Lean UX + Integrating Product Design with Agile Process

Tim McCoy of Cooper in San Francisco has posted new thinking about Lean UX and how it is the outgrowth of trying to integrate UX design with Agile project development.

UX design, like most product design, has traditionally followed a “waterfall” process of Research-Requirements-Design-Production, or something like that.

Tim McCoy

Agile is based on the fundamental truth that at the start of a design project we might know only 30% of what we need to in order to create the best design.  Conversely, at the end of the project we know 90% or 100% of what we need to know–but the project is over.  “I wish I had that to do over again” is probably the mantra of modern adult life, but it is especially poignant in the lives of designers.

Agile UX or Lean UX works in iterative cycles, moving quickly to focus on the best customers of a product, design something that works for them, build it fast and test it, then move on to the next cycle.  You learn more by looking at a real live product–no matter what flaws it might have–than you do by noodling over a requirements document written in the abstract three months ago.   And you get a second chance!  And a third, and a fourth, and so on.  This is also broadly the idea behind “rapid prototyping.”

I worked on my first great Agile project two years ago and I thought it was a brilliant improvement over any other in which I was a participant.     The difficulty lies in the UX design, which needs a good, solid understanding of the customer before it can begin.  Therefore McCoy argues that there needs to be a focussed research process–on best customers–at the start of a Lean UX process.  This at least gets the designers to a meaningful starting line with the first cycle, from which they can achieve real success.

Testing also has to be woven into the turn each cycle, and here’s where McCoy’s notion of the “integrated team,” is critical.  That means not just integrating the design agency team, but building an integrated team with the client product or marketing team.

Cooper focuses on “digital product design,” which gives them license to work on any online or other digital communication, including communications components of other products, like trading desk software for Barclays, or a digital  phone system interface.  The Lead UX methodology is also an idea that has traction with many of new wave of  interactive design firms that focus on content as a component of applications, like Native Instinct .

Here’s a great presentation McCoy recently gave with Janice Frasier of LUXr:

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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