Book Review: Lean UX

Lean UX


Jeff Gothelf, Josh Seiden

My Rating

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"A continuous discovery masterclass. This is how the best teams build products."

Over the past five to ten years we have seen a dramatic shift in how digital products are created, powered not just by advances in internet technology, but by new principles and practices that take advantage of those new technologies.

Inspired by movements, including Lean UX and the Lean Startup, organisations have learned that the best way to build best-in-class products is to talk to customers. In fact, we've discovered that the more you talk to customers (and the more effectively) the better your product will be.

Lean UX addresses both aspects of that challenge. Encouraging you to talk to customers more frequently, and through practices like design studio and proto personas, shows you how to engage your customers regularly.

If you have any doubts about the importance of continuous discovery, and thus the importance of reading Lean UX, I highly encourage you to immerse yourself in the Product Management community. Check out their podcasts, surveys, and conferences. You'll quickly realise, talking to customers is something they talk about constantly.

Breaking Down the Design Silo

Jeff Gothelf is a former designer. In Lean UX, he openly shares many of the mistakes he made as a designer working in the design silo. He recalls how he was always the designer who wanted his designs to be pixel perfect before handing them over to developers to build the solution.

In much the same way the agile software development community learned to work in small iterations, Jeff came to the same conclusion about design. Getting feedback is more important than creating the perfect design in times of uncertainty.

Jeff explains through personal examples of his failures and successes on his journey from traditional approaches to modern Lean UX.

Building on those insights, Jeff talks about earlier attempts in the past decade to address these problems. Notably when design would be one sprint ahead of development. Jeff articulates how this still requires a handover from the design team to the development team, thereby holding incorrect assumptions in the development process longer than they need to be.

Enter Continuous Discovery and Delivery

Evolving earlier attempts, Lean UX talks about a better way to continuously interact with customers - continuous discovery. The whole team delivering the product also does the discovery.

In practice, continuous discovery means developers, testers, and everyone else in the team gets involved in user research. Every sprint they talk to customers, watch research sessions, or receive direct customer insights in some form. No handovers from the design team - as soon as assumptions are proved incorrect, everyone is aligned and the incorrect assumptions no longer affect anyone's decision making.

Having worked in organisations, including the UK government, where this approach was a fundamental part of the culture, I can confirm that Jeff's ideas in the book align perfectly with my experiences. But there's no need to take my word for it, there are a number of examples and case studies in the book.

One of the more interesting case studies involves a team who bring customers in every Thursday. Whatever the current state of the product or their design prototypes, customers review them and provide immediate feedback... to the whole team.

Discovery Practices

Lean UX is a well-rounded book. It covers the problems Lean UX solves, the philosophy behind the ideas, and use cases to demonstrate real world examples. Importantly, Lean UX also presents the practices teams use to apply continuous discovery.

Design Studio, also commonly referred to as design sprints, are one example of the hands-on practices presented in the book. Design studio is a structured set of practices for rapidly experimenting on a focused area of the product, usually in just a week.

Lean UX shows how to use practices including proto personas, how to build MVPs, and how to tests those ideas with customers. The practices aren't limited to design sprints though. Most of the practices can be used as part of an ongoing, full-team process.

If you want to know what mainstream product development will look like in five yeas, read Lean UX. If you want to use cutting edge approaches to building products better than your competitors, read Lean UX and start applying all of the insights immmediately.

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