Since I started working at EchoUser, I have had the opportunity to work with clients on vastly different spectrums of UX Maturity (User Experience Maturity); while traditional maturity rubrics or scales look at fundamentals like UX staff, budget, etc., I’ve found that in the most UX mature organizations, everyone from the Product Manager to the developer has an appreciation for UX. They can talk the talk, and in the best case scenario, they can apply UX best practices themselves.
But what do you do when the organization is not UX mature? When a UX group is hired and the broader team doesn’t really know what to do with them? Worse yet, when they don’t want to do anything with them?
Over the last nine months, I’ve worked with a federal agency with very low UX Maturity. While UX and human-centered design are in their multi-year project vision, they’ve staffed 10 designers, researchers and content experts, and included contract researchers on nearly every product, their UX system is nevertheless rich with misunderstandings and time pressures. For example, building in time for research and design takes a back seat to meeting a deadline. On top of that, questions like “what is the difference between UX and UI after all?”, “can you get me these mockups by…noon?”, and “what can end users tell you that we can’t?” are common. Our starting point – a loose understanding of UX – is a formula for frustration and limited impact.
It’s also a motivating challenge.
As a UX team, besides bringing our “A game” to our product teams and working with leadership to open space for, say, a non-technical research spike, we’ve added “build capacity” [for UX] to our role. In the context of this federal project, that means shepherding those we work with through an experiential process of design and having them play the roles researchers play. It means giving them the tools to do the UX work we do and apply them in their own context of work. In essence, we are democratizing UX so that everyone on the team can appreciate the value of User Experience, distinguish it from UI, understand why getting in front of users is so important, and work more closely with us to deliver functional and delightful experiences for our users.
“In essence, we are democratizing UX so that everyone on the team can appreciate the value of User Experience”
There isn’t a perfect formula for building capacity for UX; what works in one organization might not work in another. In our case, the UX team has hosted three-day workshops, a brown bag series, and coached team members to apply UX tools. But the most important thing we’ve done to this end is to include the broader team and the client members of the team IN our work: having clients sit in on user interviews, engaging them in the synthesis process, using them to pilot a usability test. This type of inclusion may seem obvious to many in the UX field, but it’s been one of the biggest challenges we’ve overcome given the resistance we’ve experienced. We want and need to do more of it.
This project is by far the most challenging I’ve been on specifically because of the organization’s UX maturity. It’s also been the most rewarding; in addition to delivering more delightful products for the users, we’re also seeing those we work with grow in ways that will make a difference on every product they touch in the future. As a former teacher, I find that this extended impact is the most powerful.
Leslie G Franklin
Feb 3rd, 2020