I keep encountering the phrase “Lean UX” at work and in local design circles. The first time I came across this buzzword, I thought it was a fancy way of saying, “cut corners in your process to get more UX work done” – which is ridiculous and doesn’t make sense. I then thought it meant “we’re too poor to hire more UX designers so here’s a method to produce more work with fewer heads” – which sounds like a crappy job.

I recently watched a documentary on the making of a concert piano – Steinway L1037. This film presented thoughtful insights into how a Steinway concert grand piano is made – focusing on the people whose lives were defined by the piano: the people who made the piano, the people tuned the piano, and the people that played the piano. The cadence of the film allowed for deep reflection and I found myself thinking about the process of making software – something that is also handmade and often involves many people, each one doing their part. In trying to apply the resonating principles found in this film, I’ve outline three ideas for designers and engineers that would increase quality and contribution to an equally impressive technical field – the making of software.

I wonder how modern “makers of things” understand how the “end-of-life product lifecycle” determines value, loyalty, and beauty? Do they account for the “end of life” experience of their products? Putting down Old Yeller (G5) this last week was an emotional experience. I have a 9-year old computer that I recently gutted, taking the first step to transform it into a nano-reef tank. I didn’t kill it because it didn’t work anymore – it ran just fine. My G5 lasted so long that I could no longer update it or run current software on it.

I believe UX has to be more than a production cog. It has to be more than a step in the process. It needs to be a guiding philosophy that informs the entire process of design and creation. I speak of UX as User-Experience design – a complete and wholistic viewpoint that the experience of a customer (or user) is defined by their entire contact with a product or service. I believe UX designers can have their biggest impact by affecting the ideas and values of all the people around them – helping them see a world outside their own. It means re-defining the UX mission for everyone and having them on board.

Over the years, our society has constructed a “designer” paradigm where design is embodied and idealized – even romanticized – within an individual. Even today the discourse found in design communities and education supports design values of self-creation and authorship, focusing on the individual as the “keeper of creativity”. The problem with this view of design – is that it inhibits innovation and fuels society’s excuse that non-designers can’t create. Organizations that wish to be innovative need more design thinkers, not design keepers.

Within minutes of it’s unveiling, the entire world began documenting the iPad’s unmet expectations. Most people saw an XXL iPod that didn’t have any bona fide qualities of a useful computing device. The lack of features and functionality were easily discerned by techno-geeks world wide, including myself. But Apple figured out a long time ago that computers were capable of embodying experiential qualities other than just “productivity”. People in the technology and business worlds never understood why someone would design or buy an enclosed computer that looked like a toaster or was missing “standard” connective ports; proving why Apple’s market share has never defined by units sold to the business world. While the PC world has been duking it out over large service contracts and anti-trust lawsuits, Apple has been selling cool.

My review of industrial design literature yielded important insights into how a non-HCI field approaches tactile qualities of interactions. My findings revealed that industrial designers…

CAR DESIGN: Detroit is getting some things right – while screwing up other things. Now I can drive an electric car while increasing my odds of getting into an accident!