Here’s a quiz: what’s the kind of UX that’s not web, mobile apps or things that regular Joes use? That leaves just one possibility: Enterprise UX.
Enterprise UX has been defined here and there; mostly, this field as being focused on software people use at work. We use the term ‘software’ when describing what enterprise UX applies to because the word implies a depth of interaction and pure power that the term ‘web app’ just doesn’t quite carry. Enterprise software however can also be referred to as B2B SaaS (software as a service), or complex products.
If you’ve ever asked yourself: what is user experience in enterprise software? You’re in the right place!
This article is intended to introduce you to the hot concept of enterprise UX, give you some examples and take you through the nuances that makes our field so special.
Consumer apps vs. enterprise apps
Traditionally, consumer apps have taken up the UX budget because when individual consumers table flip about the UX and leave, this has a real and immediate impact on businesses. Cancelling a consumer experience is very simple and can happen in a minute or less in many cases.
Enterprise software products have been deliberately set up to avoid speedy cancellation. Signing longer-term contracts and having more expensive setup processes: they rely on the dynamic of being ‘hard to leave’ rather than hyper-relevant, useful and enjoyable to use. However, there are a lot of products in the enterprise space which are month-to-month commitments, and thus the barrier to exiting them is lower. Effectively this puts them within the same playing field as consumer products, so having good UX becomes really important.
A lot of forces are at play. Easy cancellation, the fact that technology use is becoming more sophisticated and that there are a lot of startups springing up that challenge incumbents creates an elevated standard for what we expect in enterprise UX. Incumbents are feeling the competitive heat🔥.
So what do you get when you combine the refinement of consumer experiences with vastly more complex and in-depth interaction requirements and workflows? We think of this as an elevated ‘enterprise-grade’ standard.
Enterprise-grade User Experience: User experience which combines the high standards (including fine esthetics, transitions, pleasant to use qualities), with the complexity of enterprise use cases to create robust, scaleable and high-quality interactions.
The line between consumer and enterprise software UX can be ambiguous. Many products have both consumer and enterprise overlap, take Wealth Simple for example. It is consumer-facing, but businesses can also acress similar functionality on the platform. Both experiences require enterprise-like complexity: i.e. complex information being presented, adding financial information, dealing with industry jargon etc. Wealth simple is much more known for the consumer experience, yet it delivers an end-to-end experience for consumers and businesses alike.
Still though, consumer experiences will always have some different focuses and key differences compared to enterprise, a few of them being:
- Mobile experiences – higher emphasis on this experience
- Sales funnel optimization – working on conversion rates, with user behaviour plugged into marketing (funnel is triggered by specific behaviours)
- Web experiences that flow into product flows – more direct sales cycle where exploration is followed by purchase
- Onboarding flows – focus on getting users up and running
- Checkout experiences – focus on individuals successful purchase
Unique challenges in Enterprise UX
Big data, bigger visualization challenges
Enterprise software UX has rich and vast datasets. If we abstract what that means, this means that data needs to be created and modified by users in various ways. Much of the enterprise software out there is built for knowledge workers, which means they aren’t pushing data through an assembly line; they are leveraging it to make important (and high stake) decisions. Certainty is important. Giving users an abundance of power to find, scan, filter, and interpret data is essential in enterprise software.
For example, users might navigate, (to a power-user level), parse a data table, this likely involves filtering it down to find a specific subset. This data is also leveraged to be interpreted in a dashboard (or ten), as you can see from these deep dives, crafting these experiences is not superficial.
Enterprise products range across all of the industries in existence, think about all of the sub-categories within the categories of energy, materials, industrials, consumer staples, health care, financials, information technology, communication services, utilities, real estate (list from wikipedia). These just scratch the surface of what’s within.
Those of us working in these industries need to learn them deeply and apply that knowledge to the way we build our experiences, this is why the ability to understand complex subject matter is first on our list of key skills of enterprise UX designers.
Interactions but multiply by 10
In enterprise UX, workflows have multiple steps, actors and timelines at play. There’s a lot of inter-dependence between these things as you might expect. The actors themselves, or ‘personas’ as we like to call them in UX need to be considered deeply (their role, workflow, motivators), many of them with wildly different goals.
The people using enterprise products, may use them every day as their main work tool, so good design matters a great deal to them. Good design can catapult efficiency, reduce rage and bring out the potential in that person at work. The potential to reduce critical errors is also critical.
The stakes in these tools aren’t superficial; they don’t just cost the personal energy of a person, decisions in software may be life or death (think the world of medicine and transport). Our responsibility as makers of these products can’t be overstated.
Oddly in our field of user experience at large, we have a lot of superficial introductory interaction education, and not a lot of complex, in-depth scenario-based education resources. Most of us are winging in, building off consumer product patterns and testing as we go.
We’ve defined what makes a high-quality interaction so you can prompt yourself with some good questions and ideas, deep dive into interaction patterns, gather up (flexible) enterprise patterns. We want to help all the team form a base of UX, so we made the Design SOS course and the 10 heuristics article to get people on the same page.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. The potential for innovation in the world of workplace software is insane and it’s already happening. The advantage we have is that in the workplace there are some solid business cases which justify new technology. On top of that, employees are generally trained on software at work, so we can accelerate adoption and experiment with new technologies with a captive audience.
Enterprise software examples
Show don’t tell, or so they say. The wonder of enterprise products is real. Seeing a small sample of the types of products out there gives us a glimpse into the ingenuity of some of these industries and the humans within them. The very existence of these software tools is kind of delightful.
We assembled a small list of some of the software we’ve come across in our travels (they are mentioned to give you more clarity on the types of things out there, not to promote anything).
|Lab inventory management systems (LIMS)||Biotechnology||Manage the samples as they go through their workflow in the lab||Benchling – used for R&D in biotechnology|
|Freezer management||Biotechnology||Manage the resources and inventory in your lab freezers||DiData|
|Bioinformatics||Biotechnology||Software focused on interpreting and dealing with vast biological datasets||Anduril – workflow framework for data analysis|
|Inventory management||Retail||Keeping track of the physical things in your business in a large database.||Finale Inventory|
|Point of sale||Retail||Manages transactions in the store setting||Lightspeed|
|Recruitment||Human resources||Employee morale tracking software||Culture Amp|
|Human resource information software (HRIS)||Human resources||Mega software that brings together HR systems into one management solution||Workday|
|Quality management system (QMS) software||Corporate general||Ensuring compliance||Qualio|
|Project management software||Corporate general||Tools for planning, estimating, tracking budget and resource allocation||Asana|
|Rendering||Entertainment||Tools that convert 3D models into flat images appropriate for video content||Renderman-Rendering pixar-like movies|
|Video editing||Corporate||Tools that facilitate trimming, adding images, special effects to footage in order to create final content (video etc)||Descript – Audio, video editing and transcription|
|Electronic trading platform||Finance||Tools that allow you to trade stocks on the stock market and view your existing stocks||Questrade|
|Game engine||Gaming||Frameworks which allow videogames to be created||Precision OS – a training engine with simulations made for surgeons|
|Software repository (repo)||Tech||Managing, visualizing and pushing code||Source tree|
|Data anonymization tools||Medical||Make your data so that it’s usable and interesting for analysis but you can’t identify individuals in the data||Privacy Analytics|
Enterprise software gives people powerful capabilities we’ve never had before. It’s a joy and privilege to work in these fascinating domains on mind-bending problems.
We’re excited to see and be part of the future of enterprise UX, and can’t wait to be a part of the fun. ✌️