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How Lean UX Can Save Your Start-Up

by Today's Eggspert

Lack of “product/market fit” is one of the key reasons for start-up failures. Despite initial success, businesses fail to be sustainable. One way to escape this is to get everyone involved and get back to experience-based design.

Don Norman, one of the top names in UX design, coined the term, “User Experience,” back in 1995. He said, “User experience is nothing but starting any design by understanding the audience.” It allows coordination between all the elements and putting together psychology and designing.

From the way things were understood in 1995, we have moved a long way in terms of design. But the crux is still the quality of the user experience. To achieve excellent UX, it’s pivotal for start-ups to adopt a methodology that gives the flexibility to build brilliant experiences. This allows design to be far more successful, conductive, efficient and functional. This is where “Lean” UX design comes in. It is an evolution of both design and team collaboration.

Traditional UX is a bottleneck. Let’s understand this with two examples.

#App.net Officially Shut Down

Image Source

Microblogging and social networking service provider App.net recently announced the official shut-down of its business. Launched five years ago as a competitor to Twitter, App.net failed to gain the attention of developers and users.

What Can Start-ups Learn From App.net?

“Ultimately, we failed to overcome the chicken-and-egg issue between application developers and user adoption of those applications,” App.net founder Dalton Caldwell wrote.

“Our initial developer adoption exceeded expectations, but that initial excitement didn’t ultimately translate into a big enough pool of customers for those developers,” he continued.

The company skipped working on the “customer experience.” They failed to get out and validate their product. In the case of a start-up like App.net, failure meant the complete death of the business. This is a typical example of traditional design failing. The lean UX method could have helped stop this company from de-railing.

#Google Wave Failed Too

google wave

Launched with high hopes, Google Wave failed to impress. Despite the fact that developers made huge promises, announcing Wave as the model for real-time, online collaboration and much more, it lived in the market for a mere 15 months.

What Can Start-ups Learn From Wave?

Do not give up control. Traditional design has no strings to keep everything in control. A mere investment of users’ time to learn this product well could have saved this product from death. Lean teaches this.

So, What is Lean UX?

Lean UX is not a process; it is a set of principles and a proven approach for a lean startup. It is a way of focusing on the most essential facet of the work, by emphasizing that, for product designers, customers should be the main consideration of every design decision. “You must focus our gaze on the goals towards which the users strive,” says Allan Cooper in his book, About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design.

Startups have immense promises to keep. When it comes to implementing, they often struggle with lack of functional fluency, and lack of a proper method that facilitates accountability to define the experience. That’s why they need Lean UX.

Applying lean principles in a design context means:

  • Deeply collaborative approach
  • Quick delivery
  • Brilliant products/designs /services that fit the market
  • Continuous
  • Simpler, leaner process means bigger, more impressive results

Why is Lean UX Critical Today?

Customers encounter new designs, new products, and new services every day. They connect strongly with some, but many miss the mark. Most software lacks connectivity with the end-users. I call this ‘zombie software’ — it chases users, without offering anything in return. Its design fails the most important test: it doesn’t reflect user goals. For designers, the focus should always be on experience and continuous validation.

Why Lean UX for Startups?

lean UX design process

Faster, Smarter and User based.

  • Early Feedback -> Better Decision
  • Organized Approach
  • Discover and experiment continuously
  • Be Transparent
  • Add Value
  • Save Time
  • Eliminate Waste
  • Sustainable

Although the method is suggested for everyone, startups should consider going this way as it helps them strengthen their design discipline and proceed by testing and validating hypotheses. Designers can eliminate everything that is not required and retain only those attributes that add value to customers. The method enables startups to do less, but more often.  It’s likely to result in a process that’s both faster and more effective, as every stage is tested, every move is discussed, and every decision is aligned with customers.

What Happens in Lean UX?

Work as a Team

Users/customers, designers, developers, business managers, product experts, and analysts listen to customers endlessly. Together, teams create new products/services by watching and listening to their users and continuously seeking and paying attention to feedback. This teaches the designers to remove functions that customers don’t care about. The process of learning, implementing and delivering continuously will help every brand to bring their best to the end users. This is exactly what Lean UX advocate Jeff Gothalf terms “Sense and Respond.”

Place the User at the Heart of Your Business

What do my users want?

Lean user experience allows a designer to implement user experience design as part of product development, rather than as an afterthought. It allows the entire team to work on the same goals and in the same direction by simply watching what users do. It’s vital that the feedback strategy includes watching what users do, and not just listening to users. It can be applied while designing a

This method can be applied while designing a web page or mobile page, or designing a product or a service for any type of business. to implement it, it’;s essential to start with the fact that it requires collaborative cross-functional involvement. Everyone, from across disciplines and departments, has to be paying attention to customer feedback and basing their decisions on it.

Design the Best Before Designing

Customer behavior has to be observed and measured in real time. Don’t rely on self-reporting from your customers! To apply this methodology, a designer needs to test all their assumptions, visualize work and create customer-driven designs. Going lean is actually the most effective, as well as the most efficient, way for a design team to create a human(customer)-centered design.

Remember your customer focus has to be end to end, not just within the page or action. A designer must create software that allows users to perform a task, but it should also align with their goals.

Brainstorm While Strategizing Design

  • Who will use this?
  • Why?
  • What do they want?

Gather as many solutions as possible and test them to identify the best option. This drilling session will help designers to focus on what can be validated and eliminate assumptions.

Start testing as soon as you start ideation, and never stop. This saves start-ups from the underlying cause of most start-up failures: wasting time and money on something which nobody cares for.

Use Data

Harness the power of data. Test, and work off the results. Use real-time data, and watch your customer behavior directly whenever you can. Understand what they expect in a product or service. Use high-velocity data to jump-start any innovation.

Formulate concepts using the collected customer data and evaluate alternate concepts. This practice will help designers to avoid blockages and make the process run smoothly. Customer data is a treasure chest for any organization. But, remember, do not struggle with metrics. Collect and retain all relevant data, and use customer data in all steps towards innovation that can create value.

Openness to Change

UX was once limited to only the design team. Now, it’s on every organization’s boardroom agenda, and a topic of discussion in everyday conversation. UX is now the responsibility of product development, business strategy, customer acquisition/retention and business growth. The process is no longer restricted to a single department. This approach demands a positive organizational behavioral change, supported by a methodology that facilitates cross-department and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Lean UX is proving to be a source of business advantage.

4 Key Stages in Lean UX Design

1. Create Quick Personas of your customers

Allan Cooper, the Father of Visual Basic, introduced the use of personas as a practical interaction design tool in his book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. Personas started gaining its popularity from early 1998. Eventually, companies started realizing the benefit of improving brand identity and growth with the help of personas.

Lean also involves creating personas. Although this principle is applied even in traditional UX method, in lean, the focus is more on creating quick personas. This is done with qualitative data rather than quantitative data. You’re taking the numbers you have and turning them into something you can work with, then fine-tuning it later.

The process is to just add enough details to help in understanding users’ mindset, desir, s and goals. The difference is in the extent and thoroughness of the data used to create personas. Traditional personas are created once, very carefully, and the data is used multiple times. Quick lean personas are created with continuous research and continuous modeling.

Once the design team workers have defined the end user’s persona , it becomes easier to understand the outlook of the user. This helps in any decision concerning product design, features, etc. A design team can add life to these set of personas and ideate what can be made best to fit their needs.

2. Start From Assumptions

Lean UX starts with assumptions. Deliverables are emphasized at the expense of requirements. Assumptions in lean help a team understand the generated idea and kove forward without getting too hung up at one stage.

  • Be creative
  • Imagine
  • Question

Assumptions help in understanding how things will work, who will be benefited and how. This helps when you’re getting an idea off the ground.

Assumptions can be right or wrong. It can work out or not. But it is essential to begin any project with ideas based on certain assumptions. Once this is done, the hypothesis can be formed regarding design.

3. Create a Hypothesis

Your assumptions are the source of your initial set of hypotheses. From here, you can work with the results of your tests, but you have to start by testing something. That’s why you hang on to your assumptions up to this stage. Paradoxically this process helps you eliminate weak hypotheses more quickly, and identify worthwhile lines of enquiry faster.

“User research and user-centered design approaches enable us to validate prototypes that are based on our assumptions and hypotheses,” says Pabini Gabriel-Petit, Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association.

4. Minimal Viable Product (MVP)

Coined by Frank Robinson, MVP is the smallest thing that can be developed in the shortest period of time which can offer the highest value to the end-users. In short, MVP is creating designs that are usable. This is a key to any design and development. Such designs fall under the category of being emotional, usable, reliable and functional.

MVP can still be iterative. Once can always examine the feasibility and determine all those features that can be added in the next iteration. Such design approach is ideal for any startup. Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz, goes a little further and suggests creating an exceptional viable product (EVP) instead of MVP. “If you want your customers to say, ‘Whoa, this is amazing,’ then you have to create EVP,” says Fishkin. Less is more. But how to make this “less” the best is what we need to understand.

In The Lean Startup, author Eric Rieis quotes Intuit founder Scott Cook: “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve a customer’s problem.”

What’s Next?

Here are few things to remember when adopting Lean UX design:

  • Creating a gateway to a plethora of experiences is not an easy task. The process means team members have to collaborate and understand the end-users better and formulate a viable design. In Lean UX methodology, the entire team shares ownership of this process.
  • A successful product is not all about solid engineering. More thn that, it requires a good understanding of how the product is actually used.
  • Product managers, developers, and designers must match their ideas with user goals.

Your power is handled by your customers. Learn to be Lean.

About the Author: Meenakshi Krishnan is a Content Consultant at OpenXcell, a pioneering Mobile App Development Company in India and USA. Technology inspires her and this has helped her author content on a variety of topics ranging from telecom, apps, healthcare communications and so on. She is currently working on global mobile app technologies reporting on diverse subjects. Prior to this, she was working for a technology marketing company based in Norwalk as a content contributor.

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