Design maturity within organizations

The UX community talks a lot about design maturity or a UX culture within an organization. I think this is overblown.

I’ve worked at companies with zero design culture yet made a huge impact and generally enjoyed my job.

I’ve worked at places with all the external trappings of a design culture but have been miserable. There are lots of meetings, mood boards, stickies, and nebulous research. There are a lot fewer deliverables, worksessions with Figma open, and just getting things done.

That’s not to dunk on design culture. I’m sure there are organizations that pull it off. But it’s also really easy to hide a lot of nonsense and bullshit behind the mantle of research, personal development, and design culture. What actually makes a place great to work at, and consequently able to turn out great design consistently is hard to place a finger on. Business culture doesn’t like that, so cargo cults whatever FAANGs do, usually to poor outcomes.

Another often unspoken fact that’s lurking in this discussion is that as far as the business is concerned there are these design levels:

This might sound weird to say, but maybe we don’t all have to do Great or even Good work. Moving the needle from Hurting the business or Bad to Good enough is already a major accomplishment. It’s hard work, but it’s also rewarding.

Beyond that, the ROI of design gets murky. Yes, it’s nice and all, but especially in a smaller company that money be better spent elsewhere once desing is Good or even Good enough.

This is where a lot of thought leadership in the UX community breaks down. If you can’t tell where design isn’t needed or when the diminishing returns begin, then you also have absolutely no idea where design is actually needed.