Roundtable: Lean UX with Lane Halley and Jaime Levy

Jaime Levy and Jane Halley

At this month’s much anticipated Los Angeles User Experience Meetup event regarding Lean UX, Media Contour had the opportunity of conducting a round table interview with Lane Halley and Jaime Levy on the benefits of Lean UX strategies and practices for startups and enterprises.Lane Halley is a digital product designer and UX facilitator at Carbon Five. Jaime Levy is a User Experience strategist and principal at JLR Interactive. She also teaches User Experience at UCLA Extension.They are both pioneers in the topics of User Experience and Lean Startups and offered innovative insight at this great event. Below is an excerpt of our round table.LUKE: Hello. Our community consists of both agency UX’ers and designers, but also startups, small businesses and marketing teams within medium-to-enterprise level companies. I’d like to start with them. Let’s define Lean UX and discuss why it’s beneficial to their projects.

What is Lean UX?

LANE HALLEY: Lean Startup is a growing movement focused on customer understanding, experimentation, validated learning and iterative product releases which shortens product development cycles and increases the chance of product success. Lean UX combines elements of design thinking and Agile development practices. I think of Lean UX as the evolution of user experience methods which allow us to continue as UX practitioners in the modern world.Lean UX is an alternative to the “waterfall” method of product development which involves distinct phases, handoffs and an over-emphasis on deliverable documents. By working in small validated cycles, teams can reduce risk and minimize waste in their design and development process.

Jaime Levy and Lane Halley

Jaime Levy, Chris Chandler and Lane Halley discuss Lean UX at Cross CampusJAIME LEVY: User Experience is typically practiced as a linear methodology with the output being a static product design document jammed with wireframes and functional specification. The biggest waste to me is the precious time that we creative professionals spend designing products that potentially nobody wants or needs.LUKE:Reducing waste. How often do we end up at the final QA phase of a project only to find out that we should have done something another way? These realizations are often unavoidable growing pains of developing something new, but Lean UX can help businesses find out what they REALLY need earlier on.

Why is Lean UX Better for Businesses?

LANE HALLEY: The first question would be what does this business do and who is their audience? With that sort of foundation, you can better determine ways to deliver what meets your client’s needs without getting caught up in the hubris of what you think they need.LUKE: It’s almost planning by doing. You don’t know what you need or what you’ve missed until some sort of final product is in front of you.LANE HALLEY: Working in this kind of environment, you have to create a different kind of collaborative relationship with your client, where you become explorers together, and you have to recognize that all of your ideas are assumptions until they’re validated with happy, paying customers. This shift in consciousness and way of working based on this philosophy really does yield better results.LUKE: Happy paying customers. I’m finding that it’s really important to get real user feedback sooner in the process and in Lean UX it’s a must.JAIME LEVY:  I would add that getting stakeholders and users together as quickly as possible really applies in any type of work environment. For example, a technique I employ is bringing startup clients and potential users into an informal environment (i.e. a cafe) instead of a traditional focus group setting. We show the potential users a quick and dirty prototype as opposed to a polished product. This relaxes the atmosphere. It makes the interview more conversational, and we increase the likelihood of receiving both immediate and more thought-provoking feedback. I did these "guerilla"-type interviews with the CEO of TradeYa recently. He saw how the potential customers not only stumbled on the prototype but just did not understand the product's value proposition. Because he sat in on the interviews as a notetaker, it allowed us to get on the same page more quickly and with a sharper focus toward product optimization and value innovation.

Adopting a Lean UX Philosophy

LUKE: Let’s shift back to agency life. For teams unfamiliar with Lean UX, how can they start implementing the Lean UX method into their practices?LANE HALLEY: It’s really about changing the relationship between the client and the team that’s doing the production and design. The first thing is to make talking to users an ongoing part of your process. It’s not a special occasion and it’s not just at the end of the process. It’s about continual user engagement, constantly mixing that conversation into the project, and engaging the people who are making the decisions in that process too. Step two is really empowering and aligning the team around a shared vision. We use a technique at Carbon Five called “design studio.” It’s a collaborative design session facilitated by a designer where everyone sits down with pencil and paper and sketches solutions to the problem. This is a great way to get the right conversation flowing around the product that is being created.JAIME LEVY: Well, it’s so dependent on the client because a lot of times clients come in and already have a specific idea for something. It’s also really important to do market research so you know what direct competitors are doing so you can consider what’s being done outside of that particular vertical in terms of feature concepts. This allows for new ways of approaching things and problem solving. Oftentimes, you need to shift the mental model of how a product works to something totally different. Lean UX advocates for UX practitioners to ask clients about who they think are their customers and what problems they are actually trying to solve. But UX Strategy is about balancing the validated solution against smart market research so you can find new opportunities to exploit.


Lean UX is defining a problem and then finding a solution by doing. By getting started, you provide your team with the opportunity to catch missing functionality that you couldn’t of otherwise caught without some type of prototype. It’s also about getting customers in front of your project as soon as possible to learn as much as you can about real user interaction.You can start practicing Lean UX by bringing together collaborative teams and giving them tools to create working prototypes. These prototypes do not have to be complex. At our studio we use a combination of marker boards, paper sketches and Balsamiq Mockups to create working prototypes with your clients and their customers.