3 Golden Rules of Enterprise UI & UX

Working for NBCUniversal the past year & a half, I’ve learned a lot about how designing in a large enterprise environment might differ from maybe that of a startup or consumer/technology driven company. I wanted to take a moment and share those lessons learned.

Understand your employee’s mental model

We have built a lot of software for our employees in just 1 year, and to be frank, it must have been quite a shock for some employees who’ve been used to using Excel for the past 10 years. Getting employees to use new software is tough, so to ease them into it, we use a lot of Excel like terminology in our software. Terms like “Workbook”, “Export”, and “Save As”. It can be as simple as that.

Really understand how your software will transform current mental models, and use your design to relate to them. Bridging that gap will get stakeholders approving design faster, and users adapting to the design more easily.

Cite best practices and/or use common UI patterns

Enterprise clients aren’t on dribbble. They’re not looking at web design trends; and they’re certainly not expecting you to break design barriers. But you should take advantage of what they have seen. And using that will allow you to flex your design muscle when building UI components, or deciding about a certain kind of UX pattern.

Specifically I mean taking design patterns from the large tech behemoths. Google’s Material Design; Apple’s native app interactions; Dropbox; Twitter; Amazon; etc..Find what you’re building, and design against something that these guys have done. You’ll be able to communicate your design choices with something your client has heard of or seen before. That makes the conversation less about color palettes, and more about the actual choice.

Know that you’ll never be fully data driven

There’s been so much progress in bringing design to the technology process, and enterprise is just catching up. So understand that you may not get the same leeway that designers get at some of the more technically savvy companies. As a designer designing in enterprise, you may only have one or two weeks to gather your research. Employees are hard to reach, and data is near impossible.

So you must focus. Use the Pareto principle to narrow the research, get up to speed on navigation with Force/Doors diagrams, document as much as you can in those first few days, and never look back. Because usually enterprise companies work off deadlines, so the iterative process of design must be foregone for a more waterfall approach. And that is OK! You’re not there to change culture . Do the best that you can.

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