What You Need to Know About Agile UX

User experience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a product, system or service. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change.

What You Need to Know About Agile UX

The IT industry has never been in better shape. New products are now launched in a highly competitive environment and the user interaction with new apps or websites has become essential to their success. Furthermore, the penetration of technology in everyday life is now so strong that our relation to technology is getting increasingly sophisticated, rapidly changing the users’ expectations. New products are thus less like a monolith sculpture made out of a single rock and more like a changing, dynamic layout of small stones put together.

With many concepts and processes attached to it (flow charts, wireframes, prototypes…), UX design needs to adapt to this new environment.

Wireframes and mockups have been used to think and define websites or applications before their implementation. But with the coming of the web 2.0, dynamic websites or RIA, you need to think everything from UI to conditional navigation or the type of interactions you want to use. But mockups or even clickable wireframes aren’t enough.

Agile development approaches present huge challenges to user experience, but also offer huge opportunities, particularly by bringing UX designers and software engineers more closely together to focus on clear, short-term goals. Agile methods challenge UX professionals to be more flexible and adaptable, to work more closely with developers, and to have closer contact with a product’s users.

You may be interested in the following related articles as well.

Please feel free to join us and you are always welcome to share your thoughts even if you have more tips that our readers may like.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS-feed and follow us on Twitter — for recent updates.

A Short History of UX

Looking at the history of user experience, wireframes came into being for deliverable purposes. Mockups, flow charts, site maps and specification documents specified the added value of UX.

instantShift - A Praise For Agile UX

However, this focus on deliverables drove UX designers away from their first objective: designing a successful user experience. What’s more, this focus on documents was in part useless to the overall development process, as most of the documents delivered were quickly obsolete and disposed of.

Old Process VS New Environment

From a UX perspective, this focus on deliverables is a time-consuming process that breaks down into 5 different phases:

  • Defining: defining and approving (with customers and stakeholders) requirements. Generating site maps and flow charts.
  • Designing: designing and agreeing (with customers and stakeholders) on low fidelity mockups, designing and agreeing on wireframes.
  • Development: writing the specification document, get it validate (by customers and stakeholders) and hand it in to developers.
  • Testing: carry out usability tests.
  • Deployment: launching the application.

instantShift - A Praise For Agile UX

Now depending on the number of iterations, meetings and deliverables, this process can last from a few weeks to a few months. Unfortunately, this process is now largely inadequate to a quickly-changing, highly competitive industry.

The IT industry has never been in better shape. New products are now launched in a highly competitive environment and the user interaction with new apps or websites has become essential to their success. Furthermore, the penetration of technology in everyday life is now so strong that our relation to technology is getting increasingly sophisticated, rapidly changing the users’ expectations. New products are thus less like a monolith sculpture made out of a single rock and more like a changing, dynamic layout of small stones put together.

With many concepts and processes attached to it (flow charts, wireframes, prototypes…), UX design needs to adapt to this new environment.

Introducing Agile UX

This new, more agile process focuses less on deliverables and more on the actual user experience. Long and detailed design processes are replaced by short, iterative cycles gathering feedback from all the people involved. No more big reunions, no more lonely work. Close and constant collaboration becomes the central argument of this agile work flow.

An Iterative Process

instantShift - A Praise For Agile UX

The workflow thus becomes a more iterative process with shorter cycles:

  1. concept (low fidelity wireframing, concept mockups)
  2. prototype (high fi prototyping)
  3. client testing (feedback)
  4. user testing (usability tests)
  5. start again

The key argument here is that the UX process is actually taken out of the overall process of development, to work with it side by side. The purpose here is not to come up with fancy design but rather to iterate as many times as needed until you eventually come up with the best user experience. The short life cycle of iterations leads to a more user-centered product (opposed to business-centered). Short, ever-changing iterations also leads to more collaboration between the people involved, thus empowering the group rather than a single designer in the project.

Closer Collaboration

Now this closer collaboration is relevant for several reasons. First, it aligns the design and user experience to the business rules. High fidelity prototypes, with rich interactions, give a clear direction to developers and speed up the overall development.

instantShift - A Praise For Agile UX

Furthermore these quick but thorough iterations help maintaining a distant and critical perspective on the project. Finally, it gets everybody involved to work in the same direction as well as defending a design with stronger arguments.

Better Productivity

While the old way of doing things consumed a lot of resources for a rather uncertain “happy end”, this short iterations process ensures a better productivity, speeding up development. High fidelity prototypes along with user testing guarantee the feasibility and relevancy of the program.

Documentation VS Prototypes

Documentation does make sense in large organizations that use it to maintain their programs or document complex business rules. However, when it comes to design, a simple piece of paper isn’t enough. The life and development is too dynamic, and the user experience too far-off from a specification document.

While a written document is great to keep track of spec and development process, it’s actually a challenging read and doesn’t help to picture a future application. Prototypes, on the other hand, really improve internal communication and bridge the gap between technical and non-IT literate people. “Looking and feeling” the application, everybody understands the design and interactions. Prototypes are also highly relevant for external user tests, as users can give a proper feedback while experiencing the future application. This emphasis on users and not on mere clients speeds up the design cycle as they’re the ones actually giving directions to follow.

When wireframe used to be relevant to express the user experience, prototyping now becomes a central task unifying all the UX design cycles.

UX Designer: a Changing Role

instantShift - A Praise For Agile UX

This new methodology, relying more on collaboration and users, forces the UX designer to change his vision. He becomes more of a “vision keeper”, stepping back to have a look at the overall picture. He has to keep a clear and distant vision while managing all the parts involved (stakeholders, clients, users and colleagues).

If deliverables used to fix a clear direction for design, short iterative cycles break that apart, prompting many more alternatives. This is actually the major challenge of a more agile UX. Numerous iterations and different opinions from user feedback makes it hard to stay focus on a path. Defining goals right from the start is thus an essential task of the new UX designer.

instantShift - A Praise For Agile UX

Whether the design is focusing on better content delivery or on improving time-on-site, UX designers really have to make sure the project stays on the right path. Despite many iterations and diverse user feedback, UX designers must embody the core vision of the project.

How Can It Be Applied

This agile methodology is not radically new and doesn’t require big changes in the way designers used to work.

However, the mentality switch from a mere validation of specs to the actual design of user experience will not easily be overcome. This is mainly due to the fact that deliverables are a great asset for legal conflict. And they also often give an impression of “work actually getting done”, with measurable outputs and documents. But a more collaborative workflow and result-oriented tasks can lead people to implement these changes.

On the other hand, closer collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean more meeting and less independence. Although real physical meeting are always good for collaboration, online meetings and wider user feedback is great to get more data and feedback from a wider range of users and customers. This agile methodology simply implies a small shift in the workflow. New tools and technologies are increasingly geared toward remote collaboration to gather feedback and carry out user tests, avoiding time-consuming meetings or limited in-person user tests.

Conclusion

Technological changes, a competitive industry and above all switching user’s expectations stresses the need of a more agile process, less focused on deliverables and more on the actual experience. An increased collaboration, greater flow of information and broader user feedback will be key to the success of future projects.

Image Credits

Find Something Missing?

Please feel free to share any other facts that you think would be a great addition in above article and that has not been told already.

Like it? Share it.

8 Comments

  1. Great share understanding the productivity, very useful.

  2. interesting and useful content. thanks

  3. nice and interesting post.i have gain much through this post ,keep informing us

  4. Great article, everyone should read it, thanks for sharing.

  5. “Despite many iterations and diverse user feedback, UX designers must embody the core vision of the project” – Not sure I agree here – where is the project manager in this project? The UX designer has to design – and be focused on the user experience, not on keeping the project on track. Attempting to do both, will surely cripple the project, don’t you think?

    Nice article, thanks for sharing.

  6. Indeed a nice article.. Thanks for sharing with us..

Leave a Comment Yourself

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>