Agile Development User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

What is Agile Development?

Agile development is a software development process whereby software is developed in iterative and incremental work cycles. Where traditional (waterfall) methods try to plan the development process and outcome at the beginning of, or even before, development, agile development is a flexible process that allows developers to change direction during the project and quickly respond to changing circumstances.

Agile development stems from a manifesto from 2001 that sets out the four principles of Agile development (

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
  • Working Software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to Change over following a plan

Scrum is one of the most widespread Agile development processes. In Scrum, developer teams work in short sprints based on a predetermined duration, often between a week and a month. Each sprint starts with sprint planning, where the team determines the scope of the work to be done by the end of the sprint. On each day of the sprint, the team meets briefly and all members describe what they did the day before, what they plan to do that day, and any problems they are experiencing. In this way, emerging difficulties will not have time to snowball and threaten to derail the project, as the team can address them within a relatively short time frame. At the end of a sprint, the team members log the progress they have made so far and review their development process. The iterative sprint cycle continues until the product is ready to be released, and—in some cases—it will continue after the release so as to optimize their work.

Literature on Agile Development

Here’s the entire UX literature on Agile Development by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Featured article

Make Your UX Design Process Agile Using Google’s Methodology

Make Your UX Design Process Agile Using Google’s Methodology

In an age of tight resources and constrained finances companies are more reluctant than ever to commit to big design projects without a thorough understanding of their chances of success. Google has developed a methodology to make the design process fast and still offer valuable insight. Forget minimum viable products and focus on prototypes and build and test in a week!

operates in a 5 phase process. Each phase takes approximately 1 day to perform (8 hours) and all 5 phases take approximately 40 hours to execute in full.

The Google Design Sprint Process Overview

Author/Copyright holder: DX Lab Design Sprint. Copyright terms and licence: Fair Use.

Like all good design processes – there is room for iteration. In fact, you are strongly encouraged to make revisions based on your first sprint and then re-iterate the last two phases (at a minimum). However, if you find your idea isn’t gaining the traction that you expected; you can also move further back and re-iterate from there.

The 5 phases of Google’s Design Sprint:

  • Unpack
  • Sketch
  • Decide
  • Prototype
  • Test

Unpack. Sketch. Decide. Prototype. Test. The 5 phases of Google’s Design Sprint.

Let’s take a look at each stage:


Google’s Sprint process is designed to be run by teams rather than individuals. That means getting everyone together and ensuring that they’re all aiming in the same direction.

The ideal team will include representatives from all relevant functions and at all levels within the organization such as sponsors, senior managers, marketers, designers, developers, customer service, sales, user support, etc.

In the unpack phase, you bring everyone together and “unpack” all the knowledge of the problem within the team. It can be helpful to use an external facilitator for these meetings – they can then ask the questions necessary to help people focus and ensure that understanding is complete without anyone in the team having to lose face to do so.

You may want to include the following in your unpack event:

  • A presentation by the senior management representative outlining why the opportunity presented is important to the business
  • Competitive Reviews
  • Demonstrations of the problem and any bits of the solution that may already be available
  • A detailed walkthrough of the proposed solution
  • User personas
  • Analytical data available
  • The metrics of success (these should be useful business metrics and not metrics pulled out of the air)

It is important to involve the whole team in the unpack event. Do not let an individual or group dominate proceedings. The idea is to ensure everyone is on the same page and you can only ensure this if everyone is heard from.


Once everyone is on the same page, it’s time to split the team up and get them to start working on solutions. Sketch day is an individual effort. Everyone (even the CEO) is tasked with coming up with a detailed solution to the problem.

Author/Copyright holder: Andrew Turner. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

It’s best to do this on paper for two reasons:

  • It’s quick and if things need changing it takes no time to do.
  • Not everyone is going to be a master of whatever wire-framing tools you use.

For particularly complex or large-scale problem solving; you may want to break up the problem into “manageable chunks” and assign people a chunk rather than the whole problem.

The aim of sketch day is to get as many ideas down as possible. If your team is huge and you’re going to generate a ton of ideas – you might want to allocate an hour at the end of the day to quickly reduce the number of ideas to a more manageable number before you go into the third day of the spring.


As you might expect Decide Day is all about making a decision as to which idea (or ideas) you’re going to take to the prototype phase. However, there’s more to Decide Day than making a decision – it’s really about working out how your solutions may conflict with your objectives, abilities, resources, users, etc.

You can start the day by quickly listing any assumptions that you’re making things such as:

  • Budget
  • Users
  • Technology Capacity
  • Business Drives

Then it’s time to review each idea and look at the conflicts that it generates (and creating ideas to overcome conflicts).

You should have an objective in mind during your review. Will you be looking to take a single great idea forward to prototyping or are you going to pick say a Top 5 and take them all forward and find out which idea the users like best? You should be looking to constantly refine your list and remove ideas that simply aren’t feasible early in the process.

Once you have the idea or ideas you will prototype – the last part of Decide Day is to create some storyboards for your ideas. These should define each interaction with a user in a step-by-step process. This will be your specification for your prototype. You may also want define a user story or two (a la Agile Scrums) to help beef up the specification.

The UX team will also want to recruit participants, for the final day’s testing, on Decide Day.


This is where the work gets serious. You have a single day to create a prototype that your users can test on the final day.

Google recommends that you use Keynote and the available templates on Keynotopia to rapidly build interactive prototypes. But you can use any tool of your choice. Just pick one that you master enough for rapid prototyping.

In tandem, the research team should be finalizing the testing schedules and developing the interview script for that schedule.


As we all know, user experience requires user involvement. On the fifth day of your sprint you’re going to bring up to 20 users (and no less than 6) together and work with the one-on-one as they play with the prototype.

Everyone involved in a test should make notes and record what they feel they’ve learned. You want to take these notes and summarize them at the end of the day. This should help you decide what needs iterating and improving.

Author/Copyright holder: Antonio Zugaldia. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

One Last Thing

Though this is a tried and tested methodology by Google; it’s also a brand new concept adapted from agile methodologies. It may take a few tries within your organization to keep the sprints to 5 days. That’s OK. You can work towards delivering faster sprints as you get more practice.

The Take Away

Google design sprints should help you take a process that currently takes months and make it lean and efficient. It is not a substitute for all design processes but one that lets you ideate and test ideas incredibly quickly. A highly productive design team working in sprints is more likely to add business value and thus be recognized for their work within the larger organization.


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Learn more about Agile Development

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Agile Usability Engineering

Ch 40: Agile Usability Engineering

Agile Usability Engineering is a concept to describe a combination of methods and practices of agile development and usability engineering. Therefore, this entry commences with a brief note on agile methods. In recent years, agile methods for software and web engineering have reached widespread acceptance in the community. In contrary to class...

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