We’re back with another usability testing guest post from uTest UX Expert Inge De Bleecker. Last year Inge gave us a run down of the basics of UX testing and exploratory UX testing. Now, Inge, a user experience architect by trade, is back to share her tale of transitioning to an Agile process after 15 some odd years in the business.
Lean UX: User Experience on the Fast Track
A few years ago, the company I worked for ‘went Agile’. As a user experience designer, I was scratching my head. The discipline of user experience was just gaining recognition as a valid discipline, and I had spent a good bit of time educating my colleagues on how user experience activities fit in their waterfall process. Now I was facing a whole different set of challenges trying to fit user experience into the Agile process.
One of the main concerns I had with Agile was the lack of upfront planning time. In order to build a product that users want to use, it is important to understand who the target user is, and how they expect to interact with the product. Armed with that insight, an overall information structure and blueprint for the user interface is then created. All this preliminary work takes time and effort, and has to be completed before diving into the details and actual development. Fortunately, most development teams I worked with struggled with similar upfront time constraints to get their tools running and their preliminary planning completed. That bought us some much appreciated extra time.
Very soon, I came to love one particular aspect of Agile: the short sprints introduced the perfect opportunity to be iterative. Design is inherently an iterative activity, and Agile supports that very well. I quickly got into the habit of reviewing sprint deliverables, throwing in a quick usability test at times, and submitting a list of change suggestions for consideration in the next sprint planning meeting. Such quick turnaround time for making changes to a product interface had never been possible before.
Over the past few years, many organizations have moved to some version of Agile, and many user experience designers have had to adapt. The result on the user experience side is now called ‘Agile UX’ or ‘lean UX’. Some view the lean UX movement as a ‘revolution’, for better or for worse. Proponents prefer to call it an ‘evolution’. Whichever way you look at it, two interesting changes came out of this:
1. A wider acceptance of ‘quick’ work that allows and forces us to focus on results instead of process and methodology: there is no time to write elaborate plans and 60-page result reports, no time to draw pretty pixel-perfect pictures and exhaustive wireframes. Remote and unmoderated usability testing methods are becoming more widely accepted as one of the tools in the user experience toolbox.
2. Tools to enable a quick turnaround: Previously, user experience designers were forced to master complex drawing programs to create their deliverables. Those programs were not all that well-suited to the work and were time-consuming to learn and use. Today, we have a choice of tools that are low cost, have a shallow learning curve and that allow us to create rough (and not so rough) visualizations that get the ideas across.
To be clear, there is no substitute for thorough planning and clear communication of ideas and feedback. We should never use Agile as an excuse to skim over the essentials of good user experience design. As long as we keep this in mind, Agile and the lean UX evolution have helped us greatly in building more successful products.