The Agile Designer Series — Why Agile for Design?

The Agile Designer Series - Why Agile for Design?

A practical guide to implementing an Agile UX practice

Matthew Cunningham
3 min readJun 12, 2016


Prologue: The following article is targeted for Product Designers wanting to understand Agile and how to apply Agile methodologies into their daily process. Although, many of the recommendations can be applied to other design industries and disciplines.

What is Agile?

Before we get into first steps, it’s important to understand “what” Agile is and “why” it’s important to Product Designers. If you’re in software it more than likely you’ve heard the term “Agile” at some point. It isn’t a new concept, especially within the Software industry, and you may even know someone or been at a company that practiced some type of “Agile” development. In fact, Agile is so prevalent it can now be found in a myriad of other non-technical industries like personal growth, Healthcare, and even Sales.

For this Article, however, I won’t go too deep into the history of Agile instead I’ll briefly cover the basics. .Back in the 1990’s software companies started noticing too much “lag time” between shipping software and what the market wanted. So much so that this issue became commonly known as “application delivery lag.” In 2001 a group of software developers got together and decided to fix the problem. They wrote what’s known as the “Agile Manifesto” and thus Agile was born.

Fast forward to today, integrating Agile within the Design and UX industries is now becoming more widely adopted as the standard way of designing user experiences. Google, IBM and other thought leaders are demonstrating the benefits of implementing Agile methodologies into the design process. However, in my experience, actually implementing these methodologies into today’s Product Design team’s can be a daunting and frustrating process. This Article aims at helping you start applying Agile methodologies into your design and/or ux process.

Why is Agile important for Designers?

Agile for Product Designers or what I call “Agile UX” is important for a couple of reasons and when implemented correctly, Agile UX allows for the following benefits:

  • Provides clarity of scope for the Designer and team
  • Allows time to “focus” on problems/tasks
  • Makes pivoting or changing direction relatively easy
  • Eliminates the big design up front (B.D.U.F. ) or Big Bang releases
  • Creates organization and structure within the team
  • Increases the overall quality of work
  • Allows for better visibility with Development, Product Management and Stakeholders
  • Satisfaction of getting shit done on a regular basis.

Pitfalls of Agile

When implementing any process you need to be aware of the pitfalls. Although Agile is great it also has it’s weaknesses. Here are just a few things to consider when implementing Agile. Is strongly recommend you have a mentor or Agile coach available to help navigate you with implementing the practice.

Agile Mentor or Coach — Like I said, if you are new to Agile be sure you have a mentor or a coach that can help you with implementing it. Doing it yourself and as a beginner, will cause you and your team to make a lot of mistakes. Although mistakes are fine when starting an Agile practice it will only delay the benefits. And when starting something new, at some point you want to reap the benefits. Having someone help guide you will help minimize the mistakes.

Get Buy-in — Make sure to get everyone bought into the process. Literally sit down with your team and discuss wanting to start applying Agile processes. Getting buy-in will also increase the likelihood of successfully implementing Agile.

Attempting to take on too much — Take it slow. In later articles I walk through how to start implementing Agile practices. Take it slow and be methodical. I’ve seen teams try to take on too much and end up more frustrated than necessary. Remember, everyone is learning so start small.

Be patient but persistent — being patient is key. Make sure, if you’re leading the Agile transformation, to be patient with your team as they “figure” things out, but also be persistent. Be there to answer questions and to provide support when things go awry!

What’s Next?

The question now becomes how and where do you start? Which Agile method is right for you or your team? Don’t worry, I got you covered. In the next article I cover the types of Agile, I believe, work best for Product Designers.



Matthew Cunningham

I’m a design-led product owner focusing on creating innovative products and services. Opinions are my own.