A lean UX conference

Stefan Ivanov / Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The 2015 ux(bar)camp in Copenhagen through the eyes of an Infragistics employee


The #uxcampcph logo. Image attributed to: http://uxcampcph.org/Uploads/UXCampCPH_HVID_transparant.png


What is lean and how does it find its way in our daily life?

Lean manufacturing, lean software development and a lean methodology from a book called “The Lean Startup”… it seems as if “lean” is the fancy new buzzword for modern processes. But what specifically does this concept stand for? To illustrate the differences between a traditional model and the lean one, I will first discuss two UIs that solve the same problem but take different approaches. Then I will share my experiences from the UX Camp in Copenhagen last weekend, which exemplifies how a community event can also be designed in a “lean” way.


Yahoo and Google

Imagine you had a time machine and travelled 20 years back in time. The Internet was still just a baby and there were only a few visionaries who, unconventionally, believed in it. For many people, AOL was the browser and the Internet, as it was, a catalogue of online information. And at the same time, Yahoo was still a toddler and it would take another 3 years before Google was born. But what is “the common denominator” for the latter two companies? It is the problem of finding necessary information online that also turned out to be a call for interaction paradigm shift. A shift that resulted in the inception of the search engine – core business of both Yahoo and Google back in the day. Since the two appeared in the market, many products have been added to their portfolios: e-mail, news articles, videos, stock charts, weather information, and sport results. One can easily bet that there will be many more to come, but what do we encounter now upon visiting the two websites? Yahoo has it all on their homepage, and Google is not much more than a logo, a text field and a couple of buttons.

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Yahoo home page (left) and Google home page (right) today.
Images attributed to: https://www.yahoo.com/ and https://www.google.com/


Now let’s talk lean – it is all about flexibility, about how rapidly one can react to changes, about how quickly one can test a hypothesis and get real data to act upon. Imagine that you had to add that new and considered-to-be-cool feature. It would take a tremendous amount of time even to reach the point of testing its layout, for example, on the Yahoo home page because there is so much other stuff to consider. What if we want to do the same with Google? Well, just add an icon to the list of options in the popover, shown upon clicking on “apps” – that icon consisting of 9 gray squares in the top right. So, adding a container on a cluttered homepage vs. adding an icon to a popover list. Which of the two would require less effort to prototype and test? Which of the two requires less stuff to consider? Which of the two can lead to a well-informed design decision faster? These questions lead to the answer of what we are really interested in: Which UI is more “lean”? Lean is not about coming to the optimal solution, lean is about finding a good-enough, informed solution fast!

The lean conference

Strangely enough, this same concept can be applied, not only to software design and development processes, but to very “structured” and “offline” things, such as community events. UX Camp CPH (CPH stands for Copenhagen) was my first forum of its kind and will definitely not be the last. Let me be more specific about what is found at the core of such a (bar)camp forum and makes it so different. As simple as it may seem, it is the following: there are no speakers, everybody is a speaker. Of course, this is true to some extent as there were a few invited speakers to set the UX mood on Friday night and a very practical Saturday morning talk to break the ice (details about the talks will follow in another blog later this week). The core, however, was the pitching session on Saturday that was to define what the rest of the day might look like to an attendee. Everyone was given the opportunity to briefly present a UX topic about which they are passionate and willing to share with the others. Then voting takes place and in less than an hour the whole schedule is arranged on a whiteboard before the eyes of everyone. In the case of uxcampcph each person had the option to choose from 7 topics, discussed in different rooms at the same time and this whole thing happened 4 times throughout the day. This seemingly ad-hoc schedule assembling is exactly what makes uxcampcph lean. There is no separate call for speakers, discussions about whether a topic is appropriate, speaker cancellations or last minute schedule changes. Everything happens organically and is driven by the interest of the audience for a given topic or speaker. Whether the speaker is presenting a case study, a methodology, a crazy design or whatever has been crossing his or her mind lately, decisions are left to the audience - the very same crowd that will later attend the talk. If that is not a lean event, then I cannot really imagine what would be.

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The schedule. Image attributed to the author.


After all talks were over, the late Saturday afternoon offered a closing keynote that felt like the icing on the cake. Jeff Gothelf himself talked about lean UX, about design in the agile world and his observations that lead to writing that famous smashing magazine article that later inspired the book “Lean UX: Getting Out Of The Deliverables Business”. I would like to thank Jeff personally for his amazing keynote. Since most of what is read in a book is forgotten a week later, putting some of it into practice helps me retain more of it. But listening to the author talk about his book in person is definitely a memory that will not soon fade despite the “bar” part that followed. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the whole experience was accompanied by a decent amount of tasty Danish beer after the official closing.

Thank you UX Camp CPH for the amazing weekend. And to the readers – expect another blog on the topics presented during the conference very soon.