The creative side of designing for enterprise products

This summer I joined ACL as a User Experience(UX) design contractor. In my career as a designer, I’ve learned that designing for technology is a lot more about designing for people than designing for devices. Therefore, I decided to explore various areas in user experience design while I was finishing my degree in Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University.

I have worked in the design industry as a visual and user interaction designer for BlackBerry and Drexel University. In those explorations, I found designing for consumer apps and visual design intriguing and decided to stick with them until I joined ACL.

Designing for enterprise apps is far from being boring

I always thought that designing for enterprise apps would be too boring. My personal interest and background were focused on designing consumer apps. I was under the assumption that there is no room for creativity when designing for enterprise products because they are bound by rules and regulations such as privacy concerns in banking apps.

My post-graduate definition of creativity in UX was to make designs functional, aesthetically pleasing, and intuitive for users. However, my definition of creativity in UX changed as I started working at ACL.

When I was designing for a user management solution, I realized that I have to also take into account other features that are available on the platform. I couldn’t just drop in a new button next to all the other buttons and call it day, I needed to think about the different user roles. I had to be creative and create a workflow where the pre-existing features could work coherently with the new feature.

Achieving consistency in enterprise apps can be challenging since they often consist of multiple modules that are designed by different designers. This challenge was very intriguing to me. I had to think outside of the box to create designs that are consistent with the work of other designers, but also solve a user pain point.

This also gave me the opportunity to design for ACL’s in-house Starling Design System. This design system was constantly being updated based on project needs. For example, whenever there was an update to the accessibility guidelines by the W3C, existing components needed to be revised to make sure they passed all of the guidelines and standards.

When the design system needed an update, every designers’ input was valuable. There were different use cases for each UI element on the platform and each designer was an expert in a different use case. Developing a new component in the design system that was used across the platform was time-consuming, but for sure was a fun challenge.

Starling Design System

Another aspect that introduces a need for creativity in designing for enterprise apps is accessibility. It’s challenging to design for enterprise apps with accessibility in mind when you also have other constraints related to the business in addition to development, time, and resource constraints.

I believe a designer needs to explore new ideas that will lead to a better product for all users no matter how much they are bound by constraints and this is where creativity comes to work.

Creativity is about the flexibility of the mind and there is no better opportunity for creativity than when you’re bound by constraints and rules. Creativity is about being able to create a design that empowers users to take advantage of all the features a product has to offer, keeping it is accessible and also providing a cohesive experience for the user.

How did I become an expert in designing for enterprise apps?

Designing for enterprise apps means that you are designing for businesses, and you have to understand the product domain deeply. Enterprise solutions are often tailored for professionals working in specific industries and roles. As an added bonus, enterprise apps often must connect with legacy systems that are no longer or just minimally supported.

In my previous experiences, I could somehow relate to my users since I was designing for the general public. However, as a new designer at ACL, the use cases were specific to the business workflows and far from my scope of knowledge.

So how did I become an expert? My onboarding experience played an important role in allowing me to learn about ACL’s products. After finishing ACL’s enablement and training courses, I learned about ACL’s solutions such as audit management and risk monitoring. By learning about these products, I became familiar with our users’ needs, vocabulary, and paint points. This introduction was a great way to remove my uncertainties and gave me a good direction for defining our users’ frustrations.

I also tried to learn about the domain on my own as much as I could. I started reading and asking questions. Here is a shortlist that represents the type of questions I asked my team every time I worked on a feature:

  • What are the objectives of the design?
  • How do different features of the interface work together?
  • What are the common use cases for each feature?
  • What is the difference between one client’s use case and another client’s use case?
  • Which department in an organization would use this feature?
  • What type of errors can we expect users to make while performing a task?

My aim was to not only understand the users’ workflow but to also understand their pain points while doing their work.

How UX works at ACL

One of the reasons that made me very excited about joining ACL was this mission statement:

Deliver a beautiful customer experience through the planet’s only cloud-based, data driven GRC solution.

Designing “a beautiful customer experience” for an enterprise app sounded like a new mission that I had to undertake. I was lucky to join a company and team that valued user experience for enterprise apps.

ACL has a well-established design team and culture. Our UX team consists of 14 people including the Director of Design, UX Manager, UX leads, UX designers, and UX developers.

We work closely with product designers and 6 other engineering teams. Each team includes an RnD manager, 4 developers, and 2 QAs to bring our products to life. Together we work together to improve existing features or build new ones.

In the UX team, we make sure that not only are our products functional for but they are also ones that people love to use. I believe that what keeps all of these various teams moving in sync is constant communication. We love Slack, and we use it to collaborate with our UX teammates and across the organization.

Working with a well-structured team gave me the ability to have my designs reviewed by a larger group. I was able to receive feedback that improved the product from various aspects. For instance, the UX team would give insights into how search components have been used across the platform, while the development team would review aspects such as server load and privacy.

Conclusion

Now that I have a different understanding of the work involved designing for enterprise apps, I must admit that I’ve fallen in love with the challenges it presents me. As a UX designer, I am always holding a magnifying glass in my hand, searching for that moment when users are struggling. I found that there are many great opportunities in the enterprise world to hone in and solve user’s pain points.

My tip for design students
Go out into the world and try to work in different design industries. Go and learn more about the various type of challenges. There may be limited UX jobs in Vancouver, and sometimes it won’t be easy to land a job as a junior designer. But just know that someone somewhere is looking for a UX designer with your skills and motivations.