April 10, 2016

Designing Mobile Apps for Enterprise Users

In today's connected world, its no surprise that most of enterprise software vendors are investing in mobilizing their software offering. While there is a rise in the number of mobile companion apps for enterprise software, not all of them have gained momentum.

Let's have a look at some of the considerations and challenges in designing a successful mobile app for enterprise users.

Enterprise mobile apps are complementary to their larger screen counterparts on PCs, not replacements. 

Enterprise mobile apps are meant for content consumption. Enterprise users cannot truly do “everything" on an app. At some point, they have to retreat to a laptop or desktop to "finish up" the heavy duty stuff. Enterprise users will not abandon the larger machine permanently, But in an always on-the-go world, having a mobile app to keep an eye on on work from anywhere is very convenient.

A great case in point is the Basecamp 2 mobile app. While the desktop web version is focused on adding content, the mobile app is focused on the viewing the latest content added to the recently active project.

Source: 9 Cool Mobile Apps To Improve Productivity

The Basecamp 2 mobile app is not a permanent substitute for a larger form factor device. The users will retreat to their larger machines to post messages and upload files, but content consumption is what the app’s sweet spot is. For enterprise users who travel a lot, mobile devices extend capabilities to work on-the-go when necessary, but the depth of info. available in a single glance at a larger screen will make sure that PCs remain relevant.

Design for sub-section of users

Not all the users of a enterprise software need a mobile app. Administrators for the enterprise software perform complex tasks that are best supported on an PC or high power laptop. They don't travel for work either, effectively negating the value of mobile apps for these administrator users.

On the other hand, there is a specific set of users who travel for work and would find using a enterprise mobile app to be very productive. For example, a maintenance technician employed with an air-conditioning company needs to visit sites and access information related to customer issues on the go. Effectively supporting a small sub-section of functionality for a sub-section of users instead of building a giant app would be good strategy for a successful enterprise mobile app.

Device Support

What are the devices to be supported? Are there any office issued device for these enterprise customers? These are some the key questions that need to answered before embarking on mobile app solution. Enterprise mobile device usage might not be equally divided between iOS and Android. The organizations might choose to issue devices. Additionally, there might be security measures applied on the devices.

Productivity is the key

Enterprise mobile apps need to be pragmatic and utilitarian. While a photo sharing app can have all the cool animations and creative interaction style, an enterprise apps for a field technician needs to get the job done quickly and effectively. At the end of the day, they should enable the employee to increase their productivity.

Pleasure is an important bonus

While the efficiency and productivity is a must for enterprise apps, today’s enterprise employees are expecting as fluid and flexible user experience from their work app which matches their Facebook experience. So the bar has definitely gone higher for enterprise apps. Considering that employees now have a say in choosing the software they work with, the enterprise app designer can no longer ignore them. So, even though efficiency comes first, pleasure is an important ingredient that adds that “fun” to work. A balance of standard utilitarian design and pleasure is the recipe to a great overall user experience for enterprise mobile apps.

Design for the limitations

Internet connectivity is tricky thing even in first world nations. A ticket checker's app might not work while they are on board a bus or train and make it completely useless. Design your enterprise app so that the user can perform the key things in offline mode or at least save data locally for the time being.

Consider the current workflow. What is it going to replace?

Why do we need a mobile app to do work? Why would employees use a mobile app to do a job when they have access to a high-speed internet connectivity and powerful computer at their desk?
What is the current workflow? How are they managing now. Most often, the mobile apps do not compete with a desktop solution. Rather they offer a productivity increase by replacing a tedious manual process or tool. A mobile app for a store manager lets them check inventory on-the-go instead of carrying a notebook and coming back to desk to re-enter the information.

To sum up, designing an effective mobile app solution can add value to the overall enterprise software offering provided by a vendor apart from just mobilizing the enterprise software.

July 30, 2015

Evidence based Design #1: Designing for enterprise systems

This series is devoted to evidence-based user experience design for software systems in varied contexts. Having spent more than a decade in designing enterprise software systems, it is a natural choice for me to write the first post in the series on the enterprise software systems.

What's evidence based design?

Evidence-based design is all about informed decision making. Instead of relying on a magical process or a genius to figure out things correctly, the design decisions are based on data-driven insights. Data collected through various user research methods during the various stages of the user-centered design process is driving factor.

Lets look at what it means to pursue evidence-based design for enterprise software.

July 23, 2015

Designing with iOS versus Google Material Design Guidelines

It has been a while I posted on this blog, and lot of things have happened since then. Google has revolutionized the user-experience design for Android apps with this new Material Design Guidelines. With its release last year, Apple is no longer the undisputed king of good design. But, I do not intend this post to focus on who wins the design challenge.

The new Material Design Guidelines is already a rave among the designers, not just the mobile app designers, but the entire digital experience design community. While some the designers and developers catering solely to apps for iOS devices can still choose to remain oblivious to this new development, the majority of us designing for the entire mobile app audience need to have a thorough understanding of both iOS Human Interface Guidelines and Google Material Design Guidelines. To build a consistent and delightful user experience for the native apps across both the platforms, its essential that we take into consideration the design language of both the platforms.

Let's have a look at how iOS Human Interface Guidelines differs or resonates with Google Material Design Guidelines.

October 9, 2013

User Experience at a Minimum! What You Can't Sacrifice in the Initial Launch?

Amidst all the political furor about the Affordable Care Act, there is a great buzz about the blotched-up user experience of the enrollment website healthcare.gov. This puts on focus an issue that is persistent in the IT world for quite some time. The cause of positive user-experience being pushed down in the scheme of things.

Obamacare Closed
Courtesy: Gateway Pundit
While the stakeholder mandate was clearly to provide a first-class experience, the initial launch of the marketplace website suffered technical glitches, confusing instructions, and incorrect feedback to enrolling users. The news articles are abounding with the theories about how a hurried timeline led to a compromise on the quality of the user-experience.

October 2, 2013

Building UI Patterns Library: A 5-step Process

UI Design Patterns, User Interface Standards, or UI Toolkit. They go by many names.

are you building anti-patterns?
What is common is a set of screen layouts with a common look and feel along with interaction rules and guidelines of use. They typically come with well-illustrated examples and specific do’s & don’ts.

Most of the big software producing companies have their library of enterprise user interface design patterns. While, I do not intend to devote this article to the debate on the benefits of introducing pattern libraries, UI Design Patterns do have their use in a large company with a huge product-line. Consistent user-experience being the primary.

However, all the benefits of using UI Design Patterns are applicable only when you do it the right way. Go wrong and you end up with Anti-Patterns! Which neither your users will appreciate, nor your colleagues going to adopt!

How to ensure that you are building a UI Pattern Library that works? Not Anti-patterns!

September 23, 2013

A Day in Life of A User Researcher

While the role of a user researcher as a separate position within the UX organization is gaining momentum, there is still confusion among the rest of software development community as to what does it entail.

Recruiters still email you about QA jobs, if you happen to mention 'usability testing' in your resume. And you if are lucky enough to meet people outside UX organization - who know about user research, they don't know how to distinguish between a good user researcher and a bad one.

So what does a user researcher do? What are good user research practices? And, what are some user research myths?
In this article, I have addressed these questions through a glimpse in a day of a life of a user researcher - a good one!

Okay, what is a day like in the life of a User Researcher?

September 16, 2013

Designing for a Total Experience or Improvising Discrete Aspects of Product

Summary: User undergoes ‘a total experience’ - an entity in whole with unique properties of its own - resulting from reactions of the discrete product attributes working on each other in the context of a specific emotional and environmental settings.

User Experience Design
In my decade and half of experience as a user-experience professional in the digital world, I have witnessed many design flaws leading to negative user-experience for the product. Needless to say, I along with my peers have made an example of the past design failures and contributed to a list of “things not to do” while designing future digital offerings. However, as a designer, there is a question that I find myself asking again and again.

How can I guarantee the outright success of a product?