It’s 2022, you're steering the initiatives of an enterprise technology organization and all you hear about is “UX” and “consumer-grade” products. But you suspect your product is not a good example of these principles.
In fact, it's definitely not. The product is a relic of the 1990s and each feature has become a new tab. New product acquisitions each look and function differently than the core product. And it's leading to problems like:
You’ve tried hiring freelance designers but they alone haven’t been able to move the needle on deep-seated user experience issues.
Why? Your domain (maybe network management, cybersecurity, healthcare….) isn’t the easiest to understand - it’s highly technical, your products have legacy features and a multitude of license types, you need to cater to multiple types of users, and of course, be compliant with regulations!
As a result, these are the problems you may be facing:
The bad news is if you have been ignoring these product problems, it will ultimately lead to designs that drive low or even negative value for the user; in other words, design failure.
The good news is we specialize in tackling big, messy enterprise product problems and are here to offer you some hope. Let’s take a deeper look:
Your product is clunky, hard to navigate and no one knows how to engage with it effectively. It may have succumbed to the Frankenstein Effect - defined in this context as disparate features added on like patchwork over the years without a unifying raison d’etre and user experience.
When dealing with enterprise technology, we’ve often seen the technology come first, and the user experience last, if at all. And understandably so. These products are technically complex and are used by niche customers; they are not under scrutiny by the general population.
Here are a few problems you may have noticed in your enterprise product:
Despite the types of problems mentioned above, there is a way to work through them and avoid design failure.
Solution: Break down complexity through a systemic design process and ensure the right skills are involved.
We see these types of problems in complex domains like cybersecurity, telecommunications, and healthcare all the time. How do we approach them? Our Design Doing Process helps break down complexity in any domain through our proprietary techniques in ecosystem mapping, “experience mapping” and validating assumptions with user and business insights.
After taking the time to understand key concepts, terms, users, and objects in a domain, we take high-level experience Design Problems (DPs), such as “How might we simplify the entire existing product experience?” and break them down into more manageable and discrete problems to design for, such as “How might we reduce the time for setup?” and “How might we differentiate between primary and secondary actions?” We organize our thinking around the ultimate goals we want to help a user achieve, not around features; this gives us laser-like clarity on what is most important and helps us focus on what technicalities we should dive further into.
We dedicate a Design Unit (or more) to our partner’s problems. Each design unit embodies the right skill sets to think through complex design problems and deliver the needed artifacts. These skill sets are: research, design strategy, interaction design, visual design, and prototyping. These teams are equipped with the attitude of thinking about a user before thinking about design, thinking through systems comprehensively, experimenting to achieve results, and a focus on outcomes to deliver, not just artifacts. Further, our team members come from various backgrounds - from architecture to communication to bioengineering - enabling us to look at a problem from multiple perspectives.
This is how we help organizations ship with higher confidence. The time we invest upfront in learning about a system and users pays dividends beyond the short-term rush of turning around a preliminary dashboard design in the first week.
Often, technically complex products are developed by firms that are engineering-driven. Again, understandably so. It is this technical expertise that is so valuable for users. However, if the usability of a product ultimately frustrates a user at the end of the day, it’s time to rethink, especially as new players with a higher focus on user experience constantly emerge in the market.
In engineering-driven environments where no one knows what the user really wants, we’ve frequently seen meetings go in circles. So teams go with what they know. Rather than looking to the needs of actual users, they wind up with lists of feature requests, engineering capabilities, and feedback from technical in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The end result is a new feature - often as a new tab - built on assumptions that add even further complexity to a product. This means that in the future, additional resources may have to be spent on training customers and troubleshooting usability issues for them.
Solution: Think of the user first, experience second, and design third.
How can you start shifting this trend in your organization? A successful philosophy when designing is: user first, experience second, design third. This means being user-centric: empathizing with the user first, understanding their needs, pain points, and aspirations - before thinking about what experiences would be most valuable for them to have. Then and only then should you start thinking about design solutions. We simply do not design until we have user insights in hand.
We drive a culture of user empathy in the organizations we work with by:
We make a point to propagate user research insights to the wider organization so individuals on different teams, including engineering, are empowered to make decisions in the user’s best interest.
Being user-centered is like being prepared: it mitigates the risk of building the wrong feature or even worse, solving the wrong problem. Ultimately, it reduces the risk of losing customers and money on ineffective activities.
Everyone knows it: what often ships is what is often considered “good enough”. Shipping what users want is often sacrificed for shipping on time.
The research that should have happened, or that design variation that could add levels of delight to the user experience, often gets shelved for “one day”. We call this “Experience Debt” - an accumulation of unresolved user experience problems. While some level of Experience Debt is normal, an unruly accumulation can hurt your business. You can lose customers to newer and leaner competitors who have the flexibility and advantage to start with a user-centered mindset and clean slate without Experience Debt. Even long-time customers can have their loyalty shaken with exposure to another, better experience.
Hiring a designer or designers to continually “put lipstick on the pig”, meaning, deal with surface, User Interface (UI)-level issues instead of deeper experience issues will lead to design failure. While it may allow a product to ship in the short term, it may not hit the mark with users.
Finally, trying to resolve user experience issues after release is simply more expensive. This sentiment has been noted as early as the 1990s, by research done by Clare-Marie Karat at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, who describes the savings to cost ratio in the context of a large development project as 100:1.
In other words, $1 invested in user experience in the design phase can save $100 in fixing issues after release.
Solution: Govern how user experience evolves and how it is (or isn't) solving design problems.
How can an organization prevent or start solving Experience Debt? The answer is governance in a variety of ways:
The resources invested in baselining, tracking, and communicating will reduce an organization’s Experience Debt and ultimately save time and money down the road.
With a few of the right investments in resources (i.e. research) and shifts in mindsets, your organization can start tackling these big, messy problems. You don’t need an entire organizational overhaul to start. Below are ideas for lean investments you can make to avoid design failure, and heftier ones too.
Invest in UX, not UI. You need practitioners who work with a design process that diverges into discovering the right problems to solve and can ideate with depth, before converging on design solutions.
Build a culture of user empathy. Ensure key decision-makers and practitioners understand the user and are championing for their success.
Govern. There needs to be oversight that good hygiene is being practiced and that key metrics are being tracked.
As these investments are made, you can expect to see:
And finally, with the above, you can expect happier users! Reduced complexity, smoother experiences, and more organizational focus on the people who are using your product, can lead to more retention and engagement amongst existing users, and the adoption of new ones.
If you have a big, messy enterprise product that has been suffering from some of these symptoms, we would love to help. Get in touch and we can start unpacking your challenges together.