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Design Maturity Survey: From Self-Assessment to Action

Is design at the core of your organization? How do you increase its impact on your business? These are the insights our Design Maturity Survey strives to deliver. 

While doubts about investing in design are evaporating, methodologies on how to measure and improve its effectiveness are non-existent. We’re excited to open up the beta of Artefact’s Design Maturity Survey (DMS), a tool that helps organizations evaluate their level of design maturity, gain insights and devise strategies to strengthen the role and impact of design across the organization. Designed to be completed in 10-15 minutes, the DMS aims to provide you with insights into the areas where your organization excels, as well as the ones where you may need to work on in order to make design a more integral part of your efforts. To assess the design maturity of your organization, take the survey now or contact us for a company specific link you can share with others in your organization.

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Why Measure Design Maturity?

There is an unprecedented emphasis on the economic importance of creativity and the human ability to innovate, as industries grapple with disruption brought about by technology. As a result, Design Thinking has found its way into the vocabulary of many organizations and in many cases is being seen as a critical in-house strategic competency. The evidence continues to mount that a strong investment in both professional design teams and design thinking processes are paying great commercial dividends for those forward thinking organizations.

According to the Design Management Institute, over the last 10 years larger international design-driven companies (like Apple, Ford, Nike, Starbucks, Disney, Steelcase, IBM) have outperformed the S&P 500 by 219%. Furthermore, 10% of the Fortune’s top 125 companies have executive level positions and CEO support for design. Not only that but startups like Airbnb, Instagram, Pinterest, Behance, Tumblr and SlideShare have seen considerable success with designer co-founders at the helm, driving venture capital firms to invite designers into their own teams to strengthen the design ethos of their portfolio companies.

Whilst much has been written on the impact design, information about how to integrate design capability or an entire team into the work streams of business, marketing or engineering-driven cultures is scarce. Growing the maturity of the organization’s design capabilities over time so that it can maximize its impact on an organization seems underrepresented outside of general management advice: hire well, bring design leadership, give designers reasonable autonomy, training, etc. At the same time, as investment in design continues to grow, the demand to systematically evaluate its return is inevitable.

The value of measuring organizational capabilities and their maturity level has a long and well-established history. In software development, capability maturity models (CMMs) have helped organizations successfully assess strengths and weaknesses in order to prioritize investments for maximum impact. While the work done by the Design Management Institute has already defined a design value index, which is an indication of design maturity, in order to make these insights actionable, we need to establish the standards and tools to help leaders understand how their organization functions relative to the best practices.

The five pillars of design maturity

The Design Maturity Survey provides a way for people in design organizations to reflect on a wide range of provocations, prompting them to quantify the maturity level of their design capabilities across five critical categories:

  1. Empathy: The maturity of the organization’s understanding of its customers;
  2. Mastery: The maturity of the organization’s quality of execution in design thinking and crafting;
  3. Character: The maturity of the organizational support for design, design thinking and integration of professional designers;
  4. Performance: The market’s response to the design output of the organization;
  5. Impact: The maturity of the organization’s actions around its Cultural, social and its environmental legacy through its design.

Our essential belief is that each of these five categories, starting with Empathy, builds upon each other to create the highest performing, most mature design organizations that consistently outpace their peers. Without Empathy, it’s nearly impossible to consistently do innovative and impactful design work (Mastery). Without organizational buy-in, cross-functional support and financial investment (Character), no amount of Mastery will ever see the light of day. Without some market success (Performance) ascribable to design, building the case for sustained investment can be difficult. Finally, no amount of Mastery, Character or Performance will ultimately save a brand that is seen to behave unethically, wastefully or that has cultural or social negative externalities (Impact).

At Artefact, we have worked with more than 200 design organizations in vastly different industries and states of maturity over the years. This work has informed our belief that these categories are key areas of investment for sustaining a long-term competitive advantage. It is possible to take shortcuts in these areas, to get lucky with a really good idea without the deep insight gained from investment in Empathy, for example, or hire a couple of amazing professional designers that are able, through pure talent and chutzpah, to work around all sorts of organizational dysfunction and have big performance paybacks for the company. However, the design-driven organization working at peak maturity recognizes that consistency of execution and repeatability of excellent processes provides the best long returns on investment.

Design maturity: The scores, levels, and insights

The provocations in the DMS take the form of best practice example statements. Participants are asked to rate how closely their organization aligns with these statements and at the end of the survey, respondents receive a unique scorecard that visualizes their overall maturity level, as well as maturity across each of the five categories.

The overall maturity score is the average of the five category scores. While assuming that each of the categories impacts maturity equally may be an oversimplification. However, since we are at a point when there are no past evaluations to indicate the weight of each category within an industry or type of company, this is a good way to provide a multidimensional view of the organization. The overall maturity score places the organization in five distinct levels:

From quantitative measurements to qualitative insights

While the scorecard provides a high-level overview of where the organization maturity is likely to reside, in order to turn the numbers into a meaningful diagnostic tool, we also outline what are the symptoms and next steps at each level of each category. The resulting 5×5 matrix delivers tangible examples of actions, beliefs and impacts and aims to provide participants with a framework and impetus for increasing the design maturity of their organization.

When aiming to measure something as subjective as Design Maturity, the more participants take the survey and the wider the variety of their roles, tenure, and disciplines within the organization, the more meaningful the score becomes. Not only are the averages more valid, but the delta between the lowest and highest scores within each category becomes an indicator of divergent perceptions. While our plan is to automate the process of generating organization-wide survey links, in this first iteration of the DMS, we are asking participants to contact us to get organization-specific links.

And that brings us to our privacy and data use policy. You can read the full policy here, but we do not share individual survey responses or report individual organization results to third parties.

Inevitably, there may be some inherent bias in the survey resulting from Artefact’s focus on technology, consumer electronics, or software services industries. That said, we stand by the idea that the vast majority of industries are gradually shifting to a customer experience-centric world view and that a strong investment in design thinking will serve companies well.

What’s next?

We believe that as design matures as a discipline and industry, we need to develop more sophisticated tools to measure our value today and over time. We hope the Design Maturity Survey is a step in the right direction, building on the work started by the DMI and borrowing from the best practices of adjacent fields—from software development to management consulting.

Our goal is to provide participants with individual insights that help them prioritize their organization’s investment, give them context to evaluate their performance and an understanding of how the industry they operate in is stacking up. After all, one sign of maturity is the will and ability to take honest stock of where you are. As the design industry itself grows up, it is time for us to do exactly that.

We hope you take the Design Maturity Survey and join us on our quest to lead through design.

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