Lean UX Is Taking Over. Here’s Why.

What is Lean UX and how can you use it in your own product development?
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
June 29, 2021
Updated: June 27, 2022
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
June 29, 2021
Updated: June 27, 2022

Well-functioning, reliable and easy-to-use products are more likely to become commercially successful. Through their design process, product designers aim to create great UX and Lean UX is quickly becoming the favorite technique for many teams.

 

What Is Lean UX?

In the traditional product design process teams build products based on requirements that are defined up front. The team familiarizes itself with the requirements, ideates a solution, builds a prototype of this solution, and validates it with its users. Design deliverables play a major role in the traditional design process since we use prototypes in product development. The problem with this approach is evident: initial requirements can be fallible and the team risks investing energy creating something that won't bring any value to the user. 

Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, perfectly summarizes the risk of following a traditional product design approach: “What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case, what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget?”

What Is Lean UX?

Lean UX, also known as hypothesis-driven product design, differs from traditional approaches to product design. Traditional product design measures success by the process's outcome (whether the end product is built successfully and on time based on the requirements) while Lean UX measures success by the product's outcome (how users react to the product).

Jeff Gothelf introduced the concept of Lean UX in his 2013 book Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams. Instead of specific requirements, a team  practicing Lean UX starts with a problem statement--a description of a problem that users face in real life that should be addressed with a digital product. The team explores the problem space and formulates assumptions. 

An assumption is a statement of something a team thinks is true (based on existing knowledge about the market and target users).

There Are 2 Types of Assumptions

  • User assumption is an assumption of what users expect from your product.
  • Business assumption is an assumption of what will make your product commercially successful.

Here’s an example: a team wants to create a food delivery app. One of the first key user assumptions will likely be minimizing the time-to-order (since the user wants to receive her meal as fast as possible). The business assumption, in this case, is therefore evident—by reducing the time-to-order, you will increase user satisfaction and overall conversion. 

After you state explicit assumptions, it's time to move on to creating a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an evidenced-based statement that can be validated . For instance, the team formulates a hypothesis that UI should allow ordering food in less than five minutes and validates this hypothesis by building a prototype and testing it with users. During testing, it's vital to measure the conversion rate. If, after the validation, the team sees that it's heading in the wrong direction, they can quickly adjust the course. 

More From Nick Babich3 Great Ideation Techniques for Your Team

 

Designing With Users in Mind

Lean UX is a process that embraces agile design methods and encourages a more comprehensive view of the problem space. For example, when team members decide whether or not they want to introduce a new feature in a product, they ask questions like:

  • Why do we need to release this particular feature? 

  • What value does it bring to users? 

  • How is the person supposed to use this feature in their daily life?

This approach provides a team with a better understanding of user pain points and how exactly a feature is supposed to solve them.

 

What to Consider When Employing Lean UX

Deep Understanding of End Users

User research is the core of Lean UX. It's impossible to release a good product without learning the true needs and wants of end-users. Product teams practicing Lean UX take into account not only what users need and want, but they also consider the user's context (the environment in which the product will be used with its limitations). 

Collaborative Design

Design is a team sport. It’s hard (or nearly impossible) to create a good design while working in a silo. Radical transparency is one of the key differences between Lean UX and other design approaches. All teams participating in a  product’s design communicate with each other on a regular basis and address all roadblocks together. 

Lean UX also practices cross-functional activities. For example, designers on product teams create mockups and prototypes while taking an active part in user research and testing. As a result, the team tackles each problem from many different angles, which significantly improves the design process’s outcome. 

Iterative Design

The nature of agile development is to work in rapid build-validate-learn cycles. Lean UX is not about creating an ideal, well-polished prototype right from the first attempt, it's about building the most basic version of the concept as soon as possible and validating it with users.

3 Goals of Iterative Design

  • Reduce waste. The team aims to produce the basic design artifacts such as fake doors (i.e. creating a landing page of a non-existent product to measure interest in it) or low fidelity prototypes that allow the team to validate the hypothesis as fast as possible.
  • Validate solutions on real business objectives. The team defines key business metrics (such as conversion rate) up front and tests a solution to ensure that it satisfies the expectations.
  • Constant experimentation. Constantly experimenting helps the team uncover more information about the problem space to develop a better understanding of users’ pain points and find better solutions. 

The team achieves all three goals by creating minimum viable product (MVP). Eric Riess defines MVP as “a version of a product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the least effort.” Here is how it works in practice:

  1. The team researches a problem space and learns user needs and wants. The team defines problem A.  

  2. The team assumes that problem A can be solved by creating a solution B (hypothesis).

  3. The team creates an MVP of solution B in order to validate the hypothesis.

  4. The team validates the MVP with users and continues the learning process.

Once the team knows what needs to be improved, it can best decide where to invest effort.

Read More From Our UX and Design ExpertsShould You Be Focusing on Product Design or Service Design?

 

Feedback Loop 

Every idea, no matter how good it sounds, should be tested. That's why it's critical to create concepts and validate them as early as possible. As a product designer, you should expect many of your ideas to fail in testing. But that's okay. The key is to obtain feedback early in the design process because it will be easier to adjust the product design direction. As a result, the product design process will be much less expensive. 

Lean UX is both a mindset and a technique that embraces both Agile and Lean methodologies. For Lean UX to become effective, the entire organization needs to adopt the practice. Only then can we create products with exceptional user experience as quickly as possible.

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