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UX, consideration, and a CMMI-based model

I have a theory: user experience (UX) thinking (which I’ll also call user-centricity) is an attitude that follows you into daily life. An organization that’s doing a great job of UX thinking is visibly better than one that isn’t, and you see the differences not just in the seamless ease of its patron touchpoints or the usability of its website or its well-designed physical wayfinders, but in the way its staff treat one another. When an organization is well and truly steeped in UX, with total awareness of and buy-in on user-centered thinking, its staff enact those principles, whether they’re facing patrons or not. In short, UX thinking makes a person considerate*.

The theory and part of the model below stem from changes I’ve seen in myself: after spending so much time thinking about (and reading about and watching) how people who aren’t me think about things and do things, I’ve become far more considerate, on average. Adding little touches to websites, to make them easier to use, has led me to add touches in other places, from how I compose emails to how I drive to how I set up for parties. UX thinking has changed me. (And I should admit, I have bad, selfish, I-don’t-care-what-you-think days, and I find myself consistently less considerate to people who are actively inconsiderate to me; I’m human. Oh man am I human. But, in the aggregate…)

I am sure that what I’ve experienced would scale. In an organization that was really mature with its UX thinking, these changes would happen to everyone. Consideration** would be expected, as a matter of course.

I’ve come up with a model for organizations, based on the levels in Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). This is a good, short description of what the CMMI levels are, but if you don’t care, the important thing is, they go from 1 (functioning but not great) to 5 (awesome).

In reality, four out of my five proposed levels have very little to do with the tie between UX and consideration, in part because there is so much work required to get an organization to the point where it’s good enough at UX that you see them take that last step. (Mine isn’t all the way there, but I’m one of our UX champions, and as such, I can say we’ve improved significantly.) Also, like CMMI, you can be between steps; it’s not a one-day transition, by any means.

I made a graphic, to be cool like the tutorial I linked (and the text is repeated below):


5 – User experience is so ingrained that staff consider the usability of all of their work products, including internal communications. Staff are actively considerate, not only toward users but toward their coworkers.

4 – User experience is a primary motivator; most staff are comfortable with UX principles. Users are consulted regularly, not just for major decisions, but in an ongoing attempt at improvement.

3 – The organization cares about user experience; one or two UX champions bring up users’ needs regularly. Decisions are made based on established usability principles and studies from other organizations, with occasional usability testing.

2 – Some effort is made toward improving the user experience. Decisions are based on staff’s gut feelings about patrons’ needs, perhaps combined with anecdotes from service points.

1 – Decisions are made based on staff’s preferences, management’s pet projects. User experience [of patrons] is rarely discussed.

Now, obviously, I’m thinking about libraries, but I believe this UX/consideration model is probably generalizable to other public-facing institutions. Maybe a little rewording would be in order, but the general principles? I think they’re solid.


*Whitney Hess refers to the driver of good UX as “empathy,” and although it’s probably just a small semantic disagreement (for what else are blogs built on?), I will say I prefer to think UX is attached to empathy’s more concrete cousin, consideration.

**I feel like I should clarify that I mean active consideration. I’m not suggesting that everyone’s default mode is “jerk.” But it’s easy to, just for instance, dash off an email referring to a previous message, or a link, or something, without taking the extra step to make everyone’s lives easier by including the thing you’re referring to. It’s easy to design a shared desk in a way that works for you, without considering how it will work for people who don’t work there all the time. These things aren’t done with malice, but they sure aren’t done with user-centered thoughts/consideration. Do you see what I’m getting at?

Published incommunicationlibrarianshipusability


  1. I really like suddenly thinking of efforts to make an org / lib more user-centric in terms of a step ladder. I didn’t know this model existed but it’s gratifying to be able to guestimate what level your org is at.

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