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Ask DN: What is your opinion on Lean UX?

over 5 years ago from , UX Lead and Corporate Entrepreneur @ Danske Bank MobileLife

Hi DN!

I'm soon starting my thesis in the IXD/UX area and as a subject I'm thinking about looking closer at one of the more popular methods in design lately: Lean UX.

My starter hypothesis is, that it is a bit too simple and "business" oriented to actually provide the best foundation for design. So I'm going to analyze Lean UX using existing academic articles and approaches to Design Thinking, HCI, Interaction Design and Experience Design to try to (maybe) improve on the method.

But my questions to you are: Is Lean UX something you've tried and did it work out in practise? Have some of you chosen not to use Lean UX and what was the reason? Any other general opinion about the method?

Thank you!

19 comments

  • Sacha GreifSacha Greif, over 5 years ago

    My opinion: those are all empty buzzwords who have nothing to do with the actual day-to-day work of a designer, and are used to make simple concepts seem fancier than they really are in order to justify people's salaries.

    Hey, you're the one who asked…

    17 points
    • Bjarke Daugaard, over 5 years ago

      Haha Sacha, well there is definitely some truth to those words. But I guess that makes it even more important for future UX/service design methods to reflect the actual day-to-day design work.

      0 points
    • Nathan NNathan N, over 5 years ago

      You could say that about nearly any terminology in design/development.

      0 points
  • Malte NuhnMalte Nuhn, over 5 years ago (edited over 5 years ago )

    In my view it's a straw man for a thesis to aim at, because it's not intended to be a foundation - it's a process. In other words, you can "weave in" all the foundational knowledge (HCI, DT, ID, ED etc). It's also no substitute for creativity and innovation.

    The point of the Lean UX process is to keep the potential user at the centre the whole time, to keep validating that the designs you build on top of your foundational knowledge actually work for your target user.

    To answer your question: We (Kami) are using this. When we don't (convenience, "moving fast" etc), we tend to fail.

    Once you get beyond the buzzwordiness of it, it's a wonderful thing, simply because it forces you to never move too far from the user, and get too comfortable in your own ideas. But it's not an excuse for not thinking, planning, or designing.

    That said, I like the thesis area. As a practitioner, things I'd find really valuable to have some scientific research on are... - How to negotiate usability and feature trade-offs? Especially at exploratory stages of a product? - There are no good theoretical frameworks for "user persistence" - i.e. how users train themselves to understand UIs over time. So often "usable" has come to mean "intuitively usable" - which has its own limitations. But in what situations, and how much, do users train themselves on new interfaces? - The role of visual (non-functional) design in usability. In my experience, users seem to have more "patience" / forgiveness for poor UX for products that "look good". Is that actually the case? how much? for whom? implications for UX thinking?

    4 points
  • Mike BulajewskiMike Bulajewski, over 5 years ago

    Lean and other agile practices were created to solve a specific problem: software projects are delivered late and over budget, and requirements have changed. The solution is to increase efficiency and adapt more quickly to changes.

    Design cares about a different problem: products are poorly matched to user needs and contexts. The solution is various methods for a) grounding the design process in knowledge about users and b) evaluating the suitability of the product for users.

    These are distinct goals, and trying to solve both problems at once creates competing priorities for an organization. They do have one thing in common: the importance of iteration. But Lean is poorly adapted to addressing the design problem because it doesn't include reliable need discovery or evaluation methods, and in fact recommends unreliable evaluation methods like reviewing prototypes with non-users like the software development team.

    Lean makes up for the lack of reliable methods by increasing the speed of iteration, which may or may not work. If you build a table with unreliable and uncalibrated measuring tools, you might be able to make it work by cutting and recutting your materials until you find a combination that fits together. Or you could just calibrate your tools.

    4 points
  • Nathan NNathan N, over 5 years ago

    Here's my perspective as a fellow IXD grad student:

    Lean UX is a good topic but you may find that it's too narrow as you move forward with your research. If I were you I would zoom out and look at design methodologies in general and work your way back down providing analyses and contrasting different methods as you go. This alone could be enough to fill the literature review portion of your essay.

    As a pointer when reading academic papers on design thinking and methods look to the discussion section where the author will often suggest areas where there is room for contribution.

    Regarding your thesis statement:

    Lean UX is a bit too simple and "business" oriented to actually provide the best foundation for design.

    I'd be careful about boxing yourself in right off the bat. Lean UX is a process which focuses on the iteration of an MVP by contrast Waterfall is a process which focuses on comprehensive deliverables and assembly line production. The point of Lean UX is to get a product out of the gate, not lay the best foundation but rather any foundation. It's almost like you're stating the obvious in a way.

    3 points
    • Bjarke Daugaard, over 5 years ago

      Thank you Nathan. Some good points and I think you are right on the money with the idea of starting broad and then narrowing in on a relevant subject. I know I was somehow stating the obvious, and having read through a tremendous amount of agile/lean vs. waterfall articles I cannot help to think there are a lot of room for improvement out there. As someone with a background in the more explorative parts of IXD (phenomenology, critical design etc.) I believe there are still a long way from the utopian "ideal design" and the way UX is handled in the business world.

      0 points
  • Sjors TimmerSjors Timmer, over 5 years ago

    I wrote a review once of a presentation and follow up discussion of Lean and Agile UX: http://notura.com/2012/02/jeff-gothelf-at-london-ia-february-2012/

    What lean UX brings is indeed a business framing of why you need to speak to your customers/users as much as you can. For most designers any fancy name that gives them more opportunities to speak and test things with people is seen as progress.

    1 point
    • Bjarke Daugaard, over 5 years ago (edited over 5 years ago )

      Thank you Sjors. I read through your notes and there are some very interesting points to look further into.

      1 point
  • Lucas ColussoLucas Colusso, over 5 years ago

    My thought on this is it is easier said than done. Is more of an organizational issue for companies than a design process problem. I've had extreme difficulty trying to show the value of introducing UX methods or Lean UX at every company or team I've worked with. My feeling is that if it is not something present since early stages, it is really hard to apply. It depends more of the groups culture than anything else. And changing a established design culture is also hard because people don't like to leave their comfort zones.

    1 point
  • barry saundersbarry saunders, over 5 years ago

    The 'start early, talk to customers, develop and test hypotheses' stuff is great. Does seem to be used as an excuse to cut budgets, rush timelines and release half-baked products, though.

    1 point
  • Vince MeaseVince Mease, over 5 years ago

    If it's too "business" oriented maybe you should plan on doing something other than working in a value driven enterprise (profitable, non-profit, startup, enterprise, etc) after graduation?

    If your design doesn't drive the business forward, if your design process doesn't get more efficient over time, who cares?

    0 points
  • Jan DJan D, over 5 years ago

    »not lay the best foundation but rather any foundation« is a very good point in my eyes. What is considered a great methods theoretically is rarely applied this way by designers in the industry. Not because they ›don’t get it‹ but because many methodologies are too complex, require complex philosophical frameworks and don’t consider the thight coupling between designing and evaluating. (Readings: Nigel Cross "Design Thinking", Rogers "New Theories in HCI") Lean considers some of these real-world problems and seems like a decent method for UX in non-academic environments.

    0 points
  • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, over 5 years ago

    Answering the questions:

    Is Lean UX something you've tried and did it work out in practise?

    Yes, and yes.

    Have some of you chosen not to use Lean UX and what was the reason?

    I don't use the approach all of the time, because some clients aren't set up in a way that they can use it effectively. Sometimes it's a culture issue. Sometimes it's a technical one. Usually it's a combination of the two.

    Any other general opinion about the method?

    It's running through the usual hype cycle at the moment. This means there are a lot of common misconceptions about what it's about and how it works. This is going to make your research job harder.


    Meta comment on the research:

    You said:

    My starter hypothesis is, that it is a bit too simple and "business" oriented to actually provide the best foundation for design

    You know how in user interviewing and user research we talk about not assuming the answer or asking leading questions… guess what this is…

    So I'm going to analyze Lean UX using existing academic articles and approaches to Design Thinking, HCI, Interaction Design and Experience Design to try to (maybe) improve on the method.

    Looking at academic articles isn't going to be terribly useful to you as a starting point. Because Lean UX, and many of the precursor practices and methods that led into Lean UX, didn't come from the academic world. They came from the practitioner world. Janice Fraser coined the term in 2010. Jeff & Josh's book popularised it in 2013. There's just not been time for much academic work on the subject. And, to be honest, a bunch of the work that I have seen has been pretty poor.

    If you want to understand how it works, and how people are applying it, you need to be talking to practitioners.

    0 points
    • Bjarke Daugaard, over 5 years ago

      You know how in user interviewing and user research we talk about not assuming the answer or asking leading questions… guess what this is…

      Haha, that was NOT my research question, just the first thought that popped up after reading some articles about the subject :) Should have rephrased that.

      But thank you for your comments. The thing about the area being unexplored academically is correct but there are so much material about Experience Design and HCI and a lot of methodologies to compare it with.

      0 points
      • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, over 5 years ago

        But thank you for your comments. The thing about the area being unexplored academically is correct but there are so much material about Experience Design and HCI and a lot of methodologies to compare it with.

        But without understanding what you are comparing them with, how do you do it well?

        Having worked in both academia and industry over the years the disconnect between the academic view of how UX is practiced — Lean UX or otherwise — is often pretty extreme.

        A literature review may well be a useful first step, but it's really not going to get you much insight into how and why the lean ux practices evolved, and why they're practiced. For that you're going to have to go talk to practitioners. Both those using "normal" and Lean UX approaches.

        0 points
    • Sjors TimmerSjors Timmer, over 5 years ago

      Which reminds me, there's a very interesting short book based on ethnographic research in an architecture firm: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9064507147/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=sjortimm-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=9064507147

      I used it as a foundation for a talk I once did: http://notura.com/2012/02/rem-koolhaas-designing-the-design-process/

      1 point
  • Ryan Martin, over 5 years ago

    We adopted a lean methodology when it came to Product Discovery/ Exploration.

    We work with a number of companies that traditionally aren't human centred. So using lean gave us a chance to start incorporating Human Centered design very early on.

    Lean also emphasises speed to market and testing which is appropriate for the type of work we take on.

    It's not for everyone - but for a new product it can be very beneficial in risk reduction for risk averse companies.

    Yes I've tried it, yes it worked. Yes sometimes it feels too lean.

    We now create a UX strategy based on time, budget and project - if lean is appropriate, we use it.

    Every project requires a different approach it's important that your team and clients are aware of that.

    0 points
  • Bjarke Daugaard, over 5 years ago

    EDIT: Of course this is not part of my thesis work, I am simply trying to gain an understanding of whether my starter hypothesis is somehow correct and if I should move further with the subject.

    0 points