|By John Anderson||
|October 21, 2011 12:30 PM EDT||
What does it mean to have a good experience? Think of your favorite restaurant, the interior of your car, and the software on your phone: how do people craft these experiences? What details, planning, and design go into the process?
Would it be possible to create a great experience if you were limited from laying out a full design before you got started? That's the typical scenario in designing a user experience within the realm of agile software development. As a designer, how do you manage in an environment with such a quick pace and changing specifications? This article provides a brief overview of agile development and gives several tips for working as a designer in this environment.
Development Through Agile
In large part, the movement towards agile is a response to an industry perception of heavy, slow, and bloated software development. Specifically, agile is a movement away from the typical waterfall model of software development that requires an initial comprehensive design ("big design up front"). With the waterfall model, deliverables and the value from having a functioning product take the form of one bulk delivery near the end of the process. The drawbacks are that development can be delayed, come in over budget, or be irrelevant by the time the product is finished.
Agile was conceived as an alternative approach that delivers a constant stream of value through much smaller deliverables. Typically, agile development takes place through defined iteration cycles that are usually 1-2 weeks in length. At the end of each iteration, a customer-defined set of features, called a story, is delivered. Stories have their own progression through development (typically a backlog, in-process, review, and production queue) and are continuously prioritized by the client. This means requirements can change quite frequently through development. Along the way, refactoring takes place from time to time in order to ensure that features fit together into a single cohesive application.
The primary values of agile are to quickly deliver functioning software and allow for changes in requirements throughout development. As a designer, you may be asking yourself how (or why) requirement change is even allowed. Because no big design up front is delivered, developers can start working on simple features for clients that add immediate value. Although this potentially leads to a larger discussion as to what exactly is conveyed by the term "value," in this case, I am specifically talking about functioning (versus theoretical) software. Through agile development, changes are not only allowed but also expected.
Assume for a moment that you're tasked with creating a mobile travel application. Specifically, your client wants the user to be able to browse destinations, write reviews, and book travel. With agile, it's possible to deliver the smallest units of functionality (e.g., browse destinations) almost immediately. Furthermore, because feature sizes (i.e., the stories) are small, a large UX design may not immediately be necessary (or in some cases, budgeted). However, what this gives your client is a product that can stand on its own at any given time throughout development. It's important to clarify that deliverables prior to the final product will likely not provide a response to all problems the product set out to solve. That said, these deliverables will allow your client to see progress and steer the course of development as they see fit.
The sunny side of this methodology is it allows development to adapt to customer needs, budgets, innovations in the field, and potential ventures into uncharted territories (e.g., completely new concepts). The dark side encompasses the same notions that make it great: the client can change requirements at any time, features developed independently of one another may feel disjointed, and there is rarely time to create a comprehensive user-centric design.
As a designer, someone who is responsible for the end-user experience, how can you best react in such an environment? Let's take a moment to examine some of the more prominent issues as well as some possible solutions for working in this periodically unpredictable and sometimes volatile field.
Designing Without Design Upfront
The sooner you understand and internalize the fact that big upfront designs may not exist, the better. Because of the pace of an agile environment, it can be difficult to produce high-fidelity designs and systems ahead of development. The only exception may be when style or branding guidelines are clearly defined. Even then, you may actually be wasting your (and your client's) time by flushing out a high-fidelity mockup if requirements are to change.
Even though you will not likely have an opportunity to create a big upfront design, you may be able to take advantage of the period immediately before development begins (known as iteration zero). Try to get as much groundwork done as possible. If you're lucky enough to have direct contact with the client, ask as many questions at this time. What are they envisioning? What features are they aiming for? What theoretical features could be introduced? Why are they building the application? Who are their users? What would their ideal scenario be?
This information may save you from potential rework or dead ends in design.
Reacting to Course Change
The course of development may change at any time. This may cause frustration if the newly proposed idea deviates too far from a preconceived idea or design.
Let's jump back to our theoretical travel application and assume that after using the first implemented feature, your client wants to drop the ability to write reviews and instead provide the ability to message other users within the application. How do you react to this? While potentially frustrating, it's important to remind yourself of the client's current needs and requirements. Additionally, you must be able to separate and drop what is no longer needed. Sometimes this means removing something you just spent an entire day on; know that this is okay.
Keeping Designs Simple
Because the horizon may be unknown, try to keep all solutions and designs as simple as you possibly can. Reduce problems down to their lowest common denominator and create only what is necessary - nothing more, nothing less. Not only are such systems easier to maintain, but they may also save you time in case something gets changed, added, or scrapped.
Simple and quick solutions may be all that are necessary. This means ditching perfectionism (pixel counters, I'm looking at you). However, this does not mean relinquishing your perspective on the entirety of the application. On the contrary, sometimes the most important time to consider your high-level design is when you're creating specific solutions. In any case, respond accordingly within the scope of stories, features, and iterations.
Maintaining Consistency Through Development
Even though a comprehensive application design may not be created, it is important to understand feature consistency and congruence. As a designer, one of your greatest challenges may be ensuring that all implemented pieces fit together into a single cohesive experience. One barrier may involve implementation problems; your design for a feature may be spot-on, but due to the quick pace of agile, it may not be fully (or properly) implemented. Because of this, it's important to review all stories that go through iterations.
Alternatively, sometimes your feature designs are properly implemented but the over-arching design feels disjointed. To combat this, try creating a low-fidelity task flow diagram or outline to keep in mind how it all should fit. Not only does this give you some sense of direction and context, but it can also provide your developers with immediate direction if needed.
At times, it will be necessary to jump out of the iterative flow and examine the whole system for congruency. Do components fit? If not, why? As you work through these potential problems, keep in mind the scope of your iteration and deliverables. Refactoring for the sake of consistency is great, but if it means holding up your development team, you may need additional planning for these efforts. Try creating stories specifically for reviewing and updating the UX of your product.
Avoiding the Design Vortex
As a designer, sometimes the most difficult activity to do is to stop designing. It's important to mind the scope and pace of agile, which sometimes means your prototypes will not be pixel perfect. That's okay. Just be able to communicate to your development team how everything should work.
One strategy for this is to conduct basic whiteboarding sessions with fellow designers and your development team. This allows your ideas to be quickly communicated and allows for technical validation of any solutions or features you are considering. If a more formal deliverable is required, try wireframing for multiple screens and layouts.
Considering Your Project
Even though agile development is quick, stay focused on your users, clients, personas, or the closest thing you have to visualize who will be using your product. It's important to be able to visualize who is using your application. How are they using it? Where will they be? Under what conditions? Keep this in mind and help others to understand the project.
And continually ask yourself if the product is still a success. It's really that simple. Is your client happy? Are the users happy? Though subjective, sometimes this is your only metric to check your efforts.
Last But Not Least
Design in an agile setting may be challenging (and even jarring), but it's not all bad. Agile allows for a consistent stream of feedback from your client. Because features are released each iteration, you can potentially gain continuous insight into how your designs are being interpreted and used. Though this provides no substitution for traditional user testing, client demonstrations do provide some level of feedback. In a way, agile may be a great training ground for designers as it provides an opportunity to create smaller, more manageable solutions with a rapid feedback cycle.
For some, creating an effective and memorable user-centric design within an agile environment may seem tricky. Then again, the challenge may also be fun and exciting. It's important to note that there is not one proven method or process that works best. Like all human interaction and patterns, we're still figuring this out. However, as long as you actively consider your end users and design with them in mind, you should do just fine.
Modern DevOps Tool Kit By @Logentries and @NewRelic | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps #Containers #Microservices
Auto-scaling environments, micro-service architectures and globally-distributed teams are just three common examples of why organizations today need automation and interoperability more than ever. But is interoperability something we simply start doing, or does it require a reexamination of our processes? And can we really improve our processes without first making interoperability a requirement for how we choose our tools?
Jul. 29, 2015 07:15 PM EDT Reads: 295
Where the Network Got Invited to the Party By @LMacVittie | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps #Docker #Containers #Microservices
At DevOps Summit NY there’s been a whole lot of talk about not just DevOps, but containers, IoT, and microservices. Sessions focused not just on the cultural shift needed to grow at scale with a DevOps approach, but also made sure to include the network ”plumbing” needed to ensure success as applications decompose into the microservice architectures enabling rapid growth and support for the Internet of (Every)Things.
Jul. 29, 2015 06:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,733
How do you securely enable access to your applications in AWS without exposing any attack surfaces? The answer is usually very complicated because application environments morph over time in response to growing requirements from your employee base, your partners and your customers. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, Haseeb Budhani, CEO and Co-founder of Soha, shared five common approaches that DevOps teams follow to secure access to applications deployed in AWS, Azure, etc., and the friction an...
Jul. 29, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 497
Take the Long View with Digital Transformation By @IoT2040 | @ThingsExpo #IoT #M2M #API #Microservices #InternetOfThings
Digital Transformation is the ultimate goal of cloud computing and related initiatives. The phrase is certainly not a precise one, and as subject to hand-waving and distortion as any high-falutin' terminology in the world of information technology. Yet it is an excellent choice of words to describe what enterprise IT—and by extension, organizations in general—should be working to achieve. Digital Transformation means: handling all the data types being found and created in the organizat...
Jul. 29, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,064
This week, I joined SOASTA as Senior Vice President of Performance Analytics. Given my background in cloud computing and distributed systems operations — you may have read my blogs on CNET or GigaOm — this may surprise you, but I want to explain why this is the perfect time to take on this opportunity with this team. In fact, that’s probably the best way to break this down. To explain why I’d leave the world of infrastructure and code for the world of data and analytics, let’s explore the timing...
Jul. 29, 2015 03:45 PM EDT Reads: 344
The Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), which enables organizations to seamlessly run in a hybrid cloud model (public + private cloud), is here to stay. IDC estimates that the software-defined networking market will be valued at $3.7 billion by 2016. Security is a key component and benefit of the SDDC, and offers an opportunity to build security 'from the ground up' and weave it into the environment from day one. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Reuven Harrison, CTO and Co-Founder of Tufin,...
Jul. 29, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 465
You often hear the two titles of "DevOps" and "Immutable Infrastructure" used independently. In his session at DevOps Summit, John Willis, Technical Evangelist for Docker, covered the union between the two topics and why this is important. He provided an overview of Immutable Infrastructure then showed how an Immutable Continuous Delivery pipeline can be applied as a best practice for "DevOps." He ended the session with some interesting case study examples.
Jul. 29, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 141
Jul. 29, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 279
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect t...
Jul. 29, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,166
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Jul. 29, 2015 01:45 PM EDT Reads: 420
Microservices Total Cost of Ownership: Too Soon? By @Aruna13 | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps #Docker #Containers #Microservices
Microservices are hot. And for good reason. To compete in today’s fast-moving application economy, it makes sense to break large, monolithic applications down into discrete functional units. Such an approach makes it easier to update and add functionalities (text-messaging a customer, calculating sales tax for a specific geography, etc.) and get those updates / adds into production fast. In fact, some would argue that microservices are a prerequisite for true continuous delivery. But is it too...
Jul. 29, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 668
Summer is finally here and it’s time for a DevOps summer vacation. From San Francisco to New York City, our top summer conferences list is going to continuously deliver you to the summer destinations of your dreams. These DevOps parties are hitting all the hottest summer trends with Microservices, Agile, Continuous Delivery, DevSecOps, and even Continuous Testing. Move over Kanye. These are the top 5 Summer DevOps Conferences of 2015.
Jul. 29, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 662
[video] Infrastructure as a Toolbox By @SoftLayer at @CloudExpo New York | #IoT #API #Containers #Microservices
Countless business models have spawned from the IaaS industry. Resell Web hosting, blogs, public cloud, and on and on. With the overwhelming amount of tools available to us, it's sometimes easy to overlook that many of them are just new skins of resources we've had for a long time. In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Lead Technology Evangelist at SoftLayer, broke down what we've got to work with and discuss the benefits and pitfalls to discover how we can best use them to d...
Jul. 29, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,946
Puppet Labs has published their annual State of DevOps report and it is loaded with interesting information as always. Last year’s report brought home the point that DevOps was becoming widely accepted in the enterprise. This year’s report further validates that point and provides us with some interesting insights from surveying a wide variety of companies in different phases of their DevOps journey.
Jul. 29, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 162
[session] The Container New World By @KeGilpin | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps #Docker #Containers #Microservices
Containers are changing the security landscape for software development and deployment. As with any security solutions, security approaches that work for developers, operations personnel and security professionals is a requirement. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kevin Gilpin, CTO and Co-Founder of Conjur, will discuss various security considerations for container-based infrastructure and related DevOps workflows.
Jul. 29, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,058
What we really mean to ask is whether microservices architecture is SOA done right. But then, of course, we’d have to figure out what microservices architecture was. And if you think defining SOA is difficult, pinning down microservices architecture is unquestionably frying pan into fire time. Given my years at ZapThink, fighting to help architects understand what Service-Oriented Architecture really was and how to get it right, it’s no surprise that many people ask me this question.
Jul. 29, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 376
[video] An Interview with @ProfitBricksUSA CEO @AchimWeiss | @CloudExpo #DevOps #Docker #Containers #Microservices
"ProfitBricks was founded in 2010 and we are the painless cloud - and we are also the Infrastructure as a Service 2.0 company," noted Achim Weiss, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of ProfitBricks, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 16th Cloud Expo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 29, 2015 10:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,107
One of the ways to increase scalability of services – and applications – is to go “stateless.” The reasons for this are many, but in general by eliminating the mapping between a single client and a single app or service instance you eliminate the need for resources to manage state in the app (overhead) and improve the distributability (I can make up words if I want) of requests across a pool of instances. The latter occurs because sessions don’t need to hang out and consume resources that could ...
Jul. 29, 2015 10:15 AM EDT Reads: 154
Approved this February by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), HTTP/2 is the first major update to HTTP since 1999, when HTTP/1.1 was standardized. Designed with performance in mind, one of the biggest goals of HTTP/2 implementation is to decrease latency while maintaining a high-level compatibility with HTTP/1.1. Though not all testing activities will be impacted by the new protocol, it's important for testers to be aware of any changes moving forward.
Jul. 29, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 145
The Internet of Things. Cloud. Big Data. Real-Time Analytics. To those who do not quite understand what these phrases mean (and let’s be honest, that’s likely to be a large portion of the world), words like “IoT” and “Big Data” are just buzzwords. The truth is, the Internet of Things encompasses much more than jargon and predictions of connected devices. According to Parker Trewin, Senior Director of Content and Communications of Aria Systems, “IoT is big news because it ups the ante: Reach out ...
Jul. 29, 2015 05:00 AM EDT Reads: 383