LEAN UX – trend or solid opportunity for improvement?

Lean UX is not a trend, but really something substantial. Lean UX is an important approach originating from software development to enable truly user-centered work. Why this is the case is explained in this article.

Lean UX is definitely more than just a trend. Anyone who has not yet dealt with Lean UX should definitely catch up.

WHAT DOES LEAN MEAN ANYWAY?

Before we talk about Lean UX, we should first determine the origin of the word. The term “lean” comes from English and translates to “thin or slim”. The Lean method is about designing processes and workflows as lean as possible, but not(!) thin. So, it’s not about making the least effort, being cheaper, and putting in less effort. With the Lean method, the goal is to do the right and beneficial thing for the customer with the right resources in use. This is done with the right quality and in the appropriate time. LEAN means dealing respectfully with everyone involved in the system, including the customer, employees, suppliers, the environment, etc. We apply this principle to the UX design process. This is then referred to as Lean UX.

LEAN UX: JUST ANOTHER TREND?

TLDR: Lean UX is not a trend, but really something substantial. Lean UX is an important approach originating from software development to enable truly user-centered work.

A LOOK INTO THE HISTORY OF SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

To explain why Lean UX is not just any trend, we need to dig a bit deeper: We are in the 60s and 70s. The first mainframe computers emerged. Companies began using computers for more and more functions. It seemed that every industry could benefit from this new technology. The spread of computers led to many new applications. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to operate within reasonable budgets and deliver proper code. The software sector had to evolve. The management method “Software Development Life Cycle” (SDLC) made the most significant contribution to this. The SDLC standardized the process and enabled the development of large applications by breaking the process into individual phases. So far so good, or not, because the SDLC did not consider the needs of the actual user. The software was presented to them, and they had to deal with it.
Fast forward a bit: We are in the year 2010. Almost everyone owns a computer and a smartphone. Within 50 years, the number of end-users increased from a few hundred to several million. Applications that were not user-friendly were simply ignored. There were plenty of alternatives. Well-known companies like Blackberry (RIM), Palm, and Nokia had to fear for their existence and were partly acquired. The SDLC was replaced by the waterfall model. This model took over the phases of the SDLC method and supplemented them with an initial requirement definition. These requirements came from business analysts and experts in their respective fields and were henceforth at the center of the development process. The user was now at least considered. However, this only happened in the initial requirement definition. This process was far from optimal. Many developers noticed this and turned their backs on the waterfall model, turning en masse to agile approaches. But even agile methods like Scrum and XP, which try to involve the user in the development process, ultimately could not ensure proper integration.

OLD UX METHODS

The tasks were clearly defined in the past: The UX team took control and led from the conception phase to the finished design. This was then handed over to the development team along with control and responsibility. The advantage of this method was that the developers implemented exactly what the UX designer had in mind. They provided precise documentation and clean specifications with which the developers knew exactly what to do. However, this aspect is not desirable in the agile process. At the beginning of the process, the final result is not yet known. The agile approach thrives on very rapid iterations to achieve the best possible result.

LEAN UX: THE REVAMP

How can UX and agility be reconciled? The answer is Lean UX. In the Lean UX environment, it’s essentially about taking the best components of current UX methodology and rebuilding and adapting them for the agile world. The first thing to be sacrificed are rigid project goals and the belief that a single design solution is sufficient for the entire project. Lean UX also mainly focuses on reduction: Away with the need to exchange tons of documentation between UX and development teams. No more handover contracts between departments. Instead, Lean UX works on team collaboration. The Lean UX methods involve the entire team and benefit from continuous discussion. The team grows together as such. During the development phase, live usability tests are conducted with prototypes. As soon as something interesting happens in the test, the team is called together to look at it together. Real-time user research is a component of the Lean UX process.
And now the best part: Lean UX relies on existing usability and design methods. So there’s no further hurdle why one should not opt for Lean UX.

THE 8 FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF LEAN UX

The fundamental principles of Lean UX coincide in many ways with those of Lean Startup and agile software development. Lean UX is not a framework but a mindset that must be anchored throughout the company. Lean UX, as mentioned above, is a collection of known, proven usability and UX methods that are carried out iteratively and without much documentation effort in the ongoing agile project to quickly gather information about the current status.

  • User-centered approach
  • Interdisciplinary teams
  • Minimizing waste
  • Small work packages
  • Constant testing and learning
  • Learning before growth
  • Failures are allowed
  • Doing instead of analyzing

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