Masterclass Series: Building UX For Enterprise7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
For decades, the term enterprise UX has been largely associated with clunky, convoluted experiences. But all of that is changing. The past few years have seen enterprise UX garner attention from user-experience thought leaders around the world. Businesses are also beginning to see the ROI that comes with unclogging the layers of complexity that is embedded within in-house software and putting the end-user in the driver’s seat.
We recently hosted an AMA with Aaditya Sood. During the session, Sood delved deep into the fundamentals of designing intuitive UX for enterprise users and the best practices for product stickiness.
Here are some highlights from the session:
1) An ideal enterprise UX should focus on 3 main features
AS: Here are three features that teams need to keep in mind while designing UX for enterprises.
1. Easy onboarding: What this means is that systems must match the design with the problem being solved and speak the language of the user. This will allow teams to minimize the impedance between the system and the user.
2. Task-focused approach: Teams should focus on getting stuff done. An enterprise user generally has multiple projects under their purview and primarily cares about completing those tasks. The biggest takeaway here is to not only build only CRUD (create, read, update and delete) models but workflows that allow the end-user to accomplish tasks, easily.
3. Top-notch error handling and diagnostics: It’s in the nature of an Enterprise with its many moving parts and integrations for things to go wrong. Teams should equip themselves to handle errors gracefully and issue suitable diagnostic error messages to assist with debugging.
2) Consistency is key when it comes to building enterprise UX
AS: When teams think about building models with consistency, they must also think about building systems that present the least number of surprises.
Consistency in design & data models is extremely crucial as every extra action adds an additional cognitive load on the user. The more a user utilizes a product, the better they are able to build mental models that help them understand how a system behaves and how consistent its behavior is. The goal should be user-expected behavior unless it’s an unexpected delight!
3) The system design should focus on meeting the end user’s needs
AS: Enterprise customers generally use a variety of products and are extremely task-focused. Therefore, it’s only natural that the design of these solutions involves a deeper level of focus, training, and time commitment from the user.
Oftentimes, the individual who decides to purchase enterprise software is not the one who ends up using it. The decision to purchase a solution is usually made by the company executives while it’s the employees who use the product on a regular basis, sometimes even under duress! These days, users are exposed to great user experiences through the various applications they use in everyday life. This means they have far less patience than before so systems should be designed in a way that focuses on meeting their needs really well.
This is the competitive advantage that enterprise UX has over consumer UX.
4) The efforts of system engineers and UX designers need to support one another
AS: UX is as much an architectural problem as it is a User Interface (UI) design problem. Today, every enterprise system needs to have an application programming interface (API). The architectural decision around entity-relationship (ER) modeling is a core part of UX – the end-users could be developers who are constantly switching between the UI & API.
I believe chief architects, UI designers, and product managers need to work together to build a holistic system. This starts by having an opinionated take on what specific problems the product is trying to solve, followed by deciding how these problems will be solved. Being all things to all people is a recipe for disaster.
5) Build systems with escape hatches
AS: By building systems with escape hatches. Too many systems are designed based on the assumption that the UX team has full context into every step of the user journey. Realistically, this is not possible. Instead, systems need to be designed based on the assumption that for at least 5% of the user journey, the engineers will have no insight into what action the user is trying to take and the goal they are trying to accomplish. This is why it’s important to allow the end-users to override the system behavior through appropriate safeguards and audits.
Here’s an example: Think of the break-glass call point for fire alarms. When they are activated, all doors get unlocked, alarms buzz, and normal security protocols are suspended. Teams need to be able to translate these physical emergency call points into their workflows as well.
What’s interesting is that this is the crucial difference between consumer & enterprise design systems. Enterprise users are usually a known group of users within the organization where there are other non-system mechanisms to deal with unexpected behavior.
6) Pay maximum attention to user workflows
AS: The biggest challenge that comes with designing UX for enterprises is that the buyer persona and the end-user persona are different. Enterprise applications require a great deal of attention to be paid to designing end-user workflows.
Additionally, the team must also make sure that the needs of every stakeholder is well met in the way the application flows from task to task — both within and between the different user roles.
7) Revenue is the most important indicator of success
AS: The most important indicator of success is revenue. A good product is one that brings in revenue.
Another useful, although imprecise gauge is to dig down and talk to our end-users about their experience. This yields really useful qualitative metrics.
Some important quantitative metrics to track success would include the total number of steps taken to accomplish a task, the number of abortive flows — where a user gives up before achieving the end goal — and the time spent at each step.
Simply put, there’s nothing like success in UX. A design system can just suck less than the status quo or competition. However, if the end-users tell you a product that your team has designed has actually made their lives easier or more productive, I would call that a success.
About Aaditya Sood
A veteran entrepreneur, Aaditya Sood is the co-founder of Calm.io – a DevOps automation platform and a Sequoia portfolio company, acquired by cloud giant – Nutanix. He then moved on to serve as the VP and GM of the Calm division of Nutanix, where his team worked on eliminating the complexity of legacy datacenters through radical, application-centric views of the IT infrastructure. Sood comes with over 20+ years of experience in Infra/Cloud automation, enterprise resource planning, and software scalability and is passionate about all things UX, Product & Architecture.