The Promise of Iteration

Perfectionism is a common trait among user experience designers. We are known for paying attention to the small details that make a big difference to users. Like QA testers, UX designers look for the holes in the design, catch the dropped balls and find where the approach falls down. Valuable skills to have on any team. But like any good thing, this talent can become an Achilles Heel. Perfectionism stalls the designer in endless meetings and revisions.

Portrait of Heinz Traimer Graphic Designer
Gone are the days when a designer could labor in isolation over every detail. Photo by Matthias Bechtle

Carefully crafting every detail takes a lot of time. Adapting to change quickly generally translates to late nights redrafting wireframes to keep a team of developers from waiting, idle. If a change to the security requirements is made, using email addresses instead of an 8 character user name for instance, you’ll have to reexamine the entire experience looking for those ‘gotchas’ and reworking what you spent so much time creating. So designers take measures to protect themselves from change.

Here’s reality. Design happens in the same Catch-22 environment as development. You will never know everything you need to know before you start. Doesn’t matter how long you spend in discovery or how many business analysts you throw at the project. The digital world is an ever changing environment where business needs shift quickly, the technical landscape evolves, and we never stop learning about our users. As we design and build, we apply the knowledge that we have, and discover new things along the way. No one should be expected to ‘get it right the first time’.

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Designers Must Change

As I read Susan Weinshenk’s blog series 7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendation I wondered why we find ourselves struggling to convince a team that we know what’s best, that our ideas are right?  Why do we continue to walk into design reviews praying that our carefully considered work won’t be dismantled? (Insert scene of Don Draper walking into a client pitch.) I hear this all the time “They brought me onboard, so they must understand the value of UX. Why won’t they listen to me?” Heck, I’ve said it myself. Truth is that it’s time for change. Designers must change.

Look at the evolution going on within the development community. Agile methodologies like Scrum have enabled programmers to redefine their relationship with stakeholders. They have created a new way of working that is more effective, creates more business value, increased client satisfaction and last but not least, happier developers. What can we as designers learn from our counterparts to increase our own effectiveness and job satisfaction?

Agile requires people working together on a project to act like a team. Everyone is responsible for the outcome regardless of rank or discipline. It’s an egalitarian structure. (Picture team-building exercises. Trust falls aplenty.) Teams are “self organized” in cross-functional style, which allows everyone to contribute according to their strengths as well as cover gaps instead of restricting themselves to an organizational silo. Collaboration is the name of the game. Agile team members talk to each other A LOT. There is plenty of white-boarding and figuring things out together.


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Woman on a Mission: Agile UX

I’m on a mission ladies and gents. The goal of this mission is to figure out how to do Agile UX successfully and without pain. I’ve been a fan of Agile for years. While I enjoy losing myself for days in the land of wireframes and userflows, I find them largely ineffective when it comes to creating software. It’s a self-serving endeavor that creates a divisive atmosphere. No one has time to read the darned things and they get in the way of team members talking to each other. I’ve tasted the promised land of sketching together with developers and whiteboard as spec and I want more. Please don’t make me go back to waterfall, I beg of you.

The talk about Agile UX is increasing slowly, but there seems to be relatively few who have successfully integrated their user experience practice into an agile, cross functional team. I’ve experienced some wins, some outright disasters and I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

Part of my quest is also reaching out to others who have had good results. There are common problems like maintaining the big picture, getting in usability testing. Others may have solved them in their organizations and I want to learn from them. So, if you are an Agile UX (or Lean UX) evangelist, someone who has had successes, or want to talk about your agile challenges, drop me a line.

Game On!