|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.
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound...
Dec. 1, 2015 06:30 AM EST Reads: 513
As organizations shift towards IT-as-a-service models, the need for managing & protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and now cloud environments grows with it. CommVault can ensure protection & E-Discovery of your data - whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud, or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enterprise.
Dec. 1, 2015 06:00 AM EST Reads: 271
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNu...
Dec. 1, 2015 05:00 AM EST Reads: 359
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, San...
Dec. 1, 2015 05:00 AM EST Reads: 620
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint, a global leader in monitoring, and testing the performance of online applications, has been named "Silver Sponsor" of DevOps Summit New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016 at the Javits Center in New York City. Catchpoint radically transforms the way businesses manage, monitor, and test the performance of online applications. Truly understand and improve user experience with clear visibility into complex, distributed online systems.Founde...
Dec. 1, 2015 04:15 AM EST
In today's enterprise, digital transformation represents organizational change even more so than technology change, as customer preferences and behavior drive end-to-end transformation across lines of business as well as IT. To capitalize on the ubiquitous disruption driving this transformation, companies must be able to innovate at an increasingly rapid pace. Traditional approaches for driving innovation are now woefully inadequate for keeping up with the breadth of disruption and change facin...
Dec. 1, 2015 03:30 AM EST Reads: 532
I recently attended and was a speaker at the 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I also had the opportunity to attend this event last year and I wrote a blog from that show talking about how the “Enterprise Impact of IoT” was a key theme of last year’s show. I was curious to see if the same theme would still resonate 365 days later and what, if any, changes I would see in the content presented.
Dec. 1, 2015 03:00 AM EST Reads: 470
You may have heard about the pets vs. cattle discussion – a reference to the way application servers are deployed in the cloud native world. If an application server goes down it can simply be dropped from the mix and a new server added in its place. The practice so far has mostly been applied to application deployments. Management software on the other hand is treated in a very special manner. Dedicated resources are set aside to run the management software components and several alerting syst...
Dec. 1, 2015 02:00 AM EST Reads: 254
Most of the IoT Gateway scenarios involve collecting data from machines/processing and pushing data upstream to cloud for further analytics. The gateway hardware varies from Raspberry Pi to Industrial PCs. The document states the process of allowing deploying polyglot data pipelining software with the clear notion of supporting immutability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Shashank Jain, a development architect for SAP Labs, discussed the objective, which is to automate the IoT deployment proces...
Dec. 1, 2015 01:15 AM EST Reads: 125
Culture is the most important ingredient of DevOps. The challenge for most organizations is defining and communicating a vision of beneficial DevOps culture for their organizations, and then facilitating the changes needed to achieve that. Often this comes down to an ability to provide true leadership. As a CIO, are your direct reports IT managers or are they IT leaders? The hard truth is that many IT managers have risen through the ranks based on their technical skills, not their leadership ab...
Dec. 1, 2015 01:00 AM EST Reads: 436
Naturally, new and exciting technologies and trends like software defined networking, the Internet of Things and the cloud tend to get the lion’s share of attention these days, including when it comes to security. However, it’s important to never forget that at the center of it all is still the enterprise network. And as evidenced by the ever-expanding landslide of data breaches that could have been prevented or at least their impact lessened by better practicing network security basics, it’s ...
Dec. 1, 2015 12:45 AM EST Reads: 300
This morning on #c9d9 we spoke with two industry veterans and published authors - James DeLuccia and Jonathan McAllister - on how to bake-in security and compliance into your DevOps processes, and how DevOps and automation can essentially help you pass your next audit.
Dec. 1, 2015 12:30 AM EST Reads: 120
Put the word continuous in front of many things and we help define DevOps: continuous delivery, continuous testing, continuous assessment, and there is more. The next BriefingsDirect DevOps thought leadership discussion explores the concept of continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications and systems. Put the word continuous in front of many things and we help define DevOps: continuous delivery, continuous testing, continuous assessment, and there is more.
Dec. 1, 2015 12:30 AM EST Reads: 194
It's been a busy time for tech's ongoing infatuation with containers. Amazon just announced EC2 Container Registry to simply container management. The new Azure container service taps into Microsoft's partnership with Docker and Mesosphere. You know when there's a standard for containers on the table there's money on the table, too. Everyone is talking containers because they reduce a ton of development-related challenges and make it much easier to move across production and testing environm...
Nov. 30, 2015 10:00 PM EST Reads: 658
In his General Session at DevOps Summit, Asaf Yigal, Co-Founder & VP of Product at Logz.io, explored the value of Kibana 4 for log analysis and provided a hands-on tutorial on how to set up Kibana 4 and get the most out of Apache log files. He examined three use cases: IT operations, business intelligence, and security and compliance. Asaf Yigal is co-founder and VP of Product at log analytics software company Logz.io. In the past, he was co-founder of social-trading platform Currensee, which...
Nov. 30, 2015 10:00 PM EST Reads: 288
The annual holiday shopping season, which started on Thanksgiving weekend and runs through the end of December, is undoubtedly the most crucial time of the year for many eCommerce websites, with sales from this period having a dramatic effect on the year-end bottom line. Web performance – or, the overall speed and availability of a website or mobile site – is an issue year-round, but it takes on increased importance during the holidays. Ironically, it is at this time of year that networks and i...
Nov. 30, 2015 09:45 PM EST Reads: 151
Hiring the wrong candidate can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars, and result in lost profit and productivity during the search for a replacement. In fact, the Harvard Business Review has found that as much as 80 percent of turnover is caused by bad hiring decisions. But when your organization has implemented DevOps, the job is about more than just technical chops. It’s also about core behaviors: how they work with others, how they make decisions, and how those decisions translate t...
Nov. 30, 2015 08:45 PM EST Reads: 220
People want to get going with DevOps or Continuous Delivery, but need a place to start. Others are already on their way, but need some validation of their choices. A few months ago, I published the first volume of DevOps and Continuous Delivery reference architectures which has now been viewed over 50,000 times on SlideShare (it's free to download...no registration required). Three things helped people in the deck: (1) the reference architectures, (2) links to the sources for each architectur...
Nov. 30, 2015 07:30 PM EST Reads: 276
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 17th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, an IBM Company, broke down what we have to work with, discussed the benefits and pitfalls and how we can best use them ...
Nov. 30, 2015 03:45 PM EST Reads: 115
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data...
Nov. 30, 2015 03:00 PM EST Reads: 496