December 2021

An introduction to the design maturity scale and why it matters to your online success.

by Linda Bailey

The digital landscape provides an abundance of user choices, whereby the use of design becomes a key business advantage. Design (especially website and app 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.

What is design maturity

Design maturity describes the design practices and processes of businesses and how it adds to their bottom line performance. (1)

Why design maturity matters

Businesses that prioritise and systematically use design will have more loyal customers, greater market share, and an advantage over their competitors. That is the key conclusion from McKinsey’s 2018 report The Business Value of Design.

Companies who sit at the top design maturity index out-perform industry-benchmark growth by as much as two to one. (3)

Let’s take a look at the definition of design is when it’s valued.

value of design

The value of design in McKinsey’s 2018 report, The Business Value of Design.

Design maturity can be measured by the use of a framework. Below are a few widely accepted frameworks.

Design maturity frameworks

Adobe has also created a pretty cool Design Maturity Assessment that helps businesses' to assess where they sit on the design maturity Scale. I recommend having a play… even if just for funsies!

But for today, let’s explore The Design Ladder by the Danish Design Centre in more detail.

The Design Ladder

The Design Ladder was developed in 2001 and includes four easy to understand steps:Design ladder

Where's your business on The Design Ladder?

Identifying which of the following best describes your businesses' use of design will give you an indication of where your business sits on the Design Ladder.

Step 1: Non-design

Design is a fairly invisible part of product development and is not handled by expert designers. Design solutions are driven by internal ideas and opinions about good function and aesthetics. Real users, research and data has little to no role in the design process.

Step 2: Design as form-giving

Design is viewed as a single form-giving stage in product development. Design solutions are driven by making it look pretty and are focused on the most visual aspects of design. Experts may be involved in the process but are usually driven multi-taskers or people from other backgrounds.

Step 3: Design as process

Design is a collaborative approach integrated early and across all stages in the development process. Design solutions are driven by the problem and user needs. Design teams have a wide variety of skills, capacities and joint accountability in the success of the product with business partners.

Step 4: Design as strategy 

Design means business: It's data-driven and includes sophisticated practices for analytics, user research and monitoring and measuring the success of specific efforts. Design is a key driver in the overall business vision and growth strategy.

Where do you sit on the ladder? Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

How to move up The Design Ladder

All businesses, industries and audiences are different which means there’s no secret sauce for moving up The Design Ladder. Hypothetically, any combination of ingredients can make a tasty sauce, so long as you’ve got a strong base to build on. Think of these as your foundations.

Foundations for moving up The Design Ladder

These are the 3 must-have ingredients your business needs for moving up The Design Ladder.

  • shared vision

  • immersive exposure

  • continual learning.

A design mature company doesn’t just happen. You can’t skip a step either. It takes planning, strategising, and confidence in moving forward. (2)

When starting from the beginning you’ll need to get your baseline measures in place.

Baseline measures

These are the individual measures to diagnose where you sit on the ladder as well as identifying the opportunities for your business to move up the ladder. I quite like the 10 measures that Adobe has also created for their design maturity tool.

d83b96fd-d84b-477f-9a4d-982d324be264design maturity measures from Adobe.

Start doing what the businesses on the step above you are doing

Another tip for moving up the ladder is to start doing the activities that businesses on the step above you are doing. The Design Maturity Model by Invision has a good list of activities to give you some insight and at some point, you’ll need to bring in a design agency or expert.

Why you need a design agency or expert

Well, this is what the businesses on the step (or two) above you are doing. It is so important to have the right people

No matter your business size, industry or where you currently sit on the scale, a design agency or expert has the skills, methods and tools to weave purpose throughout your business and for your customers and increasing your ROI as you move up the ladder.

Want to level up or implement design maturity in your business? We're here to help, drop us a line!

Get In Touch





Linda Bailey

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.

You may also be interested in these...
Why you need UX Design
Why you need UX Design

User Experience design is all about building solutions and products around the users needs. Let’s take a look at why your business needs UX Design.

Read Article

Use ROX to measure return on customer experience
UX Design
Use ROX to measure return on customer experience

Measuring your return on experience (ROX) is beneficial for your customers and your business. Let's look at what ROX is, and how you can calculate it.

Read Article