User experience design is having a moment right now. Salaries are up, and increasingly valuations depend on the strength of design teams. In a crowded marketplace, the user experience of a product differentiates it from competitors.
Enterprise companies are also in the news. Companies like SalesForce.com and SAP share headlines in tech blogs with consumer-focused applications. Venture capital is streaming into startups working in the enterprise space.
I started this blog because I haven’t found many good resources for user experience designers who are focused on the enterprise space. Through writing, I work through issues related specifically to enterprise user experience design.
It might not seem that different, but enterprise users can be quite different than the users of a typical consumer product. Starting with a typically narrow domain, and lots of domain knowledge. The products that serve this market are similarly narrow, focused and domain-specific. There’s also the issue of the numbers. There just aren’t nearly as many users for software that controls a factory production process (for example) as there are users of a consumer site like Twitter or Facebook.
This creates problems and opportunities when it comes to testing a product. Designers that are used to having lots of metrics around page views, time spent etc may find themselves confounded. Truth be told, there’s no real substitute for A/B testing and lots of site traffic. I think there are some good work-arounds, but that’s just the reality of developing enterprise products – you’ll need to sit with people, and understand their basic problems, and watch them use your application. It’s slow, and it’s not a science, but you can derive real value and make incremental improvements to products.
I have this crazy idea that usability isn’t just for user experience designers. I think everyone on a product team can and should be responsible for improving the usability of the product, of the code, of the designs. I don’t see usability stopping with the customers. We’re all people, and we all work together and use each other’s code, designs and communications. We need to approach usability from the ground up – as a designer, I need my Photoshop files to be accessible by other designers. I need my emails to be read and understood by all the recipients.
If we start developing empathy for everyone in our work lives, that will naturally extend to our customers. Empathy isn’t a pie-in-the sky concept – it just means being able to walk in someone else’s shoes and understand their problems.
My goal with this blog is to make the development, implementation and testing process for enterprise software easier for everyone.