As 2011 draws to a close, no doubt it’s been an exciting period for just about all of us in the enterprise solutions space. Tons of promising new products and solutions have emerged from established and newer players, and enterprises themselves are internally embracing the value and importance of collaboration more than ever. 2012 is looking to be an even busier and more dynamic year in our sector, so it’s a perfect time to slam on the brakes and get back to one basic truth.

User experience matters and it matters now more than ever! This is a super obvious statement, yet I have a genuine fear that we as an industry risk sabotaging our own growth and success by overwhelming basic user needs with too many bells, whistles and other distractions that really aren’t important. With so much excitement and innovation taking place, we all need to take a quick breather and remember this most basic of truths. Consider these elements, for starters:

One Size Does Not Fit All

As technologists and product developers, we sometimes are tempted to create single solutions focused on scaling effectively, being flexible and efficient and ultimately driving profits. All of these are worthy and important considerations, but in the world of social solutions, the fact of the matter is that one size does not fit all, especially in the realm of user experience. Solutions need to be catered and fully customized to how each enterprise does business and what its real objectives are.

Simplicity Is Good

As a user, if I don’t understand it, I walk away. This is pretty easy to grasp, yet persistent feedback from enterprises is that one of the greatest challenges to implementing enterprise solutions that can truly foster collaboration at scale is that employees don’t understand what they’re getting into or why. Departing the arena of business for a moment, it’s useful to admire what Apple accomplished with iPhone adoption: Mobile phones have been around forever, relatively speaking, yet Apple managed to corral and dominate the marketplace in just a couple of years by driving adoption based on ease-of-use and customization. So simple, yet they were the ones to accomplish it. Back to the social enterprise, we can surely say things like organizations need to invest in internal personnel and processes to drive adoption, but a significant onus lies on solution developers to make the solutions as welcoming and easy-to-use as possible -- much as Apple nailed this principle with the iPhone.

First Impressions Are Key

Closely related to the understanding component, we need to put ourselves squarely in the shoes of users and develop the experience accordingly. Enterprise solution’s should have a clean, easy-to-navigate user experience that will encourage each user to become comfortable with varied features and eventually get to the point where they want to use it regularly…and encourage their co-workers to do the same. If employees have an overwhelming or intimidating first impression, getting them back is a serious challenge, let alone expecting them to use the solution more deeply for workplace collaboration.

User Experience Is More Than a Pretty Picture:

The most common misconception of UX design is that it’s just the visual design. Granted, this is obviously the first item a user will see or interact with involving a solution or site, but it’s actually one of the last items in the process of experience design. The core of UX design is problem solving and there are many other tools to the trade -- like persona and scenario development, wire framing and usability testing. However, the final outcome is typically seen through the filter of the user interface (visual design) and this is again typically the first impression for every user. Google has long held that design should be tested, like everything else -- rumors abound that Google tested 41 shades of blue to see which one performed best. Although this is actionable and in the interest of user-tested solutions, it may go a bit too far. In the recent years Google has continued to step up its offerings and solutions as well as a more recent and very aggressive push surrounding UI design. Google has raised its own bar -- and although the designs are still very functional and minimal, their effect is instrumental to their overall user experience goals.

There’s been a real emphasis of late in our industry on new product and solution development. This is exciting and promising, but needs to be balanced with the basic commitment to provide a great and easy user experience. Whether we’re inside an enterprise or providing services to an enterprise externally, the key is to truly understand needs (both those of the individual end-users and those of the business itself) and to develop a solution that reflects this understanding. Here’s to a promising and productive 2012!

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