The first time I encountered the Design Maturity Continuum (“DMC”) was at the HOW Design Conference in Austin, TX in 2008. Walking into that conference, I knew very little about how to think like a designer. It’s amazing what a few days spent soaking in an environment saturated with new ideas can do to alter your perspective, and even influence what you are capable of. It did that for me. One of the presentations that stuck was “Design Thinking: How Procter and Gamble is using it to meet consumer needs and solve wicked problems.” In that presentation, the DMC (created by Jess McMullin – who I just discovered happens to live in nearby Edmonton!) was referenced. (See photos below). Perhaps because I had been thinking in developmentalist terms since univeristy, the idea that design thinking capabilities progress through different stages of maturity immediately resonated with me and I’ve been sharing Jess’s continuum ever since, both to establish a common framework for working with others and to challenge them to expand their conceptions of what design is and how it adds value. In the DMC, each progressive stage of maturity brings more complexity, range, and capacity with it. The potential impact of design is therefor much greater at the more mature end of the continuum. In each progressive stage, the capacities of the previous stage are retained, but how the designer uses those capacities is reorganized in relationship to the new, emergent capacities.
At the same time, I have always wondered if any stages of maturity beyond “framing” could be identified, and how those stages might look in action. Barrett C. Brown’s research describing how leaders with late stage action logics design and implement sustainability initiatives not only suggests that there are several advanced stages of design capability that extend beyond “framing”, but also provides preliminary characterizations of those stages. Working with Developmental Action Logics, Brown conducted a first-of-its-kind investigation in which a cohort of leaders who were assessed as possessing a very advanced “Action Logic” (or meaning-making capacity) were studied in order to better understand how they design. Brown wanted to figure out what they know, see and do that others do not, and the impact on how they design sustainability initiatives. In what ways are they able to think, plan, act, express, imagine and feel that others are not? It occurred to me that it’s easy to see some obvious connections between the DMC and Developmental Action Logics. And when you incorporate Barrett C. Brown’s findings, you can see (at least diretionally) how the Design Maturity Continuum extends. The next thing I did was go to Google to see if anyone else had thought of this, and it turns out that Austin Govella had already attempted to correlate Action Logics with Design Thinking Maturity in 2006. That being said, I believe his model, which you can see here is miscorrelated. It also does not account for higher stages of Design Maturity, so I felt that it would be useful to propose a new synthesis. I did borrow from Govella’s model by incorporating the concept of “Innovation Trailmarker” and speculating on trailmarkers that might be associated with more mature stages (though I cannot claim to understand those stages well enough to know if I’ve gotten it right). You can review my proposed synthesis here (also inserted at the top of this post). I hope you enjoy it and welcome any comments you have!