Drilling Into Lean UX

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Overall I found Lean UX to be an incredibly insightful and helpful compilation of principles and suggestions for practice/improving process and collaboration as outlined in my review of the book. As I was reading, though, I had some questions come up that I felt weren’t answered–or maybe I missed the answer. Since others may have these same questions, we appreciate Jeff Gothelf agreeing to answer them for Boxes and Arrows.

Ambrose: In a couple places, you mention the value of keeping your teams small. I’m sure you are quite aware that there are some pretty large software projects out there, though.

Do you have any ideas/recommendations for those in that kind of situation? Are there ways of, for instance, breaking into smaller teams for Lean UX while still tackling larger solutions that you have seen work well?

Jeff: As team sizes grow, communication suffers. As communication suffers, the team increasingly relies on documentation to ensure nothing is missed. This increases the workload on the team, focusing them on tasks that add little value to the project and taking them away from tasks that move the team forward.

In these situations, look for logical ways to break the larger team up into smaller, more nimble groups. Keep those groups as cross-functional as you can and provide regular opportunities for them to coordinate with each other, such as daily standups, scrum of scrums, and the like.

Ambrose: In Chapter 3, one of the early activities you describe is “feature brainstorming.” I have seen a tension between thinking about features and thinking in terms of user stories. It is similar to problem vs. solution, and my experience has been that it is way too easy for team members to jump to solutions, often bypassing taking time to really understand contexts of use, actual users, and their desires. It felt like this was being short-circuited in favor of a focus on features.

Maybe it’s a terminology issue, but do you see value in capturing and starting from stories and/or storyboards rather than from features?

Jeff: The main focus of the team should be the outcomes the project or product is trying to achieve. These can initially be captured as user outcomes but should ultimately be translated up into business outcomes. Using our desired outcomes as a filter we can prioritize features more objectively–whatever technique gets you to the point where you have an objectively prioritized list of hypotheses fastest is the one you should use.

I’ve been in situations where bringing in some visualization artifacts has moved the process along faster. The goal is not to present them as “done deals” but more of conversation starters for the rest of the team to take inspiration from and to drive discussion.

Ambrose: One of the things that I loved was your treatment of MVPs as prototypes. “P” is for both Product and Prototype, right? I also liked thinking about MVPs as more of an MVF—Minimum Viable Feature, if you will.

I think the concept of Minimum Viable Product is challenging for new and potentially innovative products.There is the concern about competitors poaching ideas before you can get your full value into the market, but maybe more so there is the concern of being too minimal—not having enough value or just missing too much, and so exposing yourself to the potential for being prejudged by the market/users.

Do you have any advice for figuring out the Viable part?

Jeff: In our work, we define MVP as the smallest thing you can do or make to test your hypotheses. Sometimes that’s a workflow and sometimes that’s a feature. The scope of the experiments you run to test your MVP’s doesn’t have to yield statistical significance– just enough direction to let you know if you should continue exploring this path. This will inevitably require you to expose your work to your market.

Is there risk of having your idea poached? Sure, but it’s small. And even if it is stolen, that’s simply further validation that you’re on to something.

Ambrose: You advocate for involving the whole cross-functional team in research instead of having a dedicated team focused on research. When do you see this approach not working for product teams, and do you have any suggestions for maybe meeting halfway?

Jeff: The fastest way to gain insight from customers AND to build team-wide shared understanding of the customer and their needs is through collaborative discovery. That being said, there will come a time in the project where people must return to their core competencies at which time, reducing the number of people actively running the research is fine.

This does not, however, excuse the rest of the team from ignoring the findings of the ongoing research activities, nor should it keep them from being invited to continually participate.

Ambrose: In Chapter 7, you say, if “you work on packaged software, or embedded software, or deliver software to an environment in which continuous deployment is difficult or impossible, Lean UX may not be a great fit for your team.” As someone who has worked in such environments, I don’t like this answer.

Have you thought any more and/or discovered ways to bridge the gap to a more Lean UX approach for those sorts of environments?

Jeff: The concern here is that you don’t get to continuously improve the product. You get, for example, an annual release to correct and improve the experience. Of course you can still use many of the Lean UX techniques to build shared understanding and to inform the existing release cycle and plan and nudge the product in a more accurate direction, but until you can launch actual software into the market, the quantitative side of the puzzle will be missing.

Ambrose: In Chapter 8, you say:

“For some designers, Lean UX threatens what they see as their collective body of work, their portfolio, and perhaps even their future employability. These emotions are based on what many hiring managers have valued to date—sexy deliverables. Rough sketches, ‘version one’ of a project, and other low-fidelity artifacts are not the makings of a ‘killer portfolio,’ but all of that is now changing.”

What is the evidence you see for that changing?

Jeff: For better or worse, you’re seeing job descriptions now for “lean ux designers.” I know from our hiring experience what we’re interested in is the story a candidate can tell about their contribution to a project and how they solved challenging problems.

Other evidence has been largely anecdotal from conversations with hiring managers who are not impressed by a wireframe deck. They want to know the thinking behind the straight lines and drop shadows. That’s where the real insight lies.

Ambrose: What are you working on now that you feel is important to advancing the practice of Lean UX?

Jeff: The most recent thing that I’ve been working on and pretty pumped about is Lean Day: West (www.leandaywest.com). Would love for your readers to know about it and attend if they can!

Ambrose: Lastly, if there was one thing that didn’t make it into the book but that you have learned since and would now add, what is it?

Jeff: One thing we focus on a lot these days is transparency. Working in a lean way is new to many organizations as well as the managers in those companies. Change is always scary especially when other bosses are asking the same questions they always have.

If you’re trying these new methods and want to do as much as you can to clear the path ahead of you, be transparent. Make sure your colleagues and your managers know what you’re doing, what’s going well, what’s not, what you’re learning and what you’re planning on doing next. Make it public. Use monitors or printouts all over the office. Hold demo days and invite everyone (free food helps).

The more people know what you’re up to, the more interested they’ll be. In addition, the more informed your managers will be–which gives them comfort–which keeps them out of your way.

Leaping Into Indie UX

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Show Time: 33 minutes 40 seconds

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Podcast Summary

In this episode Chris Baum speaks with Donna Spencer, Lynne Polischuik, Justin Davis and Erin Jo Richey at the 2012 IA Summit about their interactive panel discussion Taking the Plunge: Diving Into Indie UX. They share practical and personal considerations of being an indie designer, including how to to get over the fear of making the jump, where and how to find clients, managing the business side of design and what it’s like to work alone.


“When you first start this you are really insulated…when I looked back it in the first six months to a year I didn’t make any money! When you’re in that initial phase you’re really excited… I think if you looked at it objectively you’d never do it.”

“I spent three years working my butt off to have all of the buffers in place… if there’s no work there’s no backup second income. It took a good couple of years to get enough money in the bank… where I could finally start to relax and say no to work knowing other things would come up and not kill me.”

“I got pushed out of the nest with a reasonable size contract.. and I was OK for a couple of years but I look back now on projects I took on that now I never would have taken on… taking on the wrong clients, taking on the wrong projects… I got to a point recently last Fall where I asked am I happy is this where I want to be?”

“I have been an independent for just over a year now… I had joined the agency that would come in as an analyst and then transition to an Information Architect. We decided that they didn’t want to take the agency in the direction of UX or IA and we talked about the role within the company… I didn’t want to focus on the same types of marketing … I did get laid off but I didn’t have a backup plan put in place.”


Thanks to “Vitamin Talent”:http://vitamintalent.com/ and Morgan Kaufmann’s “It’s Our Research”:http://www.amazon.com/Its-Our-Research-Stakeholder-Buy-/dp/0123851300/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331302670&sr=1-1 for sponsoring this podcast.

And thanks to “ASIS&T”:http://www.asis.org/ for their support of the “IA Summit”:http://iasummit.org/ and this podcast.

Engaging Interaction

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This evening I had the pleasure of speaking with Principal of Interaction Design at Kicker Studio Jennifer Bove. Jennifer is co-chairing Interaction10 the third annual Interaction Design Association conference taking place February 4-7th at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

She shares many details for the upcoming conference including speakers, workshops, and several unique experiences that attendees can expect during their time at the event. You can also follow the conference on Twitter @IxD10.

Pre-Conference Workshops

The day before the conference, interaction designers can add core skills to their repertoire with hands-on workshops covering a range of topics. They include basic user experience skills like user research, mental models, brainstorming, and wireframing, but also mix in other topics like visual skills for folks who can’t draw, designing for mobile, and prototyping with “Arduino”:http://www.arduino.cc/.

Keynotes include:

Paola Antonelli – Senior Curator of Arch & Design at MOMA
Bill Moggridge – IDEO founder and interaction design pioneer
Jon Kolko – Associate Creative Director at Frog Design
Dan Hill – “Designer and urbanist”:http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2002/01/about_cityofsou.html from Sydney
Ezio Manzini- “Sustainability expert”:http://www.sustainable-everyday.net/manzini/ and Professor of Industrial Design at Politecnico di Milano
Nathan Shedroff – Author & Chair of the “Design MBA”:http://www.designmba.org/ at California College of the Arts

Also invited speakers to speak about core topics like storytelling, service design, copy writing, networked objects, open source hardware & software. People like Liz Danzico, Shelley Evenson, Timo Arnal from Oslo, Denise Wilton from Moo in the UK.

Interact Sessions

Jennifer and the team for Interaction 10 are trying something new this year with the community sessions they used to call lightening rounds. They want to encourage more interaction among attendees. All folks who know each other online from around the world will finally have a chance to meet face to face, and give the younger and more experienced folks a reason to mix.

The IxDA received over 250 submissions from the community, opened it up for comments the topics the community was interested in; from which they chose about 30. The effort in selection was based on a mix of topics and formats including discussions, activities, and games, and the UX bookclub.

Local Challenge

Savannah was the first design city, and organizers wanted to do something to give back. They designed a Local Challenge structured to give participants an opportunity to put interaction design principles and methods to work, engage with the rich history of Savannah, and address an issue that affects the lives of their local peers.

Student Challenge

Students can submit process books, juried by an international panel of educators, where 5 finalists will be invited to the conference for an on-site design challenge to compete for prizes and peer recognition.

Art Exhibition

Exploring the concept of interaction. Organizers of the conference have invited designers and artists to submit work that explores the concept of interacting with people, tools, technology, and answering the questions about what it all means.

A Wiser Interaction

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iTunes     Download    Del.icio.us     Boxes and Arrows theme music generously provided by Bumper Tunes

banda_headphones_sm.gif Chris Baum speaks with Bill DeRouchey, co-chair for the 2010 Interaction Design Conference, about the upcoming conference and how the third annual conference will start to model the essence of Interaction Design.

Looking Back
Bill talks about the first two years of the conference, the lessons learned from those experiences, and why Interaction ’10 returns to Savannah.

A Brand New Program
For 2010, the program is quite different. Bill explains the new approaches, in particular “Discussions” and “Activities,” and why they are changing things up. He also covers the “Documentary” and “Art Exhibition,” two new Interactions-related events.

Submitting for Interaction 10
Interested in submitting session proposals for Interaction10? “Submissions are open”:http://interaction.ixda.org/submissions.php until September 15.

Documentary and Art submissions are open until November 1.

IxD S.W.A.T. Team
Along with Bill and Jennifer Bove, his co-chair, the conference team includes several well-known designers. Bill explains how each is bringing her/his talent to the conference preparations.

IxD in a Physical Environment
Flow of people in a hotel is relatively easy. In Savannah, however, Interaction spans several buildings. Bill describes how that will affect the design of the conference proper.

Interaction 10 will also introduce some new sponsorship programs. Bill explains what this means and how that helps both sponsors and conference attendees.

Test & Iterate
The conversation closes with more reflection on what the IxDA has learned from the first two years of the conference, and how 2010 will reflects what has come before.

For more information, visit “interaction.ixda.org”:http://interaction.ixda.org/.

IDEA 2009: An Interview with Thomas Malaby

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As IDEA 2009 draws closer, the IA Institute is conducting a series of interviews with the speakers for the conference. As Director of Events and Marketing for the IAI, I fill a variety of roles and lead the charge for the IDEA Conference this year, as well as get to Interview the IDEA Presenters (which I proudly share with Greg Corrin in this case).

For this interview, I was able to ask a few questions with Thomas Malaby. Malaby is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has a forthcoming book titled "Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life" from Cornell University Press.

You recently finished a book about Second Life and online communities titled “Making Virtual Worlds” (Cornell University Press). Can you describe how your research process was structured for this writing effort? How does one conduct ethnographic research in online communities effectively?

The rise of digital technologies poses many challenges and opportunities for ethnographic research. Because this project centered on the makers of Second Life, Linden Lab in San Francisco, to a certain extent the familiar form of face-to-face ethnographic participant observation and interviewing was possible. But nonetheless even within the company an enormous amount of communication occurred through technologically mediated channels, including multiple email lists, wikis, an IRC channel, instant messaging, plus all of the tools for communication found within Second Life itself, wherein a great deal of Linden employees’ work was done.

What are some of your key research findings about Second Life? How is this community progressing from a sociological perspective?

My primary finding concerned the way in which the ostensibly “user-generated” world of Second Life was nonetheless shaped so deeply by the values and expectations that the makers at Linden Lab inscribed into it. What emerges is that while we may be tempted to think of the communities (and there are many) within Second Life as existing in a somewhat “natural” state, free to develop as they wish, in fact all users of Second Life are always already acting within an environment that makes assumptions about what kind of people they are. The inscription of property rights into the world is only the most obvious example of the ineradicable ideological assumptions that are part of SL.

Do you have any advice for professional or other organizations as to how they could use Second Life to help foster increased activity amongst their members?

Second Life’s advantage is the wide bandwidth for nuanced social action that it provides. That is, moving about as avatars within the environment broadens the scope for meaningful expression in ways that can form the foundation for powerful applications. From my point of view, the most promising of these are educational and therapeutic — uses that leverage the real human connections possible in an environment that allows people to express themselves so broadly.

Did you find in your research that Second Life is evolving in a unique way compared to other communities?

Certainly, but in a sense any given community changes historically in a unique fashion. We are always tempted to find some common sequence or pattern to how societies change, but overwhelmingly the evidence that anthropology and related fields have found about all communities is that they change historically, in contingent ways. There are some patterns we can observe that hold across some if not all cases, but no universal path. This is a facet of all change (even evolutionary change) that Charles Darwin deeply appreciated, but it is often forgotten in our desire to have universal answers.

Do you care to make a prediction on the future of online communities? Will Second Life shape any primarily online social world going forward, or are other systems innovating in other more interesting ways?

I think Second Life already has. Metaplace, the new virtual world by famous game designer Raph Koster, owes an enormous amount to Second Life in its conception of what users want (ideas that more deeply connect with longstanding assumptions about people, authority, and technology in postwar-U.S., especially the Bay Area).

Do you spend much time actively participating in communities online or are you always wearing a researching hat? If so, in which communities do you spend your leisure time?

I spend a great deal of time in virtual worlds, and almost all of it is in World of Warcraft, where I lead a guild of academics and their friends and family.

There are many different online and mobile applications that allow people to find new methods of connecting with very little overhead.  How do you think SecondLife can compete—or work in conjunction—with these?

With any networked technology (really, any technology) we must always be mindful of the specific experience of using it and the affordances it brings. There are things that Second Life and similar worlds are good at that mobile apps could never hope to achieve, and it is the same in the other direction. We don’t need killer apps, we need killer uses– and those are far harder to anticipate and encourage through design.


About Thomas Malaby

Thomas Malaby is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has published numerous works on virtual worlds, games, practice theory, and indeterminacy. His principal research interest is in the relationships among institutions, unpredictability, and technology, particularly as they are realized through games and game-like processes.

You can learn more about Thomas on the Speakers Page and the Program Page of the IDEA Conference website.

About IDEA (Information Design Experience Access) 2009: Social Experience Design

IDEA2009 brings together the world’s foremost thinkers and practitioners: sharing the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways people’s lives and systems are converging to affect society.

These days, you can’t be socially engaging without considering the experience design. IDEA2009 brings together like-minded people who want to continue the exploration of Social Experience Design.