Great User Experience, Small Budget: Laura Klein’s UX Tips For ‘Lean Startups’

by Patrick Faller

posted on 04-05-2017

Laura Klein is the ultimate ‘UXpert.’ She started working in user research in the mid-90s, but a driving desire to make things propelled her into front-end engineering. It wasn’t long before her market research and coding skills came together and she got a job at a small design consultancy building prototypes for clients. There she learned all about design. Fast forward to 2017, and Klein has become a leading author in UX design, especially for startups.

Her book, UX for Lean Startups: Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design, helps startups create winning user experiences without a lot of resources. We asked her to share some her best lean UX techniques for that book, and from her latest book Build Better Products: A Modern Approach to Building Successful User-Centered Products.

What are some of the best ways small companies and startups can build products with a great UX?

Listen to and observe your users. Conceptually, it’s really that easy. If you are constantly focused on what your users need and what they’re doing, it’s much harder to screw things up.

Of course, in practice, this is incredibly difficult. For example, it requires that you have an incredibly solid understanding of who your users really are, and it also means that you have to focus on building the right product for just those people. That can be almost impossible in a lot of companies. It takes a huge amount of discipline to say, ‘no, I’m not going to build that thing that somebody is begging for because it’s not right for the majority of my users.’

You also need to focus on some things that a lot of designers don’t think about as part of the UX. When people ask me how they can make their products better, I’ll often tell them to speed it up by at least 5x. This response works about 90% of the time without even looking at the product. Think about the things that annoy most people about products – they’re too slow to load or to use, or they make it really hard to do basic things, or they don’t solve a real problem, or they’re confusing.

Forget about all the window dressing that you think about constantly. Focus on the things that matter to your customers.

What is the biggest UX mistake startups make when building a product?

The biggest mistake people make when building products is building something that nobody wants or needs. That’s not specifically a user experience mistake, but it means that UX designers spend a huge amount of time working on the ideal way to allow people to do something that they have no interest in doing. That’s a giant waste of everybody’s time.

A specifically UI-related mistake that I see all the time is the failure to help users understand what they should be doing at any given part of the interaction. This happens most in complicated enterprise products, but it can happen anywhere. Designers get so focused on fitting everything onto a screen and making all sorts of features possible that they fail to think through how users will discover a feature or get started with a new process. When you’re adding a feature to a product, you need to ask yourself how users will discover that feature, how they will get started using it, and how they will remember it exists when they need to use it again.

What made you want to help lean startups with UX design?

I’d been doing user-centered design for quite some time when I joined a company called IMVU. Of course, one of IMVU’s founders was Eric Ries, who wrote The Lean Startup. I immediately fell in love with measuring the impact of my designs on user behavior. Being able to form hypotheses based on qualitative research and then test them in the real world with analytics and a/b testing made me a much better designer. It helped me understand what I could change about user behavior through design and what my impact could really be.

I wrote the bookto help people understand that they could do this too! I wanted to introduce designers to some of the tools they could use to learn more from users, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

A few years later, I saw that many teams were trying to implement Lean Startup practices, but they all seemed to be struggling with the same problems and hitting the same roadblocks. While the concepts sound easy and straightforward, they can be incredibly hard to use. It’s very tempting to slip back into old habits. Also, I saw a lot of UX designers read the book and then become incredibly frustrated when they couldn’t get other people in their organizations to work this way.

That’s why I wrote my new book, Build Better Products. It’s aimed more at product managers and people who build teams, and it’s meant to help larger groups of people work together to create and validate innovative products.

If startups and small businesses follow these lean UX practices, what do they have to gain?

Honestly, it varies wildly. Making something with a fabulous user experience may be absolutely critical for some products and much less important for others. Different types of users consider different types of things to be a “good” experience.

This is why it’s so important to measure the actual impact of your design changes over time. Do they improve the experience for your users? Do they improve the outcomes for your business? If not, why not? Good design means making it easier for your users to do things that they want to do and that you want them to do.

When a team adds a feature or makes a design change, they should understand what user behavior they expect to change and then measure to see whether they were successful. They should also make sure that changing that user behavior was a net gain for both the user and the company.

Why are you passionate about helping entrepreneurs master UX?

I’m easily frustrated and wildly selfish. My motivations here are entirely self-interested. I want more things to be easy to use so that I can spend more time doing things I like doing and less time fighting with technology.

Learn more about Laura Klein and her ‘lean UX techniques’ on her website

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Creative Cloud