One thing I learnt about lean UX

I have been reading a lot about lean user experience recently, particularly I read two title published by O’Reilly for “the lean series” collection:

· UX for Lean Startups by Laura Klein;

· Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden.

The presented idea of “lean UX” is very coherent across the books and it presents many and significant differences from the traditional world of user experience research and design. One first change is, according to the authors, that lean UX practice is mainly focused on the startup world and, particularly, to non-UX professionals (e.g. product managers and stratup founders) who wants to make small and focused discoveries about their products.

A second central idea in the Lean UX literature is that of validation of design decisions and, in particular, the validation of the product ideas. In fact, Rosenfeld media even published a title exactly on this concept titled: “Validating product ideas through lean user research”. In my opinion this focus on product ideas validation is an important shift from the traditional ux research scope. In fact, it moves lean user research research much nearer to the field of marketing. Is really lean user research more about marketing than usability itself? And what would this change mean from a practitioner perspective?

According to Venkatesan validating product ideas is a process composed from 4 steps:

1) Customer validation: where the objective is to check the existence and the reachability of a customer group;

2) Problem validation: where the objective is to check the existence of a user problem or understand better how the problem is currently addressed;

3) Concept validation: where the objective is to check the suitability of the solution;

4) Experience validation: where the objective is to reply to the question: does my solution work well?

Are these four objectives really extraneous to the traditional UX research scope? To reply to this question let’s take the ncredible framework presented by Kothandaraman and Ludin as base of our reflection. It is shown in Figure 1 and it categorizes ux research in four quadrants basing on how they reply to the following two questions:

1. What will the research do for the business? From Inspire to Inform;

2. What are considerations feeding into the study? From Fixed to Flexible.

The ncredible framework and the four steps of product idea validation.

Basing on the ncredible framework it is easy, in my opinion, to position experience and concept validation respectively in the definition and validation research quadrants. Making them perfectly comfortable in the traditional ux research space.

As to the problem validation phase I feel the need to distinguish whether the objective is to investigate how a problem is currently addressed by users, or to validate the existence of a problem in the users’ life. In the former case I would say this type research can be positioned completely in the discovery research quadrant. In the latter case I would say that problem validation would fall down outside the four quadrants completely. The same would happen for customer validation.

As shown by positioning the four components of product validation in the space described from the ncredible framework lean ux research presents new and interesting challenges for a ux practitioner. In fact, checking the existence of a problem in the users’ life or the reachability of a group of users is a completely different beast compared to the type of research we are used to conduct.

From the lean user research perspective, in my opinion, a very problematic point becomes that of the validity of participants who get part in the study. It seems clear that you can conduct customer validation and problem validation studies only if you can access a “real” sample of users. In this particular case, real is to be considered in the strictest sense of the term (e.g. age, gender, occupation, etc.).

A second problematic factor is that of quantity of participants to investigate. A pure qualitative method seems, in fact, not able to check the existence or not of a specific users’ group.

To summarise lean UX seems to be more oriented toward understanding if a digital product is suitable for the market than traditional usability and design research. This peculiar aspect represents a new and challenging change for any UX practitioner. Nonetheless product ideas validation seems to be a crucial aspect in the start-upping phase and here is where lean ux can help a lot.