As a seasoned UX designer, I’ve worked with clients in many different types of organizations to envision new products and services or evolve their existing web properties. The most undeniably successful projects—and therefore the best user experiences—to which I’ve contributed were those that allowed for feedback from both client stakeholders and end users early and often in the process.
Too many times, clients and project teams with whom I’ve worked assumed that they didn’t have the time or money to include formal usability testing, so the whole idea of gathering feedback from end users was abandoned. Likewise, many projects only enabled stakeholders to provide feedback on designs once or twice in the process, and usually only after these designs were fully formed. The result in those situations was an overreliance on one person—me—to solve all design problems and control all facets of the solution. While this has certainly been great for my ego, it has not always been great for the user experience.
And my personal project experience, it turns out, is pretty common. That’s why the “Lean UX” approach has gained a major toehold in the world of web development. Lean UX has been building momentum for at least five years, but its rate of adoption has accelerated since Jeff Gothelf, a UX practitioner, published his seminal 2011 article entitled “Lean UX: Getting Out Of the Deliverables Business,” and ultimately, his 2013 book entitled “Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience.”
Inspired by both Lean and Agile development theories, Lean UX basically employs design “sprints” to visualize solutions in just enough fidelity to get the feedback necessary to iterate on them. Like in Agile, the emphasis is on learning while doing, continually focusing and refining ideas through a series of rapid cycles of creation, feedback, and refinement. The UX designer still drives the process and makes the key decisions, but he or she does so with a greater sense of reality provided by regular input from those whom the solution must satisfy.
The key to Lean UX is deemphasizing deliverables in favor of real-time communication. Instead of spending a month in relative isolation to produce an elaborate, comprehensive, high-fidelity wireframe document, the UX designer instead develops wireframes in short, successive bursts, with just enough fidelity to gather feedback. This has the added advantage of enabling developers to assess the technical feasibility of the proposed solution before it goes too far down an unworkable path.
Of course, old habits and approaches are challenging to dislodge. So, while Lean UX has practically taken over in areas like mobile product development, it has still not been fully integrated into many large-scale, enterprise web projects. Part of this is due to the comfort of traditional waterfall specialization when it comes to planning, scheduling, and resourcing. However, the tide is slowly but surely turning, and we plan to be there to help our clients make the transition.
At Celerity, Lean UX aligns well with our overarching emphasis on digital business transformation as well as our commitment to Agile development processes. As we’ve developed long-term relationships with our clients based on trust, they’ve come to rely on us to test their assumptions, evaluate the ways they work, and push them to take some chances. We are confident that, as Lean UX and Agile are embraced by more and more project teams, not only will user experiences improve, but so will the satisfaction of individual team members.