UX maturity model - cover

A Guide to the 6 Levels of UX Maturity Model

Design, Product
12 min
Jun 11, 2024

As the company develops, the focus and importance of user experience (UX) design change over time. Since there are numerous aspects to look out for in creating a user-centered design, acquiring expertise and improving the product goes gradually. The statistics will surely persuade those who still underestimate the power of UX: 75% of the overall impression about the application is taken by its aesthetics, and a staggering 90% of users will even cease using the app with bad performance.

So, how do you know what stage of UX design development you are at? The user experience maturity model will guide you through. Discover the levels of UX maturity, the assessment process, and strategies for transitioning from one level to another.

What Is UX Maturity Model?

This approach’s invention is based on Jakob Nielsen’s scale and substantiated by Charlie Kreitzberg, senior UX advisor at Princeton University. The UX maturity model is a guideline for assessing a company’s strengths and weaknesses in UX design. Its conception helps recognize how well the organization is aware of users’ needs, how it fulfills them, and what they value.

The model consists of six stages, each with the criteria a company should meet to be located on one or another level. An organization that knows its user experience maturity phase can fairly self-estimate its design state and identify the growth zones for improvement.

6 Stages of UX Maturity

Below is the gradation of user experience maturity levels with real examples.

6 Stages of UX Maturity

Level 1: Absent

The lowest level of UX maturity identifies a company that is unaware of designing with users’ needs in mind or decides it is unnecessary. Businesses in the first stage don’t hire a separate specialist or UI/UX design agency as they don’t understand the importance of a user-centered approach.

The risk of being absent is connected with decreasing client numbers, negative customer feedback, and low user satisfaction. Companies are not enlightened and often lack resources during this phase, so the first thing to do is to start learning about user experience.

Example

Startup companies are common representatives of the first UX maturity level. During the early development stages, they have characteristics such as proficiency in the technical field and a lack of understanding of real users’ needs, budget constraints, an advanced-functionality-driven approach rather than user-driven, and fixing issues in UX only when they become visible.

Level 2: Awareness

Also called ad hoc UX, this level is inherent for businesses that start to understand the grounds of UX design but somewhat chaotically and unsteadily. Legal factors usually drive interest in a user-centered approach, the initiative of one or several employees, and attempts to experiment.

The company’s lack of established UX design processes is an impediment at this level. Companies risk losing potential customers by not listening to them and not investing in UX improvement.

Example

Some mid-sized organizations only discover the potential of user experience in design. They still don’t organize a separate team of designers and don’t invest in growing into design. Their decisions are based on a personal vision of what users need rather than thorough customer research.

Level 3: Emergent

Absent and awareness stages refer to pre-maturity stages, while the emergent level witnesses the company’s desire to engage in the UX design process. Even though the investments are insignificant, the teams understand the importance of exploring end-user preferences and meeting them in design.

Even though this stage identifies companies with UX specialists, their problem is the lack of thorough user research and implementation of UX practices in certain program elements and the final development stages.

Example

Companies at the emergent UX maturity level have a small UX budget and tons of work ahead of them in identifying user needs. The inconsistency and unstable nature of user experience design are still present, so progress can be made only by establishing a firm approach to UX.

Level 4: Structured

This level already links the UX design team with management and other teams. The structured stage means the company has a separate department that follows a holistic approach to researching the target audience’s needs and finding ways to meet them. The 4th level sets obligatory UX design processes throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Even though this level takes companies closer to following a user-focused approach, the risks are a lack of understanding of guaranteeing good results. It requires getting everyone, including stakeholders, on board for discussion and staying on the same page to fully understand the process.

Example

Companies on the structured UX maturity scale have a confident UX design development team. They established communication with other departments and management. The approach and methods used are solid and efficient. However, misconceptions still happen, for instance, in identifying the scope of work and roles, linking results with efforts, and focusing on a broad target audience rather than a particular customer group.

Level 5: Integrated

Reaching the 5th level of design maturity means being consistent, persuasive, and in-depth. If the previous level was described through some misunderstanding of other teams for following a user-centered approach, this stage unifies every department for one purpose. Sales, development, marketing, and other teams want to create a personalized user experience.

The integrated level shows high-quality UX design execution but can be too focused on the process rather than deliverables.

Example

Organizations reaching this level are confident and strong in providing an impressive user experience. The whole team works in tandem on the main goal: to provide a user-centered experience. The main obstacle is identifying and setting success metrics.

Level 6: User-Driven

The top level of UX maturity is when the company doesn’t identify UX design as extraordinary. Instead, it is routed in everyday processes, and every team member understands the importance of following such methodology. Every decision is based on how it will influence user satisfaction.

The only difficulty with the user-driven level is maintaining it constantly. Business goals change over time; thus, a user-focused approach can iterate.

Example

A few companies reach this level and continuously contribute to adhering to users’ needs. Even though throwbacks happen, continuously aiming at the sixth level should be a top goal.

Benefits of Achieving UX Maturity at a Higher Level

The study conducted among 22 UX practitioners showed that most of them underestimate the power of a user-driven approach. Their motivation for improving UX was purely because of competition, not because of the company culture, which encourages this approach. Another survey states that half of the 5000 participants were in the third UX maturity stage. Indeed, only a few organizations have reached the sixth level.

This tendency is staggering, as a better understanding of the UX realm is quite beneficial. The statistics confirm that strategic planning and intentional improvement of the product UX level can boost the conversion rate 400 times. And this is not the only advantage to hope for when becoming mature in user-centered design. Along with attracting more users, this approach offers the following profits:

Benefits of Achieving UX Maturity

  • Improved customer satisfaction. Modern users are not impressed just by advanced functionality. They look for solutions to their needs. And those who deliver personalized experiences win more customers. Seeking to jump on the higher UX maturity level helps to build smoother user journeys, remove friction points, and build an emotional connection.
  • Higher ROI. Although following the UX maturity ladder requires significant investments, it pays off. Here is why: higher levels of UX maturity dictate designing right from the beginning, saving costs on redesign; a user-centered approach focuses on the target audience’s needs without defocusing attention on the needs of all users; and high-quality UX design results in increased conversion and sales rates, leading to higher revenue.
  • Better brand reputation and user trust. The company that wins the choice of customers is the one they remember among competitors. A product with superior usability, attractive aesthetics, and personalized solutions will stand out in the market.

How to Conduct UX Maturity Assessment

Identifying what stage of UX maturity your company is at can be done with the following methods:

Holistic Design Principles

  1. Self-assessment. Conducting internal interviews on the UX design questions clarifies your company’s understanding of the user-centered approach. The survey should involve all team members, as the final UX maturity level dictates that the user experience should be integrated into all fields, not just the design one.
  2. Review of current UX design processes. What do you currently do about UX? How do you test it? Based on what, do you implement changes? These questions shed light on your current efforts to provide a user-focused experience.
  3. Assessment of user feedback. Nothing speaks louder than users’ words. You can spend hours predicting what people will need until you hear their real pains. Continuous feedback from end users provides valuable insights during user research.

Strategies for Achieving UX Maturity Level

Transitioning to another level of UX maturity is a comprehensive process that requires extra effort from all the company members. When aiming to get higher, use these strategies.

Strategies for Achieving UX Maturity Level

Identify the Value of UX for Your Company

It is common for companies to incorporate UX design improvements because they are told to do so or because they want to be competitive in the market. However, such an approach is not holistic and will not gather all teams working on delivering user-centered results. That is why the first step is to define the value of UX for your organization.

Invest in User Research

The UX maturity framework states that all decisions should be based on user data. Higher UX maturity levels are not predicted. Ideally, user research should be continuous, as customers’ needs change over time.

Establish UX Designers Team

The main indicator of the seriousness of your intent is the creation of a separate department responsible for UX design. However, higher UX maturity levels also require cooperation between teams, so encouraging all departments to take part in user research and strategic planning should start at the early development stage.

Implement Methods of User Testing

High-quality UX practices encompass testing as a crucial step for ensuring that the changes or improvements align with the current market situation and user requirements. Testing also helps to gain valuable insights into what customers expect and their behaviors.

Involve UI/UX Design Agencies

Professional help is never unnecessary. And while you want to move from one level to another, it is important to receive experts’ guidance. Design agencies whose main focus is on providing high-quality UX design can advise you on how to build processes in your company to stay at the sixth UX maturity level.

UX Maturity Model: Final Words

A level-based system of the UX maturity approach is a framework that sets clear expectations for companies that want to improve their UX design. It is a guideline that allows businesses to assess their current design state and aim for improvements.

Going through a sophisticated and complex process from one level to another can be easier with a professional UI/UX design company. You can always ask for feedback from us and learn what to improve in your product design to be among those few companies on the 6th UX maturity level.

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop

FAQ

What is UX maturity?

It is a definition that refers to assessing a company’s capabilities in providing high-quality user experience design. Organizations that are mature in UX attract more clients, stand out in the market, and achieve better user loyalty and trust.

What are the levels of UX maturity?

The UX maturity model is presented at six levels: absent, awareness, emergent, structured, integrated, and user-driven.

Why aim to achieve the highest level?

Improving UX design according to level requirements has many benefits: enhanced user satisfaction, a higher return on investment, a better brand reputation, and higher user loyalty and trust.

How do we move from one level to another in the UX maturity model?

These strategies help to increase the UX maturity model: identifying the UX value, establishing a UX designer team, investing in UX and research, testing design, and getting help from professional UI/UX design agencies.

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