What is design maturity and how it affects your business

What is design maturity and how it affects your business

Updated 12 December 2022

Design maturity is more than just having beautiful designs. See how it can improve your bottom line and online presence.

Design is not just about beauty, it’s about functionality, market relevance and meaningful results. Consequently, there’s a positive relationship between good design practices and overall business performance. In fact, the one thing top performing companies have in common is their use of design as a key business advantage. 

What is design maturity?

Design maturity describes the design practices and processes of businesses and how it adds to their bottom line performance.

When we talk about maturity we’re talking about growth and how sophisticated and strategic the use of design is within an organisation. Design maturity typically steps through several phases. To progress through the phases as a business your approach to design changes and in each phase the maturity grows.

Why design maturity matters and what it means to your business

Companies who sit at the top design maturity scale out-perform industry-benchmark growth by as much as two to one. Talk about an unfair advantage! 

Businesses who are mature in their use of design know these things through first hand experience.

It's more than a feeling: It’s analytical leadership that is measured and drives performance just as much as revenue and cost.
It's more than a department: It’s cross-functional talent that is everyone's responsibility, not done in isolation. 
It’s more than a phase: It’s continuous iteration that mitigates risk through ongoing listening, testing and learning. 
It’s more than a product: It’s user experience that breaks down barriers between physical, digital and service environments.

Here are some advantages of design maturity: 

  • Utilisation of design to reshape whole products, influence strategy, portfolios and industry standards.

  • Improved product quality, usability, customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Better operational efficiency, employee productivity and reduced time to market.

  • Increased business profitability, revenue, conversions and cost savings.

  • Stronger market position, increased market share and brand equity.

  • Transcending team borders through integration of design in product development processes and evolution.

Design maturity frameworks

Design maturity is measured by the use of a framework. Whilst there a many frameworks (you can even create your own), these are the most widely accepted ones, created by experts in design: 

But for today, let’s explore Design Maturity Model; The New Design Frontier framework by InVision: 

Level 1 (Producers): Design is used to make it look good, focusing on the most visible aspects of design. Which means most businesses are only scratching the surface of possibilities. 

Level 2 (Connectors): Design utilises more collaborative processes, including joint working sessions and integrated tooling with non-design team members.

Level 3 (Architects): Design has moved beyond basic processes to become shared ownership and accountability with clear roles, practices and documentation. 

Level 4 (Scientists): Design is data-driven, utilising hypothesis, experimentation, research, analytics end iterations.

Level 5 (Visionaries): Design means business, it’s robust, sophisticated and involved in the strategic direction of the business vision and growth. 

Positioning your business on the design maturity scale

Understanding what separates one level from the next key to understanding how your business can evolve its use of design and build a better bottom line. Identifying which of these sounds most like your business and the activities undertaken will help you work out where you sit on the design maturity scale. 

Level 1 (Producers): Your design team focuses on creating a design that looks good. Not much rigour or process beyond the task at hand. Designers will do things like:

  • Wireframing

  • Concepting

  • Interactive prototypes

Level 2 (Connectors): Your design team is starting to get collaborative beyond their discipline. In addition to the level 1 outputs designers will do:

  • Workshops

  • Rapid sketching

  • Stakeholder input

  • Tool sharing and collaboration with developers

Level 3 (Architects): Your design team is building more substantial practices. In addition to the level 1 and 2 outputs designers will do:

  • Daily/every second day standups

  • Planning and prioritisation

  • Design briefs

  • User research

  • Additional/supporting documentation

Level 4 (Scientists): Your design team is building rigour through testing and learning. In addition to the level 1, 2 and 3 outputs designers will do:

  • A/B testing

  • Variant testing

  • Concept testing

  • User testing

  • Analytics data

Level 5 (Visionaries): In addition to the level 1, 2, 3 and 4 outputs your design team will do:

  • Trendsetting and foresight

  • Product market fit tests

  • Vision artefacts

  • Cross-platform strategies

3 steps to increase your businesses design maturity

All businesses, industries and audiences are different which means there’s no secret sauce for moving up the design maturity scale. Hypothetically, any combination of ingredients can make a tasty sauce, so long as you’ve got a strong base to build on. 

Step 1: Build your foundations

A design-mature company doesn’t just happen. It takes the following ingredients to build a strong foundation: 

  • Create a shared vision that the whole team agrees on and continuously review progress toward that vision

  • Ensure your designers and the teams they work with are constantly immersed and exposed to design practices and processes. 

  • Do the planning and build the confidence and buying required to shift from one level to the next.

Step 2: Align your baseline measures

When starting from the beginning you’ll need to get your baseline measures in place. Your baselines are the individual measures to diagnose where you sit on the ladder. Once you have this, you can identify the opportunities for your business to move up the ladder. 

You can create your own or take the 10 measures that Adobe has created for their design maturity tool as a base: 

  • User-centricity

  • Expectations

  • Impact

  • Methods

  • Resources

  • Timing

  • Staffing

  • Platforms

  • Leadership

  • Culture

Step 3: Start doing what the businesses on the step above you are doing

A great way for moving up the ladder is to start doing the activities that businesses on the step above you are doing and the best practices they’re implementing. When you start doing these things, you’ll also start reaping the rewards and working your way towards your own unfair advantage!  

The Design Maturity Model by InVision has a good list of activities and benefits to give you some insight and guidance.

Is design maturity linear?

Design helps businesses to break up linear thinking. In complex environments, such as digital where technology, strategy, marketing and brand are all intertwined, linear thinking is limited. Whilst the model appears linear at the offset it’s actually more of a system. A continuous, ongoing, living system.

Hire a design maturity expert to move your business forward

No matter your business size, industry or where you currently sit on the scale, it helps to hire an expert who has the skills, methods and tools to weave purpose throughout your business and for your customers as you move up the ladder.

Implement design maturity in your business with our help – get in touch!


Written by

Linda Bailey

UX Director

Diverting from a career in Architecture, Linda uses the left and right side of her brain equally. She's been with Honest Fox from the beginning and is involved in all facets of the business. She's empathetic and kind and loves punk music.