Lean UX methodologies have quickly taken over the traditional waterfall and deliverables-based practices. Software designers and innovators are commonly using Lean UX practices for design as they have proven to be cost-effective, flexible, faster and customer-centric. The digital market terrain has become fierce and only sustains those who design the best and deliver first. The rest eventually fall out of the race!
What is Lean UX
Lean UX is revolutionizing traditional design processes by integrating agility and lean principles. In simple words, Lean UX techniques focus on designing products by eliminating documentation steps and obtaining feedback at every design phase. This reduces waste and creates a lean process where more is produced in less. One key factor which differentiates Lean UX from traditional deliverables-based techniques is the length of the iterative cycles, which is shortened to reduce the overall completion time.
Jeff Gothelf explains in his award-winning book, Lean UX Book how Lean principles can be used to make a meaningful design by getting customer feedback fast and during the design phase rather than after prototyping. Changes in designs should be implemented as they come, by brainstorming, teamwork and customer interaction.
Why Lean UX
In traditional development models, entire teams of designers would follow a pre-defined design structure and documentation route which would have little-to-no room for adjustments and would focus purely on deliverables. Most of their time would be spent on creating documents and completing design stages for an end-output. This design cycle would not only be time-consuming but would shift the entire project from being value-oriented towards goal-specific.
So why implement such grueling, document-heavy and lengthy design practices when you can go for Lean UX?
Let’s take a look at how the Lean UX design process works:
1. Drawing the concept
Behind any product is an idea or a concept. Teams and designers need to draw and write down their concept of the product. This phase is rather simple yet significant on all fronts. All you need is a pen and paper or even a wireframe would do. The entire purpose of the initial step of Lean UX is to draw out the concept using minimal resources and time but should be based on the minimal existing requirements also known as the MVP (Minimal Viable Product).
The next step in this phase is collecting and implementing feedback from everyone else in the team and relevant personnel. The more ideas you get, the more experimentation you can do with your design and the more polished it will be.
2. Creating a prototype
The prototype is where your work takes its first real form. Unlike traditional deliverable-based practices, you don’t have to spend months developing a software ready for its first interaction with the world. All you need to do or should be doing is creating one or two components of your software design. Pick such components which require interaction with the client. The first showcase is all about getting the first approval and seeing if it actually clicks! There is an abundance of tools you can use for developing the first prototype. These include Adobe, Powerpoint, 3-D printers and so many more. Many software designers use Adobe to create a visible screen structure for clients to see. Remember, the purpose here is to find out if clients like what they see.
3. Validate internally
Once the prototype is complete, show it around to users within your company. Not everyone has to know or see. Collect feedback from people whose input matters the most. This feedback can then be instantly integrated into the design before even moving on to external validation. The key to successfully using internal feedback is by filtering out the unnecessary and making sure all MVPs are met. Everyone may have an opinion about your prototype, but it isn’t your job to take every opinion into account. As a design professional, understand what helps make your prototype better and what’s needed.
4. Test externally
The next step is to get the prototype tested externally. Gather a small sample of users that best represent your target market. The number of users should be no more than 5, as stated by Nielson Norman Group, and begin testing. This stage of prototype testing is far simpler than you think. You can ask users to give comments and feedback individually or even in groups. Any feedback received at this stage can be of tremendous help. It is usually the first interaction with external customers or clients which helps indicate missing features, needed components and overall usability.
Once this feedback has been received, you can go back to discussing with your team and implementing what’s needed. The feedback you have gathered will enable you to understand what consumers are looking for.
But it is important to remember here that testing externally is not the final stage. Once you have re-designed the product, you can test once more or as many times needed until the software reaches the production-ready stage. But, by keeping the iteration cycle as small as possible, the faster you can move ahead with developing the final software. One common factor that exists in all the above-mentioned points is the need for immediate validation and feedback.
Lean = Lazy!
Many argue that the Lean UX process is a rather lazy approach, where designers spend less time working on the actual product and more time iterating. But the truth of the matter is, using a Lean approach gives you more room to be flexible and actually showcases your ideas. Instead of spending hours just documenting what your plans or designs are, you are actually spending a small portion of time, money and resources to create a sketch or prototype. In fact, keeping money and time at a minimal level at every stage of design, you are saving the company a lot more and are able to deliver a lot faster.
Focusing on quality
In typical deliverables-based methodologies, designers would slowly turn into documentation experts and lose touch with their core goals. More attention would be placed on preparing specification documents rather than solving design problems. But with Lean UX, designers can focus on what they do best, design!
Lean UX eliminates the need for excessive documentation and planning, removes waste, shortens design-validation cycles and creates room for more creativity and problem-solving. So keep designing, keep validating!
Lean UX in your business
This will greatly depend on the type of business you are in. Lean UX processes don’t follow a one-for-all approach and can be slightly tweaked to fit well with organizational processes and structures. However, the basic concept of Lean UX still emphasizes upon design, validation, re-design and re-validate.
Whether you are working in a software company, an agency or a freelancer, getting your design validated as quickly as possible in real-time can boost your overall process completion time. At some process levels, especially if you are communicating with clients over Skype, email or other electronic mediums, you may need some level of documentation to support your design ideas. But even then, you the process becomes much faster and value-based.
With Lean UX, designers are back in their zone, creating designs and prototypes using the least amount of resources and time. However, implementing this growing practice and bringing businesses on the road to Lean UX won’t be smooth. Many businesses may require time to break-down deliverables-based cultures and adopt a new approach such as Lean UX. But for those who have quickly accepted the benefits of Lean UX, a rise in design creativity and delivery can be seen. So, bring back design in processes and take lead.