can scale across teams. Design Ops builds stronger design teams and helps set them up for success with programs for onboarding, resourcing and professional development. It’s also a measure of an organization’s UX maturity and level of UXbusiness integration. Don Norman stated it this way:
“Success in human-centered design requires giving equal weight to user experience, marketing and technology. The major barriers to success are not technological: they are social, political and organizational.”

Supporting UX teams by establishing Design Ops is a definitive indication of an organization’s intent to integrate their UX and business practices to create an enterprise-wide culture of customer-centricity.

UX Maturity User-Driven: When organizations reach the stage of integrated UX, their UX work has become comprehensive, pervasive, and universal.

As new technologies continue to reshape the way we live and work, the spectrum of UX skills companies need to maintain relevance and continue to engage with their customers will evolve to become both more specialized and diversified. Service design incorporated ethicists, anthropologists and behavioral psychologists, while commercial adoption of voice user interface added linguistics, neuroscience and natural language processing to the UX fold. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation will require more programmers, data engineers and data analysts. With each emerging technology, user-centered design will remain the foundation for creating engaging and intuitive experiences—and organizations that have fully integrated UX will be able to help shape the future of user experience and business.

Ray Sysko, a user experience practitioner for over 25 years, has worked extensively in financial services, life sciences and technology verticals.

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