10 years ago, the field of user experience design was like the Wild West, rapidly expanding, constantly changing, loosely monitored, and highly enticing. Fast forward to 2016 and what once made consumer products like the iPhone so exceptional – elegant interfaces, intuitive interactions, etc. – have come to be expected of all consumer facing product. Designers’ desire to continuously improve UX for consumers will never dissipate. However, there is another field where the UX revolution is just beginning, where UX designers with the proper tenacity and intellect can have an impact. That field is enterprise UX, which involves designing tools and services that enable an organization to function. What are some examples of this? HR Portals, intranet sites, proprietary enterprise software – not typical designer dream projects.
In his Medium post “Why I design enterprise UX, and you should too!” Uday Gajender breaks down what enterprise UX is, how he became involved, and why he feels that more designers should turn their heads toward this exciting space. Gajender discusses key differences between enterprise and consumer UX, and notes how these differences make enterprise UX a challenging and gratifying sector to work in. Below is an interpretation of Gajender’s topics with points relevant to my own experience. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant as a starting point for anyone getting involved this in burgeoning space.
- Know Your Field
In consumer UX, many design principles are field-agnostic. The same cannot be said for enterprise UX where, instead of designing for the general populace, you are designing for a specialized audience within an industry or sector. As a designer you must understand the different players in the space, how they interact, their specific requirements, and what makes an ideal experience for each. Think of the process of loan origination, which involves but is not limited to, relationship managers, credit analysts, loan officers, and loan processors. Attempting to design a system to work for each disparate group without knowing terminology, activities, goals and pain points is a foolhardy endeavor. But with an understanding of foundational concepts, you have a framework that allows effective application of UX creativity, experience, and practices to the product or service in question. It also allows designers to facilitate constructive collaboration between different stakeholders, including executives, internal teams and users.
- Customization Over Convention
Convention over customization is a sensible approach to UX design in the consumer space. User research should identify the most common way users think about or perform an interaction, and the design should cater to that mental model. Unfortunately, the “one size fits most” paradigm does not typically translate to enterprise UX. The products that drive key processes within organizations need to be highly customizable to sync smoothly with the way that an organization operates. Thus enterprise UX designers must focus on making products modular and customizable in order to meet operational differences between organizations.
- Intricate Enterprise Environments
Consumer products are often tasked with encapsulating an entire process or activity for a user (i.e. a pizza delivery app covers the end to end pizza-buying experience). The opposite is true for enterprise products, where the goal of “straight through processing” is a pipe dream more often than not. Instead, multiple products from different vendors must interact with each other seamlessly and securely as possible. This introduces complex workflows where, as a designer, you must understand the entire user journey through a process and the different systems it requires. This introduces interesting dilemmas around elements such as data models, permissions, notifications, and security. Loan origination again provides a good example, where a financial institution may have one system for their CRM, another system for origination and underwriting, and a third system from document preparation – all of these systems need to be able to interact with each other in order to allow users to do their jobs.
- Data Complexity
In addition to the issues surrounding inter-system interactions, the data models of enterprise products are significantly more complex than their consumer counterparts. Enterprise UX designers are often grappling with incredibly large and intricately intertwined data sets. Dealing with data complexity feeds back into understanding the domain, specifically, understanding how data flows through a system, how and when data should be displayed and what data is important to what users. Designers must place a heavy emphasis on information architecture in order to comprehensibly organize, relate, and display information in the UI.
- It Takes A Village
The enterprise sales process goes far beyond one consumer making the decision to purchase a product. Enterprise software is very unique in the sense that those writing the check for a product are typically not the end users. Enterprise designers must perform a balancing act between all the different groups involved, and understand the fundamentals of how a product is sold. This involves clarifying technical details with engineers, explaining license and subscription considerations to the sales team, and illuminating the vision for how a product will improve an organization to executives. Differences in opinion between groups require careful officiating, such as when dealing with a change-averse users and innovation-seeking executives.
Enterprise UX is not for everyone. It can be easy to see why the average designer would be more drawn to building the next Instagram or Snapchat instead of overhauling the UX of an HR portal. However, designers in enterprise UX have the opportunity to bring clarity, elegance and even beauty to multi-faceted, complex and intricate systems that have far-reaching impacts across an organization. Designers with the drive to overcome these obstacles will find themselves at the forefront of an important and growing field within design.
For more information on UX for enterprise click through some of the links below. I found many of them helpful during my exploration of this topic.