UX design is team work

How the practice of user-experience design is changing with (agile) teams.

Ruben Bos
Ruben Bos
Aug 6, 2014 · 7 min read

Team work

About 6 years ago we decided these design/front-end/development departments were not working for us. We moved to agile, or better said: team working.

  • no department culture, let’s see if you still will say that ‘that developer’ doesn’t get it, when he is sitting besides you;
  • better insights in a project, every day we have a daily stand-up to track progress and problems;
  • better collaboration, clients can join and become part of the decision making;
  • working products, with fixed budgets and short time planning.

“The biggest irony of the shift to Agile is that it’s exactly what the UX world has been seeking for years. Yet now that it’s here, we’re wholly unprepared for it.”
— Jared M Spool

We were also unprepared, but are much more experienced now. I would like to take you through our learnings and explain how I think we’re managing to keep a strong focus on user-experience after our shift to agile.

What we’ve learned

(and what keeps changing)

Before I move on. User Experience Design can become quite an abstract term which focuses on many domains, from research to interaction design to visual design. But also offline or online. So I would like to show you examples how we have managed to embed UX tasks in our process. A lot of them are interaction design tasks, but also visual design, et cetera. So I’ll just call it UX design. The learnings below, until now, are from us: a digital agency, that works agile.

1) Make UX part of the team

We build our products with teams of 4 to 6 people. One or two developers, a front-end developer, a designer and a team leader. The team works with a backlog that contains of User Stories. Major design decisions are all made during the sprints by the team. Our teams have built large online platforms, responsive websites and native apps. In all these projects, no one had UX designer on his or her business card. But, to get to this result, we did a lot of UX tasks.

More skills, less people

Our projects ask for more skills. While productive teams ask for less people. Less specialized people. The team constantly has to make decisions that influence user experience and flow. I believe that these skills are already there. That the multidisciplinary teams can work together to solve UX design problems.

2) Become a UX design facilitator

But what about prototyping? Wireframing? To quote Jared M. Spool, once more:

“Agile teams don’t care for deliverables. The Agile Manifesto values ‘working software over detailed documentation’ and ‘responding to change over following a plan.’ In an Agile project, you can’t just drop the deliverables on the table and move on.” Jared M. Spool

At the start of the century a lot of us didn’t work with development iterations. So, as UX Designers we filled up our toolbox to deliver completely defined designs because they were needed. With teams, UX is not about dropping a bomb (deliverables) and running away, anymore. Techniques like card-sorting are tools. Tools that should make things clear for everyone, not just the ‘UX designer’. If you’re an UX expert, an important role is to help others learn these techniques so that they can use them.

3) Embrace that everything will change

Once you’re working – on responsive designs, apps or other interfaces – in an agile team, you know one thing for sure. Everything will change. Constantly.

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Sketchboarding an iPhone app with the team.

4) Research and design up front, but just enough

We moved a lot of UX related work from ‘big design up front’ to development sprints. Is there still a role at our company for UX research? Usability? Of course there is! As you can imagine, these teams work in sprints of 2 weeks. In these sprints the focus is on completing user stories. There is less time for extensive research. So what do we prepare?

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Example: a rough structure on a wall, that everyone could extend during the sprint.

A compromise?

Do I mean with UX design is team work that everything should be a compromise? No, contrary actually. Everyone should focus on what they’re best at. But whether you like it or not, the eventual User Experience, will be a result of the complete team, from researcher, to copy, to development. In that perspective: I think that waterfall is the real compromise.

Design and Develop

How to create a great User-Experience for apps and the web.

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