Agile UX, HCD, UCD, design thinking, Lean UX … These are all different approaches to user experience (UX) design, and you’re probably thinking, “What do they even mean?”
Even if you’re already a UX designer, some of these approaches to UX design might be totally new to you. On top of that, people will likely tweak these approaches in years to come, becoming something to keep up with and learn.
But learning as many UX design approaches as you can is great – it gives you more tools and perspectives to tackle design challenges throughout your career. So, in this guide, we’ll be starting with Lean UX.
Much of the information in this guide comes from the seminal book on the topic – Lean UX: Designing Great Products With Agile Teams by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. If you’re after a thorough deep-dive on the subject, that’s the book to pick up. However, if you’re looking for an overview, you’re in the right place. Read on.
What is the Lean UX approach?
According to the masters, Jeff and Josh, Lean UX models itself on Lean Startup principles:
Remove waste in the process.
Harmonize teams to create cross-functional collaboration.
Adopt a model based on experimentation instead of a single point-of-view solution.
From a UX perspective, the “Lean” approach makes sure that, during the product development process, the team “only creates the design artifacts we need to move the team’s learning forward.”
Jeff and Josh developed these principles on the foundations of design thinking and agile development philosophies, and it specifically benefits software development. So, if you’re already aware of these approaches, then great! You’ve got a head start.
Otherwise, the basic summary is that these foundations infuse the Lean UX approach with both the collaboration and systems-forward thinking from design thinking and the short-and-quick delivery cycles from agile development frameworks.
With that in mind, they define Lean UX as:
“Inspired by Lean Startup and Agile Development, it’s the practice of bringing the true nature of a product to light faster, in a collaborative, cross-functional way.
We work to build a shared understanding of the customer, their needs, our proposed solutions, and our definition of success.
We prioritize learning over delivery to build evidence for our decisions.”
How is Lean UX different from traditional UX?
Traditional UX design focuses on deliverables, but with Lean UX, the focus is on learning and feedback.
The difference in these two mindsets means the Lean UX process is much quicker. It goes through lots of mockups and prototype iterations in a short space of time to get user feedback as early as possible.
Whereas with traditional UX, since the methodology focuses on the result, a long time can pass in the UX research phase before designs even start. As a result, it’s easy for traditional UX teams to become silos.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that traditional UX design is bad. It just means there’s a time and place for it – always examine the users’ needs to determine which approach is the best.
What are the benefits of Lean UX?
The idea of learning and feedback being a core focus of Lean UX means, by definition, that these teams use continuous product discovery. This approach means Lean UX teams “discover their product at the same time they are delivering it,” which means Lean UX offers the following benefits:
Since it helps you learn continuously and quickly, you know how well your product is serving your customers at any given point.
You end up raising your customers’ expectations of product quality and response times to their issues and feedback.
It helps build customer opinions into the design process, a vital tenet of a user-centered approach like Lean UX.
It helps your team avoid the “curse of knowledge” with a continuous feedback loop.
It improves your product’s usability and functionality, making it more accessible, desirable, and valuable.
These benefits also have the side effect of making it easier for your product to stand out against competitors in your market – especially in the software industry. Standing out means better products and business outcomes as you develop a loyal customer base.
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The goals and principles of Lean UX design
The main goal of Lean UX is learning and feedback through continuous product discovery to benefit users. As such, users/customers are the most important stakeholders in the whole process.
Lean UX supports this overarching goal with a set of principles that act as foundational pillars. In the Lean UX book, Jeff and Josh organize the Lean UX principles into three categories: team organization, process, and culture.
The way Lean UX teams are organized is critical for the success of the method. As such, principles around team organization include:
The entire team must be cross-functional.
Teams must be small, dedicated, and colocated.
Teams are self-sufficient and empowered.
Team need to be problem-focused.
These principles, especially when it comes to digital product development, mean Lean UX teams get to have diverse perspectives and weigh in on creative solutions without the need for external dependencies. It also means team members can optimize their processes for maximum efficiency quickly, leading to speedy product delivery.
Other than the organizational principles, a broader set of cultural principles also guide the team:
Moving from doubt to certainty.
Outcomes, not output.
No rock stars, gurus, or ninjas.
Permission to fail.
Lean UX is a collaborative design-based process, and it uses the above principles to design systems that work to help the team move from positions of doubt (assumptions) to certainty (validation).
Through this process, teams can conduct user research based on outcomes that meaningfully change consumer behavior without wasting time and effort, as well as doing so as a creative team willing to experiment, fail, and learn from experience.
Finally, Lean UX wouldn’t be as helpful as it is without the principles guiding its processes, which are:
Work in small batches to mitigate risk.
GOOB (which stands for “getting out of the building”), a concept that emphasizes spending time with users and exploring the market to grasp user needs.
Making over analysis.
Getting out of the deliverables mindset.
These process-based principles help Lean UX teams do precisely what they’re supposed to do – build, measure, and learn. Working with small batches in small groups means that if an underlying assumption is wrong, you don’t need to start the whole project again from scratch, which also feeds into the remaining principles.
It’s worth mentioning that Lean UX doesn’t penalize or despise user testing – in fact, you’re probably going to end up with more user testing in Lean UX than you would traditionally. Lean UX simply advocates for building solutions in a continuous loop alongside usability testing.
The Lean UX design process
Now that you know all about the supporting principles, let’s dive into the practical elements of how Lean UX works. The continuous product discovery loop that drives Lean UX is organized into three main stages: outcomes, assumptions, and the hypothesis statement; product design and building an MVP; and research and learning.
Outcomes, assumptions, hypotheses
The first part of any UX process is defining the assumptions your team is starting with. Remember, assumptions are statements your team might make about a product without having the evidence to confirm them as fact. As you declare your assumptions, you need to determine whether they’re valid as quickly and cheaply as possible. In Lean UX environments, there are four common assumptions:
Business outcomes (success metrics)
Users (often modeled as personas)
User outcomes (e.g. solving pain points)
Features (product changes, additions, or improvements)
Once you’ve declared your assumptions, they provide a place to start where you can create and test hypotheses or test against problem statements. Your hypothesis unites everyone from product managers to UX researchers with a common starting point, then leads your team towards a product design and building a product ASAP.
Designing and building a minimum viable product (MVP)
To borrow another identical acronym, the MVP is the most valuable player (see what we did there) of Lean UX. Starting with your hypothesis statement, you build the most basic version of your proposed solutions to test them against your hypothesis.
MVPs are usually simple but still interactive, and function basically as intended. They’re based on low-fidelity prototypes, which means they don’t create too much of a negative impact if the idea fails.
If the MVP shows valuable results, you can confidently move forward with further development and prototype testing.
If your results are neither good nor bad, you can iterate around the original idea in your wireframe designs, for example, and try again.
If the results provided zero value, then you know you can abandon the idea and build a new one.
This is why the principle of “permission to fail” in your team’s culture is so important. No single person’s ideas get priority, since you can test them all and see what the evidence suggests is the best approach to take forward, proving the hypothesis.
Research and learning
While some “quick and dirty” user testing happens with MVP development, moving forward with an MVP that shows promise means doing a little extra. The research and learning phase of the process is still quicker than the traditional UX, documentation-heavy approach.
Quick methods of further usability testing include:
These are just some methods you can use to validate your Lean UX hypothesis. But of course, with Lean UX, this process is a continuous loop – always looking for improvements in your existing product or when developing a new product.
Implement a Lean UX approach with Lyssna
Lean UX teams depend on fast and reliable tools to get them through each “sprint” of product development and to engage the users throughout the process – a core principle of Lean UX methodology. The smoother the workflow, the better.
At Lyssna, you can set up a “source of truth” for all of your user testing and research needs. Lyssna offers a variety of different testing methods and, more importantly, quick results, enabling your team to move at the pace you need to validate your MVPs or move onto different ideas.
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Alexander Boswell is the Founder/Director of SaaSOCIATE, a B2B SaaS, MarTech and eCommerce Content Marketing Service and a Business PhD candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s playing baseball and D&D.
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