21 April, 2016

What is Lean UX and why you should adopt it for your startup

This article was originally my guest article for YourStory
User experience design (UXD) was traditionally governed by wireframes, prototypes, experience maps, visual mockups and others. But, in today’s constantly changing world, designing products at a faster pace is critical. The need of the hour is ‘Lean UX’.
What is Lean UX?
In Jeff Gothelf’s words, “Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of UX work to light faster, with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed. The inspiration for Lean UX came from Lean Startup and Agile Development methodologies.”
Until a few years ago, when projects were run in waterfall style, a linear, siloed UX process seemed to work well. However, as organisations made the shift from waterfall to agile methodology, there was a huge gap in the way UX teams coped with their work. The expectation was essentially to get UX work done a little faster, in shorter time and under a huge budget constraint. Essentially, it had to be done NOW. This called for a huge shift in mindset and way of life itself. The Lean Startup concept made it further more challenging to embed UX into software development lifecycle in an efficient way.
How Lean UX works
A few teams headed by Jeff Gothelf experimented with the idea of tying the knot betweenAgile/Lean and UX. During this experiment, they realised that the productivity and efficiency of UX teams skyrocketed, because Lean UX paved the way for designers to open up UXD process for non-UX folks, who could review and provide inputs/better ideas faster. This eventually helped teams deliver better quality products with great experiences in a short span of time.
Lean UX is the fundamental belief in getting critical work done, without focussing on perfect design documentation. In a typical Lean UX team, design studios are set up with cross-functional teams where everyone presents their ideas, and critiques others’. They might even create vague sketches of their ideas. At the end of this exercise, there is a repository of ideas. This kind of early team involvement instills a sense of ownership and a ‘one team, one product’ goal. This process would be iterative in that the team member would go back and forth to identify top ideas and start building them. The team will create features, put out the app in the market and ensure that users are exposed to it as early as possible to gather feedback.
Lean UX implementation by an e-commerce player – a case study
An e-commerce giant wanted to re-design its website as a seller platform. It was already following the lean methodology in most teams, but its major concern lay in getting Project Management and UX teams aligned on work plan and schedule. The entire development team was sent to a lean awareness workshop, after which the team got together to discuss how to align UX with Lean. In one such case, the team followed the below approach:
Cross-functional teams
Teams from different disciplines collaborated over design decisions by bringing their perspectives to the table. Once everyone contributed, the team would decide on final designs based on input from developer, Quality Assurance, Business Analytics and UX teams.
Getting out of the building
A saying goes, “If you are in the UX business, GOOB (Get Out of The Building).” Following that simple piece of advice, the teams then validated their designs by talking to real users and gathering feedback about designs. Nordstorm Innovation Lab published Sunglass iPad App, a case study they conducted that demonstrated ‘GOOB’ heuristic very well.
Fewer deliverables
The team had fewer deliverables in the form of paper prototypes, and low fidelity wireframes that did not need take too long to create. Additionally, Big Designs Up Front (BDUF) were consciously avoided. This helped to iterate and build better designs.
This focus on Lean UX paid off in a great way. A survey that was run thereafter showed that sellers found the on-boarding process very easy on the new seller platform. Today, this e-commerce player thrives on the revenues from sellers and has recorded great profits.
Benefits of Lean UX, therefore, include:
  • Optimum design strategy
  • Projects delivered faster
  • Fewer and relevant deliverables
  • Happy customers

One good start to implementing Lean UX can be as simple as setting up small teams where everyone is exposed to UX early on, from beginning to end. where team members work together and converse as and when there is a need, instead of scheduling meetings several hours or days later. There is never a “I’ll check this with architect ‘X’ later.” That person ‘X’ should, in fact, be an integral part of the team.
Today, there is a strong need to co-own and co-make products that needs designers, developers, product managers, testers etc., to collaborate and solve problems collectively. As Jeff Gothelf says, “You are in the problem-solving business. And you don’t solve problems with design documentation. You solve them with elegant, efficient and sophisticated software.”
So what business are you in?

07 April, 2016

Creating Positive Experiences on Mobile Apps While Users Wait

No one likes to endure the frustration of waiting. Hence, we often like to find ways to beat the ticking hand of time. We go out of our way to find the quickest option or any other means to reduce our wait. One of my previous posts talked about the pain caused by long waits and how skeleton screens solved the wait problem to some extent. In this post, I take a step back to figure out what other methods could be employed to make long waits, worth enduring.
Purpose of Loading Indicator and its problem
Traditional folklore suggests that if we keep users waiting, we must let them know:
  • It will take a while
  • They need to be patient as they wait
Loading indicators were, hence, born. As this trend caught up, developers and designers put their blood and sweat into developing the 'Next Best Progress Bar/ Spinner Of The Year' elements. And then, we had a bunch of innovative items. Google 'Best Loading Icon' and see it for yourself. While design and functionality of these icons was good, they failed to fulfill the fundamental need of 'waiting'. Looking at these icons only made users feel that time is moving even slower than before. The purpose of ‘progress’ was lost!
Techniques to shorten long waits
1. Transitions
Consider hamburger menu on any mobile app. Tap on the menu only to see a loading icon, hinting that the next screen is loading .................... slowly. You end up waiting.
Consider  using an interactive 3D transition that slowly collapses existing screen and makes way for the new screen. Ctrip app does it really well. As soon as user taps on hamburger menu, the home screen slides animatedly to the right making way for the menu items on the left side of the screen, eventually taking up 3/4th of the mobile screen.
Hamburger Menu Transition on Ctrip app
Transition not just helps in making apps feel better, but also reduces perceived wait time.
2. Skeleton Screens
Another way to avoid loading screens and focus on progress is to use Skeleton Screens. I have covered this in good depth HERE and will not include it here, in the interest of digital real estate.
3. Offers / Ancillary Services / Advertising New Features
Long wait times can be monetized. You heard that right! You can utilize wait times by showcasing content. Relevant personalized content! This content could be: a)Lucrative deals and offers, b)Ancillary services or c)Advertisements. Airline booking apps use this extremely well by offering additional paid services, known as ancillary services, to users while users wait.
Hipmunk app uses the wait time to:
A. Educate Users
Hipmunk posts useful #Tips on specific topics. E.g., How to complete a particular task or activity, or even a random quote related to travel.
Useful Tips displayed while Hipmunk app looks for suitable flights
B. Introduce New Features
While relevant flight results are loaded, Hipmunk introduces an existing feature, ‘Fare Alerts’ wherein user is asked to subscribe to free fare alerts. An assuring statement, ‘This will not interfere with your search.’ is displayed, just in case user fears that his search operation will be abandoned. If user taps on ‘Subscribe to this alert’ button, the button is replaced by ‘Adding fare alert…', followed by ‘Fare alert added!’ message. Throughout this activity, Hipmunk’s maskot dances on the screen, hinting that flight search results are on their way. This is a classic usage of channeling frustrating wait times to positive experiences.
Hipmunk app using wait times by displaying 'Fare Alerts' to users 
The focus of loading indicators should be more on the progress rather than making wait times longer and intolerable.
To summarize, we can create better wait experience by using:
  1. Transition screens
  2. Skeleton screens
  3. Offers / Ancillary Services / Advertising screens
When speeding-up a process is not an option, giving extra care to a customer makes the experience of waiting more tolerable. I appreciate the free cookies and other samples in line at the Whole Foods store during the Thanksgiving season as the checkout queue snakes across the entire store. Saving time is thus the trade-off between the quantitatively fast versus the qualitatively fast.
John Maeda
Waiting is what people do in this world, most of the time. As they wait, telling them how much time they have left and how they can utilize it better, is only humane!
Do you make the wait time more tolerable and engaging? How?