Agile UX vs Lean UX, which should you choose?

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May 14, 2014
Agile UX vs Lean UX, which should you choose?.
thumbnailThe Web is a well established kingdom of acronyms and buzz words. I'm sorry to say so, but we tend to generate a lot of terms that more often than not are a marketing trick rather than a useful definition for describing part of our field. UX, IxD, IA, UCD, CX, agile UX, lean UX, guerrilla research, strategic UX, emotional design... we're swimming in the sea of strange phrases that abandon clarity in favor of self-aggrandizement. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a luddite. I've spent a significant amount of time on the design battleground working as a Usability Specialist; UX Designer; Information Architect; UX Manager. Plenty of buzz words on my own résumé. The arrival of “Agile UX”, and soon after “Lean UX”, caused me a little more confusion than usual: both terms suggest a strong relationship of design with the overall process of product development—which I absolutely admire; both tend to focus on making design faster; both fit into the broad vision of new user experience design tools. But...what's the difference between between Agile UX and Lean UX? In everyday tech conversation, most people use these two terms interchangeably. Why then do we have two terms if they're both referring to the same thing?

Agile UX

The movement toward agile development is rooted in the creation of software. In the old days design wasn't nearly as valued as today and software was one of the most unfortunate examples of that omission. As a matter of fact, little attention was paid to the end user. Software development used to be all about delivering results, no matter how ugly or convoluted the user experience may be. The biggest concern for creators of the original Agile Manifesto was efficiency of the software development process, rather than the value and the place of design. In fact design wasn't even mentioned in the manifesto, which forced designers to fight for their place in the process later on. Initially, Agile went up against the classic Waterfall development process that was constantly trying to close dynamic process in the static form of a robust documentation. Agile followers and set of simple principles:
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
These guidelines quickly became popular and right now Agile is considered to be the gold standard for the development of digital products. To fit into this pretty picture UX design had to reconsider its own techniques and focus. The result of this re-evaluation is Agile UX. Essentially, Agile UX describes the approach of Agile Software Methodology in the UX Design context. The ultimate goal of Agile UX is to unify developers and designers in the agile process of product development.

Lean UX

Unlike Agile UX, Lean UX comes from startup culture. The concept here being that a business must ship a product as soon as possible—sales (or some other form of traction) need to rack up quickly for the project to survive. To do that knowledge must be gathered and serve as the basis for a set of iterations of the product. The goal is to produce a minimum viable product and push it out to the market as rapidly as possible. The process usually involves getting the core product out first, to establish if there's a market demand, and then building towards a fully realized version in a series of steps. Lean development models test ideas throughout the development process, focusing on constant measurement and so called “learning loops” (build – measure – learn). Constantly gathering data on the target user group is an integral part of the Lean process. Consequently, people have begun to refer to the traditional process of web design that relies on analytics as part of Lean methodology. As all UX design is informed by an understanding of human behaviour, some people argue that Lean UX is just well executed UX.

Which should you choose?

Agile UX and Lean UX are two approaches to the modified design processes that fit the way clients and consumers expect modern products and services to be delivered. The terms are typically taken to mean the same thing. However, the different results that are arrived at from the different methods are clear: Agile UX produces a more polished product; Lean UX produces multiple products of increasing polish. Ultimately, both techniques can arrive in the same place, but via very different routes. When choosing which path to take for your web projects, determine the most appropriate path for the end result. If you're able to iterate through many versions, as with a side project, then Lean may be the way to go; if you're more comfortable releasing a fully realized version then look to Agile.

Marcin Treder

Marcin Treder, Founder & CEO of UXPin, is a design enthusiast from Gdansk, Poland who literally lives for creating the best user experience possible. After years of working as UX Designer and UX Manager, he focused on his own startup UXPin – The UX Design Platform - toolset used by UX Designers in e.g. Microsoft, NBC, USA Today and thousands of other companies. UXPin was recently funded by Andreessen/Horowitz, Freestyle Capital, IDG Ventures, Gill Penchina and others...Follow Marcin on Twitter @marcintreder and read his blog – marcin.is.

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