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.

Customer is not the end-user

For an enterprise software, the customer is the person approving the purchase of the software, typically somebody from the IT department in the company. Whereas, the end-user is the one who actually uses the solution to perform his job. While designing a software for such enterprises, it is essential to be aware of this distinction, so that research is focused to collect data about the end-users' needs as well the customers' requirements.

Design for enterprise workflows and end-user tasks 

Crafting a good user experience for enterprise software is a balancing act. While the software needs to be powerful enough to cater to the complex workflows of the organization, the design should not only enable increased efficiency, but also provide a delightful user experience. Gone are the days when enterprise users did not have many choices.With the advent of cloud software, there are many players in the market who are wiping away cumbersome legacy systems with consumer grade user experience. So, even if you create a highly useful software catering to all functional requirements of the customer, it would not be adopted widely if the end-user finds it tiresome to use for their day to day tasks.

Test it before you make it

The enterprise software systems are highly complex systems involving huge development efforts to introduce even small workflow changes, Creating prototypes of designs and conducting usability testing on those prototypes early on is the only way to avoid wasting resources on coding solutions that does not work for the end users.

Get 'real' users not anyone from the street

While user research is the key to evidence based design as it enables collecting of the valuable data and insights that drive the design decisions, it is essential that 'real users' are involved for this process. Imagine asking a street vendor to give feedback on an corporate accounting software. 

The enterprise users come with a specialized skill set and business knowledge that is key to how they use the software. Unlike the consumer software domain, any data collected from a random individual based on just demographic match is not valid. Only a real user with the real work experience in the same industry is a valid source of evidence gathering.

To summarize, collecting data from right source and using it at appropriate stages to influence design is the key to a good user-experience for enterprise software. Missing out on any of the above leads to either to collection of data that is invalid or incomplete or too late.

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