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#UX and user stories

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 10.34.08This week I attended another Agile Meetup, the topic of this week’s discussion was “How to fit interaction design into a user story?” We started off agreeing a definition for UX (User Experience). The consensus centered around Eric Ries’ approach to design driven by research, feedback and user testing as discussed in the Lean Startup. I’ve tended to consider UX in terms of Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things, until now.

There are really multiple levels of UX to consider, there is a fundamental, perhaps common sense, level where things should just work in an obvious fashion. Patterns should be recognisable to the majority of users, like putting a door handle on the opposite side to the hinges. This is the Don Norman view. But as you focus your product on a specific audience you really need to understand them, their desires, their expertise, what they need most often and what they are prepared to sacrifice in form or function. And this requires research, testing etc.

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 09.53.36So with that agreed we considered a fictional scenario, develop a website for a local restaurant that allows select customers to book online. We discussed what the first few iterations might look like, what would go into sprint 0 and sprint 1, is there even such a thing as sprint 0. This led me to my next ‘light bulb’, again I’d generally considered sprint tasks as purely development tasks, where code gets written. I guess it’s easy to see it this way when many teams working in this area are made up of multi-skilled individuals. But in reality any task related to the project should be included, it should all result in some value delivered at the end of the sprint.

If the sprint contains tasks that don’t involve producing code then what is the value they deliver? Consider the scenario where a customer comes to you with a well formed solution. Those that have worked in requirements gathering will know that too often customers come to you with ‘suggested solutions’ based on the immediate problem they face. They haven’t always taken the time to find the root cause and therefore the solution will add little or no value. When conducting your research into the target audience you discover that the real problem lies elsewhere and therefore a different solution is required. This is extremely valuable to the customer, assuming they accept their initial assumptions were indeed incorrect!

Returning to the original question “How to fit interaction design into a user story?” a participant in my team summed it up best. “interaction design is something that happens continuously throughout the project”. All the tasks that make up research and design are allocated to sprints just as any other task would be. User stories are gathered and these help to inform the UX designers. At the same time research by the UX team can and should influence changes and improvements in the stories.

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