Session Notes: Lean UX @ BostonPHP

Presented by: Jeff Gothelf, the Ladders

Principal at Proof, @jboogie,

Lean UX is one solution to the Agile problem

  • Focus on delivery, not deliverables (build SOMETHING)
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Lean Startup

  • Every startup is a grand experiment that attempts to answer a question: not “CAN I build it,” but “SHOULD I build it?”
  • How do you spend the least amount of time designing/building the wrong thing?
  • Steps:
    • Formulate concept and create minimum level of fidelity to communicate and validate
    • Validate internally: stakeholders, developers, other designers, etc.
    • Prototype: get something out quickly so you can get it in front of customers or proxy customers
    • Test externally: get someone in front of your prototype and see what happens; is it usable? Is it USEFUL?
    • Learn from user behavior
    • Iterate
  • Designers need to step from behind their monitors and show early work much earlier and more often

First five things you need to do in order to make Lean UX happen:

  • Solve the problem together; don’t implement someone else’s solution
    • Bring the team you’re working with further into the process
    • Involve them in ideation and problem solving
    • Build shared understanding, which relieves the focus on deliverables
    • Let people know why certain decisions are being made
    • There’s no reason a developer can’t contribute to the design phase of a product and vice versa
  • Sketch
    • Remember, you’re not DRAWING; you’re sketching ideas together
    • If you can draw a circle, a square and a triangle, you can draw every interface that exists.
    • Work together on sketching and iterating, then work in parallel to build the thing
    • By working together, you don’t need to document things because you’ve already talked about it
  • Prototyping
    • Get your experience out, not the document
    • Validate hypothesis
    • What is the fastest way to get something into peoples’ hands that helps communicate the concept and its usefulness?
      • Axure
      • Straight into code
      • Other prototyping frameworks
  • Pair up cross-functionally
    • designer with developer
    • builds a common language and trust between the pair
    • makes the team more efficient
    • “design in the browser”
    • helps develop working code really quickly
  • Style guides are ESSENTIAL
    • could also be pattern or component libraries
    • make it a living document
    • make accessible to the entire team
    • button styles and logic
    • color palettes
    • default values for drop down menus
    • add code assets where applicable
    • helps the team put things together more quickly over time; assets can be grabbed and “dropped in” to a prototype
  • Critique early and often on designs that don’t feel “finished”
    • Designers have trained their clients to believe that the first thing they see will always be beautiful and “right”
    • NOBODY gets it right the first time, and nobody else is expected to.
    • It’s about getting concepts out early, and moving towards the “right” solution based on validated learning
  • It’s not the “Spec” that gives control
    • Lead with conversation, trail with documentation
    • designers are there to lead and facilitate the design process
  • Keep everyone moving forward
    • Provide team members with insight into the design process
    • Build momentum and engagement
    • Build shared understanding

How to manage quality vs. speed

  • “Speed first, aesthetics second” — Jason Fried, 37Signals
  • “It’s not iterative if you only do it once”
  • Iterations mean quality continually improves.
  • Move from minimally viable (simply works) to minimally desirable (works well, looks good, people want it)
  • Once you’ve validated your concepts, demo to the team
    • get them started building on a parallel path while you work on exception cases

Everything you put out into the world is a hypothesis. Your goal is to validate that hypothesis as quickly as possible and learn from the results.

  • Lean UX builds user testing into every sprint cycle
  • Don’t build things that people don’t want
  • Use data to settle subjective issues
    • A/B testing
    • Qualitative testing (user testing, etc.)
    • Use qualitative data to find out what people prefer; use A/B testing to validate that they prefer it.
  • Fill in the gaps through shared understanding
    • the more you talk about it, the better people understand why decisions were made, and more easily they can put the pieces together.
    • allows for estimation and prioritization within the flow of the building the project
  • Form factor is ultimately irrelevant
    • Many ways to test hypothesis
    • Testing doesn’t have to be expensive

Lean UX is NOT

  • Lazy. You still have to work hard, perhaps even more than what you did before
    • Collaboration level is significantly increased
    • What’s being removed is the WASTE that comes from the traditional UX process
    • Using the right tool at the right time
  • Design by committee
    • Yes, you’re involving other people, but it’s the DESIGNER’s job to synthesize that info into a concrete design

Getting started: in-house

  • Start small on an internal project
  • Ask for forgiveness
  • As you build camaraderie and start seeing results, others will start to notice and build interest
  • You are in the business of solving problems; you don’t solve problems with design documentation

Getting started: startups

  • This is the way to go, particularly in B2C

Getting started: interactive services/agency world

  • It’s a tougher sell, because agencies are in the deliverables business.
  • Give your clients the power. They like that.
    • Concept
    • Validate with client
    • Iterate
    • Validate with client
    • Prototype
    • Learn from user behavior
  • Can you get to the clients’ customers, or a similar proxy?
  • Gives clients the ability to see their “fingerprints” in the work; increases ownership.
  • Prevents “seagull management” — “swoop in and poop on it” — they can’t blame the agency anymore
  • Builds a more collaborative, less adversarial, relationship with clients

Getting started: Consultants

  • Consultants are mini-agencies

Distributed teams


  • With content heavy experiences, some up front planning is necessary
    • Must understand what those content blocks will be, where they come from, and what they’ll contain
  • Highly experiential consumer sites may suffer under lean; hard to gauge experience with a usability test
  • Letting people into the design process makes them realize that design is HARD
  • Designers must evolve in order to stay relevant


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