Categories: General

UX Book Club: UX for Lean Startups

Get your carving knife, its time to trim the fat and start working lean. With the success of Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup minimum viable product, A/B testing and validated learning are on the lips of every 23 year-old CEO and product manager in Silicon Valley. But what is the philosophy behind lean development and how do UX designers and researchers fit in? Laura Klein, author of UX for Lean Startups, joined us on Tuesday, May 28th at the UX Book Club San Francisco to discuss her book and her experiences designing lean.


Come up with a hypothesis. Test it. Repeat until you have a product people will buy/use. Lean methodology at its core is the scientific method we all learned in grade school. So how do you start applying this approach to product design? Klein suggests the following:

1. Identify the riskiest assumption of your product or feature.

2. Design an experiment that will validate (or invalidate) your assumption.

3. Release your experiment to your customers.

An example used in the book is Dropbox. The riskiest assumption for Dropbox was their belief of a consumer desire for personal cloud storage that synced across devices. To test this assumption the Dropbox team created a video of how the service would work. If you watched the video and liked what you saw you could sign-up to get the product when it was released. Thousands of people signed up and the team knew there was a need for their product before committing the resources to build the service for real. Figuring out the smallest thing you can build to test your assumption is key–you don’t want to write a bunch of code for something that no one wants. As Klein said to us, “The question usually isn’t, ‘Can you build it?’ The question is, ‘Should you build it?'”


Lean is a lot like user-centered design. It advocates for what we as designers and researchers have been screaming about for years–test with your customers before you release your product. Klein believes however that while user-centered designers are skilled at testing the usability of a solution, we often fail to validate the usefulness of a solution. Usefulness is tied to your business objectives. Does the feature increase customer acquisition, improve retention, increase profits, etc.? You can design and implement a fantastic commenting feature, but if commenting doesn’t lead to growth or profits then it isn’t particularly useful is it? There is a strong emphasis on quantitative data and analytics in lean. To understand if what you have designed actually has an impact on your product’s bottom line you need to identify and track the metrics that tell you whether you are headed in the right direction or are veering off track.


Even if you don’t work at a startup you will find useful lessons and a powerful framework for product design in UX for Lean Startups. For designers and researchers I suggest skipping Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup and reading this book instead. It’s shorter and you won’t have to muddle through chapters geared toward MBA students. Note: UX for Lean Startups doesn’t get much into the nitty gritty of analytics. To learn more about what metrics you should be tracking pick up Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz.