Spreading the Gospel of UX Design in an Agile World

Most people in software development are familiar with the Agile methodology – a system that emphasizes quick iteration and reactive planning. The last few years have seen a rise in Agile adoption, and therefore a rise in quickly developed, functional technology. However, many implementers of this technique don’t take into account UX research and design, leaving them with products that risk failure for their detachment from their end user’s needs.

Are Agile and UX Research at odds?

No, not necessarily. The problem is that UX research is often a time consuming and sometimes expensive process, two things that Agile fans try to avoid in their processes. But there is plenty of overlap between the two. A large part of the Agile process is creating personas and user stories to ensure that development is taking a logical path towards a usable product. These artifacts would be improved or even created from the findings of UX research, and a good marriage of the two seemingly opposite ideologies is definitely possible. While Agile processes (like SCRUM or Kanban) do have a focus on usability, there is a lack of emphasis on usefulness, something that can only be evaluated with input from potential end users.

Software development processes such as Agile and Lean boast quick incremental, iterative project management with a focus on delivering small sets of working software features to customers as quickly as possible. On the other hand, UX design methodologies while also focusing on quick iterations (of design), advocate spending considerable effort on user research, validation and analysis before development begins. 

Neil O’Donoghue, Medium

How do we integrate the two ideas?

There are plenty of ways to marry these two concepts that don’t involve violating the main tenets of either. Three main themes emerge among those who advocate for UX design and research in their software development process.

Spread the word

Educating coworkers, managers, and team leaders about the importance of design is something that a lot of organizations are missing. UX professionals’ role often get mistaken for graphic designers, user interface creators, or anyone who can make heads or tails of a prototyping tool. The fact is that most people don’t know the amount of user research, testing, and iterative design go into creating a strong user experience.

This education can take the form of internal presentations, external talks, or design workshops where developers try their hand at small-scale user testing.

We need to show them that investing in understanding users needs is very valuable and could make the teams work more efficiently by getting requirements that (sic) are already validated and tested with the users.

Luky Primadoni, UX Collective

Adjust team organization to include designers

Many organizations make the mistake of splitting up designers and developers, further creating misconceptions about what UX professionals do. The antidote to this is to organize teams by features or projects rather than by rigid departmental lines. This ensures that teams are interdisciplinary, and that first hand communication can happen easily. Designers can explain confusing parts of their prototypes, and developers can elucidate the technical pitfalls of a design or requirement. The image below shows what an ideal team structure would look like, highlighting the goal of collaboration.


Use established UX design techniques in problem solving

The following techniques can be adopted into software development for a more user centered design.

  • Audience engagement through social media as a way to understand the users of a product
  • User interviews from potential customers for a more detailed layout of their needs
  • Card Sorting as a way to organize information in a user-friendly way
  • Usability testing with prototypes or functional sites
  • Eye tracking to understand how users take in information
  • Heat Maps for clicking and scrolling, to see how users interact with the site
  • User recordings to account for body language, emotional reactions, or physical movements when interacting with a system
  • A/B testing to compare two potential designs

Many of these techniques can be done at the beginning of the development process, or can be implemented when changes are made. Some of these are cheap and quick, but the more resource heavy processes can help avoid the costs of redesigns, heavy documentation, or lost customers in the future.

In Conclusion: What do we stand to gain?

Integrating UX design and research elements into the development process can be beneficial to employees, stakeholders, and users. Employees gain mutual awareness of other functions, and can work in interdisciplinary teams; both of these changes provide a richer professional life. Stakeholders can save time and money by understanding users’ needs and wants; this is especially true because while Agile does address usability, UX research can help determine if a product responds to the users needs in the first place. Finally, users stand to gain by having a wider array of products that fit their needs more accurately and are a joy to use in their everyday life.


O’Donoghue, Neil. (2016, December 3). Integrating UX Design methodologies into software development. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@Neilod86/integrating-ux-design-methodologies-into-software-development-42032fc2ebdb

Knowles, Chris. (2018, March 1). 8 UX Research Methods to Start Using in Web Design. Retrieved from https://www.growthdrivendesign.com/blog/ux-research-for-web-design-8-methods

Primadani, Luky. (2019, June 1). Strategies in adopting and scaling user research within 1.5 year. Retrieved from https://uxdesign.cc/strategies-in-adopting-and-scaling-user-research-within-1-5-year-ad7ca28b3490