Traditional design processes can often be compared to building a house.
You plan ahead exactly what you you will construct — creating specifications, drawing blueprints, and hiring contractors to execute on the plan.
New features are future home improvement projects, that follow a similar process to plan and build.
Lean UX, on the other hand, is more like growing a garden.
You start out by planting a few things that you think will look nice, and leave some room for experimentation.
As the plants grow, you continually monitor their progress and how they react to their environment.
When a plant dies you replace it or try new varieties, and learn what grows best in your yard.
You may observe that certain plants need to be moved to areas with more or less sun, to bloom or find relief in the shade.
Measuring the PH of the soil can inform which plants will be the best suited to growing in your specific conditions. You can make small changes over time to raise or lower the levels of alkalinity in the soil, and ensure essential minerals will be available to the roots of your plants.
There will inevitably be emergencies — infestations, storms, floods, a tree falling on your gazebo — that require your attention and care.
While a house is often built and slowly improved upon over time, gardens require constant maintenance and more deliberate cultivation.
Paying attention to all the environmental factors (such as the amount of sun, type of soil, seasons and weather), and making adjustments as needed will help the plants in your garden to blossom and grow.
Websites, mobile apps, and digital products in general are similar to living, breathing plants. Technology evolves, people’s usage habits change, bugs appear. Change is the only constant.
By carefully monitoring and cultivating your user experience as you would a garden — placing small bets about what you think will grow well and experimenting with different types of plants and conditions — you can gain a better understanding about your users, and what works and what doesn’t work for your specific product. Successful design, like successful gardening, is never finished and is constantly changing.
I can’t recall where I first came across this description of Lean UX as a garden, (very possibly from the seminal Lean UX or UX for Lean Startups) to give credit — I’d recommend both of those books for more great insights.
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