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    A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

    This English proverb — and principle of user experience design — was a common thread in some of the presentations and panels at last week’s WebVisions conference at Portland’s Melody Ballroom.

    Megan O’Neill, a designer at PayPal, cited the quote when she compared coaching roller derby to design during her Lean UX presentation. No matter whether it’s a 260-48 loss for your roller derby team, a design prototype lambasted by a client or a website component beloved by the end user, every experience is a learning experience and retrospectives will help polish the process for the next go-round.

    So if a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, it’s important to travel light in the design process and not lose too much ground when you encounter choppy water. That was a driving principle behind Lean UX: get your prototypes and ideas in front of your customers before you invest too much time in ideas that won’t work for clients and their users.

    And if you encounter that stormy night or run into trouble, the damage from a failed attempt won’t bring your project crashing down into a crumpled heap.

    Gravitate’s Don Elliott spoke on the Lean UX panel at WebVisions. He echoed this Lean UX strategy, and explained how Gravitate shares ideas with clients early and often in the project lifecycle.

    “By the time teams deploy into production, they’ve undergone several rounds of hypothesis to work out a solution.” – Don Elliott, Gravitate

    This key Lean UX principle – reducing waste and learning from iteration — spilled over from another WebVisions presentation by Adam Connor about successful teams in design.

    He preached a product-not-project process where design teams observe, learn and create, and then circle back to observe, learn and create again and again.

    “Real design doesn’t have an end point, it’s infinite and iterative.” – Adam Connor, MadPow

    All while the design is shifting based on iteration and feedback, the team moves toward a greater goal. That requires, as Connor put it, a team built not on skillsets, but on individuals.

    Sarah Hall, CEO of Harley & Co., gave designers some additional ideas to chew on in her talk on The Science of Art. She said designers have a lot in common with weathermen: Meteorologists improve on their craft by looking at data and patterns to deliver informed forecasts, just like designers must do to improve on delivering user experiences.

    “We’re constantly trying to read and create something new by looking at what’s out there. We think about what we’ve been exposed to and try to create something meaningful.” – Sarah Hall, Harley & Co.

    All of this – infinite and iterative design, the Lean UX process, the weatherman-like analysis of signals in the market – helps contribute to our thinking at Gravitate, where we create websites built on a backbone of long-term strategy, but with the ability to react to the changing needs of users.