LeanUX, An Emerging Agile Design Innovation

Fresh ideas sign in the sky

Over the last year Gear Stream’s larger clients have increasingly sought to learn and apply methods to business and software innovation that are more commonly found in scrappy, modern, software start-ups.  The latest trend emerging from the software start-up community is LeanUX.  In this and future articles I’ll be exploring the key concepts behind LeanUX and their potential application to those doing software and innovation work in larger companies.

First, let’s remind ourselves that for Internet startups, the name of the game is speed of adoption: to get to the market quickly, with a product that users agree to engage deeply with. Once you have your entrenched base, you can begin to tap into network effects, and make your growth curve steeper.

In the pursuit of improving the rate and speed of user adoption, savvy startups are fostering new ways of more iteratively and quickly applying UX design to fast moving software projects.  “Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of our work to light faster, with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed,” says writer and designer Jeff Gothelf. Here are some of the key principles that the LeanUX movement is founded upon:

1. Get to Users Quickly. Outside of the LeanUX movement, it is common to see companies spend immensely on research and product development before bringing the offering to users. With LeanUX, though, the idea is to get something in front of users as quickly as possible, so that user feedback can be obtained. Once user feedback is in hand, the UX team has the opportunity to better understand how the product is being used, and thus what changes are needed to yield a better user experience.

2. Implement Feedback Loops. Implicit in the concept of getting to users quickly is the idea of feedback loops — meaning a way to quickly get authentic, meaningful feedback from end users, implement this feedback to revise the offering, and repeat this process. According to author and Internet entrepreneur Eric Ries, feedback loops are at the heart of decision-making in lean processes. “Always choose the option that minimizes the total time through the feedback loop,” says Ries. UX teams that plan feedback loops into their design process will be better positioned to make design changes based on real user cases.

3. Leverage External Assets. The idea of using external assets– meaning that which is external to your organization — is also a critical component of the LeanUX movement. Using open source software, for instance, as a foundation for developing products and services can help both interface designers and software developers alike build off a foundation that has had some user feedback and work put into it already — thus enabling getting into the hands of end users and developing feedback loops accordingly, which is the keystone of the LeanUX methodology. A prime example of this is the strategy used by Amazon.com with its line of tablets; Amazon’s tablets are built atop a forked version of the open source elements of Google’s Android software. This strategy has enabled the firm to quickly get a product to market, and will enable Amazon’s UX team to iterate faster based on customer feedback as well.

With open source, cloud, and mobile computing now well established, there are countless new opportunities for companies to imagine and create new products and services.  This new frontier however will be won by those who are the most effective at mastering the art and science of human centered design while moving at the speed of light.  To do this well, companies should plan to explore the exciting ideas emerging from LeanUX community.

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