Designing for a Delightful User Experience in an Agile Environment

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One of the most influential talks I saw during my time at BlendConf was a presentation by Garren DiPasquale about Lean UX. The presentation was based off of the recently published book by Jeff Gothelf and Garren’s experience in applying these principles.

UX Process at ReadyTalk

ReadyTalk is an awesome place to work. However, our current full-time UX team is incredibly small. In fact, it’s one dude. One very experienced and talented dude, David Demmer. The vast majority of the UI and User Experience Design falls on his shoulders, though he has some help from a few developers (including myself).

As you can imagine, this means we spend quite a bit of time designing disparate pieces of our service. We tend to figure out the general design and interaction pretty quickly and then spend a ton of time on wireframes and comps to attach to stories for a developer to implement.

Lean UX

This is where Lean UX comes in. One of the main concepts is to get out of the deliverables business and into the experience design business. It values a well thought-through interaction over a high-quality, pixel-perfect comp of what the design might look like.

You follow an incredibly simple, iterative cycle.

Build, Measure, Learn cycle

The Lean UX cycle

First, you build it. You don’t build the “perfect design” you’ve been tirelessly researching and designing for months. You put out a minimum viable product. What is the basic idea you can push out to give customers a glimpse of the experience we’re designing? Build that idea.

Next, you measure it. Measure it internally. Show it to developers. Show it to people in sales and marketing. Stop random people in the hallway with your prototype and ask questions. Do it all the time. You’ll end up getting some great feedback before users even see the product.

Finally, you learn from what you just measured. Did people get it? Did people actually experience your prototype the way you thought they would? After reflecting on this, you start the whole cycle again.

Designer-Developer Interaction

As someone who lives partially in the design world and partially in the developer world, I love that Lean UX values a close developer-designer relationship. If the interaction is awesome, but it’s jotted down on a microbrew-stained napkin … no judgment. The important part is a high-quality experience, not a high-quality comp.

Traditional documents are discarded or, at the very least, stripped down to their bare components, providing the minimum amount of information necessary to get started on implementation. Long detailed design cycles are eschewed in favor of very short, iterative, low-fidelity cycles, with feedback coming from all members of the implementation team early and often. Collaboration with the entire team becomes critical to the success of the product.
- Jeff Gothelf, “Lean UX: Getting Out Of The Deliverables Business”

The projects with the best final products at ReadyTalk have been the result of me picking up my laptop and coding right next to my designer. This is far faster than sending an IM, drafting an email or walking over each time you need a designer’s advice. You can quickly flesh out ideas on-screen, interact with a prototype, change it, keep it, move forward.

Imparting the idea of the experience behind the design is way more valuable than asking a developer to create a pixel perfect replica of your design.

Impart your knowledge. Build, measure, learn.

User-Team Interaction

Perhaps just as important as the bolstered relationship between developer and designer is fostering empathy and understanding between the users and the entire team. This concept is simple, but can make all the difference in designing products that delight the user. This is something I’m going to take on for my current team at ReadyTalk.

Since we work in just one office, many of us don’t have an excellent understanding of what problems our users run into day-to-day. Simple field trips to observe users using our products (or ones like it) will undoubtedly produce a more valuable final product.

It’s my goal to get my team out in the field at least monthly in the next few months to observe our users. The ROI from building empathy and understanding of our users is immeasurable.

Next Steps

I’m excited to read the rest of Lean UX! It will be a nice run for my new Kindle PaperWhite. The concepts proposed could do wonders for the project we’re currently working on. Speaking of that fancy new project, keep an eye out for a sneak-peak coming soon!

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Ben Limmer