Leveling Up In Design

Using a card game to support design maturity in organizations

A master thesis project, by Emma Larsson
Strategic Media Development
Malmö Univeristy, 2019

What is this?

This website is part of a master thesis research project, that focuses on the topic of design maturity and the processes and activities that companies and organizations employ to "level up in design". The purpose of the study is to provide an understanding of the expansion of design in organizations as well as the benefits and challenges of this process. Furthermore, the study aims to explore how organizations can be supported in their process of maturing, by using so called boundary objects.

A breif introduction

Design is a very ambiguous term. It can be referred to a thing, an activity, a process, or even a strategy. Because of its many meanings and definitions, it is argued that design can have more than one purpose or role. It is also argued that design can mature and expand within the organizational frames, which, subsequently, can have an effect on the organizational culture and business strategy.

Recent studies have shown that design-led organizations outperform other organizations in terms of stock market value and competitive advantage. As such, the topic of using design strategically, in combination with the question of how to mature in design, has become popular - both in the academic world and in the business world. Research shows the importance of having design representatives in all levels of the organization, as well as fostering design knowledge are important factors to maturing in design. Knowledge, in particular, is argued to have a direct impact on the organizations design maturity.

The level of design maturity in an organization can be measured by assessing the impact and overall value of design throughout different areas of the organization, using different scales and models. When used within a social activity, like a workshop, these models can arguably act as boundary objects, that can evoke discussions which, in turn, can lead to knowledge exchange.

The thesis explores how organizations go about maturing in design, as well as the challenges and benefits organizations see within this process. Furthermore, it examines the use of a card game as a boundary object to support organizations in their efforts to level up in design. Findings from conducted workshops with the card game include that the game facilitated discussions and knowledge generation related to the use of design in the organization. The thesis argues that design maturity can be increased in the organizations by using the game, and that the game has the potential to narrow knowledge gaps between designers and managers.

The study

The study is divided into two parts, following the structure of the double diamond model. The first part focuses on data collection through interviews, while the other focuses on the development and testing of a prototype. The prototype is designed to look as a game, and works to assess the design maturity level by providing the participants in the workshop with different statements that they are encouraged to assess with other playing cards. The game also facilitates communication and knowledge exchange between the participants, which is essential to increase the level of design maturity in the company.


The study first used semi-structured interviews to collect data about how organizations mature in design. The interviews aimed to explore how organizations work with design, and what benefits, challenges and issues they saw with leveling up in design maturity. Five interviews were conducted at various large and global organizations in and around Malmö, Sweden, with UX designers, design leads and design managers. During the interviews, the DVS model (an existing model to measure design maturity) was used as a cultural probe - a material object that encourages people to reflect on and express their experiences, feelings and attitudes which, in turn, can provide inspiration for designers. The probe was used to facilitate the discussion and uncover the participants' reasoning regarding how design is fostered within the selected organizations.

The prototype

The findings from the interviews, in combination with previous theoretical research, were analyzed and transformed into design requirements for the prototype. The concept was then brainstormed, roughly sketched and rapidly tested (see image). The prototype took the shape of a board game/card game that consisted of a game board, assessment cards, statement cards (not shown in image) and a scoreboard. The idea was that statements would be read out loud by the players, who would then use the assessment cards to vote how much they agreed with those statements. The participants would then take turns explaining the reasoning behind their assessment. During this explanatory session, discussions would arise, which, in turn, would lead to a knowledge exchange between the participants. After a short discussion period, each participant was allowed to change their answer if they felt like they wanted to. The scores were then documented in the scorecard, as well as on the actual statement cards, followed by the reading of a new statement card. After all of the statements had been read, the scores would be calculated to reveal the design maturity score for the organization.

Supporting desing maturity

What do you do with only a score? Well, not much... So, next it was suggested that the participants would organize the statements according to their individual average scores. Then they would pick out three cards that they considered to be the most relevant or urgent to address in the organization. Each statement revolved around some kind of activity, for example:

We conduct user research on a regular basis, to figure out what the users want and need.

After picking the three statements, the participants would then brainstorm ideas about how to improve the score of that activity. The activity would then be assigned to someone within the organization as a task to work on.

When the workshop had ended, the organization would have:

  1. assessed their design maturity level,
  2. prioritized what they considered to be the most important design area to improve on,
  3. brainstormed ideas for how to improve those areas.
  4. assigned tasks to people in the organization that, in turn, potentially could increase their level of design maturity.

Furthermore, the organizations would have generated a more uniform knowledge about design and their design processes.

The game

After the initial test the prototype was redesign to embody a more professional look. It was then tested in three different workshops, conducted at three different organizations in Malmö, Sweden: Visma, ID Kommunikation and Jayway bt Devoteam.

The results of the study can be read in the thesis, which will be linked here upon its online publication on mau.se

Shortly on findings

Some of the key findigs from the study included that in order for organizations to mature in design, they need

  • a common understanding about design, its value and its potential roles
  • design representatives in all levels of the organization, who support design activities and processes. Especially in executive levels.
  • standardized processes when dealing with design
Another important factor to consider is to conduct frequent design maturity assessments, and to follow up on activities that are considered relevant to improve on.

The use of the game as a boundary object was considered successful, in that it facilitated discussions and knowledge exchange. It also provided the organizations with a maturity score to use as a benchmark for future assessments. However, to truly measure its impact and validate its use would require a longitudal study.

Future work

This project is a stepping stone for future work in the field of organizational design maturity. Future projects may include a digital version of the boundary object, like the one that is currently being developed on this website. In order not to lose the social, discursive aspect and knowledge generation, including "social elements" from social media platforms or online game mechanics might be an option. This site currently only possess the basic functions. Hopefully, more work can be done so that this digital version too can act as a boundary object for knowledge exchange, and simultaneously combat the scalability issue of the current boundary object. Researching this could also be interesting in terms of exploring physical-social vs digital-social interactions. Subsequently, it could lead to interesting questions regarding how online, social media tools could support design maturity in organizations. In addition, such a study could contribute to the debate regarding if social media really is social, while also raise more topical questions such as if and how digital media can be used to socially strengthen organizational cultures.

To have a look at the digital version log in or create an account and try the survey out.