Navigating an enterprise UX project

4 min read
Margaret Kelsey
  •  Dec 1, 2015
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From Fortune 500 corporations to government departments, enterprise organizations aren’t typically thought of as creative environments. But the peculiarities of an enterprise organization can be fodder for creative triumph—if we have the patience.

We had Erik von Stackelberg, founding Creative Director of Myplanet, join us for a webinar to explore the landscape of enterprise UX, its users, its nuanced design challenges, and the potential impact of great experiences at scale.

Watch the full recording below, or read on for our short recap on Erik’s talk.

When Erik and Myplanet first began working with enterprise organizations, they realized that the employee experience was often miles behind the experience of their consumers.

He and his team were shocked that the software experience someone has when actually doing valuable work—like building products or saving a life—would be clunky and painful. After all, it’s enterprise UX practitioners who have the power to fix it—to enable others to do their life’s work. The world needs more workplace UX people.Twitter Logo

The (current) enterprise UX landscape

It seems like when people talk about enterprise software, they could be talking about a number of different things, like:

  • Software used by employees inside any large organization
  • Software used solely by businesses, which excludes government, healthcare, and nonprofits
  • Any software created by an enterprise
  • Software used by any professional at any scale

Wikipedia’s definition:

“Enterprise software, also known as enterprise application software (EAS), is purpose-designed computer software used to satisfy the needs of an organization rather than individual users.”

Not only is this a huge cause of confusion, but there’s a huge UX red flag in Wikipedia’s definition: it’s saying that enterprise software is designed to not care about individual users.

Erik used a thoroughly enterprise perspective for his talk—UX for software built by teams in large organizations, either for their own employees, or for employees working in another large organization. Enterprise applications range from employee timecard systems to patient data record management, to air traffic control.

Why enterprise design is foggy (and bad)

Most enterprise software never sees the light of day outside an organization’s walls. It probably won’t be featured on Product Hunt or be in someone’s portfolio. Much of the worst stuff struggles with technology-first design decisions, information density and hierarchy issues, downright unusable UI conventions, and bad UI components.

But not all enterprise UX is bad. Enterprise applications from some of the well-known large-scale software vendors are really decent, relatively speaking. Erik noted that while we all have our gripes with Office, but it’s a reasonable application. And, of course, Apple is now positioning itself to bite into the enterprise market with its suite of productivity apps and partnership with IBM.

So this all begs the question: with the vast number of people who use these applications, why is the user experience for enterprise software so bad?Twitter Logo

Erik doesn’t think there’s a single reason, but he offered a couple of ideas:

  1. Internal tools are frequently seen as the artifacts of cost centers that must measure success by reduction in budget (how cheap can we go?), rather than value maximization (how effective can this make our people?)
  2. Another reason is that there isn’t any competition. Khoi Vinh said in a 2007 article, “Shielded away from the bright scrutiny of the consumer marketplace and beholden only to … information technology managers who are concerned primarily with stability, security and the continual justification of their jobs and staffs…”

In short, enterprise products aren’t subject to the scrutiny and forces of the market, and there often isn’t enough critical mass to act or a voice loud enough to speak on behalf of employee software experience inside these organizations.

A glimmer of hope

Slowly but surely, organizations are starting to realize that design isn’t just a differentiator for customers, but also for the performance of their own employees.

“Design plays a role in employee performance.”

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Erik gave evidence in the upward movement for design players in enterprise hierarchy as well. The fact that one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies, Johnson & Johnson, now has a designer in the C-suite. And Capital One acquired Adaptive Path. Hopefully, these sorts of working relationships will foster better internal experience to rival the end customer experiences we all love.

Unfortunately a few UX leaders does not a solution make—the enterprise space desperately needs more practitioners eager to solve some extremely challenging and nuanced problems that require an eagerness to dive deep into the subject matter.

And, it’s an exciting space to be in. At bare minimum, designers can take those pieces of software that millions of employees are forced to use and improve them. That itself is an extremely rewarding impact.

Unusable software increases task completion time, which decreases productivityTwitter Logo. When 60,000 people spend an extra 15 minutes trying to log time in a retail chain, the productivity loss is considerable. And worse, when software solves the wrong needs—when the user experience is poor because the utility is low or use case is mismatched—people often develop workarounds to complete the tasks they need to.

“By improving the daily routine of one employee, we can indirectly impact a whole host of end users”

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Better enterprise user experiences involve better utility and usability, which mathematically mean more productivity. Not surprisingly, more productive output ultimately means more problems solved, which indirectly means more choice and better experience for end users, customers, patients, citizens, etc.

In short, by improving the daily routine of one employee, we can indirectly impact a whole host of end usersTwitter Logo. Enabling others to do their work and solve problems themselves is an incredibly rewarding trickle-down opportunity.

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