When people talk about the impact that UX can make, they often bring up “design maturity”. This is meant to reflect the degree to which a company has embraced and infused design thinking into their organization. It’s a stand-in for gauging how they value design (and designers) and the potential impact it may have on what that company creates. At the top is a company that sees design as a core value that gives them an advantage over their competition. At a lower rung, design occupies one step in the production process that is there to ensure they’re communicating with their customers adequately. Wherever a company falls on that spectrum of design maturity, it’s important to understand maturity does not equate to design impact.

Just because you have a client that may not understand “design thinking”, it does not mean they don’t want to leverage design’s ability to transform their business. That’s why you adopt a UX mindset or hire UX experts to bring that perspective and possibility.

If you work at an agency, or your clients are internal, you have to ask yourself two questions: What is the impact we want to make with the client? And, what is the impact the client wants to make? Is it executing a small project, or helping them to change the way they think about their customers and crafting their products to meet changing needs?

Asking these fundamental questions when you’ve got a creative brief, requirements doc or an email thread can be difficult. It sounds almost too fundamental, yet if you don’t get it right, you’re missing out on an opportunity to get a resounding win.

An easy way to gauge the client’s design aspiration without coming across as judgmental or shaming a client by saying “well, if you understood design thinking…” is by starting at the most tactical level possible–the UI design deliverable. Work your way through the stack from there and figure out where your client wants to go.

UX Concept Impact Level Client Need
Wireframe Interface usability Visualize design concepts
Flows Supporting user tasks and goal completion Understand the user journey before, during and after the experience
Information Architecture Information Architecture Scope of the system and the ability to find information Ensure the system is structured so it’s intuitive navigation, uses the right nomenclature and can scale
Problem-Solution Design strategy Addressing the right pain points and opportunities
Can-Should Business strategy Confidence that they are solving the right problem due to strength, mission and advantage vs.passion and ability alone

This table is a great way to start the conversation about the client’s real need for impact and keep the dialog going from there. The best we can do is meet clients where they are, show them what is possible, and take them as far as they’re ready to go today. That’s what being a good design partner is, whether you’re managing a production team internally or a design vendor helping out.