The blog of Jon Bolt. UX, design & startups.

Defining Lean UX

13 Apr 2012

As a community we're starting to form a more solid understanding of Lean UX. It's easy to think of it simply as a rebrand. But there's substance. Here's my stab on defining the term a little more concretely... the Lean UX bonfire. Pick the UX deliverable or approach which provides the leanest way to discover a solution. Anything that distracts you, discourages short, agile iterations or prevents learning, burn it.

Lean UX gives you a way to systematically deal with uncertainty - perhaps an explanation for it's strong association within the lean startup movement. We can't predict the future. Lean UX embraces the idea of short iterations focused on measuring and learning to tackle complexity. It removes departmental constraints on design and communication, allowing you to get truly close to product strategy. Design solutions no longer become buried and diluted through bloated deliverables.

Lean UX ≠ Less UX

So what does this actually mean? Well, here's two changes I've made as UX'er at Brightpearl.

First, lab based usability testing and hefty reports are gone. Replaced with remote, online usability testing through bagelHint or Skype. Issues identified are prioritised and put into a UX backlog. There, they can be commented on and scoped. It enables quicker ideation. No clunky Word or Powerpoint reports.

Axure is also gone. Design now takes place on paper or in the browser, offering quicker and clearer ways to solve problems. Browser developer tools are an easy way to iterate changes within an existing UI (e.g. label/style tweaks through to adding in whole new chunks of HTML). Frameworks like Bootstrap make it super accessible to create new ones from scratch. In fact, wireframing tools now feel like an awkward compromise, slow and full of false expectations.

None of this is an exact science though. I occasionally fall back to Photoshop to splice up an interface and create rough variations, before heading back to the browser to work in the necessary fidelity. Photoshop is also very different from wireframing apps. Particularly, the ability to explore creative and branding aspects.

The approach isn't without it's faults either and I'm still not certain how these changes have improved the quality of my designs. I still feel uneasy about the term. Maybe we should start calling deliverable heavy processes Bloat UX instead. Lean UX is really how UX should be done.

Also read... Complexity and User Experience


I'm Jon Bolt, Principal UX Designer at Brightpearl and creator of bagelhint. Interested in startups, design and agile.