UX Strategy: How to Reach The Next Level – and Use Design Systems to Do So

The UX levels of UX maturity of organisations

Even though UX strategy is a trending topic right now, it is still something completely new to most organisations. Even if they have UX designers, these are usually fighting on their own to get the user needs somewhat represented in the final product. Many UX designers don’t do any UX research (like shadowing, interviews, usability tests, …), however, and are busy doing only UI design. A second trendy topic right now are design systems, but I’ve found that most organisations stop one or two steps before reaching their full effectiveness. If, for example, a product team started using and extending a component library, that’s a good first step. Transforming this component library into a design system, however, might make the whole thing take off. For that, it needs to be well documented, maintained and integrated into both the development and design process. Since it is often hard for an organisation to see what’s possible with a solid UX strategy and a fully developed design system, me and my team have come up with the following UX maturity levels to help you assess where you stand and also see what’s possible for you.

Level 1: “We’re interested in UX”

In organisations on this level, product owners make all the product decisions and developers make all the user interface decisions. There is usually no clear way for user needs to find their way into the development process. This results in wasted development time and suboptimal product quality, because a key ingredient is missing. Instead, functionality is the most important goal – from a business perspective or a technological perspective only. There might be some market feedback, for example users asking for a “more smartphone-like” look and feel, and thus, the product team knows that they should care more about usability and ergonomics, which are terms that I often hear from people on this level. “UX” is something undefined and with unclear benefit for them, but decision makers are often curious to learn more.

Level 2: “We have UX Designers”

If your organisation already reached level 2, you have UX designers working on your products (either internal or external). Designers usually focus only on UI design, information architecture and workflows, but have insufficient opportunities to study real users. Often these opportunities are blocked by a higher management level for fear of showing incomplete products to some of their potential customers. Thus, the design team will do the best they can, create a styleguide and maybe a component library. But they will fall short of UX processes like Design Thinking or User Centered Design, because real users and UX research methods are missing from their process and toolkit.

Level 3: “We use UX Processes”

For organisations on this level, UX methods have been integrated into the development process and are championed by the C-level. The product development happens using an agile or iterative methodology, and there are frequent reality checks with prototypes using UX research methods. Different product teams and UX designers usually are very independent to foster their creativity. There probably exists a component library or something similar, and it is used by developers to ease their work. This setup usually has been created from the ground up, which caused it also to stop reaching the highest level of productivity, since it was never strategically applied.

Level 4: “We implemented a UX Strategy”

On this level, organisations have a fully matured UX strategy. This means that all product development teams have UX designers and a UX research based requirements engineering. UX is no longer seen as a way to build better products, but as a way to find, evaluate and optimise products. To achieve that, the organisation has created tools and processes that have UX at their core. A fully equipped design system is often such a tool – it now encapsulates all components and processes and has evolved into a powerful core, a single source of truth that everyone regularly uses. Designers discover and create new features within the design system. Developers extend and adapt the design system. Product owners use the design system to see the current status and to prototype new ideas.

The way to a Design System

The components of a fully developed Design System

In these organisations, the CEO will make some of their decisions based on UX research, since they have learned that it provides them with valuable knowledge and insight.

Levelling Up

Design systems are frequently mentioned above, because they represent a real set of tools and processes that are at the core of product development. By creating and evolving a design system, an organisation can over time level up their game in terms of UX maturity. Extending the reach of a design system within an organisation can help standardize processes and put UX at the core of the organisation through the medium of a design system. Of course, a design system is not the only component to a solid UX strategy – but it’s an important one. Another key factor is the mindset of the organisation’s management – a curious & scientific mindset will usually produce better products than a confident mind with a laser focus on specific goals. No matter where you stand right now, a skilled UX strategist can help your organisation level up – that’s what we strategists do. So if you find yourself on any of those levels, I’d love to talk to you and figure out how you could unlock the next level.

Published by Sebastian on 2020-03-06

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