Lean UX + Rapid Prototyping

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From technology to food to entertainment and everything in between, we crave – okay, we demand – that we get things faster and better than we had them before. And the user experience (UX) field is no exception. Stakeholders want answers quickly and more efficiently, with many adopting the approach of lean UX and rapid prototyping.

If done right, lean sprints and a rapid approach can be a big win for companies looking to determine their customer’s needs and create engaging and thoughtful design quickly. They get a team moving in the right direction and produce prototypes that can be tested to deliver valuable and tangible user feedback for iteration.

Sounds great, right? It is – if done properly. But when done incorrectly or without proper principles in place, it can be a big mistake. After all, saving time, budget, and/or resources doesn’t measure up if you just end up where you started. As Director of Design for Motivate Design, a UX research and design agency, I know this all too well, seeing companies thrive when we deliver, and watching others make costly mistakes when they don’t commit to applying UX principles to a project.

Recently we worked with a company who pulled us in to further conceptualize, design, and deliver a proof of concept prototype, using a rapid and lean approach. The development company was seeking an adjunct team to assist with a new client – post Kickoff. Knowing we were joining the process a bit late, we followed the already established lead, generating a prototype to test with users. However, the client wanted more, asking for us to be brought back to work our “UX magic.” But starting from scratch wasn’t within the agreed upon scope with the company that hired us. Somewhere between hiring us and the prototype being produced, a lot was lost in translation and expectations across the board were skewed.

We delivered exactly what we had been hired to deliver, following all the necessary steps to ensure the prototype met all qualifiers and client needs. So, if all the boxes were checked in following the scope of the effort, why did it feel like a suboptimal result?

Can I Kick It?

Without being a part of the Kickoff, we were left without a clear understanding of the expectations of the overall scope or the tools necessary to manage those expectations. It became more and more clear that the Kickoff was essentially an order-taking session with the client and was not met with an approach to set tone, map expectations, and establish end user questioning. The processes and protocols established by the development company we were brought in by, sadly, failed the client.

When we start a project we use our initial meeting to implement a Discovery Workshop. This works not only as the Kickoff meeting, but also as a way to establish the structure of the project and set the tone. When conducting Lean UX, specifics need to be established early on as there is no time to waste in mistakingly going down the wrong path. So going into the Discovery Workshop, the UX team should be properly and thoroughly prepared and create an agenda that will serve to keep everyone on track and focused. It’s imperative to determine what particular issues a company is facing and what they are hoping to accomplish, as well as set clear expectations for the execution and implementation of the engagement. It’s also important to define the metrics to measure the success of the project, holding all parties to an accountability threshold they can easily understand.

Lean UX isn’t magic. It’s work – a defined process

Stay in the Loop

Lean UX follows a basic structure with a build > test > iterate loop, but the processes established in the spaces in between are just as valuable and necessary. While they can be elastic in nature, with elements compressed or extended when necessary, deferring from the approach can create muddled results and manifest confusion with teams and stakeholders.

At Motivate, we pride ourselves on the diligence of our execution, following our established protocols without deferring to simplified processes for ease of design, or skipping requisite steps in the name of efficiency. Regardless of the length of time of the engagement, we always follow the same proven playbook. And we get results.

The Early Bird  

During our recent experience, being pulled into the process after the initial scope was established and key principle steps were skipped, there were opportunities created for miscommunication and little we could do to remedy the missteps taken.

One of the benefits of a lean approach is the ability to pull in a design team early in the process. Leaner sprints and rapid prototyping mean time and money saved with valuable user feedback provided to produce end design that maps to a positive experience. So, before a company takes time developing or approaching a problem, they should first seek a skilled UX team and bring them into the discussion. Conversely, bringing development representation into the early conversation is also important. Lean UX is a team effort.

Work Your Magic

Lean UX isn’t magic. It’s work – a defined process. We can turn around quick prototypes, and deliver great design, but we can’t skip steps and expect to deliver superior results.

In the past, we worked with a client who brought in our team to supply a design system that could easily be pulled in by their internal team for current and future projects. The streamlining of this activity saved and continues to save their team additional resources and time with each new project launch. But they still expressed frustration at times, wondering, “If we can’t turn this around quicker, why even have a design system?”

Design systems provide the foundational language and components to put it all together, but it doesn’t establish the core questions needed to create a mindful design. Without it, all you’re creating is a template, plugging in data and simply hoping to create an exceptional experience for users. But you must still define an underlying thesis and end user. And, unfortunately, there is no magic wand or design system that can replace these basic principles.

Noticing a theme? No matter how you slice it, no matter what angle we look at it from, it all comes back to the principle systems. Without them, UX is full of fancy terminology, post-it notes, and experimentation. But with them, UX is a structured discipline that can foster creative and powerful design through proven methods and meaningful user interaction.

If you’re looking to validate an idea or business model, seeking data to advance a bigger budget, have pieces of your current product you want to improve upon, or simply facing issues within your team aligning on a direction, lean UX and rapid prototyping can help. Just be sure you’re working with a company that sticks to their core principles and processes, even when they’re doing it in a fraction of the time.

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