User Experience

April 29, 2014

Lean UX: less love = more love

By Ben No comments





Digital design and development is evolving. Waterfall, incremental, agile, iterative, spiral, the list of new models, methods and techniques is endless.

Take LSD (not that kind of LSD, but Lean Software Development), it was adapted from the Toyota Production System (TPS), which organised manufacturing and logistics for the automobile industry, taking supplier and customer interaction into account. TPS was developed between 1948 and 1975 and offered a more flexible process and reduced waste of:

- over production

- time (waiting for something/someone to finish so you can start your part of the process)

- transportation

- processing

- overstock

- making defective products

In 2003, Mary and Tom Poppendieck wrote “Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit”. It translated this principle to the software industry. There were six main aims:

Eliminate waste

Regard anything that doesn’t add value to the project as waste.

Amplify learning

Start coding early and present small developed pieces to the user to get feedback and allow a quick iteration and improvement.

Decide as late as possible

If no decision can be made based on solid feedback, avoid making assumptions and consider several options. Take the decision later when you can gather real feedback.

Deliver as fast as possible

The sooner you deliver a product, the sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can start improving it. In our fast-evolving world, product requirements change and become obsolete frighteningly quickly.

Empower the team

Hire skilled people, and let them do their job. A manager’s role is to provide support when an issue arises, provide a new view on something, and motivate the team.

See the whole

In the development world, the product is not just the code and the design. It includes the sum of all interactions between the product and the users. Nowadays, a product is developed by many in-house or third-party teams, supplying their part of the project. Keeping in mind all these interactions allows a quicker, more effective way to deliver the product, test it and improve it.



Jeff Gothelf, a New York City UX designer, advocates for Lean UX design and states:

“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.”

This means that if you can present your ideas and concepts earlier, you get faster feedback. This will allow you to stay in the right direction most of the time, or iterate and improve quickly. Spending less time building heavy and high-fidelity deliverables (user journeys, information architecture, wireframes/prototypes), means you can focus more on the actual experience, test earlier in the process, correct, amend, change, and evolve.

Giving less love to your deliverables (in terms of look and polish), you’ll be able to give more love to the whole experience.



Lean UX sounds like the perfect solution. And it works. But it isn’t that easy. Lean UX is a methodology/philosophy that works very well for internal teams. Or better put, client-side.

As an agency, you may have to communicate your work to your clients, and this means you need to produce deliverables that can be understood and used by any stakeholder in the project. This means you may not be able to present early sketches, because you usually need the client to buy-in. And by client in the world of B2B, we usually mean a handful of people, many stakeholders.

Applying Lean UX for an agency will mean you have to set expectations in terms of deliverables, explaining that you’re going to show rough and directional work. You will set more regular meetings with the client in order to review your progress, discuss and evaluate available options, iterate and present again, until everyone agrees to go to the next step.

By involving the client more often, it will take less time to develop the full product. This allows to plan activities that aren’t always possible due to budget limitations such as usability testing, A/B testing and optimisation.

Even if you can’t go all the way with a lean approach, you can try to apply it to some of the steps: you may not need to present a fully functional prototype, and go for a simple wireframe, or even a sketch. The same goes for user journeys and information architecture. If the client doesn’t require an all-singing strategy document, why waste time producing one?

A little Lean UX is usually better than none at all.

What about you? What do you think of Lean UX? How do you apply it for agency work ?