What is lean UX?


Lean UX is a strategy that’s captivated the design world. Fast, efficient and collaborative? Sign us up. In this post, we’ll go over what lean UX is and why your team should start adopting its principles.


What is lean UX?


Lean UX is a technique, born out of Toyota’s manufacturing model, that works in alignment with Agile development methods. It aims to reduce waste and provide value. Essentially, lean UX combines the solution-based approach of design thinking with the iteration methods which compound Agile.


Jeff Gothelf, the oft-quoted author of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience, writes:


“Lean UX is about bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way that reduces the emphasis on thorough documentation while increasing the focus on building a shared understanding of the actual product experience being designed.”


Or more simply: think, make, check. It’s that easy and extremely effective.

Lean UX is a way to apply iterative methods to user experience design. It means that you’re validating with your users that you’re designing something that people are going to use.


Why use lean UX?


What lean UX aims to do, at its heart, is to find the quickest ways to achieve an end goal. There are many steps in this process that create fat which causes blockage. Getting things done under a traditional UX design process is a time consuming, waste creating process.


A major advantage of the lean UX process is less waste. Lean UX cuts the fat away. A traditional documentation-based process, like the one above, necessitates sitemaps, flows and diagrams. These are useful but they don’t help in the development of the end product.


Ultimately, there is less focus on deliverables. In fact, there is much need for assumptions in lean UX as a result of this.


Without deliverables, the focus is on how to produce changes to improve the product in the moment. To do that, you need assumptions. It’s these assumptions that help to inform our hypotheses, which we’ll go on to in a moment.


Jeff Gothelf goes on to say that lean UX is collaborative. By bringing designers and non-designers together for co-creation, the yield of ideas is bigger and better than if it were solely done with individual contributors. In this way, everybody gets to design.


As a cross-functional methodology, there is greater accountability and a faster design process, according to Amrita Aviyente.


Since the cycle is short in a lean UX process, it lends itself to efficiency and speed. The focus for lean UX is to ensure a minimum viable product (MVP) goes to market. Create the minimum, get it out, understand the reaction, iterate and so on.


Take PayPal. Their traditional UX design process involved a 30 page spec for a one line copy change and would take 2 months to implement. Read more on that and understand how lean UX builds better products.


When they adopted lean UX, they were able to modernize their process and integrate design, front-end and product management. The result was an experimental environment which builds interactive prototypes that can move into production more seamlessly. How’s that for fast and efficient?


This allows for ongoing experimentation. Lean UX is adaptable and enables designers and developers alike to adjust their plans to respond to quick changes in markets or unforeseen demands.


In summary, lean UX:

  • Removes waste

  • Is collaborative

  • Is fast

  • Is efficient

  • Is user-centered


Eric Ries explains why you’d want to use lean UX methodologies best:


“What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case, what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget?”


How to get started with lean UX


If you’re a designer who wants to bring lean UX to your company


then bravo. You’ve made a good decision. Organizational change is difficult, especially when

processes haven’t changed for a long time.


Laura Klein elucidates well why innovation is so hard at big companies. The crux of it is that even a junior UX designer can be disruptive and change even the most stable of business models.


To champion change you need to:

  • Involve stakeholders early, always and often

  • Make peace with bureaucracy

  • Get budget

  • Find high-level support


As a UX designer, you will be used to change — the very nature of UX is change. If it’s changing the look of a user interface or the navigational flow of a website, change is the name of the game in UX.


Whether the rest of your team is ready for change is another matter. Admittedly, the role of the UX designer is itself evolving and Alexey Ivanov puts it well:


“The role of the UX designer is shifting from merely imagining and executing on solutions to fostering collective creativity and engaging all sorts of professionals in a co-creation process.”

According to Jeff Gothelf, for lean UX to work in an organization the traditional silos have to be broken down. Silos are what farmers use to separate their grain but when it comes to business jargon, it just means departments.


Why do you need to break the silos? It’s because of the silo mentality. That’s where teams and departments are used to keeping their information for themselves, unwilling to share knowledge with other teams.


For example, you might be in an organization that has a design team which includes graphic designers, UX designers, UI designers and art directors. For lean UX to work, this design team needs to be broken down further.


Instead of silos, what is needed are small, sub teams which are self-sufficient. The self-sufficiency is important when it comes to lean UX as relying on other departments can hinder the process and create more waste (which is antithetical to lean UX).


These smaller teams need autonomy. The freedom to solve business problems on their own. If there’s a large chain of command or a one hundred email exchange to get approval, nothing’s ever going to get done.


Autonomy means that these sub-teams have the ability to run experiments without retribution. That doesn’t mean there’s no accountability, of course there is, but as the adage goes: with great power comes great responsibility.


This responsibility involves reporting back to the organization to outline how the work is going and how things are proceeding within the sub- team. This makes working much more efficient.

It might sound a lot like Agile and as we’ve said, they share principles. But the lean UX process is not focused on deliverables in the way that Agile is. New features aren’t always what your users want, after all. Lean UX is evidence-based and it’s focused on learning, experimenting and building on those findings to create better products.


What does the lean UX cycle look like?


The lean UX cycle can be summarized as think, make and check. But what constitutes those 3 different stages?


The thinking stage involves:

  • Generative research

  • Creating assumptions

  • Ideation

  • Mental models

  • Behavior models

  • Test results

  • Competitive analysis


The thinking stage is where you effectively tackle a problem in order to come up with a hypothesis.


You will most likely have a brainstorming session where you’ll state the problem then generate ideas and assumptions. Assumptions are statements which you think are true and help designers to gain an understanding of an idea which will lead to a hypothesis.


Once you have your hypothesis, you can create a user persona. Your user persona will include valuable information such as behavior patterns, goals, attitudes, skills and so on. This forces UX designers to who your user is so that you can design for them.


let’s say our hypothesis is: office workers have busy lives and have a desire to exercise but are unable to schedule properly.

The make stage involves:

  • Prototypes

  • Wireframes

  • Value proposition

  • Landing pages


The make stage is where UX and UI designers create solutions to the hypotheses they created during the think stage. This is where designers transition from abstract thoughts into more specific solutions.

Lean UX in particular really lends itself to prototyping, both low-fidelity and high-fidelity. Since lean UX involves testing multiple hypotheses in a quick time frame, using prototyping tools like Justinmind or even rough paper prototypes allow designers to build upon their hypothesis with minimal effort.


To continue our busy workers analogy, your solution might be: busy office workers would benefit from an application that sends them exercise reminders and map with nearest exercise classes for their budget and time frame.


Then you’d create those solutions using various methods whether it’s a website, mobile app or any other type of product.

The check stage comprises:

  • A/B testing

  • Usability testing

  • Sign-ups

  • Funnel


Checking is simply validating your solutions. It’s taking a step back from the creating and getting out into the field with real people, preferably your users. This stage is where you gauge the validity of your hypotheses and assumptions which can help you when you restart the think, make, check process.


Conclusion


At the end of the day, it’s our goal to provide products to people that they want to use and are easy to use. Lean UX takes us on a route to get there in a way that’s efficient, collaborative and fast. What more could you ask for?


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