The Lean Web

Lean UX, Jeff GothelfThe web has found its identity. It’s a whole mix of, for lack of a better word, things. Things that enable us, things that inspire us, things that entertain us, things that work with (or against) us, things that communicate with us. All these things. And when you think about it isn’t every «thing» UX?

Everything is UX

This is true for me, and the ebook The Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf along with Josh Seiden precisely describes how this UX identity is Lean (yes, with a capital «L»). Jeff explains this through 3 priniciples that Lean UX has inherited from Lean Startup:

«First, they help us remove waste from our UX design process…. Second, they drive us to harmonize our «system» of designers, developers, product managers, quality assurance engineers, marketers, and others in a transparent, cross-functional collaboration that brings nondesigners into our design process. Last…, is the mindset shift we gain from adopting a model based on experimentation…. [Further] Lean UX has two other foundations: design thinking and Agile development philosophies.»

Most important in my view, though, is that Jeff also says that «Lean UX is deeply collaborative and cross-functional, because we no longer have the luxury of working in isolation from the rest of the product team».

Deeply collaborative and cross-functional. We’ve heard this before in web design, and yet, given a new backdrop based on Lean principles, we can start to paint a different picture. One that’s much more iterative, much more user based, much more economical in the long term, but above all, much more dependant on how well we work together across different fields.

The web is so much of a different picture since 1995, we can now call it the Lean Web. Every step of the way, from hearing the customer state their business goals, to follow through on traffic analysis and search engine optimization, we are, or should be in a constant flux based on a Lean approach. It is not limited to UX design thinking.

Let’s go through the creation of a web site from a web agency perspective. An «ideal» approach to website creation, because we know that for every project we have to make adjustments. It’s what I call the Lean Web Project Lifecycle. Here’s the general outline of what it entails:

Goal Understand the Need Define the outcomes Structure the content Appeal to the user Integrate functions Analyze results
Cycle/ Phase Sales Strategy Prototype Design Develop Follow
Project Management

As you can see, the Lean Web Project Lifecyle is defined not by activity, but by goals and phases. And there are always multiple competencies needed when addressing each phase. Every step of the way you are iterating and testing. In between phases you pivot. It is not necessarily linear; above all it is cyclical. By keeping it Lean, we are open to quick adjustments. We are able to alter our working path according to what needs to be taken care of at the moment, and according to the competencies available.

Sales: right from the start, it’s no longer about the traditional client-supplier relationship. Sales must teach the new paradigm to clients : it’s a collaboration from day one. Collaboration between seller and buyer, but also collaboration between seller, buyer, designer, engineer, project manager, etc. And collaboration is about focusing on the outcomes, and fully understanding the need.

Strategy: before any design work can be done, we must fully define and comprehend how the user will obtain the desired result. Everyone is at the table for this, especially the client. Though sales may be the driving force (though not always), it’s important that everyone identifies with the common goals. Content is at the heart of the strategy: «what do we say?» and «to whom are we talking?» and «who is writing the stuff?» and «what’s the structure like?» and «where is it published?» and «what do we do once it goes live?». Everyone is at the table. We want to cover the SEO implications, the tone, the voice, the personality, the content hierarchy, the social network issues, the mobility. Everything should help us focus on what is asked of everyone. In a Lean Web world, what’s great about working in this manner is that we all have a say. We can all contribute. We can all project our thoughts and identify key issues.

Prototype: iterate, iterate, iterate… and iterate again. This is a moment where collaboration is really felt, when all the designers and technicians and managers need to put their strengths together and hone in on each piece of the puzzle. Get the client involved early and often especially on reminding them of their role in the job (getting the content out most notably and validating the work in a timely manner). In a Lean Web world, the prototype reduces all excess fat that we tend to dish out at the beginning, and gets to the essential. Whether or not you do mobile first, the prototype will help focus the content from a user perspective (the Lean UX indeed), and insure that the content is easy to navigate across multiple devices.

Visual identity: I said it before, and I’ll say it again: «Print is dead». This is no longer about just designing shapes and colors and putting up pretty photos. Design work must meet the strategic goals set forth. I was at An Event Apart in San Diego last month, and recall Josh Clark’s talk that insisted «We are industrial designers». Why? Howso? Because the web is a volatile place. It’s not static. All these devices, all these resolutions, all these operating systems, and all these constant evolutions force us to reconsider design. We are industrial designers because we are now faced with such intense usage that you must focus on how «the hands [and the eyes] interact with the site». Luke Wroblewski concluded the conference by saying «We must rethink how to design for the desktop». Touch is coming. Touch is here. Touch is everywhere. Design needs to adapt. In a Lean Web world design is all about being effective. Which means appealing to all the senses and expectations of the user.

Development: only through iteration and building MVPs (minimum viable products) will you avoid scars and emotional repercussions from clients who change their mind just before delivery. Or did you ever have a client find a loophole in that one RFP sentence, overlooked by everyone, only to add another two weeks to an already overdue planning? In a Lean Web world, when you work according to the laws of iteration and testing, you are in essence working to avoid ulterieur problems. So what may seem like little time spent on production, is actually time invested in future gains, that we can only speculate upon. And in the end, as you make your calculation, you realize that indeed there was valuable learning and faster iterations as you move forward. For each function, development teams focus on performant solutions, that are fast, accessible, and secure across multiple systems and browsers.

Follow (Re-iterate): your web project will be alive over an indefinite period of time. It doesn’t stop when it goes live, on the contrary. It’s just another point on the continuum. The project lifecycle avoids untimely publication, and it avoids dead-ends. The project lifecycle incorporates strong iterations at an optimal rhythme according to the project. When the project goes live, we continue the iterations on SEO and content, but also, and perhaps above all, on the user experience. In a Lean Web world, you build a strong case for early and often delivery so that you can learn and improve according to the results.

Let’s not forget project management which is meant to insure the lifecycle moves forward at the right rhythme: it all boils down to communication and engagement. Those are your pillars to a Lean Web world. Without them, none of this can happen. Communicate, and communicate often. Engage in a deadline, but keep the cycle in mind. Not only should a Lean Web help us work to create better web sites, but also it should help us create a better working environment for all of us. We all share in the outcome.

Everything is Lean

The principles of Lean are inherently viable. It will continue to evolve naturally and perfect over time. We’ll have faster iterations, and better collaboration between all the parties involved. This applies to so many different professions. In the quest for better businesses, everything is Lean.

Publishing info

Title of ebook: Lean UX
Author: Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden
Date of initial publication: 2013
Publisher: O’Reilly
Where you can buy it: oreilly.com