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Lean UX – A case study


Trent Mankelow, UX Director, Telecom Digital Ventures

If you are reading this blog, then chances are you’re familiar with the Lean Startup movement. But what about ‘Lean UX’?

In a nutshell, Lean UX is a principle-based design and development framework. Inspired by Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, it builds on the principles of Agile development and lean manufacturing, and uses methods like rapid prototyping, co-design, and cross-functional collaboration to help build better user experiences faster.

The intent is to foster a more open, collaborative, and iterative approach to design. It is also different from the more traditional UX methods in that it moves the focus away from deliverables and documentation towards business outcomes. Think: more value, less effort. Lean UX takes aim at inefficient and inflexible ‘waterfall processes’ and breaks through the organizational red tape that can stifle creativity.

­The ultimate goal of Lean UX: more trust, more clarity, more fun, and better products delivered quickly by a highly-functioning team. To see it in action, check out this Nordstrom Innovation Lab video.

Lean UX in action

At Telecom Digital Ventures, we’ve been experimenting with Lean UX. In his book, appropriately named ‘Lean UX’, Jeff Gothelf outlines 15 foundational principles. Here’s how we’ve applied some of them on Bigpipe, our uncapped broadband service:

Cross-Functional Teams. Lean UX demands a high level of collaboration between disciplines. We’ll often have mutliple people weighing in on design decisions, in a really useful way. For example, earlier this week we were wrestling with the wording for a ‘credit card declined’ email. The final wording was made based on input from QA, front-end development, business analysis and UX.

Small batch sizes. Lean manufacturing tries to minimise waste by sticking to small batch sizes. For us that means iterating quickly on small things, and never doing ‘big bang’ design. For example, in designing the invoice for Bigpipe we went through six revisions in a 24-hour period.

Getting out of the building. In deciding how to build our new broadband service, we did three rounds of user testing, starting with really ugly, lo-fidelity designs. Going out and watching customers interact with what you’ve built is table stakes for Lean UX.

Externalising your work. For us, getting our UX and design work out of our heads and on public display simple meant commandering a wall and posting up our designs (from first drafts to current day), personas, customer journey map and any other artefacts we could think of.

Making over analysis. Lean UX values making over analysis. Recently we had an issue where some customers didn’t realise that they would have to buy a new modem to upgrade to VDSL. Rather than documenting the tweaks to the copy we wanted, we just rolled up our sleeves and edited the code ourselves.

Our focus on Lean UX has really paid off in terms of the user experience. We recently ran a survey of our customers and found that 86% of respondents rated the overall sign-up experience as either ‘Very easy’ or ‘Easy’. The top five words survey respondents used to describe Bigpipe were Simple, Friendly, Clear, Aproachable and Innovative.

So give some of these ideas a go – you might be surprised and what a big impact Lean UX can make.


Thanks to Optimal Experience and Jeff Gothelf for their help in writing this article.