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Lean UX: A Guide to Improve User Experience and Productivity

Lean UX can benefit design teams, helping them create better and more user‑focused products. Learn more about this approach here.

User experience (UX) has become one of the hottest buzzwords in product and software design. Instead of guessing what the user wants and making a product from those guesses or gut feelings, businesses are involving the user as part of the design process. This approach is completely different from traditional design and manufacturing. It prioritizes subjective feedback on your solution to meet users' needs.

Companies in every industry are looking for ways to involve the customer in the design process in order to make exactly what they want and need. This puts the user at the center of every design, allowing companies to develop every product for users.

While tracking UX after products are purchased is part of a normal feedback process, looking for feedback as the design is being made is an exciting new development. The ability of a design team to adjust plans as they receive user suggestions takes flexibility and ingenuity. Designers need to ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers in order to make the best changes for a product.

Adding an additional element to this process is Lean UX. Lean UX relies on gaining a new perspective as designs progress. It introduces a methodology to product development that learns from continued iteration and validation. It speeds up the process of incorporating UX, which lowers costs for production. Let's look into Lean UX, including what it is and how it works to improve productivity and UX.

Understanding Lean UX

What is the definition of Lean UX? Lean UX is a methodology used in design to gain a better understanding of what users want and need. It's a way to receive validation of the hypotheses that a design is based on. Lean UX is the guide for how a design is made.

Instead of starting with a plan and adding features, the designers create a hypothesis and then look for validation from UX that can be measured. This process informs the design team that they're fulfilling a real need users have. There's no guesswork involved.

Using hypotheses and validation to guide the design process means that you'll create a product that people actually want. Lean UX doesn't ask designers to immediately jump in with a design. Instead, it uses a gradual process that gives designers room to continue making changes as validation is received.

Lean UX principles

What are the principles of designing using Lean UX?

The Lean UX methodology includes:

  • Requires cross-functional collaboration instead of working in silos
  • Prioritizes finding solutions and solving problems
  • Reduces waste by using a minimum viable product (MVP) to accelerate progress
  • Creates builds quickly and early in the pathway
  • Allows designers to fail by encouraging experimentation
  • Invests minimal amounts of resources into each design, saving money in the long run

How does the Lean UX process work?

The Lean UX process has 3 phases:

  • Think
  • Make
  • Check

Designers use a cycle of these 3 phases and repeat it as they work on the design.


The Think phase starts with brainstorming assumptions about the problem you're trying to solve with your product. The team gathers assumptions about the following:

  • Who are the users
  • When your product is used
  • What is your product used for
  • Which features and functions are most important

From your gathered assumptions, you can put together a hypothesis.

When you write your hypothesis, there needs to be a measurable goal to test it. You can't determine validity if there's nothing to be measured.


After you complete the Think phase, the next phase is Make. This phase focuses on building a minimum viable product (MVP) early in the process. The MVP is very simple; it's a basic version of the product made primarily to test a hypothesis and get feedback from users.

How you design the MVP depends on what your hypothesis is and what you're testing for. This is true whether your product is something tangible or a service or software product. Your MVP or prototype is built solely for testing. For example, this can be a basic website landing page.


Phase 3 is Check. This is the phase where you test your MVP. During this stage, users will test your MVP and give you feedback that will either confirm your hypothesis or reject it. The main concept is testing for specifics and gathering the results. This can be done in a number of ways depending on the type of product you're evaluating- website analytics, A/B testing, testing usability, and so forth.

When you review the results of the Check phase, you start the cycle again at the Think phase. It may be that you have proven your hypothesis and can add to it. Or maybe you'll have to start from scratch because your hypothesis was invalidated. As you go back to Think, you can begin to gather ideas to form the next hypothesis.

Lean UX vs. traditional UX

What are the differences between Lean UX and traditional UX?

With the traditional UX design process, designers spend time upfront to learn more about their target users through in-depth research. The focus is on figuring out product features and requirements long before they get to the design stage. This research is comprehensive, and the goal is to meet the needs of users once the product is built with UX design tools.

When using Lean UX, your goal is different. You're not trying to get it all right at the beginning. Instead of making a large investment in money and time, you build an MVP early on. Doing so begins the cycle of continuous feedback, allowing the product to be refined through iteration. Each version of the product design continues the feedback loop to improve the product.

Lean UX offers more collaboration than traditional UX. With Lean UX, your design cycles are short with a myriad of back-and-forth conversations from all participants, including designers, developers, users, and product managers. This keeps information and creative thinking flowing throughout the process.

Traditional UX has collaboration and user research but has less feedback, idea sharing, and testing than Lean UX. Traditional UX features a longer-term research phase, with more documentation before the design stage. Lean UX works on building the MVP early in the process, seeking user feedback, then cycling through the three-phase process repeatedly to make small improvements to the design as you go.

Benefits of using Lean UX

There are several benefits to using Lean UX, including:


The primary reason businesses implement Lean UX design is to save money. At each stage of the design process, only a little time and money is spent. Therefore, it's fine to spend months on a design and find out it's a failure.

Instead, the design team stays focused on the important issues, and decisions can be validated throughout. This gives the design team a solid foundation for building the product. You know your product will be a success because it's already been tested.


Not only does Lean UX save money, but it also saves time. There's no need for reams of documentation. Instead, since it's collaborative, everyone important is involved in the design cycle. This reduces a lot of back-and-forth interaction between UX designers and developers. Less time is wasted.

The basic idea is to use quick solutions rather than numerous hours developing a new feature.


While there's some overlap, Lean UX design focuses on the user's needs and wants throughout the process. Oftentimes, feedback from users involves the law of proximity to make design features easier to use.


Even though the Think phase creates assumptions and is where you start, the process is data-driven. Each idea is tested thoroughly and data is compiled from users testing the MVP. It's the data that designers receive that then informs the next phase of the cycle.

Limitations of Lean UX design

There are some limitations to using the Lean UX methodology. Drawbacks to consider include the following:

  • Too many assumptions are made about who will use your product.
  • There’s a lack of empathy because there isn't a deep dive into users at the beginning of the process.
  • Less research is done on users.
  • A lack of continuity can occur if a user's needs aren't considered for future releases.

Should you use the Lean UX methodology?

Using the Lean UX methodology depends on whether your design team can adapt their process. There needs to be excellent communication between everyone involved. Communication is the key factor required to make Lean UX run smoothly.

If you're considering Lean UX for a large or enterprise-size business, creating smaller teams to work within this framework is best practice. It's a good idea to start small, whether you're working on a professional website or building innovative products.

Improving your design process with Lean UX

The Lean UX approach can improve the design process for many types of companies. Your design team will have to determine if this is a framework they can adopt. Otherwise, they may have to stick to traditional UX. No matter the type of UX you use at your business, it’s important for your team to communicate effectively and understand the needs of users.

With Mailchimp’s marketing tools, you can provide UX designers with user data to set them up for success.

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