[Session Notes] Lean Prototyping; UXPA Boston 2013

Jason Stehle: @jasonstehle



The 8 wastes in prototyping

  • MUda (waste): wasted time, materials, energy
  • Don't try this at home:
    • Assume that your team can do something that Huge company did with time and budget crunch
  • Developer disconnect
  • Premature development
    • Debs start building system before design is done
    • Won't change things to suit design
  • Developer redesign
    • Change design without consulting designers
    • Overwhelmed by constraints or 
  • Quadripliclation
    • Making edits to multiple deliverables in order to make a single change.
  • Edge case surprise
    • Find out design is broken when real time data is loaded
  • Art
    • A design that can't be built
    • Just impossible or
    • Can't be done within project constraints
  • Imagineering
    • Solving a problem that only exists in your imagination
    • You're off I the sky, but have no data to back it up

Prototyping helps:

  • Channeling the devs energy in the right direction
  • Find out quickly if things can't be built
  • Invest stakeholders in the process
  • Avoid surprises in design, grow fidelity over time.
  • Avoid edge case surprise; create lightweight models and build them into a prototype
  • Make sure designs can be built
  • Show interactions before they are built

Imagineering: need a combo of customer development and prototype/simulation

Prototype vs. simulation: 

  • Simulation simulates software
  • Prototype IS software

Building in the medium helps explore how the real data works.

Thought: prototyping mediums that work with Drupal (not Axure)?

Get the server out of the way

  • Focus on front end
  • Presentation logic
    • Fake interactions
    • Shallow logic to avoid bottlenecks

Trying to design along with development makes you not as strategic as you need to be

Prototype process:

  • Content in markdown
  • Layout in HTML and CSS
  • Annotations inline or JSON
  • Interactive refinement in Js
  • Visual refinements with visual refinements and CSS

Goal: everything is clickable and refined

Goal: find the show stoppers early when team is most energizes and nothing is locked in

Show stoppers found during the slog of development don't get the attention they deserve.

How do you know what to build?

  • Everyone has their own opinions
  • Have to find some common ground
  • The right thing: An implementable solution to a real problem that we can deliver for a profit.
  • Source: customer validated prototypes.

12 lean practices


  1. Imaginations fail.
    1. Don't ask customers to use their imagination
  2. Benevolent dictatorships:
    1. Don't work for a committee if you can avoid it
    2. Have someone who can answer "what should we do" and "what can we do"
  3. Laziness is a virtue:
    1. Leave the prototype rough
    2. Don't waste time developing stuff nobody wants
    3. You get better feedback when it's rough
    4. Nobody wants to critique a "finished" project
  4. Learn hard:
    1. The real work is in understanding the problem domain and the platform.
    2. Learn the mechanics of your platform and its limitations
  5. Everybody has an attention deficit, and it's only a matter of time before you trigger it
    1. Avoid long design review meetings
    2. Avoid huge deliverables
    3. Send features one at a time for user testing or stakeholder reviews
  6. Look stupid
    1. Deliver flawed designs early and often
    2. Many ideas are better when transplanted into another person's mind than when they are in your own.
  7. No geniuses here
    1. Don't innovate for innovations sake
    2. Challenge assumptions
    3. Apply good design
    4. TEST
  8. Strategic embarrassment
    1. Put your effort where your users live
    2. Everything else can suck
    3. Exceptions: initial user experience (payment, user login, landing, etc.)
  9. Code before comps:
    1. Don't optimize prematurely
    2. Understand component libraries before applying visual treatment
    3. Get visual designers in early, but know that everything is done first
    4. Prevent devs from doing too much work.
  10. I want to believe:
    1. Take the prototype and carry it forward within a released application 
    2. Leave slots open in your software to present in process code
  11. Progressive ux enhancement
    1. Create good, better and best level design for difficult to implement features.
    2. Give options
    3. Give devs something they *want* to work on and they'll go forth!

RIP Eric Nordin, 6/16/49–12/18/12

On Tuesday, December 18, 2012, I lost my father, Eric John Nordin, to a two-year-long battle with lung cancer. Dad spent his life trying to turn his passion into a career. Sometimes, he was successful (for example, turning a passion for motorcycles into a 15-year career as a bike mechanic); other times, not so much (like his side business selling public domain software at the local flea market). I became interested in computers from an early age by watching him muck around in the dining room, building his own PC systems and playing text-based games like Zork—games which I soon fell in love with. He was responsible for my own passion for technology, and my interest in being an entrepreneur. In his later life, we were able to bond over our mutual love of karaoke, and his newfound love of fine cooking.

The Saturday before he passed, I took my daughter Charlotte down to Kent County Hospital to spend some quality time with her Pop-Pop before he was gone. The tumor that took him was taking up a third of his lung. By the next morning, it had doubled. By Tuesday, he was gone. 

I try to keep things professional on this site, but sometimes "professional" language isn't enough. Cancer is a fucking bitch. It took him too soon, and put him in too much pain for too many years. Watching my dad's mother pass away—also at 63 years old, also of lung cancer—was the reason I never became a smoker. I will miss him always, but I'm grateful that he's finally at peace.

It's a girl!

It occurred to me while caring for our delightful newborn, Charlotte, that I haven't actually announced here that she is, well, here. Charlotte Isabel was born on August 27th at 7:48pm, and turned two months old on Saturday. She is beautiful, healthy, and extremely vocal about what she does and doesn't like—much like her mama. Her father and I are exhausted, but couldn't be happier.

I'm working on a few more work-related posts, but many of those may have to wait until I have a bit more energy for thinky thoughts.

On maternity leave

As those who know me (or follow me on various social networks may have heard already), I’m expecting my first child in August. Any day now, in fact. Which means that, for the first time in my life, I’ve had to deal with the idea of going on maternity leave, and being away from my work for the next few months. 

As someone who has long admitted to workaholic tendencies, and has worked largely for herself for almost a decade, this idea has brought a bunch of new worries to the table. What will happen to the project I was in the middle of when I went on leave? Will the team I put together for that project be able to handle taking over? Did I document everything correctly? How soon will I be able to go back to work? Will I be able to find work when I do go back to it? And holy hell, how am I going to balance being a working professional with being a new mother?

Most of these thoughts, I recognize, aren’t terribly rational. But this has been my experience of being both pregnant and someone who generally goes through life with a vision of what’s next. Once I know that one piece of the puzzle will be in place, my brain wants to know where the other pieces are, and how they’ll fit into what’s already been created. The idea of taking three months off work terrifies me, as if life and my business will somehow come to a complete stop while I’m adjusting to life with a newborn. 

I imagine, though, that this is what most working mothers face; this idea of being defined by the work you do, and constant wondering how being a mother impacts that definition. Motherhood is one of those things that’s widely assumed to be all-encompassing, and one unfortunate reality of our culture is that we’re simply not set up well to allow women to be a mother while also advancing their careers. But I also know many women who are very capable of doing both, and who have made it work impressively. And while I don’t doubt that I’ll be one of those women, it doesn’t stop me from being anxious about how it all fits together. 

I suppose we’ll see. 

Targeting your audience: Don't forget the people you don't want to attract

At the most recent Design for Drupal Camp, I ran into someone who had attended a previous session I'd given at 2010's Camp about letting user experience guide Drupal workflow. In that session, I had discussed ways of quickly uncovering your target audience, and I mentioned the idea of starting with the people you don't want to attract, and building out your personas towards the people you do want to attract. My new friend was intrigued by the idea, and asked me to speak to the subject in a blog post. 

As designers and business owners, we hear a lot about "finding our target market." It's a big, broad, incredibly vague concept, and I've spent years helping companies large and small work it out for themselves. During the process of rebranding or redesigning a site, one of the most important things you can do is an audit of who your current brand and materials are attracting, and asking yourself, "is this still who I want to attract?" If not, it's time to start looking at who you do want to attract, as well as to figure out what it is about your current customers that isn't working. 

Although this idea is true of almost any business, it's particularly relevant to those, like me, who work for ourselves. In our case, we're selling our time, brain and stress levels directly to our clients—which means that highly stressful, time-consuming clients can easily derail us, particularly if those clients also don't want to pay market rates for professional services. So if our materials are consistently attracting these types of people—both in terms of paying clients and in terms of new business inquiries—it's time to start looking at how to turn that around. 

In 2004, when I first started working for myself, I was mostly working in-house at agencies and corporate art departments with a couple of independent clients on the side. The pay worked well, but I felt constantly underutilized and pigeonholed as a production designer. When I finally launched the zen kitchen in late 2005, I made a point of working with other independent businesses on branding and web design projects, which I did happily for years, adjusting my market along the way. Each year, I'd look at the clients I'd taken on the previous year, and ask myself if this market was still viable for me. In most cases, things were great, but I needed to make minor adjustments: I'd ignored a red flag or two, or I needed to find clients who were more serious about their business (and thus willing to trust my expertise and pay me for it without trying to haggle). The minor adjustments I made helped me see through another year with clarity; by recognizing the things I was attracting that weren't positive, I was able to shift my messaging to make the value of my work more clear, and saw a significant decrease in inquiries from prospects who didn't value design.

Something similar happened in 2010, after I decided to shift my focus onto UX Strategy and Design. I had an idea of what I could offer, and knew who I wanted to attract, but was having a hard time finding those prospects. Most inquiries I was getting focused on my visual design and needing someone to "build [them] a website," and the inquiries I got from people interested in UX work weren't sure of my value, or how I could benefit their team. Eventually, after a year of struggling with my new career focus, I realized what was going on: my materials and presence were still geared towards business owners who needed a brand and website. There was little, aside from a few talks I'd given, to back up my talents as a UX designer. I shifted gears and focused the latest version of this website on showcasing my UX and writing projects, with visual design and site building as a secondary focus, and so far, it's been working to attract the kind of clients I'm looking for—Drupal teams working on complex projects who need a UX designer to help them understand the foundations of what their users need.  

While I probably could have uncovered this information through focusing on what clients I want, what I find is that it's too easy to answer that question with "a client who will pay me," and leave it at that. This too often results in generic marketing materials that too easily allow the tire-kickers and other unwanted prospects to show up and waste your time with sales calls that will never pan out. By asking myself "what could be better about my current situation?" I'm giving yourself permission to admit that things aren't perfect, and it's easier to make the adjustments that need to be made in order to incrementally attract clients who are a better fit for where my business and skills are right now.


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