Influencing Experiences

Enterprise UX – What I Learnt about the Beast

In the world of digital experience design, enterprise UX is a majestic beast in itself. This world has seen rapid progression over the last few years, where other species like the consumer products have evolved exceptionally – with elegant interfaces, delightful interactions and inter-networking (IoT).


Being thrown into enterprise UX work since I joined PeepalDesign, I was curious about the difference between Enterprise UX and Consumer UX. So I asked Aurobinda Pradhan, my manager. He says experience of a product is driven by the motivation of the user. In simple terms if your motivation is to pay tax on time and not pay a fine, you will spend hours on a badly designed government website and make it happen, whether you liked it or not. Where as if you did not find the exact thing on an e-commerce portal or app within 10 seconds, you will move on to another provider without thinking twice. We all wear two hats while experiencing a product or service. One is “productivity” hat and the other is “association” hat. In summary this is what he says.

“Historically Enterprise UX focuses on productivity for businesses whereas Consumer UX focuses on association with users, hence Enterprise UX has more focus on efficiency and consumption UX focuses on delight. ”  

Of all that I know, Enterprise Apps is a term which refers to all the applications used by employees of a large organisations to get their work done efficiently. Some typical examples include:

  • Supply Chain Management (SCM)
  • Content Management Systems (CMS)
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Human Resource Management (HRM)

The primary distinction is that while enterprise UX is about domain specific problem-solving that enables it’s users manage their complex work-tasks, consumer UX aims at specific tasks while hiding away the complexities.

Let’s take an example.

What is the motivation of an employee to use SCM to track the inventory even though it’s the most painful app to deal with? It’s her job and she has to use it, day in and day out. She has no choice to not use it.

On the other hand, what is the motivation of you to use “Snapchat” against “Whatsapp”? Both are easy to use, lot of friends are on whatsapp. But you feel that you can control your privacy better on Snapchat.

You drive engagement with consumer apps based on your evolving perceptions and the freedom to choose.

With the fast evolving technology, gone are those days of bulky applications with primitive experiences demanding a steep learning curve. Consumers are now used to intuitive, clean looking products with seamless experiences. They expect the same not just from their smartphone applications but also from their work tools.

Like I said, I was thrown into Enterprise UX work and it was a roller coaster ride. Nevertheless, we had a process and some principles that the whole team adheres to. Here is my attempt towards documenting them.

 

And below are few principles that I try to inculcate while designing for enterprise UX:

  1. Understand the ecosystem

We all know how important it is to get the user perspective to define better UX. However, unless all stakeholders in the ecosystem are aligned, there is a good chance that your UX will be skewed.

  • The users – their needs, goals and pain-points
  • The business – terminologies, foundational concepts and the framework
  • The technology
  • The support

While building an enterprise app, it is critical to understand the context of the domain. Incase an existing product is being redesigned, then the understanding of the existing product’s concepts and framework. Only after this can there be constructive contribution and collaboration between various stakeholders.

Having a clear understanding of the product, its users, the platform’s complexities and the constraints, helps us as designers to design an experience which could fill the shortcomings of the current UX flow resulting in improved customer satisfaction.

2. Manage the UX sprint ahead of the Dev sprint

In an ideal sprint planning, there is enough overlap within each sprint phases. But in actual run, we usually end up having to chase the design deadlines and deliverable so that development timelines are met.

To avoid major fallbacks at last minute or at the time of product launch, the timelines should always be closed upon at the beginning of the project. As designers, we should emphasis on the importance of having enough overlap between the design and development phase.

As proposed by many – “Design should be a separate sprint and one sprint ahead of dev sprint.”

For the projects with tight timelines, the development sprint could be clubbed with weekly scrum calls between the dev and the design team. This will ensure regular quality-check. The increased interactions between the designers and the developers will help them identify major blockers and come up with right solutions.

3. Don’t leave the users hanging

When trying to improve on an already existing product, it could be easy for the designer to get carried away and come up with something drastically altered from the existing flow. While the result could be highly improved version of the existing flow, the drastic change may also leave the user clueless.

Hence, it is also important to keep in mind the mental model users are used to and judge the proposed designs on the basis of user testing and the learning path involved.

Now imagine a nightmarish scenario, where you have painstakingly created a file using an enterprise application. The application got an update with fancy new features but some of its older functions were also removed. Next time you open the file and see most of the records missing due to obsolete application functions used!

From functionality point of view, we should never discard a function without notifying the users or giving an option to revert back to the previous version.

4. Establish and make use of design system

Enterprise applications are like a big puzzles with multiple design teams trying to put their piece in place.

It is important to set a common design language and pattern library in place. This helps in streamlining the work coming from different teams, maintaining consistency and scalability.

Large organisations now have started defining their own design system which is a structured approach at unifying resources, design rules and patterns. A design system should not only define the visual language and the UX patterns but also detail out the design process, documentation for future reference.

Having a design system in place, specially in an enterprise environment, helps multiple teams working from all parts of the world to learn, work, collaborate and grow together.

5. Keep in mind the technical challenges

Existing enterprise applications do have a complex legacy framework that needs to be addressed to while upgrading the existing code as per the new designs. Developers need to be careful of the changes and the impact that would have on the overall (internal & client-side) system.

“Some of the design proposal might end up in the bin due to technical constraints. It is imperative that design and development team do not work in silos.”

The proposed designs should therefore go for a round of review & investigation with the technical team, before the actual development sprint starts, to identify any issue beforehand and come up with alternate solution.

6. Don’t underestimate the power of user-testing

Enterprise applications typically have larger scope and complexities than consumer applications. Thus, cost of a poorly designed enterprise application is also high with negative impact on areas ranging from low user productivity, low user engagement, high maintenance cost to skewed learning curve or high training costs.

To avoid the failures, designers should always validate their designs through user testing. Usually, in enterprise world, validation phase starts once high fidelity designs are fleshed out. However, it will be more efficient to do the validations in low fidelity stage.

The designs are validated with stakeholders and end-users through various methods of user testing (Usability testing, A/B testing, contextual enquiry etc.).

Also many times, designers do fail to quantify and justify the design decisions. This is when user testing and metrics help us. It acts a common language that bridges the understanding gap within the stakeholders.

Summary

Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”. In Darwinian terms the phrase is best understood as “Survival of the form that will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations.”

This holds true for the products/ services we use day in and day out. Only those products that have successfully evolved to keep up with changing needs and expectation of its users would remain relevant and thrive.

With the narrowing gap of the users’ expectations from the consumer UX and enterprise UX, it is now, more than ever before important to reimagine and rethink the way enterprise applications have been working.

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Categories: UX,UX Process,UX Strategy.