Is Lean UX Just A Brand Name?

Jared Spool

July 11th, 2011

Andy Budd suggested that Lean UX is just UX with a brand name.

As I suggested in my post on special collections, I think there is something to Lean UX. It was created as a response to Lean Startups, a movement that I think has merit too.

Lean UX is about reducing deliverables and moving towards thinking about the design. While there are no new skills to add to our UX skill list, there’s a line of thinking that is special to Lean UX that you don’t see when people aren’t practicing it.

Primarily, it’s about getting the UX practice as close to the development cycle as you can. It tends to focus on building working prototypes and getting feedback quickly.

Of course, regular UX has always wanted to have fast iterations, but the waterfall approach of specifying design requirements and working out complete designs before coding starts has been pervasive in many organizations.

The deal is that startups can’t afford a lot of “thinking” time associated with a waterfall-esque design process. They have a limited runway (the time it takes to launch a product) and they need designs fast.

Before Lean UX, the startup method of design was to just take whatever emerged from the architecture of the system. Developers were frequently creating the screens themselves, often without any consideration for what we’d call “design.” Their goal was to get something – anything – up and running as soon as possible.

Lean UX says, “we can help get something better.” It brings a deliberate design ethic to the startup process. However, it has to live within the limited runway environment, therefore it can’t be expensive and time consuming. Designs have to come quickly.

Someone who has spent time designing in this world will develop experience and knowledge that’ll provide value. UX professionals that haven’t had a chance to gain this specific flavor of experience will struggle in the startup world.

Interestingly, I think we’ll see a lot of what happens in lean UX environments feeding back into our thinking in non-lean environments. Hopefully, we’ll start to question the footprint of our processes and ask which deliverables are really necessary. Maybe the real contribution of lean UX is making us all aware of how un-lean much of our work really is.

6 Responses to “Is Lean UX Just A Brand Name?”

  1. Mario Bourque Says:

    My mentor said “focus is about all the things you don’t do”.

  2. David "Higgs" Kolawole Says:

    Lean is a paradigm, not just a brand name.

    The focus on iteration and rapid feedback can help develop many processes (i wished my mum practiced lean cooking back in the day)

    Most UX designers do some of these things intuitively but its good to have a laid down approach.

    Thanks for the post

    Higgs, The Chronomancer

  3. Laura Klein Says:

    I know that Lean UX can feel just like regular old user centered design, but I’ve noticed that a lot of fantastic UX people who have been doing UCD for years just don’t do particularly well in a Lean environment.

    I agree that the focus on speed and faster iterations is a big difference. Another difference is a focus on measuring how changes actually affect key metrics. For some reason, I’ve gotten a lot of push back from designers who insist that “design can’t be measured.” Another big difference that seems to be tough for designers is the “done is better than perfect” attitude that Lean startups tend to have.

    Lean UX does borrow quite heavily from UCD (which is a good thing, since UCD is a fabulous way to find out more about your users), but I agree that it’s not the same thing.

  4. Alok Jain Says:

    This is so close to home, last 4 years I have been working in a deep startup environment using technologies like Ruby that allow for quick iterative development. We do Lean UX ( didn’t realize that there was a term for it). I have seen pros and cons.. speed is a definite plus.. but as the product matures there is a lot more that can go wrong and one needs to move to a less lean approach – unless you are like 37 signals who have been able to control the features in their products.

  5. Gail Swanson Says:

    How to you keep the development folks moving forward while the UX folks are doing usability testing? The most difficult part of using a lean or agile UX approach is integrating it into the development life cycle. I really want to hear how people have made this work. Share your examples please!

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