No, this headline isn’t a joke about the increasing popularity of the term Lean UX. Rather, I am talking about the choices that organizations make in deciding how to adopt User Experience as a practice and improve the experience they are attempting to create. Do they apply User Experience through intermittent, quick fixes to rectify gaps in an experience? Or do they foster UX practices from beginning to end, throughout a development cycle? Is the team in a panic and scrambling for a magic UX pill? Or does a consistent intake of UX nutrients support the team’s process?
The UX Diet
The UX diet is all about preventative measures. One easy way to identify a team that has a steady UX diet is to see at what point they inject UX into their overall development process. If they involve user researchers and experience designers during a project’s discovery phase, that’s a positive sign. Involving User Experience in the generation of requirements rather than just the amendment of those requirements typically results in reducing the need for such amendments. In contrast, if a team hires a UX professional for a last-call, polish-it-off sort of engagement, the UX diet is likely absent. The driving force behind the UX diet is ensuring more precise, consistent validation of the direction a team is taking. It requires a long-term outlook.
The UX Pill
Too often, companies avoid building User Experience into their long-term budget. There’s been a lot of talk about the disparity between the actual value of UX and the value of User Experience initially perceived by those who are unfamiliar with the field, as well as how misperceptions affect the amount of UX effort that ultimately ends up within the company’s budget.
Needless to say, we’ve all witnessed many opportunities for product design teams to employ a UX professional, only to have them opt out, saying something like: “Between the engineers, graphic designers, project managers, and other internal resources we already have, we can pull together some thoughts on the experience without spending the money on a dedicated UX resource.” Such statements justify minimizing budget in the near term, but usually at the expense of risking larger expenditures in the long run.
In my experience, what happens as a result of such reasoning is that teams create products that don’t truly reflect an understanding of the needs, desires, and painpoints of users, resulting in internal stakeholders’ panicking when they finally get some external feedback, then scrambling for better solutions. User Experience tends to be the source of those solutions. But, at this point, rather than User Experience having been steadily integrated into the organization’s design and development process, a team tries to bolt User Experience onto their existing way of doing things. This approach is usually problematic.
In such situations, UX professionals not only must perform UX activities, they must also educate the team about their UX activities. While this doesn’t have to be a daunting task, within an organization that has sought User Experience only as a quick-fix solution—a topical medicine to apply to a blemished experience—it can be difficult to go beyond discussing anything other than the beloved Lean UX. While Lean UX may be appropriate, it can fall short of what’s necessary to reveal deep insights and arm designers with the knowledge they need to solve a flawed product interaction.
Not only is educating the team yet another barrier that stands in the way of completing UX deliverables, the actual deliverables you can produce are most likely limited by the team’s desire to be Lean. Methods such as usability testing on multiple versions of an interactive prototype, diary studies, and large-scale contextual inquiries will likely suffer from a lack of time and insignificant sample sizes.
In UX-pill environments, teams tend to favor time and money over quality of implementation. The immediate win of proceeding quickly and inexpensively drowns out the call for useful methods that take more time. For that reason, situations involving the UX pill can be quite frustrating. This is not to say that Lean UX is wrong. It absolutely works and satisfies a lot of situations. But there are many product opportunities that require deeper discovery and validation phases, so these products may never see the light of day.
In an ideal world, scheduling constraints and monetary restrictions influence, but should not dictate the way in which UX strategy and planning are conducted. Ideally, a UX professional should be in charge of the following:
- Knowing exactly what is necessary to begin the journey toward creating a better user experience
- Defining a UX strategy and plan
- Implementing that plan
Whether a UX professional is influencing or merely reacting to a product-design environment really depends on the structure of that environment. The relationships between time, monetary resources, and a team’s current perception of the value of User Experience determine that construct—as does the extent to which a team is open to re-evaluating their perception of what User Experience brings to the table.