The Lean UX Manifesto – Principle Driven Design

Lean UX Manifesto

Who Wrote The Manifesto?

This was a joint effort between Anthony Viviano, Ajay Revels and Ha Phan.

Anthony and Ajay work at a large financial institution and are trying to apply Lean UX within their enterprise. Ha works at a startup called Porch.

Why a Manifesto?

So, why a manifesto? Anthony, Ajay and Ha were inspired by the Agile Manifesto. Anthony stated that it is simple and to the point. It’s not a list of rules, but a value statement that can be used to guide you through a project or an organizational change. It’s tempting to lay down rules. As if to say, “this list of methods are required to practice Lean UX. Check these boxes in your process and you can brand this a Lean UX project.” We don’t like rules. We prefer principles that drive the methods needed.

Lean UX applies well to uncertainty, but not everything is uncertain. You may know your customer, so you can breeze through customer development. Or, you may already have a design, so a design studio is not needed.In addition to their anti-rules stance, there’s another reason why a manifesto makes sense. Anthony heard a few practitioners say that only a startup can apply this process in its purest form. While that might be true, enterprise entrepreneurs (a.k.a. intraprenuers) shouldn’t be excluded from this great thinking. We can take advantage of it by doing what we can to customize it to our unique culture and structure.

Anthony, Ajay and Ha hope you allow these values to guide you through your Lean UX journey.

The Lean UX Manifesto

Anthony, Ajay and Ha are developing a way to create digital experiences that are valued by our end users. Through this work, we hold in high regard the following:

  • Early customer validation over releasing products with unknown end-user value
  • Collaborative design over designing on an island
  • Solving user problems over designing the next “cool” feature
  • Measuring KPIs over undefined success metrics
  • Applying appropriate tools over following a rigid plan
  • Nimble design over heavy wireframes, comps or specs

As stated in the Agile Manifesto, “While there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

How The Lean UX Manifesto Works

Let’s take each of these in turn and see how we can follow the principles of lean UX.

Early Customer Validation Over Releasing Products With Unknown User Value

What if you worked at a company where usability testing just wasn’t done? Unfortunately, this is the sad state in which many of our fellow UX practitioners find themselves. How, then, do they follow the principles of lean UX?

With usability testing, we seek customer validation or early failure. Customer validation may be sought through other means as well. For example, does your company gather feedback from users? If that feedback is circulated, are you on the list of people who receive it?

Here are other sources of learning about customer needs:

  • Customer service representatives
    Their focus is on helping customers overcome experience issues. Try to speak to them regularly. They are likely documenting their calls, so see whether you can create some system for tagging experience issues that you can follow up on.
  • Sales representatives
    This is another group that is focused on the customer. They will understand what customer problems are out there to be solved. They’ll also know which features are important and which innovations customers want.
  • Website search data
    This is an invaluable source of customer desires. Search data can uncover website navigation problems and features or problems that customers are looking for.

Salespeople and customer service reps can be great sources of customer needs.
Salespeople and customer service representatives are great sources of learning about customer needs. (Image: Renato Ganoza)

Collaborative Design Over Designing on an Island

Design should not be a solo exercise. Being a design team of one is no excuse. Anthony uses the design studio process and adopt the role of facilitator. Gather team members who own a piece of the project, and host a design studio workshop. Include at least the following people (adjusting to suit your unique organization):

  • Domain owner
    Your subject matter expert
  • Requirements Owner
    A business analyst or the person who gathers and writes the requirements
  • Data provider
    A data analyst on hand who is familiar with the analytics and can pull the info you need
  • Technology owner
    A developer, someone who understands the technology constraints and design patterns
  • Product or business owner
    A product manager or the person who owns this piece of business
  • Designer
    The UX or visual designer or person who owns the design and can facilitate the design studio
  • Researcher
    The usability analyst or UX researcher or person who owns customer development and persona creation

Solving User Problems Over Designing the Next Cool Feature

When you’re handed a requirements document, a thought-out solution, a feature, a brief or whatever artifact you receive to inform your work, begin by asking, “What problem are we trying to solve?” Ideally, you should clearly understand the customer’s problem. Design is problem-solving, so if you don’t know the problem, you can’t design a solution. If you do this enough, then the stakeholders will understand that you’re more than just a wireframe jockey. You’re a professional problem-solver with a system for creating solutions that make sense.

Measuring KPIs Over Undefined Success Metrics

You can’t measure success if you aren’t… er, measuring. Avoid vanity metrics. Anthony loves Dave McClure’s pirate metrics:

  • Acquisitions
    Users come to the website from various channels.
  • Activation
    Users enjoy their first visit (a “happy” user experience).
  • Retention
    Users come back, visiting multiple times.
  • Referral
    Users like the product enough to refer others.
  • Revenue
    Users conduct some monetization behavior.

Applying Appropriate Tools Over Following a Rigid Plan

Lean UX should be a flexible process. As Anthony started to develop the process steps for one cycle, he found himself overwhelmed with the number of tools being recommended. Anthony’s advice, similar to what he had said when creating a minimum viable product, is to apply the minimum tools required to get you to “pivot” or “persevere.”

Here are a few tools that Anthony found useful (not an exhaustive list):

  • provisional personas, right sized for the effort;
  • persona map (which we learned from Menlo Innovations);
  • assumptions, with the riskiest identified;
  • design studio;
  • paper prototyping in early stages;
  • digital prototyping (HTML preferred) in later stages;
  • guerilla design assessment (a better name for usability testing);
  • co-location wherever possible.

The design studio method is popular for collaborative design
The design studio method is popular for collaborative design. (Image:

Everything else should be applied as it makes sense. For example, if more customer development is needed, then take the time to interview as a team and to internalize customer needs. The lean startup world has no shortage of tools. Use only the ones that make sense to your project and that get you to a validated solution faster.

Nimble Design Over Heavy Wireframes, Comps or Specs

The goal is to release a product. Once it’s released, users won’t interact with the wireframes or requirements document as part of the product. They will interact with the product itself. So, try to spend less time on your design artifacts.

How can you lighten your wireframes?

  • Lighter annotations and more presentation
    Anthony found that if I take the time to present my unfinished wireframes to stakeholders, He would get valuable feedback sooner and save time.
  • Co-design
    If developers, quality assurance testers and business analysts are involved in the design, then they will share ownership and internalize the annotations. When this happens, you can pass off sketches as wireframes because team members will already understand the interactions.
  • Paper prototypes
    These serve a dual purpose. They get you to design validation (i.e. usability testing) sooner, but they also demonstrate the interactions. No need to write detailed wire annotations if the user can see the interactions firsthand.

It’s All About Principle-Driven Design

This all boils down to something that I call principle-driven design. As stated, some lean UX is better than none, so applying these principles as best you can will get you to customer-validated, early-failure solutions more quickly. Rules are for practitioners who don’t really know the value of this process, while principles demand wisdom and maturity.

By allowing principles to drive you, you’ll find that you’re more nimble, reasonable and collaborative. Really, you’ll be overall better at getting to solutions. This will please your stakeholders and team members from other disciplines (development, visual design, business, etc.). To quote the late Stephen Covey:

“There are three constants in life: change, choice and principles.”



[1] Anthony Viviano, Ajay Revels and Ha Phan, The Lean UX Manifesto,

[2] Anthony Viviano, The Lean UX Manifesto: Principle-Driven Design, Smashing magazine, January 8, 2014,


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