London IA February 2012


At London IA last week the topic of the evening was Lean UX. Jeff Gothelf kicked things off with a presentation about getting out of the deliverables business and afterwards there was a panel discussion with Jeff Gothelf, James O’Brien, Johanna Kollmann, Leisa Reichelt and Mark Plant during which the audience asked questions about Lean UX.

Jeff Gothelf: Lean UX – Getting Out of the Deliverables Business

In brief, the goal of Lean UX is to bring the experience being designed to light much sooner without getting too focused on the deliverables. Designers and developers collaborate from the start to build a shared understanding. The iterative approach means that quality continually improves as you validate your design hypotheses and refine based on feedback.

Jeff shared his five practical tips for implementing Lean UX:

  1. Solve the problem together – One of the key aspects of Lean UX is that the team builds a shared understanding of the project early on. Everyone involved is engaged in the process which in turn creates buy in and momentum.
  2. Sketch – Putting pen to paper (or whatever you have to hand) helps develop a shared understanding and is a good way to iterate designs. People feel more able to make alterations to a sketch as they are seen as less precious than polished wireframes and are therefore much more malleable and open.
  3. Prototype – Get the experience out into the open as soon as possible and test your prototypes with real users.
  4. Pair up and get cross functionality within your team – Co-working means that developers can start building prototypes from sketches straightaway and they can give immediate feedback on what is and is not achievable without having to wait for a detailed spec which leaves the designers to get on with designing. Pairing sets designers free and empowers developers.
  5. Create a style guide early on that evolves as the project does – Put it on a wiki or on the wall for all to see so that it can’t be ignored and forgotten. Back it up with code snippets and assets to build up a library.

During the panel discussion Joanna said that when collaborating time should still be allocated for personal reflection. I certainly agree with this. Co-working can be hard and it is important to have some time alone to think and to formulate ideas.

I often feel under pressure to deliver the right solution, the first time. But there are always options and I’m not always sure which is best. A project evolves so much during design and having to decide everything upfront before moving into build can hinder the design process as it doesn’t allow room for manoeuvre. The time and effort it takes to produce beautifully annotated wireframes and sitemaps for hefty spec documents could be better spent on iterating prototypes of the actual product. In light of this we should be asking ‘What do we need to define now in order to get a prototype built and tested with real users’?

As Jeff rightly said, no matter how smart you are, every design solution you put out there is a hypothesis. He also said that as designers we are in the problem solving business but we don’t solve problems with design documentation, we solve them with elegant, efficient and sophisticated software. The true value of design is in the experience that we create.

You can check out Jeff’s presentation for yourself on Slideshare. I highly recommend it!

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