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Building lean UX: tips for scale from a UX designer

A scalable digital product that users love is an ideal-scenario-founders-dream. But in the final legs of the back-stage-grunt before these products actually hit the markets, it’s the UX teams that do the work of nature – bring life to digital products. Because good UX brings great usability and hence, better user experiences. And nailing the UX down is often considered a time-to-market speed bump. 

If you’re a UX designer, here’s me sharing a thing or two that I’ve learned about lean UX that goes a long way in how you bring more efficiency to your craft. But let’s start with the basics before we swim a little deeper.

What is Lean UX 

Successful stories of businesses that lay the foundation of what it means to grow at a ’super-fast’ scale tell us that the magic lies in the leanness of things. They tell us that cutting a problem down to the thinnest slice possible is a good thing to do when in doubt. It simplifies things and makes decision-making easier. Lean UX and how it impacts user experiences is a lot like that.

Lean User Experience (UX) Design is a user-centered design process that embraces Lean and Agile development methodologies to reduce waste and build products centered around the users. The lean UX process actually has roots in ‘lean manufacturing’ – a typical way in which the world designs things, including cars, laptops, and now even digital products. 

It’s a design management system focused on getting feedback as early as possible in the UX process so that it can be implemented in the constant iterations of the product. In simple words, Lean UX is based on agile development methodologies to reduce waste and build products that are more user focused.

Lean UX process prioritizes outcomes over deliverables. Instead of asking, “What are we designing,” lean UX asks, “Why are we designing?” In a way, lean UX design is more of a thought process than a workflow concept. 

It focuses more on a collaborative approach and rapid prototyping to gather user feedback which can be further implemented in creating a minimum viable product (MVP). The core objective is to make quick decisions and needs to be more focused on deliverables.

The Principles of Lean UX

All in all, there are about 4 main principles of UX that should be the foundation of your process. Let’s look at each of them a little more. 

Principle 1: Collaboration is the key

Lean UX is a technique based on collaborating with different team members, including designers, developers, product managers, QA engineers, etc. The coming together means we will have more diverse ideas, workflows, and scenarios to look into and a bank of different ideologies and approaches to the problems. 

We know it’s challenging to bring everybody on the same page, but it’s well worth the effort. This enhances the whole team to speak in one language regarding the product and also appreciates the ideas put forward by each and every team member.

Principle 2: Solve the right problems 

Nothing hurts more than solving a problem brilliantly and realizing it’s the wrong one. This is also what we call the assumption phase. The Lean UX drifts away from the idea of perfect deliverables and long documentation of the specifics; instead, it moves more towards the problem statement, which would further lead us to a set of assumptions. 

The assumptions or expectations are used to create a common understanding around an idea to get every team member started. 

The assumptions might be fully wrong or partially correct and may change during product development. Assumptions are generated by doing workshops among team members and asking basic questions like:

  • Who are the users
  • What is the product used for
  • What state do users use the product
  • What is the most important functionality
  • What are the biggest risks
  • What are some of the edge cases of using a feature

This workshop might generate more assumptions than we can think of, but we need not work on each and every point. The team then decides on the assumption to work on based on the risk it poses. The more severe items are to be held in the highest priority.

Principle 3: Slice it down for the MVP

To do the least amount of work and get the best results fast, we design MVPs in Lean UX. MVP is the most basic and simple representation of an idea or a solution to a problem. It is designed by keeping in mind the learning from the assumptions phase and is never detail-oriented. MVPs are of different styles and types:

  • Basic lo-fi wireframes of product
  • Prototypes with minimal functionality 
  • Mockups of different screens in a user flow

 MVP helps in rapid experimentation without creating a fuss across the teams. It’s a great way to analyze what goes into the next stage of product development. The MVPs which give no valuable results are discarded, and the ones with promising results are incorporated into the product development.

Principle 4: Test fast

User testing in Lean UX is conducted similarly in traditional UX methods. That is, they both rely on rapid prototyping.  However, the speed and the feedback to be gathered is quick and dirty. The results must be acquired quickly and agilely before the team starts working on the next milestone. 

The research and development tasks are divided among the team members and a single person is not responsible for handling the whole UX of the product.

The testing is done to validate the decisions made on the product in rapid sprints.

This rapid testing aims to learn and gain quick insights into various product or UX process aspects. The testing can be done internally and externally as well. The users testing your concept externally help us learn and validate the hypotheses.

Once the points are gathered for what to keep and what to reduce, the lean UX process starts from the first phase.

Lean UX: The process

The stages for Lean UX can vary depending on the specific methodology or framework being used, but generally, the following stages are involved:

1. Understand: The first stage involves gathering data and insights about the users, their needs, and the problem the product is trying to solve. This may involve user research, competitive analysis, and other data collection methods.

2. Define: In this stage, the team uses the data gathered in the previous stage to define the problem and develop a hypothesis about how to solve it. This hypothesis should be based on the user’s needs and validated by data.

3. Design: In the design stage, the team creates low-fidelity product prototypes, such as sketches or wireframes. These prototypes are used to test and validate the hypothesis and gather user feedback.

4. Test: In this stage, the team tests the prototypes with users to gather feedback and refine the design. This testing can be done in various ways, such as usability testing, or surveys.

5. Iterate: Based on the feedback received in the testing stage, the team iteratively refines and improves the design until a final product that meets the user’s needs and solves the problem is developed.

6. Sprints: To find a sustainable rhythm for a truly lean UX process, deciding and strategizing your sprint cycles is crucial for the success of the iteration cycles. For the sprints to be efficient, a cross-functional team is key. Time box your periods realistically, slice your goals down, and repeat often. 

The magic ingredient 

While the processes above are the key pillars of a lean UX methodology, the x factor here is timing. Because many of the above-written processes also exist outside of the lean UX process. But what makes the lean UX process a uniquely advantageous methodology when trying to build fast is this – All the processes you just read above can possibly be done in a week’s time if you were lean. 🤷‍♀️

All in all – Throughout the lean UX process, the team should focus on continuous learning and improvement, using data and feedback to guide their decisions and refine their approach.

Find out why does your product need a usability review?

To summarise 

Lean UX is an evolution, not a revolution. This allows us to maximize output and minimize waste. The design team can get out of the deliverables business and back into focus on the experience business. Let’s focus on solving the user’s real needs & problems and forgo the hefty spec documentation.

We all know to change the culture of work is not an easy thing, but to start implementing Lean UX slowly is relatively easy.  The pure satisfaction and happiness we get when we build something cherished by the users and stakeholders are quite worth the effort, and I hope you learned here a thing or two. 

Rajat Bhandari
I am an experienced UX designer with 7+ years of total experience, including 1.5 years at aubergine solutions. I am adept at creating intuitive and visually appealing interfaces, collaborating with cross-functional teams, and conducting user research. My specialization lies in user-centered design, user research, and I am proficient in tools like Figma, Miro and Protopie. I have a strong passion for continuous learning and enjoy mentoring others while delivering exceptional user experiences.