Why Design for Business Tools?

Photo Credit: Vector Goddess/Shutterstock.com

When I introduce myself as a product designer at Facebook, most people picture our well-known consumer interfaces.

In fact, I work on enterprise design — that is, design for our business products, not our consumer-facing ones. Cue the quizzical faces and wary comprehension. It seems that for some reason, design for business tools is still often thought of as less than. Let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth — especially at Facebook.


Driven by positive impact

I work in design because I love that through design, I can have a positive impact on people’s lives. This is what drives me. I use my background in psychology and human-computer interaction to understand and empathize with users to inform my designs. Early in my career, before Facebook, I did user research, testing and design of healthcare products. If these products were misused or didn’t work, people’s lives were at risk. I wanted to make that sort of impact in my next role.
 
As I moved more into digital product design, I started honing my visual design skills on consumer-facing products. But I began to realize that the products I was working on were designed to be irresistible. More and more, I wanted to create products that were instead meaningful. 
 
This realization helped me see that I needed to make a change — one that challenged my creativity in new ways and that would allow me to return to what makes me passionate about design: making people’s lives better.
 
I tuned into the idea that I could make a difference in people’s lives by helping them do their jobs in a more efficient way. I decided there were three main design elements I could tackle to help me be an agent for change:

  1. Create clean designs out of complex interfaces and problems.
  2. Challenge the notion that business products are clunky, outdated or provide a poor user experience.
  3. Design for niche—but, very engaged—audiences.

Enter enterprise design

While interviewing at Facebook, I learned about some of the tools for Facebookers that maximize the productivity and performance of its employees. 
 
It became immediately clear that I would have opportunities to address interesting challenges and tackle complex interfaces. And talk about a niche audience! I knew the job would really push me to hone my ability to design for an audience that is deeply knowledgeable. Most important, I could design business products that both provide utility and look beautiful.
 
I now design products that drive the efficiency, productivity and satisfaction of Facebook’s global workforce.


Good design is good design

I’ve never understood the line that’s often drawn between design for B2B and B2C, enterprise and consumer. The same design principles and methodologies apply to designing for people inside a company or outside of one. The bad reputation enterprise design has had in the past is, simply, bad design. 
 
Why can’t enterprise products live up to the reputation of consumer products? As Siva Sabaretnam, Head of Enterprise Design, noted in her 2017 post, “As new technologies enable new experiences, and enterprises embrace the value of good design, the line between consumer and enterprise is more blurred than ever.”

The more I work on enterprise products, the more I am convinced that the distinction is in our heads. If we design for people, we build great products. In fact, we could — and should — extend this out from designing for enterprise and consumer to hardware, augmented reality, virtual reality and more. Isn’t it all just design?

To me, context, form and function will vary, but design principles remain the same.

Designing recruiting products with impact

On one project I worked on about a year ago, the product team uncovered that Facebook recruiters often weren’t working on the highest priority tasks because they weren’t sure what those tasks were. They were getting information from several different sources and weren’t always aware of what the most efficient next step should be. We sought to improve their main tool’s design so they could increase their productivity and satisfaction.
 
Our first step was to identify the actions a recruiter might take, then list them, then rank them in a way that reflected their appropriate prioritization, with the ultimate goal being to move candidates through the recruiting process most efficiently. To do so, we relied a lot on user research.
 
In general, user research helps designers tremendously in our ability to empathize with the user’s perspective. I’m not a recruiter, so it would be arrogant of me to think I could understand their challenges sight unseen. It became obvious early on that talking to recruiters about how they think, work and prioritize was crucial. In fact, recognizing this extra-special need, Facebook hired recruiting project managers who had previously been recruiters themselves.
 
A particular challenge on this project was that new recruiters come in and already have in mind the processes that have worked for them in the past. And if I learned anything from my degree in psychology, it’s that it is hard to change the way people think — and tenfold the way they behave. 
 
We didn’t want to negatively affect the recruiters’ ability to their jobs, but we did want to help them do it more efficiently. The project managers knew the recruiting space inside and out — but they also understood that it could be improved with the tools we were building. They were our partners, and we relied on them to be champions for the recruiters who would use our products. 
 
Our close working relationship on this product led to success. We found that by identifying, listing and prioritizing the most important tasks — and providing recommendations at every step about what recruiters should do next — we helped recruiters increase their rate of getting candidates screened and interviewed onsite by 15 percent. 
 
As one engineering director I work with eloquently put it: “The key is that we’re optimizing for recruiters who are tenured, who already have well-ingrained processes and are already able to do their jobs. That is where the designer’s impact is. Designers think differently about user experience and have the ability to simplify complex processes even more.”


When your users are your colleagues

Our users are Facebook employees, which is awesome and scary at the same time. Having direct access to our colleagues helps us learn and iterate quickly, but it can also be challenging, mostly because the feedback is not one-sided — it’s often a dialogue. 
 
On the consumer side of Facebook, we can see trends in data within a day because of our enormous user base. On products built for internal use, the time it takes to receive feedback is similar, but the amount and quality of the feedback can be overwhelming — Facebookers are what one might call a very engaged user base.

I remember a conversation with a technology partner who said, “There’s no limit to feedback and no room to look the other way. It’s direct and constant, but you can learn fast as hell.”

I see our peers’ feedback as our strength. Since our users are our co-workers, we can reach out to them directly and dig deeper to understand their needs and concerns better. In fact, I can sketch design options early in the day and receive ample input about how it could serve our people within hours. Sometimes I can pose a question to a specific group and within minutes have an answer that will inform my designs.

We get so much amazing feedback that designing for business tools has given me the opportunity to hone and flex my prioritization muscles. We cannot respond or react to everything, so it’s up to us to prioritize design features using our product sense. When we get it right, we get to hear, directly, how we’ve made people’s lives just a little bit better through our products, and it’s thrilling. 
 
I never understood those who think designing for enterprise products is somehow a lesser challenge, and I definitely don’t now that I work on them every day. For me, designing for utility, productivity and necessity, allows me to solve hard problems, simplify complex processes, and have a positive impact on some of my favorite people: my colleagues.