UX Maturity: Best Practice

by Dirk Knemeyer

This is the fifth of six articles in our User Experience Maturity series. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

We are at a transitional moment where user experience is commonplace, but it still isn’t being done particularly well in many cases.

Even as companies try to get the most that they can from user experience, investing time, money, and effort, the results remain uneven. UX might be everywhere, but the great demand has resulted in many employees, contractors, and agencies claiming UX expertise when their capabilities don't actually translate to that level. As a result, UX quality is not evenly distributed. The next phase in user experience evolution will have to address how to optimize and establish a consistent quality baseline across all of business.

One of the biggest challenges currently bedeviling UX is a lack of consistent training. While some universities have programs related to UX (in content if not in name) the structure and focus of those programs are maddeningly inconsistent. They differ in quality. They differ in skills taught. They have little or no standardization of terms and concepts. Now, just over the last year or so, a number of new post-secondary training options have emerged. Building off the popularity of software engineering programs like Codeacademy and Treehouse, we see initiatives like the Unicorn Institute, while programs such as General Assembly offer UX training as a core plank. What is notable about these newer educational offerings is not just the promise of UX professional standards; they also augment course training with real-world projects that enable students to gain the experience that builds competency. Consulting companies like Involution Studios and The Nerdery have offered this kind of training as a natural extension of our consulting practices. However, it is in the rise of unaffiliated training institutes that the potential for industry standardization is truly possible.

Companies are beginning to get a better sense for the different manifestations of user experience. It is not a “one-size-fits-all”; that is becoming increasingly clear. For example, the skills and temperament needed for people to work on incremental product improvements are significantly different from those needed for people who can conceptualize an entirely new product from scratch. Whether someone is a researcher, an interaction designer, or an artist does not necessarily mean that they are well-suited for any task. The reality of creative professionals is that the work they are cut out for is as diverse as their skillsets. It is a very different person who can be happy with incremental, long-term work that requires attention to detail and patience than one who enjoys the ambiguity of few constraints and the daunting nature of making something from nothing. Companies trying to improve the quality of their internal UX will need to consider such human factors when determining the right person, team, or agency to meet the specific challenge of the moment.

So, how do you position your organization to thrive with a best-practice UX approach?

  1. Identify the different contexts for user experience in your organization. Start with a crisp understanding of where your needs are. What are the current or future products and/or services that need dedicated UX focus? Within those areas, what are all of the roles and functions that need to be addressed for you to achieve excellence?
  2. Identify all existing UX resources to which you have access within and outside of your organization. Conduct a gap analysis between what you have and the needs you have identified.
  3. Create a plan for evolving your current UX resources to meet your future needs. This will likely require increased budget, so organize your thoughts and ideas such that you can convince other business leaders about the importance of these investments.
  4. Forge relationships with people and organizations that can help you find the talent you need, including employment firms, formal education institutes, training programs, and UX agencies. Each offers a different piece of the puzzle, as you figure out how to add staff to your team and plot out ways to leverage short-term and project-based resources.
  5. Hire or engage with an absolutely tip-top creative director. Amidst the various roles and skills within UX it is easy to lose track of one simple fact: if the person guiding the design effort and making the final call on what you ship does not have a good aesthetic sense, you could be putting a lot of effort into something that ultimately has indifferent results. Both Apple and Microsoft have fantastic designers; only one had Steve Jobs. Jobs was a striking example of the massive difference that one “little” role can have on an otherwise similar creative and UX process. As people like him are incredibly hard to find, it may make sense for you to partner with a strong UX agency.

The bottom line is that, to become an organization of UX excellence, you must take a systematic, strategic approach to identifying what you need and how you are going to fill it.

Our series will wrap up next week with a look at where UX is headed.


Topics: UX, user experience, Business of Design