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Chill the fUX out. Lean is here to stay



I’m not one for controversial posts but this has been bugging me for a while.


Thanks to The Lean Startup movement the business community has finally embraced what many user experience design professionals have known for years – that it’s important to speak to your customers (or as they say ‘get out of the building’…), iterate, test and improve your product or service as you go.


And about time too.

In the past we’ve found it can been quite a struggle to get buy-in from senior management or business owners, so anything that helps create that ‘eureka’ moment can only be a good thing. Or so you’d think.

However it seems that many UX professionals are a little chippy about the Lean Startup movement or its derivative Lean UX. We’re all in this to create great products that people love so I don’t see what the issue is. The business community discovering UX through the back door (so to speak) doesn’t mean it’s going to harm UX as a discipline in its own right. The Lean Startup movement talks about ‘customer development’ which, although it has many parallels with UX, isn’t quite the same thing.


Thankfully there are some really inspiring UX people out there that have embraced Lean and have helped to spread the word about this approach. These trailblazers can see the value in a hypothesis-driven approach to design (and not just for startups either). As Jeff Gothelf pointed out at the recent London IA event, “I don’t care how smart you are, every design solution you put out there is a hypothesis.”


It’s not about you anymore.


Lean is about working as a team, collaboratively. Not design by committee, but with the designer facilitating the discussions and driving the vision.


Don’t fight it, feel it.

UX as a discipline seems to have had a bit of an identity crisis in recent years. First it was UCD (user-centred design) then IA (information architecture), then EA (experience architecture, a bit more sexy but still an architect), and now UX design (now we’re talking), to today where it can be whatever you want (digital product design, product innovation, etc). The arrival of Lean UX has been the final straw for some.

It’s too easy to get hung up on a trendy new name – but we should focus on the ethos and desired outcomes and less on the ‘brand’. But ‘we’ve been doing this for years‘ they say, ‘it’s just taken some folks a while to catch up‘. Whilst I’m sure this is true, from my experience there’s only a select few that have been adopting this approach consistently without any ‘fat’. As a small web shop we’ve always had our eyes firmly fixed on the end experience, as we take projects from the idea stage to launch. If you’re only working on a part of the process then your deliverable is the deliverables so it’s easy to see how this has happened.

We don’t have the luxury of teams of UXers, designers and developers. For us, it’s about getting the answers we need in as short a timeframe as possible, learning as we go. We question assumptions, develop low-fi mock-ups, pair design & development together, get the client involved in sketching out possible solutions, personas, business models, etc. Essentially doing the minimum required to get our ideas across (whether to client or customer), in the lowest fidelity necessary.

But it’s all a bit cultish isn’t it?

Obviously any new approach or methodology should be taken with some healthy scepticism. However our experience of lean is a positive one (although no-one said it was easy), but that’s not to say we follow the work of Eric Ries, Steve Blank et al to the letter – far from it. With any process there needs to be some flexiblity and common sense – taking the elements that work best for you within your business. We find it reduces waste, encourages more collaborative working, closer user involvement and, ultimately, helps to create a more relevant and useful product. Part of the reason we set up this blog was to share best practice, our experiences (good and bad) and see how we can all get better at creating great things. No process is a silver bullet, but you sure you can increase your chances of success.

Look forward, not back.

The key takeaways from this approach are:

  1. Design, development and product management should be one team and solve problems collaboratively
  2. Fake it before you bake it with low-fi prototypes (sketching, low-fi wireframes, prototypes, etc)
  3. Think » Make » Check
  4. Focus on solving the right problem
  5. Get out of the building (find a product-market fit)
  6. Recognise hypotheses and validate them

Ultimately though it’s not about the process. It’s still the designer’s responsibility to find the win/win between business goals and user requirements. But by having the rest of the team engaged in the process and part of it there’s less friction and a happier, more collaborative environment where ideas are encouraged by everyone.


As they say there’s no I in UX.


What do you think? Has Lean been a good thing for UX or not. Or does it really matter?



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