Native Wiring: Thriving as a Designer with Lean UX

By Kiley Meehan, UX Designer at FreshBooks

For much of my career I’ve worn the label of a “Creative”. To many colleagues, what I did was akin to wizardry. I toiled behind the curtain in isolation, sustained by coffee and the spectre of an impending design review.

My process was self-realized, attuned to my idiosyncratic work habits, driven by perfectionism. When the time came to present my mock-ups for a stakeholder review, my hands were clammy, my chest was thumping. Because, after all, I put weeks of blood, sweat and tears into this work — it had to be good. Right?

Fast forward a few years and, well, I’m in a much different place. As a User Experience Designer at FreshBooks, my design process is no longer a black box. I’ve moved from a regimen of quiet perfectionism to one that’s collaborative and iterative.

My transition wasn’t immediate, just as it wasn’t for FreshBooks when they found their design mojo and made the leap to Lean UX last year — a process based on rapid ideation, prototyping and testing.

But it’s worked out well. Turns out that Lean UX builds on my natural strengths, and as a result I’m a happier, more productive Designer. I no longer feel the anxiety of huge unveilings or the disappointment of seeing my week’s worth of effort, blown to smithereens.

So, could Lean UX be a perfect fit for you too?

Perhaps your team is transitioning to Lean UX, or you’re thinking of joining a company that already has. If so, there are a few key personality traits that may indicate you’re the type of designer that won’t just adapt, but thrive in a Lean UX environment:

You’re a Natural Problem Solver

In the SaaS (Software as a Service) industry, you’re doomed if you don’t keep moving — your product is never perfect, and there are always problems to solve. Designers need to help define and solve those problems.

At FreshBooks, designers lead a weekly group sketching session that we call a charrette. This involves gathering your teammates around a table to define a particular problem and sketch out as many solutions as possible.

At a charrette, no idea is a bad idea — the aim is to get the group thinking and talking, while ensuring you’re solving the right problem. The most plausible ideas are then prototyped and tested with real users later in the week.

This means a new problem to chew on every single week. Which is perfect if you’re the type of designer that loves a good challenge, and to push yourself to think outside of the box.

You’re Humble

If all goes according to plan, the outcome of a charrette should be a bunch of ideas, ready to prove wrong. Which is exactly the outcome that you want.

This process can be brutal if you hold your ideas too close to your heart. It’s tough to see your favourite idea fail in a user test, and get sent back to the drawing board. But it’s necessary. Besides, by testing every week, your ideas are only three days old. There’s simply not enough time to become attached.

If you accept that it’s not you, but your idea that’s in the cross-hairs, you’re better able to let go and start working out a better solution.

You’re a Great Communicator

With Lean UX, communication with the team is essential. At FreshBooks, we keep everyone on the team aligned by scheduling weekly circle meetings, bookending our Thursday user testing. A circle acts as a forum for feedback, strategizing next steps and ensuring alignment across teams.

Here, the designer is counted on to clearly communicate the progress of their work. What assumptions were made going into testing? What failed? What worked? What are the next steps?

A designer that is able to communicate complex problems in a way that is digestible and actionable is key to an effective circle meeting.

You Value Collaboration

At FreshBooks, designers aren’t tucked away in the corner. They’re spread throughout the company in teams made up of roles that span product directors to developers to copywriters.

Through charrettes and circles, each member of your team is able to contribute to the design process. This is great for you, as it deepens the available pool of knowledge and insights while ensuring issues are caught early in a project, well before it’s too late.

It’s also a fantastic opportunity to learn. A designer that enjoys working closely with the team soon develops a far better understanding of the technologies, strategies and communication behind the product.

You’re Adaptable

Like the weather, some things you just can’t control. While the Lean UX process ensures a tight schedule of ideation and testing, it also affords for a huge degree of flexibility. Things change. Projects pivot. Often, on a weekly basis. You have to roll with it.

If you’re the type that not only embraces, but advocates change, you’ll do well in a process where no idea is sacred, and where iteration is essential for innovation.

Back when I still thought of myself as a “Creative”, I was wary of too much process, and concerned that a regimented schedule would stop the magic. I sure didn’t see myself leading the charge at a charrette, or conducting weekly user tests to prove my ideas wrong.

Now, however, I can’t imagine designing any other way. It’s been a great fit. Not only has Lean UX made me a stronger designer, it’s also made me a better teammate and a consistent contributor to our product.

Suffice it to say, I’ve emerged from behind the curtain, and I’m never going back. If you see yourself in any of the traits above, you may soon feel the same way.

Kiley Meehan is a UX Designer @ FreshBooks

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