Though UX is a must for all new applications, small organizations often lag behind in this area. This trend is frequently posed as a resource problem: user experience design (UX) teams, usability testing software, and professional web developers are typically lacking in cash-strapped small businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions, so creating cutting-edge designs may seem impossible. I propose that what is lacking in these settings is actually knowledge of effective design workflows, however, not resources. What is lacking is a sound understanding of UX and an effective means of mobilizing existing resources.
What Lean UX Looks Like
In my recent presentation for the Symposium on Communicating Complex Information, I presented the following lean UX workflow for use by smaller organizations:
- Discovering issues
- User segmentation
- Usability testing
Recently championed by Jeff Gothelf, lean UX is an approach that tries to move as efficiently as possible through the design process.
When I first start working with a client, I am looking to discover the central problems in their design, or proposed design, as efficiently and effectively as possible. This stage can include task analysis, heuristic evaluation, and contextual inquiry.
Essentially, I’m trying to:
- Learn as much as I can about the context of the application
- Learn as much as I can about use cases for the application
- Go through the application as an expert evaluator
Also called “customer segmentation,” breaking test users into demographic sub-groups allows UX designers to test the reactions of particular kinds of customers to simple tasks. These demographics can come from the client, a survey of existing users, or focus groups with potential users.
In this stage, I’m:
- Identifying what kinds of people might want to use the application
- Understanding what attributes are central to these people
- Planning how I might recruit some of these people
Prototyping refers to creating a lo-fi or hi-fi mockup of an application. This can be anything from a drawing on paper to a clickable prototype made with software (I like UXPin for this) to a prototype built with HTML and CSS or a CMS like WordPress.
- Trying to depict some of the central functions of the application
- Thinking about how users navigate through the application
- Thinking about what functions I’d like to test
One of the most commonly understood stages of the UX process, usability testing is also sometimes misunderstood as an optional stage. Like Jakob Nielsen, I don’t know how anyone can call themselves a UX designer if they’re not testing.
For me, the point of usability testing is:
- Learning more about users!
- Testing some use cases for the application (tasks + functions)
- Testing the validity of the application as a coherent whole
Repeat as Necessary
The best part about choosing a lean process, is that it’s easy to repeat. You can run this process in as little as a few days if you’re on a tight timeline and have good access to test users (which is becoming less and less of a barrier with organizations that find users for you). More importantly: before rolling out a new feature, redesign, or even just a simple tweak, you can use this process to test your application before releasing it to market. Even usability testing alone improves an application by 38% on average.
Think I’ve missed an essential element of lean UX? Let me know below.