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Frankly, there’s a lot of wildly general information out there about what you need to know to be a UX designer, which can form a good baseline from which to contextualize this article. As a UX/UI person, you can work in a lot of areas of the world. There’s a pretty big difference between someone who thrives in mobile apps, vs web, vs voice, vs enterprise software, we’re here to share the key differentiators for someone working in enterprise software specifically. 

(a BUNCH of these core skills also apply to non-designers in enterprise software, but that’s another story ;))

Another key part to contextualize this article is that as enterprise designers may come into the field as a senior already with all of the general UX skills down pat, so the ‘UX basics’ aren’t needed.

This article is focused on areas in your design practice you can grow, emphasize and get really really good at, whether you’re a newbie, intermediate, senior or beyond, (so you thrive and advance your career in the enterprise software space🚀).

Why do you need specialist skills in enterprise UX?

Like anything in the world, context is everything, enterprise hits different. Without going into excruciating detail on what enterprise software is, it’s worth stating that enterprise software creates quite a different context which is important to appreciate.

Enterprise software: software that people use at work across all verticals and domains.

To give you more of a feeling of enterprise software, take this excerpt from our future of enterprise UX article:

“Enterprise software runs the world. Take a moment to consider, nearly every aspect of your life is fuelled, behind the scenes by complex, domain-specific software. A chain of logistics software gets you your Amazon package. A grocery inventory system and point of sale allow you to purchase fresh food. Your paycheque arrives in your account via a payroll system which is set up to make sure the correct amount arrives at the correct time. Your doctor appointment is facilitated through practice management tools to book your appointment and record critical information in your electronic health record.”

Compared to other areas of the digital world, enterprise software involves:

  •  🩰 Much more complex operations are happening by users
  •  🌋Users are dealing with massive amounts of data to make decisions is important 
  •  🧫 Users may be working directly with machine learning or AI models
  • 💥 System dependencies, errors and logic is more intense
  • 🧑🏻‍🚒 There are often a lot of personas to deal with, design-wise
  • 🐇 The quirks of how a particular industry works are typically embedded in the logic of the product

Enterprise UX is all about the UX patterns in a general sense, we’re talking about all sorts of them including data tables, empty states, data dashboards, success feedback, and flexible enterprise patterns, to name a few. Feel free to brush up 🧹

What are the essential skills for an enterprise UX/UI designer? 

We’ve assembled a mix of hard skills and soft skills required to thrive in enterprise software UI/UX, simply put, there is a real emphasis on the following skills, habits and practices. Your way of working will be different in an enterprise context, advance your skills in these areas to make amazing software.

Ability to understand complex subject matter 

Quickly parsing, gathering and synthesizing complex information is key to thriving in an enterprise software environment, especially if the domain is a complex one with a lot of nuances. 

Habits, skills and practices:

  • Grill subject matter experts
  • Do secondary research, being creative with sources of information (they can range from academic to private forums, datasets etc)
  • Study and absorb the information, try creative ways to do this and learn what really works for you

Collaboration skillset

Our job, in this world of complexity, is to leverage the amazing brains in the room. It’s frankly impossible for you to magically ‘come up with’ design breakthroughs alone. Take, for example designing an AI-heavy software application, you’ll need software people, data people and AI/ML people to work together to craft the experience. You have an important facilitation and collaboration tone to set for the team. Sometimes we default to the mindset of ‘I’ll do it alone’, you need to break out of that and into a collaboration mindset. Part of this is appreciating that you don’t need to be a ‘creative genius’, you need to create conditions upon which breakthroughs can happen by the collective.

Habits, skills and practices:

  • Get people together and map problems
  • Create sketches or wireframes on the fly 
  • Invite people into shared documentation workflows (see our article on Design Rationale)
  • Pair with developers, sit together and make stuff 

We’re into discovering ways to collaborate on teams, we explore that idea in a lot of different ways.

Technical knowledge and intuition 

Without becoming a dev… A designer who already has experience and opinions to share concerning data models, cloud architecture, loading and performance constraints, and other technical build factors brings a considerable advantage to the table in enterprise UX. This skillset and mindset leads to a shared language between the design and development teams, enabling swifter communication and improving internal processes that boost collaboration between the design and dev teams. 

Habits, skills and practices:

  • Do research on OOTB frameworks out there
  • Communicate with developers about how the system works in the first place
  • Take initiative to become buds with technical people, cultivating curiosity about technical things
  • Encourage feasibility checks and spikes where technical and UX requirements combine

Mapping skills & technical documentation skills

Written documentation or mockups aren’t enough in enterprise UX. You need to express the logic of the system, flow, industry, and versions/released in the right way as a matter of second nature. You also need to write words that others can understand and use to implement, train, and build off of. You chose the combined ways to express this logic, often written documents combined with visuals work very well.

Habits, skills and practices:

  • Create diagrams: user flows, task flows, logic diagrams, matrix documents (and make up your own)
  • QA and check your logic collaboratively with the team
  • User test’ your diagrams and docs to make sure they are understandable
  • Create clear and precise technical documentation that leverages the right communication tool for the job 

Advanced interaction skills 

This! In enterprise applications, the magnitude of the operations that users execute is much more extreme than in other things, like web or consumer apps. You also might design the same screen several times depending on the persona and permission level you’re dealing with. These actions might be things people do literally all day every day, they might be occasional users, but the actions are very consequential. 

Habits, skills and practices:

  • Design flows that can withstand a lot of branching logic in the most scalable way possible
  • Map your cases well, including edge cases and non-happy path 
  • Design and user test your own patterns, leverage what’s out there

Consider technical details in your design decisions like default states, session saving, loading times, content amounts etc. (See for example some thoughts on templates and defaults in our article on Creating High Quality Microinteractions & UX Interaction Patterns.)

🌵Unfortunately, the UX education out there is a desert, intro courses and intro boot camps are everywhere, but advanced content for those of us working in this area is nowhere to be found. We’re trying to fix that, bit by bit at P&P, starting with UX pattern deep dives, courses and solving complex problems on youtube

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