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The Future of UI/UX in Agile

by Todd Charron on Aug 30, 2011 |

Many people who are new to Agile are confused about the place of UI and UX design on Agile teams. Previously, many teams have tried keeping the work separate from the team or having the work done one sprint ahead. Recently, there has been more talk about welcoming UI and UX into Agile teams and Lean UX has been at the forefront.

Luke Walter, of CollabNet, weighed in on working a sprint ahead:

I often encounter recommendations from evidently seasoned Scrum practitioners that UI design should be developed in sprints prior to development, or even generated in backlog grooming/sprint planning meetings outside of sprints. As a designer who’s been using Scrum since 2004, this continually baffles me; While these folks no doubt would argue that system architecture (high-level software design) can and should be done incrementally and iteratively in regular sprints along with the rest of the development work, they express the opposite opinion on UI design without any sense of irony.

To Luke, design is just another part of being "done":

Design – like architecture and testing – is simply work that needs to be done to construct a potentially shippable increment of product. And most of this work can happen during a sprint with everything else.

UI design/information architecture is more or less equivalent to system software architecture: it’s just that one is concerned with grey-matter processors while the other is concerned with silicon-and-copper processors.

He also addressed the concern that an iterative approach to design increases rework:

Just as programmers need to get over the idea that rework is waste, so do designers.

Jeff Gothelf, of The Ladders, was also not a fan of working one sprint ahead:

Labeling it “Iteration 0” intimates that we follow the “staggered sprints” model popularized by Desiree Sy and Lynn Miller at Autodesk – which we don’t. Instead we opt to solve problems as whole scrum teams and bring the ideation, design and development phases as close as possible to the same kickoff point.

Jeff, is a proponent of a new movement known as Lean UX.

Lean UX, which is inspired by Lean and Agile, is about bringing design closer to the development process so that the focus is no longer on the deliverables, but on the user experience in the actual software.

Lean UX encourages you, the designer, to show your work early and often to the team, collect their insights and build that into the next iteration of the design

By providing insight into the design work to your teammates sooner rather than further down the design road, you accomplish the following:

  1. Ensure that you’re aligned with the broader team and the business vision;
  2. Give developers a sneak peek at the direction of the application (speeding up development and surfacing challenges earlier);
  3. Further flesh out your thinking, since verbalizing your concepts to others forces you to focus on areas that you didn’t think of when you were pushing the pixels.

Long detailed design cycles are eschewed in favor of very short, iterative, low-fidelity cycles, with feedback coming from all members of the implementation team early and often. Collaboration with the entire team becomes critical to the success of the product.

He also addresses the fear of "design by commitee":

In fact, the designer is still driving the design by aggregating all of that feedback, assessing what works best for the business and the user, and iterating the design forward.

By staying lean, however, the frequent collection of team-wide feedback actually minimizes the time spent heading down the wrong path. The designer continues to drive the design, but the guardrails (i.e. constraints) become more visible with each iteration and review. Basically, if you spend three months perfecting a design only to find out after launch that it fails to meet customers’ needs, then you’ve just wasted three months of your life, not to mention your team’s.

Lean UX is an evolution, not a revolution. UX designers need to evolve and stay relevant as the practice evolves. Lean UX gets designers out of the deliverables business and back into the experience design business.

Jared Spool, on what's different about Lean UX:

I think there is something to Lean UX. It was created as a response to Lean Startups, a movement that I think has merit too.

Lean UX is about reducing deliverables and moving towards thinking about the design. While there are no new skills to add to our UX skill list, there’s a line of thinking that is special to Lean UX that you don’t see when people aren’t practicing it.

After years of uncertainty, it looks like UI/UX is becoming a full fledged member of Agile teams.

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