July 21, 2023
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UX Maturity is our Responsibility

Let’s face it; absolutely no company hires UX designers with the intention of not letting them do their job properly. Every role in a business is there to fill a business’s need to provide a service to its customers.

Let’s face it; absolutely no company hires UX designers with the intention of not letting them do their job properly. Every role in a business is there to fill a business’s need to provide a service to its customers. If a company was looking for someone to push pixels, they could get that by hiring someone specializing in UI work only.

So why do so many UX professionals feel their current employer limits their impact? Why do many UX designers frequently switch jobs in search of a company offering a higher UX maturity? Why do we become frustrated with our beliefs on how we should work versus how we get to work in reality?

While I think it’s true that many organizations cannot fully utilize their well-trained UX hires’ impact, the reasons lie in a lack of understanding rather than willingness. Many companies, especially startups, are started by product managers or engineers turned entrepreneurs. In the early stages of their business, they do their best to get the first version of their product to market and get the ball rolling.

While many product managers can profit from their discipline’s overlap with UX design, many would agree that their training doesn’t replace a good UX designer. Even if founders are wise enough to bring designers on board at the beginning of their journey, the limitations of capacity and runway often keep them from implementing fully-fledged design practices. In reality, the design team isn’t the highest priority in the early stages of many companies. It only gets fully established once the company has achieved a few milestones toward proving sustainability and the product has reached its first limits in scalability, consistency, and customer experience. This is when everyone starts to feel the pain of not having a strong UX practice in place, so the company sets out to hire experienced Senior UX designers or even their first design leaders to come in and “fix the UX.” But by that point, many parts of the product design process have been defined by how the company is used to working and lacking the necessary freedom UX practitioners need to understand customers, uncover their needs and find viable solutions. Conflicts arise between how things are done and how they should be done. Leaving UXers frustrated, product managers in the angst of missing important business goals, and managers distrusting the business value of UX.

So what’s the Remedy?

Well, one might argue that the company should have its act together before hiring a highly skilled and experienced UX professional. If they bring us in to perform a job, they’d better be ready for it, right?
But in that case, who would we expect to build that setup? Do we expect the C-Suite or product managers to create a UX practice we can comfortably settle down in? Is this a realistic expectation? And if they could do so, why would they need us?

In UX, we are often so focused on learning the following new method, discussing what UX is and isn’t, and producing ourselves as the voice of the customer, that we forget one simple truth. UX maturity is our responsibility.
When UX professionals are hired by organisations that don’t yet have a well-established design practice, they need them to bring in that expertise.

Even if I am very reluctant to add yet another skill to the already extensive list of things a “true UX designer” should be able to do, I’m afraid that setting up a practice that suits your team, and its current maturity level is essential both for your success in the role as well as your mental well-being. If you have a UX manager or UX leader on your team, great a lot of that responsibility falls on their shoulders. Still, ultimately, everyone on the design team has to be a representative of good design practices.

We have to design it

Like all design work, raising design maturity should start by understanding the problem and the people involved. You can’t expect to drive change in your company if you don’t know the needs of the people in it.
Make an effort to understand what your team members and stakeholders are dealing with and what their goals are.
Why not set up empathy maps or conduct JTBD research on internal teams?

Stop aiming for perfect

In theory, we all follow that perfect design process and always have enough time and resources to conduct extensive research upfront. The ideal scenario gives us all the freedom we want to explore different ideas, and all solutions stem from highly creative ideation workshops. Not to forget, we don’t have any pressure to hit great outcomes on the first try because we can surely iterate ourselves to success.

Well, I’m afraid that, in reality, the situation is likely to be quite different. You may be faced with preconceived notions of what to build, born under high pressure to deliver numbers fast and with a roadmap full of the next things to do. Instead of fighting windmills to get “design” right, I suggest taking where you and your team are currently standing as a starting point for improving collaboration. Stuck in UI delivery? Don’t reach for generative research, instead, try some usability testing and let everyone on the team experience the effects. Gradually expand the process from your current position outwards. Giving both yourself and the team time to grow and adapt to what you learn along the way. This way, you may not revolutionize your UX practice in one sweep, but you’ll be sure to build a sustainable practice that suits your company at its individual stage.

Don’t fight just for design

While most of the company is talking about business profit and KPIs, I often find design teams concerned with design matters only. A sure way to be disregarded. I suggest worrying less about how you think things should be done and more about how you can use your skills and UX design craft to help the company. By aligning your goals with those of the company at large and executing well within your current setup, you can prove the value of UX design even before you have that coveted seat at the table.

Embrace the process and celebrate the wins

Just as Rome wasn’t built in just one sprint, changing how your company designs services and products are going to take time. If we don’t want to burn out along the way, we have to accept that it may take us several months or years to reach the level of maturity we believe to be correct. We need to look out for the small wins along the way and make sure to celebrate the progress we make. And maybe most importantly, we need to embrace the process of collaboratively driving change as a part of our job.

Written by

Marvin Olukayode Hassan

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