We all know that when it comes to developing enterprise solutions, good user experience (UX) doesn't happen by accident. In fact, it can be downright elusive. The interesting thing about UX is that the better it is, the less likely you are to notice it -- when is the last time you thought, “Wow, that was such a satisfying digital experience!”?


It is far more likely that you can recall a variety of frustrations -- thousands of irrelevant results returned in a simple search or a site navigation that you’d have to be psychic to maneuver.

Why do so many enterprise solutions get UX wrong? And how can you make sure you get it right? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about these two questions recently and over the next several months we will spend a lot of time talking about UX and the enterprise. Let’s take a look at some of these concepts around UX and getting started with a project.

It’s Harder than it Looks

While there are some universal principles of good UX (design should be simple and intuitive; similar objects should be grouped together; designs and navigations should be consistent; etc.), you can do all of these big things right and still miss the mark on the overall UX.

Why? Because it is very possible that you are focusing on solving the wrong problems.

All too often, UX designs are based on assumptions about users -- who they are and what they want from a solution. With enterprises, a small group of people in one department are often charged with determining what the entire rest of the organization wants or needs from a solution.

The problem is that it is really difficult for one team (often human resources or communications) to fully understand the day-to-day experiences of their colleagues in other departments (as varied as sales, fulfillment, engineering and IT).

We all see the world through the lens of our personal experiences, and unless we break through our own perspectives, it is nearly impossible to deliver solutions that meet the diverse needs of an enterprise.

You Don’t Have to Guess

Fortunately, there are ways to represent diverse needs in the UX design process.

As the field of UX has matured, so has the role of research in the process. In addition to traditional requirement gathering, I am an advocate of a series of user-centered design research explorations that shed light on how information will be organized, where content will live, and how users will engage with that information.

Taking the time to understand the end user is critical to this process, and the outputs from user interviews and interactions can provide rich information about users’ needs and perspectives. Some of the outputs that I find particularly insightful include:

  • Personas -- a realistic character sketch of key users. Describes user goals, expectations, behaviors, and needs drawn from research on real people doing real things
  • Scenarios -- an exploration of the gap between personas and their goals. Shows ideal usage patterns and user behaviors
  • Hassel Maps -- a map of the frustrations inherent in a process. Identifies roadblocks to adoption and productivity
  • Storyboards -- identify the specifications for a particular application or steps surrounding the use of several applications to achieve a goal
  • Card Sorts -- user-informed organizational patterns for site structure and content
  • Surveys -- quantitative information about user habits and understandings.

Together, these explorations communicate impressively robust information about users and their relationships to enterprise solutions. They guide UX design and ensure that the entire process remains user-focused and true to real-world needs.

An Ounce of Prevention

I understand that there will be readers of this article who are thinking, “User research sounds expensive,” but I believe that no matter what your project budget, there is always room for user-centered research and design practices that improve a final product.

First, because this research doesn't have to be expensive; and second, because when it comes to UX, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

Once a site or tool has been launched, UX problems are both difficult and expensive to fix. As a general rule of thumb, a US$ 1 solution in the design phase costs US$ 10 to correct in the development phase and US$ 100 to address after a project has gone live. As we like to say at our company, you finish how you start a project -- investment up front will pay dividends at the end.

In a lot of ways, UX research is like an insurance policy for your technology investment. It is impossible to claim ROI on a new employee collaboration tool that your employees don’t use. 

Unfortunately, we see this conundrum all the time with IT departments rolling out a major new enterprise solution like SharePoint with maybe a little company branding. The enterprise has made a huge investment in this employee solution, but despite the bells and whistles, the new technology isn't readily adopted. So they turn to consultants for help.

At that point, corrections are cost prohibitive, departments like communications and marketing are frustrated and people lose interest. So they live with a solution that falls short of their employees’ needs and wants until they can justify the expense of starting over from scratch, usually with something different.

Deploying any Enterprise Solution “out of the box” will guarantee you have a solution designed for many and not for your operations, culture or the different departments that will ultimately try and use the solution.

While the calculable costs of this approach are significant, they pale in comparison to the lost opportunity cost -- the productivity and satisfaction that could have been delivered to employees if UX research had been conducted up front.

A small UX research investment early in a project can mean the difference between a project success and failure, and it’s sure to impact ROI.

It’s Worth Doing Well

Enterprises invest in technology solutions because they are important. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, attracting and retaining top talent may be the biggest advantage that any company can establish.

The most talented employees can and do expect more from their workplaces. They want to be a part of companies that invest in 21st century tools -- tools that reduce friction and foster productivity.
Enterprise solutions are powerful vessels for delivering on these expectations. When thoughtfully created, they empower top talent to work better, smarter, and faster -- delivering success for the company and satisfaction for employees.

And that is why it’s worth doing the UX research to get it right – UX does Matter.

Image courtesy of S.john (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Want more of Kevin's thoughts? Then read his Enterprise Collaboration in 2012: The Good, The Bad, The...