Designing for a
A journey to build a more human enterprise
I have been creating and building products for over 12 years, leading product and design teams from consumer to enterprise and everything in between. Recently, I left my cushy, post-acquisition vest and rest leadership position to join Box as its Design Leader. I arrived with an aggressive vision of redefining the face of enterprise forever.
Enterprise has a pretty bad reputation — it’s commonly defined as “computer software” created to satisfy the needs of an organization rather than the needs of individuals (that’s directly from Wikipedia.) Its defining qualities include being slow, difficult, dense, and unpleasant. But enterprise doesn’t have to be that way. At the heart of every product lies a human experience: a set of wants, needs, desires, and the potential for delight.
Computers, starting with Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine in the 1840s, have been about augmenting the Human Experience (deliberate capitalization), not replacing it. They make us smarter, more capable, and act as a sort of exoskeleton to better “automate, streamline, collect, aggregate, and alert in ways that truly improve our lives — give us more time, help us live healthier, make us smarter, and care for our planet,” as Tim O’Reilly put it.
Today, we are redefining what it means to be enterprise software, focusing on the needs of the individual, surpassing the needs of the organization, and building something beautiful, soulful, and truly epic. Hopefully one day Wikipedia will start its entry for “Enterprise Software” with something like “purpose-designed computer software to augment an individual’s needs, creating a smarter and more capable organization.” That sounds far better.
Over the course of the coming weeks and months, I’ll be opening the proverbial kimono here on a range of topics centered on product design as we at Box strive to build a more beautiful enterprise. I’ll use our experiences to showcase these principles and frameworks in the most applied sense possible, using our own product as proof. As it happens, we had a pretty sweet release come out today.
The intersection of technology and humanity
I like to describe the role of design as the intersection of technology and humanity, the bridge between the emotional and functional, the wants and the needs. Design defines not only the look and feel of a product, but how it works as well. It is the primary factor that determines whether or not we achieve an emotional connection with users. But up to this point, designing a more human experience in the enterprise space has never been a real conversation.
Andy Grove famously said “only the paranoid survive,” and this couldn’t be more true for the design team at Box. We spend every waking second thinking about transformation, and not just about prettier interfaces and cleaner scan lines. It’s about the fundamental tenets of how people work together and how an organization can feel a bit less bureaucratic and a bit more human.
This means it’s really about designing a future that actually solves people’s real problems in truly powerful ways, providing solutions that fit organically into our lives, doing complicated without being complicated. Doing this means you have to be nothing short of passionately obsessed with the problems we face in the real world, the actual struggles and fragmentations we all experience. It means solving them in the most beautifully human ways, allowing users to do things they couldn’t do before, in forms that work in the more natural of ways.
Build for the humans, not organizations
Once you understand the story you want your product to tell and the role it plays in the lives of your users, the next step is to deliver an experience that represents just that. To do so, there is a fundamental first step that is most often overlooked: build a product in the way you want your users to use it, instead of designing it for how it is being used today. Think about the problems you are solving, and be the absolute best at solving those problems. Design the product for how you expect it to connect to your users’ lives, build the paths you want them to take, remove the unnecessary, and focus on the essentials.
Live in the shoes of your users, feel their pains, and be part of their solutions. Make sure that your product tells a story at every step, delights the user from the start, and has a renewed focus on the details to show users that you actually care about their experiences.
Deliver experiences that are 10x better
A beautifully human experience is appealing in look and form, function and intuition, but also delivers experiences that are ten times better than the current, prevailing way of doing something. Two or three times better doesn’t cut it; ten times needs to become your passion.
And ten times better is not just for the tech elite but should be a solemn dedication to the rest of the world, from those running our telephone grids and inspecting our buildings to the amazing men and women developing new cures for cancer and fighting for new forms of detection. People and industries with challenges that plague organizations, fragment divisions, and suffer through business processes that take over forty steps when really five great ones could suffice.
A workflow involving 12 people, 49 touch points, 6 approval gates, 38 days, and a fedex-ed CD shuttling between global offices is a pretty realistic representation of the kinds of problems teams face today. Transforming that into a beautifully seamless experience requiring only 2 people, 4 steps, 1/30th of the time, and no CDs, is truly epic. In fact, it’s 10x better.
Be part of a beautiful future ahead
I’m looking forward to sharing our journey towards a more beautiful Box (and hearing your thoughts). Stay tuned for more soon.