Agile UX 2012: Top Learnings

Digital producer and fellow user experience practitioner Leah Cunningham and I attended Agile UX 2012 in Sydney together in March. It was my first Agile conference and a truly eye-opening experience.

We caught an early flight out of Melbourne and were soon in a cab navigating through the heavy Sydney traffic. We found the conference venue next to beautiful Darling Harbour and took our seats among hundreds of other Agile UX enthusiasts.

UX (user experience) is a field within the design discipline that believes in the creation of desirable designs based on in-depth consideration of users’ experience – the way a customer feels and perceives about the practical aspects of the design, such as ease of use and efficiency. On the other hand, Agile originated from software development as a methodology that promotes adaptive planning, self-organisation, an iterative approach, and rapid and flexible response to change. Agile UX is a growing area where the two worlds meet so practitioners find the best ways to collaborate more effectively and produce outcomes on time and on budget.

Surface Digital evolved rapidly in the last few years from a communications design studio into a full service agency with advanced development capabilities. Although UX is as familiar to us as a favorite well worn t-shirt, Agile is a new beast that we only came to embrace at the start of the year. Our job in Sydney was to learn as much as we could and share our findings with the team. Here are my top 5 learnings (not in any order):

Sketch sketch sketch
From collaborative design workshops, to design walls, to one-on-one pairing (designer and developer), sketches become our main tool of communication. They are highly visual, immediate and easy to understand. They are quick to create and destroy. Most importantly, they save time and effort writing long lists of functional requirements by communicating ideas quicker and more accurately.

Fail fast, fail early.
Enjoy learning from mistakes. Working in rapid iterations forces us to make inevitable mistakes earlier in the process and thus respond to them faster as well. This can only be a good thing for the product in the long run as bugs are found and resolved often.

It’s not about what I deliver, but what the team delivers.
By leaving our egos at the door, user experience designers will be able to share knowledge and take the team along a creative process. Developers are involved right at the start rather than the end of the production line. This increase in collaboration can only mean a more thought out, more resolved and better quality outcome.

Focus on the values of Agile instead of the system.
It is easy to get caught up in all the Agile jargons – user story writing, fibonacci numbers, sprints, velocity, etc. Thus it is important we do not lose sight of the end goals of going Agile - to become more adaptive, predictable, collaborative and efficient.

Agile is not the “be all and end all”.
Agility doesn’t guarantee success and certainly doesn’t solve all problems. A non-Agile team can also be highly collaborative and productive. The key is to find the right balance of Agile methods that suits your team.

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