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IN A PERFECT WORLD…
Companies would take a systematic approach to product design
from their very first days.
Early product design efforts can be sporadic for various reasons –
for instance, because a product must launch as soon as possible,
there’s not enough money at the start, the user base must grow
at the fastest rate possible, or the product idea changes
constantly in trying to discover an effective business model.
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IS MORE IMPORTANT
Product-growth and market-penetration rates are critical in a
company’s early days. In fact, they’re more important than perfect
technical solutions or high-quality designs.
PROVE IT FIRST!
This is true especially for lean startups that employ the minimum
viable product (MVP) concept. A team first needs to validate that
they're solving the right problem for the right audience, in the
right market. Only after that should they polish their product.
DESIGN IS BECOMING IMPORTANT
There could be many different reasons for emphasizing design:
Competitors might become stronger. A product might receive
negative feedback from users or have a poor public image. A
product’s user base might be shrinking. Perhaps good design just
Company changes its focus from aggressive user acquisition to
HOW IT WAS IN MAIL.RU GROUP
Many years ago my company Mail.Ru Group had similar issues.
Our scale makes design rethinking really complicated.
Add to this mobile and tablet sites and apps, promo pages… It's
about two hundred projects if you sum it up. A lot of them are
leaders in their market niches.
Almost half in my business unit.
Total audience of Mail.Ru Group products.
comScore, August 2013 – http://corp.mail.ru/press/news/1895
Based on our experience at Mail.Ru and looking at other
companies, plus learning about existing UX maturity models, I’ve
defined three levels of UX maturity.
The designer is just an implementer, working on individual design
tasks and creating design deliverables.
The designer is an integral part of a product team and deeply
integrates design into other product development tasks and
The designer is a visionary or product owner who influences
strategic decisions on how to evolve a product.
3 LEVELS OF UX MATURITY
PIXEL MOVING PROBLEM SOLVING
Where are you now?
DESIGN STRATEGY IS:
BUSINESS PROBLEM SOLVING
These 3 levels indicate how deeply designers become engaged in
product and business management. Sustainability is a critical part
of establishing a systematic approach to design, as well as
ensuring predictable quality.
UX MATURITY IS NOT ENOUGH
The company itself must have sufficient maturity. Looking at a
company’s success as a business and its effectiveness as an
organization, it may also be at different stages of evolution that
determine its agility in choosing goals, the persistence of its business
model and current market position, the available resources it can invest
in products and the quality of processes, the experience and far-
sightedness of employees and management, and common priorities.
This is the environment in which User Experience will grow, which
is dramatically important to the successful implementation of UX
strategy. To make UX strategy happen, you must have deep
knowledge of the company, and its business.
You should assess their current state. They will be the “portrait” of
These resources are the basic requirements for executing UX
strategy and placing attention on design.
Money to invest in anything other than the company’s
basic needs – ensuring a product works and acquiring
new users. You must know whether the company and its
specific departments have money to invest.
People to work on design. You should consider both their
experience and their workload.
Sufficient time remaining before the next product
Credibility that would let User Experience make bold
decisions without micromanagement from supervisors.
ASSESS CURRENT STATE
WHETHER THEY MEET YOUR NEEDS?
If you lack some resources, how can you get them in the near
term and whose approval do you need? What if you break UX
strategy execution into several phases, so you can gradually get
the resources you need?
Perhaps these resources already exist, but you haven’t yet
If you have enough of all of these things – that’s great!
A systematic approach to UX design means building an effective
work process that lets you create and enhance designs and
integrating this process throughout the whole development cycle.
A good design process should consider all of the steps of the
development cycle. Don't be afraid to push for changes in these if
they’re resulting in bad user experiences.
NEW PRODUCT AND
Who is responsible for decisions relating to launching new
products or redesigning existing products or features? How do
decisions become tasks, and when are they assigned to
designers? How do market, competitive, and user research occur?
What development model does the company use – waterfall,
agile, lean? What deliverables do designers provide to
developers, and how do they support the implementation
What does the company mean by quality – basic tests to ensure
that a product doesn’t crash, matches functional and business
requirements, has good usability, and complies with design
guidelines and the designers’ initial mockups? Can the design
team block the release of the product if there are problems with
the user experience?
What is the target audience? Are marketing promises true to the
actual product? Is the design of marketing collateral good
enough in comparison to the quality of products’ visual design?
Do they have the right voice and tone?
When and how does a company help its users to resolve the
problems that they encounter when using a product? Are users
satisfied with the help they’re receiving?
PARTICIPATION ON EVERY STAGE
Designers’ participation during development and quality
assurance is critical. If the role of a design team is to be more
than just that of implementer, their participation is also important
during the initiation of a product-development project.
In a perfect world, user experience is a key part of every step.
Powers and responsibilities – for every member of a
Approval workflow – from requirements and
deliverables to product decisions and entire phases of a
KPIs and metrics – for employees, departments,
products, and their features.
Organizational structure – whether matrix, functional,
division, or a combination. How are people distributed
across business units, products, departments, and roles?
When a company is a
startup, a small group of
founders and early
employees can manage all
tasks. They’re generalists
who take on all
responsibilities and fill all
If the company is ambitious, it will change often.
But with company growth
People get assigned to
specific roles and more
employees get hired. So,
throughout the product-
development process, the
organizational structure is
TO CHANGE COMPANY’S PROCESSES
If you need to change something, you should change not only
how design occurs, but the company’s processes as well. A
successful company is always changing, so the efficiency of its
processes always lag behind its growth. Therefore, even once
you’ve built the best design process you can conceive of, you
should always look for ways to improve on it.
Keep improving even after the perfect design process is build.
The current processes in any company are rarely fully efficient.
Sometimes this is because an organization is young, sometimes
it’s a legacy of a crisis within an industry, and sometimes short-
sighted management is the cause.
This is not necessary a bad thing like the intrigues that we see in
the news and in movies. First of all, you need to consider other
people’s interests. This will help you to get their support and to
work more effectively as a team, avoiding conflicts.
A company and its products always have their own paths by
which they grow and evolve. Business priorities determine which
path to follow and when.
Priorities are influenced by the current state of a company’s
choice of market, what market segments the company wants to
enter or focus on, competitors’ positions and actions, technology
trends, and the current state of the company and its products.
UNDERSTAND CURRENT CONTEXT
A UX Strategist should know not only where the company is
heading, but also why it has chosen its path. What problems is
the business trying to solve right now? What problems will
become important in mid-term and long-term? These are design
problems that you will have to solve.
A business’s priorities can vary, depending on whether it is.
A product ought to change and pivot often – maybe even
dramatically – to enable the company to survive.
The product gets new features or distribution models.
You need to differentiate your product from those of competitors
by becoming more customer oriented, expanding its feature list,
optimizing your product for key usage scenarios, and
strengthening your brand.
EFFICIENCY OF WORK
It’s becoming more important to launch and improve products
faster and make design activities easier.
SAVING A PRODUCT
Two possible scenarios are making gradual improvements or
SETS OF PRIORITIES
Companies can have more than one high priority. Furthermore,
different products may have different sets of priorities.
WHAT VALUE DOES UX BRINGS?
Without knowing this the way to influence product is closed. Start
by simply helping the company meet incoming requests for
design work. In the beginning, these are often easy tasks, and you
need to make your design just good enough. Then you can try to
influence how product priorities and problems emerge.
You should always know the answer.
DESIGN TEAM EVOLUTION
At Adaptive Path’s UX Intensive Design Strategy Workshop, they
describe several stages in the evolution of a design team.
1. Solving design problems.
2. Solving developers’ problems.
3. Solving users’ problems.
4. Solving business problems.
5. Asking whether you should solve this particular problem at all.
It’s critical for a company’s top management to understand the
value of good design. Only in such a context can you safely make
dramatic changes to a product’s strategic direction or design.
Otherwise, the lack of their support will block your progress in
making changes to either a product’s design or your design
process. A company’s leaders may even disband the entire UX
WHAT ABOUT YOUR COMPANY?
When you're learning about a company for which you’re creating
a UX strategy, you can use the various components making up
these resources, processes, and priorities lists as a checklist.
Together, they paint a portrait of a company.
Each company’s strategy is unique, so regardless of whether
companies have similar design goals, their execution and the
details of a design will differ.
For a few lucky companies, design is a key competitive advantage
and a way to differentiate their brand right from the beginning –
it’s a real business driver. Other companies have founders or early
employees who have a strong design background and skills, so
build User Experience into their culture from day one.
EXAMINE AND UNDERSTAND
But most companies realize that they need a systematic approach
to design only after they’ve already achieved business success. So
examining a business’s current state is one of the main concerns
of the UX Strategist. In addition to this checklist, you should
analyze your company using existing organizational maturity
Stage Users Want Usability Means Developers Focus On
Raw Iron The basic capability The product works Technical issues and delivery
Checklist Battles The best set of features Having the right functions Adding features and fixing bugs
To get their work done better and faster Easy to learn, fast, powerful Performance support, reducing technical support
Transparency Lowest cost The product is invisible Reducing costs or seeking new markets
And to make the task even more complicated – remember that
competitive environment is constantly changing. So your strategy
should adapt to these changes getting the most of design as a
tool to solve company's current problems and goals.
No UX team. Even if designers are here they’re disconnected.
3 LEVELS OF UX MATURITY
Goal: to solve design tasks, however formally.
Result: quality is random.
Developers are on their own. Somebody has to put user-
interface controls on the screen and give them some visual
The company either hires its first designers or assigns team
members who have design skills to the role of designer.
Maybe one of company founders has design experience.
Designers are outsourced – either before hiring designers
onto the team or afterward. The problem is that nobody
knows how to work with them properly.
Nobody knows how to work with designers – what to expect,
how to critique and approve designs.
Design team is just an implementer. It works on incoming tasks to
create design deliverables.
3 LEVELS OF UX MATURITY
WISHING FOR CHANGE AND
FINDING A LEADER
Goal: a systematic design approach is started.
Result: some first successes and relaunches.
Executives see problems in consumers’ perception of products
in the form of negative feedback, a shrinking customer base,
and general criticism in the industry.
The company hires a UX leader or promotes someone from
inside the company.
The UX leader shows where are problems and how to solve
The company initiates a program of user research and
THE TEAM AND WORK PROCESS
Goal: a fully functional design process.
Result: the UX team regularly contributes to product updates.
The company builds or acquires a UX design team.
A process for assigning and approving tasks; short-term and mid-
term planning for design tasks.
Workflows for typical projects and tasks, ranging from the creation
of new product concepts to providing UX support for current
releases are defined.
Optimal toolset for creating wireframes, prototypes, mockups, and
other deliverables; knowledge and document exchange; and
planning and efficiency tracking.
Outsourcers are involved solving either tasks that are not related to
product concepts or when there is too great a workload for the
The team establishes learning, training, and skills-improvement
programs to grow designers professionally.
The designer is an integral part of a product team and deeply
integrates design into other product development tasks and processes.
3 LEVELS OF UX MATURITY
DESIGN TEAM INTEGRATION
Goal: works effectively in a tight collaboration with the Product
Result: design is delivered to the product faster and in higher
The value of UX is demonstrated to every product and project
manager. These managers understand and support the UX design
team and bring them design problems, not solutions.
The team gains authority, credibility, and trust and always gets
heard. All design decisions get made up front.
Experts in other disciplines like developers, testers, and marketers
trust UX designers. They often contact us directly to solve ongoing
problems or ask questions bypassing managers altogether.
Mid-term and long-term planning of design tasks.
A quality-assurance process gets set up and covers design
implementation reviews, usability testing, and ensures designs
solve business goals.
DESIGN PRINCIPLES AND
Goal: support current products and launching new ones easier; a
recognizable look and feel of the product portfolio.
Result: the UX is consistent across the entire portfolio of
First model products get launched, and the unification of the product portfolio
coalesces around them. Their visual design, interaction principles, and overall
quality are good enough to provide a basis for the whole portfolio.
New products and redesigns of other products are made around these model
UX design guidelines that specify visual design, IxD and IA. These establish
standards that designers, managers, and developers follow.
UX guidelines have a tech basis and provide frameworks and unified code
bases. Design is integrated into building blocks that developers use every day.
The company builds dozens of products based on guidelines that are built into
frameworks, making it easier to control and evolve their designs. We make
changes to groups of products all at once instead of focusing on each instance.
Design principles guide the company’s efforts in building and evolving
products. These are high-level commandments that help the team to choose
the best design decisions from several alternatives.
The designer is a visionary or product owner who influences strategic
decisions on how to evolve a product.
3 LEVELS OF UX MATURITY
KNOWLEDGE BASE AND
Goal: knowledge about users helps the company to improve the
whole product portfolio.
Result: best solutions are scaled to whole product portfolio; the
company learns from its mistakes.
There is a unified knowledge base that documents how users
work with the company’s products, ongoing competitor
analyses, and design and technology trends. This includes
analytics and user research data, market and competitive
research, and customer feedback.
The UX team defines KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to
track product design enhancements. These are tied to
business KPIs and goals.
New product and feature ideas come from the bottom up –
from UX researchers and designers to product managers.
DESIGN AS A
Goal: design as a business driver.
Result: the company has a deep design culture.
Everyone on the product team has at least basic design skills,
including developers, QA engineers, and managers.
Co-design is happening widely through the company. UX
ownership is shared.
The company finds its own language of visual and interaction
design. Visual and interaction designs leverage emerging
trends and even help to launch design trends.
The company’s product design influences the industry. UX
solutions are copied by competitors.
Characteristic 1: Unenlightened 2: Awakening 3: Enlightened 4: Super Human 5: Celestial
Timing of Initial
After most of
the coding is
prior to coding,
Prior to code
As part of business
Visual Design Visual, Interaction,
testing, but not
marketing and other
No clear owner,
Clear owner and
Unaware Awareness Organization
Well Integrated in
Well integrated into all
aspects of company
Business Impact —
Minimal Mixed. Significant
on some products
products or across
THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL MODEL
You'll certainly disagree with them in some aspects but it's okay –
there is no universal theory of everything. And will never be. But
it's a good starting point to build your own UX strategy.
The higher your company’s UX maturity level, the better its
products will be as a result. And it will be much easier to sustain
this level of quality.
While a company can jump levels of UX maturity, it’s likely to
result in a short-term success that is hard to maintain. So try to
strive for long-term goals.
You can’t change just the design process – it’s necessary to
influence other production processes.
This model is about product companies. But can be useful for
P.S.— How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
— Only one, but the bulb has to really WANT to change.
Don’t wait for the company, insist on changes yourself.