Lean UX Machine: Israel 2011

October 17, 2011

On August 4–6, 2011, we were privileged to present and mentor at Lean UX Machine, in Tel Aviv, Israel. Eden Shochat, a partner at Genesis Partners, Yaniv Golan, a partner at lool Ventures, and Tomer Sharon, a UX Researcher at Google New York, were the primary organizers of this event, in collaboration with others.

The primary goal of Lean UX Machine’s organizers was for global and local mentors to lead a weekend of user experience learning, collaboration, and mentorship for startups.

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For us, it was an opportunity to get a taste of both the startup and UX scenes in Israel, practice our mentoring skills, explore how to embed user experience in a startup’s existing product road map and, of course, to see Israel.

In this review, we want to share some observations and learnings, with the aim of helping other groups who want to run similar global events. We also hope that the organizers of Lean UX Machine will hold this event in Israel again, in the near future.

About Lean UX Machine

The event organization was superb. The organizers selected a group of startups that are developing a range of interesting products and services at various levels of maturity, were receptive to the idea of getting some UX advice, and whose representatives had a mix of business, product, and technology knowledge. The startups included

  • Ridefrog
  • ChuSoft
  • JoyTunes
  • TabTale
  • Moolta
  • JajaGaming
  • Ekkli
  • Studyers
  • Yooguide: The Funday Genie
  • FaceTagram
  • Wanna Share?

So, Why Lean UX Machine?

It started with “The Big Idea,” as stated on the Web site:

“User experience design introduces a challenge. If you[’ve] tried designing yourself, you know what we mean. You also know that you are not the user and that you cannot think like the user to offer great UX. It doesn’t work [that] way. We wish it [were] that simple. But you want great UX; you want Apple-like design; you want Design Thinking. We know it’s a struggle getting there. We offer help.

“At Lean UX Machine, you’ll be introduced to design principles, techniques, and methodologies that will help you figure out what customers need. You will work collaboratively with team members toward a basic design for your idea and will be coached by UX professionals. You will get first-hand experience with what Eric Ries calls validated learning and what Steve Blank means by ‘out of the building.’

“The event is open [to] startup teams with at least a founder, a product definition person, and a programmer. Each team will be assigned [to] a UX mentor for the entire event, who will provide guidance through UX research and design.”—Lean UX Machine

Criteria for Applying

The criteria or requirements for startup teams to apply to participate in the event were as follows:

  • early stage
  • no commitments to customers that impact the product
  • at least three team members who can attend
  • open to learning about user experience
  • have a basic idea for a product for consumers

Participating did not require that startups already have

  • a design for their product
  • a registered company
  • funding

Preparing for the Event

Before we arrived in Israel, the organizers briefed participating UX mentors about the goals for the event. They asked us to become familiar with the startups and brainstorm via a shared Google Doc on topics we might cover. Our goal was to introduce startup teams to design principles, techniques, and methods that would help them figure out what their customers need and work collaboratively with them toward a basic design for their product idea.

The UX mentors created a huge list of prospective ideas that would help startup teams achieve the goal of designing and refining their basic idea, including the following:

  • Define your target customer.
  • Conduct a usability test.
  • Define the core of your product.
  • Create a user research plan to involve customers and refine your idea.
  • Articulate your UX vision statement—both in words and through a drawing.
  • Design a key landing page.
  • Identify the roles that team members take on during design—for example, the designer, who understands the underlying rationale of the design, or the storyteller. who can tell the story.
  • Define what constitutes user experience success or failure.
  • Articulate the emotions you want your users to experience when interacting with your product.
  • Target your optimal user experience, then divide it into clear road-map milestones.
  • Understand the need to create a style guide.
  • Experience techniques that facilitate working as a team—for example, dot voting, collaborative sketching, and brainstorming techniques.
  • Reflect on how to give feedback on a design and the importance of critique.
  • Share best practices for agile UX and how you can apply a UX process, even at the fastest-running startup.
  • Define user stories or use cases to help you focus on what you should explore and validate first—that is, what is the minimal viable product?
  • Get a member from another startup team to join you in a walkthrough of key user journeys and see whether they understand your product’s key message.
  • Prioritize features and take out as many as possible.
  • Learn how to interview users and practice.

Before the event, the UX mentors completed a survey, sharing where, across the spectrum of UX skills, we felt we could best offer our expertise. The organizers also invited the UX mentors to participate in a call a few weeks before the event, during which we learned about how they would run the event, and they assigned each of us to a startup. It helped to revisit the startup list to read more about the startup with which we’d be working and begin thinking about how, as a mentor, we could help our team.

Meeting and Greeting in Israel: Handshakes and Smiles

Once we had arrived at the venue, it did not take long to set things up so we could all work effectively over the next few days. The venue itself was right across the road from the Mediterranean Sea, so we could step away from our respective workspaces and look out at the lovely beaches and the water below. This provided a nice reminder of the good energies and love of life that exists in Israel.

The organizers welcomed us all to Lean UX Machine and explained what would happen over the next few days. They introduced us to members of our startup teams, and we took some time to learn more about each other and talk about what they were working on. All conversations throughout the event took place amid the lovely buzz of other startup teams around us. This community-style event included families—in some cases, even babies—and there was plenty of good food and drink on tap.

We all gathered to hear from invited UX mentors, who shared their specific topics of expertise, ranging from usability testing to design patterns. We also heard from all the startups and saw how they presented their products, themselves, and their dreams.

Heads-Down Discovery and Design

After the presentations, it was time to break out into our respective teams and get to work. We chose a space with a whiteboard and a large table to work on and plenty of wall and window space where we could stick up our ideas as we learned together. Dan was hoping that, without spending too much time on process, his team would pick up on his design workshop approach as they became immersed in working on their product idea together.

Getting to Know Each Other

The first hour each UX mentor spent with a startup team was critical to winning each other’s trust. We spent a good part of this time learning more about the team and the business. Here are some example of the questions we asked:

  • How would you describe your product?
  • Tell me about the history of the business and your product. How did you come up with the idea?
  • Tell me about yourselves and your skillsets. What role does each of you play on the product team?
  • What are the product goals?
  • What people or businesses do you think would use your product and why?
  • What is the product road map? Where is the design today, and where would you like to take it in the future?
  • Would you tell me about the underlying technology?
  • What are the product’s benefits? Sell it to me.
  • Who do you think your competitors are and why?
  • Why would I want to use your product?
  • What makes your product different from the competition?

This was also an opportunity to connect with the team and get the team dynamic right. We would be spending the next few days working together, so it was important to create an environment in which everyone felt they could contribute and work collaboratively toward improving the user experience of their offering.

Dan explicitly asked his team not to show him any of the designs or work they had done to date, because he did not want to be unduly influenced by their current design thinking. He also wanted to see how the design work they did together would map to the startup team’s previous design thinking and whether there would be commonalities in their logic as they moved the design forward.

During the first hour, we also set expectations for how we would all work together and discussed what we needed to learn to come up with some design concepts they could bridge to their product development effort.

Design, Learn, Tell Stories, and Enjoy

After our initial period of discovery, we started designing together. In Dan’s case, discussions focused on a few key areas as he worked with Ekkli.

What Is Ekkli?

Ekkli is a decision engine. Dan asked, “If we could describe the technology as a person, who would it be and what would the characteristics of the person be?” Considering this helped the team remove themselves from the technology itself and focus on how Ekkli would present itself through language, marketing, and the user interface, as well as on how Ekkli would help someone make a decision more effectively.

What Is a Decision?

The team talked about decision structure, how people make decisions, and what types of decisions people need to make, as well as about life stages and the decisions people make at different life stages. Again this helped everyone step away from the technology and talk about how Ekkli could be a trusted advisor and the role Ekkli would play in giving people the confidence to make a more informed decision.

User Research

To better understand people’s decision-making process, the team did some user research on the fly, interviewing people from other teams for 5 to 10 minutes. This helped us to see whether our design was going in the right direction, allowed us to come up with a set of questions the team could reuse in future user research, and enabled us to come up with insights that would inform the design. Ekkli recorded the sessions to learn Dan’s interview style, and Dan reflected on good and bad interviewing techniques and shared best practices with the team.

The Design

The team took its learnings about the decision process and started mapping them to the design. Dan made it clear that they would do only?two design iterations, referring back to the decision process to see whether they were capturing all of the critical elements in the decision flow.

Capturing Our Design

The team transferred its ideas from the whiteboard to flip charts. In doing this, they reflected on their design thinking. Dan asked the startup team to think about how they could implement the design.

Next Steps

What did we need to do after the event to take our UX learnings forward? Dan discussed the need for documentation that would capture these learnings:

  • a UX plan—How would the team continue to integrate user experience into their development work?
  • a persona template—How would the team continue to conduct interviews and learn more about how people make decisions? How would these learnings be reflected in the platform and the presentation?
  • an outline for a VC presentation—What elements could the team include in a presentation to try to get further funding?

What Did the UX Mentors Learn?

As we were helping the startup teams articulate their thoughts, come up with a design, and iterate it, we also considered the following:

  • team spirit—keeping everyone engaged and energized throughout the process
  • scopenot trying to do too much in the allocated time
  • the need for taking breaks—then diving back in with a refreshed mind
  • listening—ensuring we gave people adequate time to share their expertise
  • environment—creating a space that was conducive to discussions, outcomes, and actions
  • laughter—encouraging people to have a good time working together
  • reflection—taking moments to stop, stand back from the work, identify the gaps in our thinking, and refocus, if necessary
  • breaking free of process—improvising can impact your approach and your learnings

Wrap-up and Thoughts for the Future

Lean UX Machine was a complete success.

It provided a wonderful way for us to practice and improve as both UX professionals and mentors, as well as an opportunity to see how we could apply UX approaches in a startup environment. The organizers, the local UX mentors, and the startup teams all did a good job of making us visitors feel welcome. When the startups presented the results of the UX work we had done together, there appeared to be general satisfaction and agreement that the process was worthwhile, enabling the teams to learn and refocus their product offerings.

So, congratulations and thanks to the organizers of Lean UX Machine! And, for your positive energy and goodwill, the local UX communities you have developed, and the love for designing and delivering great products and services that we all share, thanks to the local UX mentors:

  • Tali Rosen-Shoham
  • Eyal Livne
  • Dana Cohen Baron
  • Michal Levin
  • Ariel Eshel
  • Omri Eliav
  • Noa Bichovsky
  • Yaakov Greenshpan
  • Shai Granot

Our hope is that this experience will bring us all together again, in person or virtually, and that we get an opportunity to visit Israel again in the near future.

We welcome our readers to enjoy some photos and videos from the event and look forward to seeing Lean UX Machine repeated globally. 

Principal Design Researcher at Apogee Asia Ltd.

Hong Kong

Daniel SzucOriginally from Australia, Dan has been based in Hong Kong for over 20 years. He is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. Dan has been involved in the field of User Experience for more than 20 years. He has lectured on user-centered design globally and is the co-author of two books: Global UX, with Whitney Quesenbery, and Usability Kit, with Gerry Gaffney. He is a founding member and Past President of the UPA China Hong Kong Branch and was a co-founder of the UPA China User Friendly conferences. Dan holds a BS in Information Management from Melbourne University Australia.  Read More

VP, Head of User Experience, at WeWork

New York, New York, USA

Tomer SharonA user experience researcher at Google New York since 2008, Tomer is currently doing user research for Google Search. Previously, he led the UX research effort for Google’s online advertising management platform, DFP (Doubleclick for Publishers). Prior to working for Google, he was a user researcher at Check Point Software Technologies in Israel, where he led the research effort for dozens of networking and Internet security products on various platforms. As founder and president of UPA Israel, Tomer led the chapter to many achievements, including raising awareness of the need for easy-to-use, efficient, and fun technology products, as well as growing and nurturing a professional community of 1,000 practitioners. He speaks at conferences and professional events, is a published author of articles and papers, and a past editorial board member for UX Magazine. Tomer is the author of the forthcoming Morgan Kaufmann book, It’s Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-in for User Experience Research Projects, which will be out in 2012. He holds a master’s degree in human factors in information design from Bentley University.  Read More

Director at Us and the Machines Ltd.

London, England, UK

Johanna KollmannJohanna started her career in user experience at Siemens in 2004 and has since gained experience in both in-house and agency roles. In London, she previously worked at Flow Interactive and Vodafone. Passionate about building better things through collaboration, Johanna cofounded Design Jam, organizes the Agile UX Meetup London, and is a member of the Balanced Team community. She has presented at the IA Summit, Euro IA, Agile, and several barcamps. She earned a degree in Information Design at FH Joanneum, then her Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction with Ergonomics at University College London.  Read More

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