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Adam Fard
by Adam Fard, Co-Founder & Lead UX Designer

The Ultimate Guide to Lean UX Design

The Ultimate Guide to Lean UX Design

What exactly is lean UX and how can you implement it in your design protocols? Take a look at this quick overview of lean UX design to learn more.

When designing a product, you often strive to achieve perfection by building a product with advanced features and offerings. As a result, you come up with a detailed concept, concoct a seemingly flawless internal strategy, seek approval from stakeholders, build an accurate prototype, conduct user testing, gather findings AND repeat the whole process until you’re 100% happy to launch.

Sounds like quite the plan, doesn’t it? Well, it is a plan — but one that can be quite obstructive and pretty expensive.

Namely, you might find that rather than perfection, you only end up wasting time and resources on a product that you’re not completely sure users will use. In other words, it’s a demanding process that doesn’t guarantee success.

Now, this is where agile development comes in. As the name suggests, agile development refers to development processes that are quick, sustainable, and flexible. The focus is on understanding where you are now, identifying where you might be going, and adapting to the turbulences of the ever-changing market. For this reason, more and more people are choosing agile methodologies when it comes to UX design.

One such methodology is lean UX design.

What Is Lean UX Design?

Lean UX is a technique that goes hand in hand with agile development methods. Invented as part of Toyota’s manufacturing model to speed up manufacturing, lean UX aims to eliminate waste and maximize value. To do this, lean UX design completely ignores deliverables, focusing instead on generating immediate feedback to make small and continuous changes to the product.

Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience, sums up lean UX nicely:

“Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way that reduces the emphasis on thorough documentation while increasing the focus on building a shared understanding of the actual product experience being designed.”

Essentially, lean UX focuses on creating a product that users will actually need and use. It’s about getting a usable product out there as soon as possible and fine-tuning the pesky details over time via iterative cycles.

Why Use Lean UX Over Traditional UX Methods?

The answer is simple — lean UX design is faster, iterative, more flexible and more efficient, whereas traditional UX methods are longer, less iterative and flexible, and involve a greater financial risk.

“If you add a great user experience to a product no one wants — they will just realize faster that they don’t want it.” 
— Eric Ries

Lean UX is an agile method that surrounds three main concepts: think, make, check. This method requires you to come up with assumptions and hypotheses, create a design based on your hypotheses, and finally prove your hypothesis right or wrong by collecting immediate feedback. It focuses on rapid solutions and iterative cycles, while promising a seamless design process.

Traditional UX methods, on the other hand, use a waterfall development model. This method is a lot slower than agile methods, which hinder the design process substantially. Briefly, the waterfall model in action looks something like this:

Conception > Initiation > Analysis > Design > Construction > Testing > Deployment

As you can see, in order for one phase to occur, the previous phase must be completed first. All progress is dependent on other factors and flows in one direction, covering various stages of the design process.

In contrast, lean UX has a shorter conception to deployment sequence and all the phases and their time of occurence are not strictly dependent on one another. Specifically, they are far more iterative and flexible to order and change:

Conception <> Initiation <> Analysis <> Design <> Construction <> Testing <> Deployment

Consequently, lean UX promises to be time-effective, cost-efficient, user-centered, and data driven. These benefits alone are worth opting for a lean UX approach instead of a traditional waterfall one.

How to Navigate Through the Lean UX Design Process

As mentioned earlier, lean UX design is powered by three main concepts: think, make, and check.

1. Think

The thinking stage refers to making assumptions — and later hypotheses — about your product. Assumptions are usually born in workshop sessions that involve the whole team. Processes of the thinking phase include:

  • Competitive analysis

  • Stakeholder interviews

  • Brainstorming

  • Ideation

  • Storyboards

  • Mood boards

  • Value proposition

  • Generative research

The aim of the thinking stage is to identify problems and discuss solution pathways. Focus on the “why” and not the “how” to generate assumptions about your product.

Once you have your assumptions ready, it’s time to create a hypothesis. The goal of a hypothesis is to validate your assumptions.

Generally, hypothesis statements follow a specific format that features an assumption, a user group, a desired outcome, and a solution. For instance, take a look at the following assumption:

Conversion rates are low because users cannot successfully identify the call-to-action button.

And here is a possible hypothesis based on this assumption:

We believe that conversion rates will increase by 20% (business outcome) if new customers (user group) successfully identify a larger call-to-action button (solution).

2. Make

As soon as you have a hypothesis you can move on to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is a basic product that has just the right amount of features to appease early users and enough to provide feedback for further development. Here are some ways to make an MVP:

  • Prototype

  • Wireframe

  • Landing page

  • Sketches

  • Mockups

And the best part is that you don’t have to go over the top to create an MVP. Creating a simple landing page for a nonexistent product will suffice to draw interest and gauge feedback. This is enough to set the iterative cycle in motion.

3. Check

The final stage of the lean UX cycle is the checking phase. Here, you check your MVP with your users and validate or invalidate your hypotheses.

To check — or test — your hypothesis you will need to carry out:

  • A/B testing

  • User testing

  • Analytics review

  • Heat mapping

  • Scroll mapping

Take the feedback you receive at this stage and use it to start the iterative cycle again.

Lean UX: The Bottom Line

Lean UX design goes to show that slow and steady doesn’t always win the race. In fact, being fast and observant can be just enough a winning combination, too. Moreover, lean UX design proves that receiving real-time feedback from users is more important than gathering the comprehensive documentation required in traditional UX methods.

Follow the lean UX design process and develop a product that listens to the needs and expectations of users — all the while saving on time, money, and resources. Aim to create less waste and enjoy more value. It’s a smarter choice for smarter solutions.

Further Readings

Adam Fard

Adam Fard . Founder

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