A typical design process consists of a few steps everyone needs to follow:

  1. The PROBLEM – There is a reason for a grandfather to say “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Something causes us so much trouble that we cannot stand it. So, we make tests, talk to people, conduct desk research, trying to understand in many different ways the reasons behind the problem and start to…
  2. DESIGN a solution. This is the time when we come up with how the solution should work and what it should do.  When we know enough, we build the prototype and…
  3. TEST it with a few people who have a similar problem. If we are lucky, not all of the design should end up as trash, so we improve the prototype…
  4. BUILD it and…
  5. LAUNCH our solution and make it available to people who have the problem. After some time we…
  6. LEARN if our solution was useful or not.

Lean User Experience is only a branch of a User-Centered Design. It also focuses on the end user and consists of the same steps as UCD, but arranged in a different order:

  1. Understand the PROBLEM,
  2. DESIGN the solution,
  3. TEST the solution,
  4. LEARN if the solution will be useful for the users. If yes, proceed to point 5, if not, go back to point 2.
  5. BUILD the solution,
  6. LAUNCH it.
The process of Lean UX

The main difference between Lean UX and User-Centered Design is the moment when designer is testing if certain solution actually helps to solve the problem. In Lean UX, when a solution is beneficial it means we can invest in building it because we know what we pay for and what we can expect in the future. When it is not, we should search for another solution and test it again. This is called ITERATION.  In Lean User Experience, a designer does not play a role of an expert who knows best what every user would accept for a good solution, but a person who knows how to find it out.  The focus is on a problem rather than on a feature of a product.

Let us think of consequences of such an approach.

Probably you have already been in a less-money-better-results situation, when an investor looks at every penny which is spent on a project and expects the best possible results. Better solutions bring better financial results. In User-Centered Design approach you actually see if a solution is solving a problem, after you have invested in building it. You cannot be sure if it is the best possible or just good enough solution to the problem, and the Excel file already says your budget is coming to an end.  Lean UX tests solutions before they are built in order to see which one brings the best benefits. You invest only in solutions which would quite certainly bring you more money.

Obviously Lean UX comes with a temptation to constantly improve the solution, which is also money-consuming, but this can bring you nothing but benefits in the future. This way you can actually rely on hard data, rather than on fancy bar charts showing market tendencies when you invest your money in building something new. How convenient is that?

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Anna Lankauf

Interaction Designer at Divante eCommerce Software House

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    “This is called ITERATION. In Lean User Experience, a designer does not play a role of an expert who knows best what every user would accept for a good solution, but a person who knows how to find it out.”

    So are you implying that iteration is not a part of the User Centered Design process??? And in user centered design, designer plays the role of an expert??? I don’t see any difference as pointed out by you as to me both looks same. In fact, any literature or practitioner of user centered design will confirm you that UCD involves iteration and the whole premise of the UCD is that the designers are no experts.To me, Lean UX as defined by you seems just another term to add the existing 100 of similar ones for the sake of it.

    1. Anna Lankauf


      As I mentioned in the post, Lean UX is a branch of a User Centered Design, not a completely different approach. This way iterations are also a part of UCD, but very specific and widely used in Lean UX approach.