Lean UX – Design & Development Working Quicker Towards Better Experiences
At this year’s “UX Cambridge”:http://www.uxcambridge.net/uxc2012/index.php, the one big ‘take away‘ topic for me was the idea of Lean UX. Wonderfully presented “Jeff Gothelf”:http://www.jeffgothelf.com/blog/, the talk centred around the idea of a lean (based on the Lean Production / Just In Time practice originally developed by Toyota) approach to design and development. Much of what Jeff spoke about relates to a book he is soon to publish simply called “Lean UX”:http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920021827.do. If you have ever read the book “The Lean Start Up”:http://theleanstartup.com/ by Eric Ries, this topic will speak volumes. Where The Lean Start Up is really about how you apply lean design / development in a business context, Lean UX is how you execute this in this environment.
!/perch/resources/lean-.jpg(Lean At Work)! So how does Lean UX differ from UX as we know it? My interpretation in short, Lean UX is the validating of design decisions that can be measured against predefined metrics for success or fail. The key to this is to move fast and validate. Get a product out there, measure its success or failure and iterate. Where Waterfall had its weaknesses in the sheer volume of upfront work required before anything can be deployed, Lean employees some of the benefits of Agile to have products deployed quicker and iterate over time. Iterations are based on testing and the metrics applied. I think Agile can be done very badly in terms of the resulting UX and I have seen it happen when development teams congratulate themselves on getting a product to market quickly but the resulting user experience was simply awful with no clear design strategy to fix it. The metric of success should never be the time to market but always the resulting user experience. Agile is at its best when combined with a clear design strategy embedded. Design should not be an isolated team effort outside of the development team, it should be a big combination of all disciplines working to the same goal. Like Agile, Lean UX encourages short cycles. These cycles consist of design, build and test. Within a thriving Lean environment, designs are shared with the extended team early and often for feedback from all relevant disciplines. No matter what types of development process is being used, collaboration is always key. Even before anything is built or put in front of users, this type of collaboration will help validate the design decisions made as well as unearth any potential ‘blockers‘. This will also help the development team not only understand the immediate challengers they will face but at the ‘bigger picture’ of how things will slot in together further down the road. Hugely important if the team are looking to best practices within their code base. There is a massive potential pitfall of Agile where the holistic view is lost within a short sighted view of an overall solution. You wouldn’t ask a builder to fit a toilet and then a hand rail without knowing how the rest of the house will be built. To most UX professionals, everything I have mentioned so far is pretty much standard stuff. I agree but where Lean UX becomes a little bit clever is the idea of validation and metrics. The question should not just be ‘how can we build this and how long will it take‘ but ‘should we build this and how will we know if it is successful’. Now imagine product requirements for any potential website or application as assumptions and that your designs are a means to test these assumptions. It seems obvious, but what would be the point building something we assume users / the market want but in fact they don’t. This soon becomes a very different way to think about user testing where we can start looking beyond just usability. We can start thinking about experiments to validate our assumptions. At UX Cambridge, Jef spoke about examples of how assumptions can be validated. Sesame Street had looked to break into the tablet market. Given their prestige in the education sector this seem to be an obvious choice to them. Although there were concerns on how best to enter the sector as design and development of these applications are expensive and with no previous experience this could prove a total failure if there was no market for them. The whole project was treated as an assumption. He and his team spent some time observing within school class rooms. Did the teachers have time to interact with a tablet? Did the children have the sufficient skills to operate a tablet? Was there a viable and sustainable market for them? A PDF on a tablet of Sesame Street content were given to both the teachers and children, interviews conducted and a round of card sorting conducted. From all this feedback and validation, a lo-fi clickable PDF prototype was created to validate with the children. This round of assumption validating not only informed Sesame Street that they was right to enter the market, but also which of their content they should provide and some very early prototype testing even before any code or hi-fi designs had been created. All this on minimal cost. In essence, Lean UX embodies not only good UX practices but also a new way of approaching Agile and design. Should we treat development success of how quickly we can get a product to market or should we treat it as a method of delivering better product experiences by a series of user experiments? Surely the user will be the main judge of a products success. I’m not an expert in Lean UX but from what I know already it is something that speaks volumes to me as a designer and collaborator.
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