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user experience & design

Enterprise design: What you need to know to improve your organization’s tech stack [Video]

Chris Powers
April 30th, 2021
6 MINUTE READ

For many UX professionals, the phrase “enterprise design” sounds like an oxymoron. These days, many UX designers are committed to the tenets of design thinking, namely the commitment to understanding the user and challenging long-held assumptions and practices. Inherent to this approach is the ability to experiment, try new things, test hypotheses, and change directions on a dime. Simply put, modern UXers have embraced the idea that good design is flexible—shifting quickly to meet the wants, needs, and desires of the end-user.

Apply this user-centric principle to the enterprise and things start to get a little hairy. Due to their large, distributed—and often siloed—nature, enterprises tend to be anything but flexible. Clogged up by layers of complexity and bureaucracy, enterprises are slow to embrace change. Continuous refinement and improvement are not their strong suit.

Organizations rarely have the time and resources internally to devote the intelligent design of products and solutions, and users themselves are often difficult to understand and resistant to change. Often, this means that enterprise technology solutions are bloated, difficult to use, and visually underwhelming.

But they don’t have to be. While enterprises have their own unique set of challenges when it comes to the design process, it is possible to implement user-centric design principles. 

What is enterprise design?

Perhaps the best way to understand enterprise design is to distinguish it from consumer-focused design. Consumer design seeks to create products for regular people. These products are available on open marketplaces—think Apple’s App Store—and compete with other similar products to best satisfy the needs of the end-user. Product designers, developers, marketers, and more work tirelessly to release digital products that are appealing to consumers in terms of functionality, accessibility, price, and other important factors. In the context of consumer-focused design, the buyer and the end-user are the same person.

By contrast, enterprise design creates digital products that satisfy the needs of organizations instead of individuals. These products are often productivity tools or essential pieces of software that help companies conduct day-to-day business operations. They are designed with a large-scale organization in mind, and ultimately should help enterprises run more efficiently and generate more revenue.

Traditionally, enterprise tech solutions are sold at the executive level. C-suite leaders agree to purchase a product that they believe will meet their organization’s unique needs, fulfill a specific purpose, and ultimately benefit their company in the long run. However, these executives do not represent the end users of the product. Rather, the employees that engage with the solution day in and day out are the end users.

You see where the disconnect exists. These products are designed, marketed, and sold to leadership teams who often have no idea what the end users want, need, or expect the products to achieve. Little time or consideration is paid to the user, running counter to all that user-focused design practices preach. Dreaded bureaucracy leads to lackluster solutions that employees find time-consuming, inefficient, and unsatisfactory. 

But no matter what the type of solution—be it consumer or enterprise-level—it is essential that it helps users get things done faster and more efficiently. As designer and author John Maeda explains, though they are not the primary decision makers, it is essential that users have their needs taken into account. 

“The people who use the system know exactly what kind of improvements they need to get their work done, and help to spec future upgrades by doing so,” Maeda writes. “Because the user base isn’t generally soaring in the millions for enterprise IT, like with a consumer app, it’s more likely possible to listen, plan, and execute.”

What you need to know about enterprise design

If your enterprise organization is looking to upgrade existing technologies or embrace new ones, there are a few things you need to understand about how enterprise-level solutions work. Whether you’re looking to purchase new tech, build a custom solution internally, or seek out a design and development agency to create the software your organization needs, here are some key things to consider.

Your employees demand better—and they should

With a smartphone in every pocket these days, well-designed applications and software solutions are ubiquitous. People know and understand what good design looks like, and can see how it benefits them daily. If well-designed apps help people achieve their goals easily in everyday life, shouldn’t they do the same at work? If you set your employees up with tools that are designed with them in mind, they’ll be empowered to complete work more efficiently and effectively. 

An Agile approach is the way to go

At Codal, we’re big proponents of the Agile methodology. In terms of providing a flexible approach to design and development, Agile can’t be beat. When designing solutions that need to work at the enterprise level, a commitment to continuous improvement and refinement is essential. Agile helps manage expectations while ensuring design and development teams are flexible and able to respond to challenges in real time. That’s essential for tech solutions that need to be built for scale.

Workflows are your guiding lights

Consumer-focused design is structured around flows, or the paths users take within an application or solution to complete tasks (think the traditional browsing, add to cart, and checkout flow associated with an eCommerce website). But user flows get infinitely more nuanced and complex in enterprise applications. The actions of a single user do not happen in a vacuum in an enterprise application, so you’ll need to be mindful of how specific user flows interact with others, and work together to form workflows. Using these workflows as guiding lights will help ensure that your application is built to accommodate multiple employees working together toward specific goals.

Usability testing is crucial

Usability testing is about getting your employees to interact and engage with your solution to ensure it will help them do their jobs better and more easily. Observing how your employees react to the solution and examining their behavior can provide you with invaluable insights into how effectively your solution satisfies their needs. User testing represents a crucial component of good enterprise design because it ensures the users’ perspectives are incorporated—and the C-suite doesn’t get to determine the best path forward for an organization without being adequately informed.

Design practices built for the enterprise

Truly impactful enterprise-grade tech solutions are rare. At Codal, we understand how to deliver digital solutions that not only make your employees’ lives easier, but help your organization run leaner and more efficiently, and generate revenue. When your employees can do their jobs in a more efficient manner, opportunities for cost savings and new revenue channels are uncovered. 

Interested in learning more about our enterprise-grade design and development capabilities? Reach out to us today.

Chris Powers
AUTHOR

Chris Powers

Chris is a Content Marketing Specialist at Codal. With a background in journalism and marketing, Chris has written about a variety of tech topics, including open source, fintech, and cybersecurity. Chris loves taking on new challenges with just a pen, paper, and his brain.

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