UX Camp London – You’re a Designer, I’m an Agile Practitioner, let’s talk!

I was enjoying great discussions at the UX Camp London organised by Event Handler. This BarCamp was for people interested in Interaction Design and Usability. Inspired by the spirit of the UX folks  and some controversial debate on Agile, I decided to give a talk myself in the afternoon.

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Because of my roots as a Software Engineer who became a Requirements Engineer and Usability guy, I was familiar with agile practices from early on. In contrary, people working in agencies and design studios find themselves often in waterfall situations and have to deliver everything up front. But also designers and usability experts desire for quick feedback and customer collaboration.

So I wanted to find out of how could we make our all life better and decided to tell a story about how we at Zuhlke do projects which involve designers and UX experts. To fit into the creative mood of the event, I started to create a couple of “slides” in my paper notebook and took pictures from my iPhone. From there I projected them with a little VGA adapter to the wall.

You Design, I Agile, let’s talk!

You are a designer, I am an agile practitioner, lets talk.

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I was a developer who became a requirements engineer, who became a usability engineer. Agile practices are very common in software engineering but as I learned from conversations this morning, not so for designers and UX experts.

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So there was this project coming up, where we had to move an old customers website to a new shiny, state-of-the-art stack including proper UX and design.

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As we normally do project in an agile way where our sprints are two weeks long. We quickly asked the designer we took into our team, if he can show us an initial design within two weeks. His response quite clearly: Are you mad?

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I sensed this “fear” of design-as-we go as well while talking to others at the conference. In software, we deliberately focus on the important bit first and let the architecture of our product evolve. We have a person in place, called the product owner (PO) who drives us and keeps the big picture in mind.

Possible Solution

So our solution was to give design and usability a head start and bring the developers in a bit later. We still keep on a sprint length of two weeks to make sure that reviews and retrospectives are in place. The phases are based on the gov.uk agile process GDS.

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First we start off with a discovery phase where you start to research the needs of your users but also look at some initial constrains. Why not doing the first couple of paper prototypes or wireframes to check a couple of early ideas?

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Then during an Alpha phase, the big fun begins. It is when you do lots of prototypes (from paper to simple html, Axure, whatever you have at hand) and verify your hypothesis with a small group of users. It is almost like the Google Venture Design Sprint. Here you can also look at the big picture by doing a story mapping session and prioritise the functionality of you system. Make sure that all people get involved here. It’s not only designers and business analysts but also the guys who make the magic happen, the devs.

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Have no fear of ditching your prototype or whole ideas when it comes to the next phase. Beta is here to make it now for real and use all the learnings from alpha to build against a live environment. Think about how to scale when you allow more and more users to get in touch with the new system. And I give you one advise: Go live with a couple of Beta users as FAST AS YOU CAN. All the feedback you get as early as possible will not end up in panic attacks later on.

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The final phase is then live when your baby is out there in the wild. But as good parents would never let go of their offspring completely, so shouldn’t you. While people using it, they will get new ideas which could be added. Easier ways to do stuff maybe crystallises out.

For me, I do have very POSITIVE experience to a) work in such an agile way with b) people from all kind of disciples together.

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