My one treat I give myself when I travel is a trip the magazine rack. I stock up on Fast Company (my personal fav), Inc., The Harvard Business Review and when I’m really spoiling myself a Dwell. The October Inc. looked promising, ‘The Lean Start-up’, with Mr. Lean himself, Eric Ries on the cover. And his start-up story has the painfully familiar melody that most of us can relate to. I didn’t have the misfortune of tanking my own venture, but I woefully bared witness to two Titanics destined for the ocean floor. And my work in design and user experience  during those times only strengthened my belief in generating value by delivering a great product experience to the customer, the same work I’d spent years reading about. Anyone sharing that message is a friend of mine.

Yet, it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to wane. As the article slowly starts to define this genius new way to innovate product development, a method that seems an awful lot like what I do, what I’ve been doing for years; user experience. And I’m not the only one, nor am I the first, far far from it. Those radicals at IDEO, the outlier Bill Buxton, the godfather of all things process and experience Alan Cooper, I could do this all day… Was Ries cryogenically frozen for 20 years and missed all this UX talk? I didn’t care, I was ticked.

But, I kept myself, until I read Andy Budd’s take on Lean UX. Ok, good, it’s not just me (thanks Andy).

Andy’s perspective nailed it, so at first, I thought, Sweet, I’ll just retweet that…but there was one rather looming issue. Something I think erodes the fabric of the craft of experience design. Now, you can brand something, write a book,  make some dough on it, shout it from the mountain-tops, but I CANNOT swallow is re-naming something that already has a name, a history, practitioners and craftsmen who make a living at it and teach it to others. What’s worse is design has always had a problem defining itself, explaining the value; the 2003 Clement Mok article, ‘Time for Change’ is likely the most powerful depiction of the problem and a solution. When I read it, I made a promise to better the design conversation.

From the Inc. article:

“By building what I call a minimum viable product—or MVP. It helps entrepreneurs start the process of learning as quickly as possible. Unlike a prototype or concept test, an MVP is designed not just to answer product design or technical questions. Its goal is to test fundamental business hypotheses.”

I’m fine with someone calling their, WIP prototype a MVP, but it’s still a prototype. And prototyping IS and always has been the business plan, the journey AND the path. So unlike the MVP Eric described, the prototype solves for the technical and design (the ‘what’s possible’) as well as the customer/user and business value. That’s right, the prototype when used effectively is the whole enchilada.

Another quote:

“Lean thinking defines value as “providing benefit to the customer”; anything else is waste.”

User experience is and has always been described and utilized to address and focus on customer/user meaning and benefit. It seems by renaming UX to ‘lean thinking’ for no other reason than personal gain, is categorically wrong.  We really, desperately need to use the same language, consistently to communicate the value of what we do. If we dilute it, complicate it and re-mystify our work, everyone loses. Clement illustrates this with a comparison, “If every physician made up his own set of definitions and beliefs about anatomy and disease on an improvised basis, the medical profession would still be in the Dark Ages.”

I played the kerning game a few days ago and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The game wasn’t just good, it wasn’t just cool because it was done in HTML5 (ok, fine, that made me giddy) and, sure, it was touch enabled…but that wasn’t it. This game was about kerning, KERNING. Type nerds, print designers adore analyzing every possible flaw, the tiniest spaces between symbols, but I would never dare admit my love for it in mixed company. My dev buddies might just laugh and tell me to go make them a t-shirt, right?

I needed to know who the hell made this game, someone with clear dev chops and enough design geek to love this sacred art as old as the printing press. The Method Action blog, held the answer and his name is Mark MacKay, Twitter handle @duopixel. But let’s go back to that blog…

Most of my time is spent, split between speaking to devs and designers, usually at separate conferences (that’s a different problem). The topics are always similar; ux, mobile design, user research, prototyping, but how I format the content for each audience is markedly different. MacKay’s writing, his raison d’etre, is something that I’ve been working on for years; bridging the gap between design and dev. This piece in particular, brilliantly tackles the issue.

Especially, how design is written and talked about, how we frame design in an effort to explain it to more right brained folks is flawed. Mark’s points are similar to the message I give to dev’s: you already have the skills. Design, in its most simple form, is a problem with a set of constraints. Problem solving skills, attention to detail, a scientific approach and a solution based eye are the critical shared DNA that devs already possess.

What Method of Action is building, games for participatory learning, is not only genius, it bridges the divide in understanding and communicating in and with technology. No small thing. Addressing this huge problem deserves some props, in fact, I’ll be bragging about this in future talks. Thanks Mark and Maria, keep it up!