Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Prototyping and UX challenges with agile development

An excellent series of articles by Ritch Macefield in which he discusses challenges faced by agile teams looking to efficiently build user centred design processes into their work and makes the case for more sophisticated prototyping software.

I've seen Ritch present a couple of times and also attended his training on Axure, the prototyping tool. So on reading the articles it wasn't surprising that his conclusions revolve around his enthusiasm for Axure, but this is in no way a sales pitch and well worth a read if, like me, you're trying to get UX techniques to work well in a fast-moving agile development project.

These are all articles Ritch wrote for I saw him present on Collaborative Interaction Design and Specification (CIDS) earlier this year, which prompted me to read one article and then work backwards. So, in the correct order...

In '(Why) Is UXD the Blocker in Your Agile UCD Environment?', Ritch talks about the challenges UX professionals can face when first working with an agile development team. These are mainly based around the time it can take to generate and test prototypes. He concludes that working with a powerful, 'fourth generation prototyping tool' (like Axure RP Pro, iRise, Protoshare, and Prototyper) significantly increases speed, agility and collaboration.

He continues this thread into 'Agile Problems, UX Solutions, Part 1: The Big Picture and Prototyping' in which he talks about the risk of incoherent user experiences that can occur through the agile process of breaking down the requirements to a granular level in user stories. His solution is to start early with conceptual prototypes that evolve and grow through each sprint or iteration.

In the second part of this article, 'Agile Problems, UX solutions, Part 2: Thoughts on Patterns and Prototyping' Ritch builds on his conceptual prototype approach to introduce pattern libraries as an ongoing output from the prototyping and testing process.

Finally, he introduces a new UX term 'Collaborative Interaction Design and Specification (CIDS)' tools in which he gives his view on why software like Axure and iRise are distinct from and better than the range of prototyping tools that went before them, and why UX professionals - particularly in agile environments - really need to be using them.

I've been using Axure and Balsamiq for a good few years now, having moved on from my previous favourite - Visio. For me, the big driver in moving on was the collaborative element, but I think he's absolutely right about the benefits to interaction design and specification too.

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