If waste is defined as anything that is not used in the development of the working product, we could argue that a great deal of the traditional UX deliverables would fall in that category. The elimination of waste continues to grow in importance as the marketplace continues to prove itself highly volatile with disruptions both from start-ups and incumbents. Companies can’t afford to waste time as competitors are going to market quickly.
UX has traditionally been a deliverable-heavy discipline, with UX designers delivering everything from wireframes to site maps to flow diagrams to content inventories to taxonomies to mock-ups to specifications, and more. Because of this focus on deliverables, designers have tended to get evaluated on the quality of the documents they deliver, more so than on the end-state experience they create, as eloquently put in a Smashing Magazine article all of four years ago.
Lean UX is the antidote to this delivery-heavy design process. Inspired by Lean and Agile development theories, the goal of Lean UX is to realize work faster by putting less emphasis on deliverables and more emphasis on the end state experience designed.
At the core of Lean UX is the prototype. Short, iterative, low-fidelity design cycles with feedback coming from all members of the implementation team early and often, instead of one designer slaving away in a corner until the design is “done”. In Lean UX, a designer quickly throws together a low-fidelity prototype–be it white board, paper napkin, or a quick wireframe in Omnigraffle–with the internal team. The team iterates, and the designer shows the early stage prototype to external stakeholders and customers, taking feedback and iterating again in low fidelity.
So the main principle? Show your work early and often. Stay lean and in low fidelity until most stakeholders are on board. Lean UX still requires many of the same tools - designers still need to create flows, experience, hierarchy, information architecture. However, they use these tools when appropriate and at the depth that is appropriate for the particular stage of design.
Lean UX calls on the designer to have a stronger product vision than ever before, as it becomes the designer’s job to get cohesion from multiple stakeholders throughout the design iterations.
The difference between Lean UX and Agile UX
Lean UX describes design methods in the context of Lean Startup methodology, which is more focused on the business side of product development - the goal is to unite designers and business stakeholders. Agile UX describes design methods in the context of Agile methodology, which is more focused on the software development side of product development - the goal is to unite designers and developers.
Further Lean UX References
Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
An article on User Interface Engineering from the authors
A slideshare from the authors