Today’s employees are digital natives.
Their expectations for software applications are anchored in their role as today’s consumers. In their personal lives, app navigation is pleasant and easy, whether it’s on Instagram, Amazon, or Venmo. They’re accustomed to engaging user interfaces (UIs), speed, flexibility, convenience, and an omnichannel experience.
High-performing enterprises also know the value of delivering a good UX: a Design Management Institute study found that over a ten-year period, design-driven companies outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 by 228%.
Years of continuously improving consumer experiences fuel user appetite for and expectations of a good digital experience in the workplace. Employees anticipate that the applications they use at work will be equally well-designed, feature-rich, and regularly updated.
Too often for business users, logging into workplace applications is like traveling back a few decades in a time machine. UIs are clunky. UI views aren’t tailored to users’ needs. Sign-ons are complex and frustrating. Critical apps have little to no interoperability. Beyond the quality of the employee experience, a poorly-designed enterprise UX costs money. In 2016, Forrester found that for every dollar a company invested in better UX, that dollar returned $100 in revenue.
Yet despite the clear business case for improved UX, the delta between consumer and enterprise user experiences has never been greater. This is why enterprise UX is a critical area of focus for so many successful organizations.
What is enterprise UX (EUX)? It is the design of products people use at work.
And it can be hard. Enterprise app developers face a significant challenge as they have to wrestle with more complexity on limited budgets. They often design applications for relatively few users—while trying to meet the demands of many different interest groups. Unfortunately, many of the digital tools with which we all interact are poorly designed or built on obsolete legacy systems. The results: frustration and inefficiencies. It’s high time for change.
Prioritizing Enterprise UX (EUX)
Digital transformation and a focus on the enterprise user experience isn’t a luxury as much as a mandate. The pandemic accelerated organizations’ digital initiatives and put more pressure on organizations to acknowledge they need to get better; over two-thirds of directors report they want their organizations to accelerate their digital business initiatives. Perhaps it is no surprise that improving employee productivity is a top driver of digital initiatives.
Ushering in digital transformation requires a clear understanding of EUX and intentional strategies designed to optimize it. The goal of EUX is to find easier paths for users to accomplish objectives while simultaneously advancing business goals. EUX involves a user’s interaction with software and corresponding processes and there’s a lot of room for improvement.. More than half of UX designers report that improving UX consistency (59%) and testing designs with end users (53%) are big challenges, with nearly as many saying the same of clarifying requirements (46%) and collaborating between teams (44%). Quality EUX solves these challenges for employees within business application from knowledge workers using Excel to customer service representatives using a desktop agent.
Good enterprise design is simply good for business, but few are maximizing its benefit.
Good UX increases employee productivity and makes it less likely that they’ll make mistakes. Mitigating for potential employee error doesn’t just save time; it can help avoid a potential cascade of problems that flow downstream. Mistakes happen, but they can be budget-breaking and reputation-damaging if poor EUX is a contributing factor. Just ask Citibank; a poor UI and bad EUX contributed to the financial institution’s loss of $500 million. The judge in the case declared it “borderline irrational” to think that the global financial behemoth could make such a mistake.
Designing for good EUX
Good EUX should help users execute their work tasks with as little friction as possible. It’s not enough to have the fanciest or latest features. Users should be able to accomplish what they want, easily. When their work is done, they should close your application with an overall sense of satisfaction.
Given the benefits and very real impacts surrounding EUX, there’s never been a better time to make yours better. Beyond greenfield applications, good EUX enables enterprises to modernize apps for the web and cloud. With it, you can deliver modern UIs and a more engaging and effective UX on top of your workhouse backends written in Java or other languages. Here are a few tips to help you get started with a user-friendly business application that delights its end users: employees.
Understand the end user
Designing a good EUX requires a holistic understanding of user needs and user process. Designers need to know what the application or system will be used for; just as importantly, designers need to know how the user will use it.
– What is the real purpose of the application?
– In what context will the application be used?
– Who is the target audience?
– What are some challenges the app will be used to solve?
Answers to these questions help to create the roadmap for features, interactions, and the design layout that will optimize the user experience. Soliciting and responding to employee feedback about which tools they use and how they use them positions your digital transformation for success. This type of evaluation also protects against wasting significant budget, purchasing software that will be ultimately bypassed or avoided by end users due to poor usability.
Commit to design consistency
Designing application UIs in agile environments can be challenging when seeking to maintain design consistency and coherency across the applications that any employee uses. Often each application development team comes up with their own UI without considering how that slows down employees as they navigate between applications to complete their work.
Common elements impacted by a lack of consistency in UIs include:
– Graphical details, such as colors used for links and actions or icons representing recurring actions;
– Layout and structure, like the placement and order of buttons in a form;
– Behavior and interactions, including how search fields work or how form validation errors are shown;
– Workflows, such as the way multi-step tasks (like bulk actions on a set of selected items) are performed;
– Information architecture and navigation; and
– Terminology and tone of voice in ways like which buttons are labeled or how error messages are phrased.
While issues within these may initially be considered insignificant with little or no impact on a bottom line, design inconsistencies actually have far-reaching consequences throughout an organization. UI inconsistencies can deteriorate the overall user experience, which leads to an increase in user error rates. When end users are employees, decreases efficiency and productivity, increasing onboarding, training, and IT costs. If the end users are customers, it means increased support requests, higher-touch sales cycles, and more complex upsell paths. Conduct a thorough audit of your product’s UI to see how you can improve solution performance through design consistency.
Consider a design system
Because EUX touches every part of an organization, it needs to be collaborative so that disparate and discrete teams can work asynchronously. Organizations should consider using a design system to centralize and streamline. A design system is a set of standardized UI building blocks and patterns (including components, layouts, visual styles, and icons) paired with clear and comprehensive guidelines for their usage for both UI design and UI implementation.
Best practices include providing components and stylesheets for developers and corresponding graphical assets for designers for use in their toolchains. Beyond providing code, design assets, and associated documentation, a design system also supports a systematic, team-wide methodology for consistent UI design and implementation work. This system results in the entire team sharing an understanding of the foundations of UI work; it facilitates collaboration, promotes code reuse, streamlines UI development, and eliminates consistency issues.
Uplevel your UI
Modern organizations recognize that EUX isn’t an add-on, but a core element that directs implications for business performance and success. A high quality EUX results in more effective, productive, and happier employees, and creates a virtuous cycle among hiring, onboarding, and retaining talent.
About the Author
Marc Englund is the Design Strategist at Vaadin, a web app development platform for Java. Marc has served in a number of roles over twenty years at the company and has led product development around design, UX, usability, and developer tools.
Featured image: ©James Thew