When people think of UX design, they imagine consumer UX applications with their sleek design and ease of use. However, enterprise UX design, i.e. user experience design for people at work, rarely gets its time in the spotlight.
So, in this article, we'll get down to the nitty gritty of enterprise UX, why it's important and how it differs from consumer app UX design.
Let's get started!
So, what is enterprise user experience design? Simply put, it's UX design for employees using well… enterprise software. Think complex B2B applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Warehouse Management System (WMS), Business Intelligence (BI), Human Resources Information System (HRIS), etc.
Using acronyms becomes second nature in this business.
Enterprise software design is a separate category from consumer UX. While replicating popular consumer design may be tempting to some, it can be tricky. These differences exist for a good reason. Or, better said, at least 6 reasons.
Prioritising recurring users allows you to build more complex apps. This can mean even busier UIs if that helps power users complete their tasks more efficiently and error-free.
They say UI is like a joke: if you need to explain it, it's not that good. Well, not quite so in the world of enterprise applications. Having documentation is okay, even mandatory.
In my experience as a UX designer at Qubiz, professional users will eventually climb a steeper learning curve by using the platform in their day-to-day work. This brings me to the next point.
Learnability is one of the most essential qualities of a good enterprise UX. Unfortunately, employees are used to bad user interfaces. Part of what makes them so bad is not that they're ugly or crowded but that they are unnecessarily hard to learn, inconsistent, and confusing.
Keeping your UIs squeaky clean by hiding information and functionalities can affect a power user's experience. They might lack the essential context to do their work or feel everything is 3 clicks away. Speaking of which, for repetitive tasks, minimalist interfaces can generate friction instead of eliminating it.
For example, while working on a Transport Management System project, our UX team insisted that the grids follow the Material Design guidelines, with 50-something pixels tall rows, airy columns, etc.
That is until our client's employees (the end users) convinced us that what they needed was closer to a spreadsheet than an airy list.
Enterprise applications often feature a utilitarian design, stripped down of any decoration. The "form follows function" mantra is especially true here. But that's not to say these business applications must look like dusty '90s desktop programs.
In many cases, the only elements of a B2B UI are typography, grids, lists, buttons, and the occasional icon or colour accent.
For some projects, we would create basic wireframes illustrating the design solution. Then, developers would implement the UI using off-the-shelf libraries such as Angular Material or Bootstrap.
This is what one of our clients wanted for their Energy Balancing Platform. Simple, utilitarian design process. And it was cheaper too!
Understanding the business, its processes, and the industry is at least as important as understanding the users when designing for enterprise.
Often, enterprise UX professionals will work alongside business analysts to figure out what the application needs to do and then find ways to make it user-friendly. Well, considering its inherent complexity…
But back to the users. The beautiful thing about enterprise systems is that, in many cases, the end users are the client's employees. They are often the people that you collaborate with in building the software.
One of UX designers' superpowers when it comes to B2B applications is their ability to model complex business rules into a straightforward, easy-to-use UI.
In the long term, if you simplify a complicated flow, reduce the time needed to go through it, and make the user feel more in control, that's mission accomplished.
Many project owners and decision-makers treat UX design as an afterthought, a nice-to-have permanently at the bottom of the backlog, especially regarding internal applications.
But that's probably because of the misconception that UX designers make things look pretty. However, UX design is much more than that. Having a designer on board should help clients achieve one or more of the following:
Users will perform tasks more rapidly, better, and with fewer errors.
The percentage of employees who actually use the application instead of the good old spreadsheets.
In ongoing projects, having a UX designer on board allows everyone to focus on what they do best.
Well-designed B2B platforms will have their users write fewer non-technical support tickets. This is especially important in the case of SaaS products.
UX designers can contribute to the overall application quality by applying best practices, usability principles, etc.
Well-designed SaaS and white-label apps are easier to sell because professionals are also people.
Enterprise app design is tough. You constantly need to learn about new business domains and different industries.
Moreover, due to the sheer complexity of B2B applications, projects almost always start without designers knowing the full scope and functionalities they will eventually cover. That means we can't design everything upfront but rather in multiple sprints, often in a scrum framework.
I love it when a new, large and complicated project comes our way. The more complex, the better. And since bespoke enterprise software is what we do best at Qubiz, we have had the opportunity to work on some seriously challenging stuff throughout the years.