The Science Behind Lean UX

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Science Behind Lean UXLean UX has received a lot of attention lately.  Lean UX combines the theories of Agile and Lean development processes and applies it to your design practice.  The Lean UX approach is to work lighter and faster with less documentation, while spending more time with your customers.  All designers want these two things: less documentation and more time with customers.  For me, the strength of the Lean UX mindset is its application of the Scientific Method.

I highly recommend that you review the slides from Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience.  Jeff’s slides and his book provide a great introduction into the world of Lean UX.  You may want to also read how Jeff tells you the Lean UX is Nothing New over at Johnny Holland UX Magazine.

The Scientific Method and Lean UX

As a Usability Engineer, I think the power of Lean UX comes from how it adapts the Scientific Method in its design approach.  As you know, the Scientific Method has you ask questions, develop a hypothesis, and build tests to study your ideas.  During the test, you make observations, which you analyze to help you make informed decisions.  In the end, you will either change a variable (and re-test) or you develop your proven idea into a product (site, app, and so on).

Scientific Method
1. Ask a Question
2. Do Background Research
3. Develop a Hypothesis
4. Test Your Hypothesis
5. Analyze Test Results
6. Draw Conclusions
7. Make a Decision:
    a. Change a Variable (and re-test)
    b.  Develop a Proven Idea

Now, let’s look at the Lean UX approach and its steps.

Lean UX is a Variation of the Scientific Method

The Lean UX approach adapts the Scientific Method and applies it to Experience Design.  According to Jeff Gothelf in his Smashing Magazine article, Lean UX: Getting Out of the Deliverable Business, he illustrates the Lean UX approach with this interesting sketch:

Lean UX Process

With the Lean UX approach, UX Designers work with a project team to define a problem, where some key stakeholders have (hopefully) done some background research to determine a customer experience need.  With this information, the project team can hypothesize on possible concepts and verify their feasibility.  Lean UX recommends using sketches and low-fidelity mock-ups to visualize ideas to show to internal folks and to test with external customers.  You learn from the customer usage and behavior in your test.  You iterate on your idea based upon lessons learned from the test.

Lean UX Method
1. Define a Problem
2. Do Background Research
3. Develop a Hypothesis (& Its Feasibility)
4. Test Your Hypothesis (sketch or wireframe)
5. Analyze Test Results
6. Draw Conclusions
7. Make a Decision (called Iterate an Idea):
    a. Change Your Design (and re-test)
    b.  Develop a Proven Idea

It looks pretty familar, right?

Scientific Method Lean UX Method
1. Ask a Question 1. Define a Problem
2. Do Background Research 2. Do Background Research
3. Develop a Hypothesis 3. Develop a Hypothesis (& Its Feasibility)
4. Test a Hypothesis 4. Test Your Hypothesis (sketch or wireframe)
5. Analyze Test Results 5. Analyze Test Results
6. Draw Conclusions 6. Draw Conclusions
7. Make a Decision: 7. Make a Decision (called Iterate an Idea):
    a. Change a Variable (and re-test)     a.  Change Your Design (and re-test)
    b. Develop a Proven Idea     b.  Develop a Proven Idea

For me, this is real power of the Lean UX approach.  Lean UX is about two keys things:

  1. Getting out of the deliverables business
  2. Getting into the Scientific Method and applying it to UX Design

Deliverables are artifacts.  The Scientific Method is the power behind Lean UX.

Nerds Love Lean UX

The Nerdery is a great group of designers and developers from the frozen tundra of Minnesota.  They develop cool stuff like games, apps, sites, and solutions for some major brands.  We even had one of their developers come to Big Design 2012 to talk about augmented reality.

I came across this great video by The Nerdery, where they talk about how their business philosophy is directly related to The Scientific Method.  As you watch it, consider how closely aligned their approach is with Lean UX and agile practices.

Nerds love Lean UX!

The Science of UX – A Nerdery Primer from The Nerdery on Vimeo.

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Contributed by Brian Keith Sullivan (309 Posts)

Brian Sullivan is the Usability Principal at Sabre. He is President of DFW-UPA. Brian is one of the creators of Big Design Events, Big Design Magazine, Big Design Dallas and Chicago. Brian is actively involved in World Usability Day. You can read his UX writings at The Usability Corner. Brian has an MA, MBA, and CUA.


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