Enterprise Design Discovery

Design discovery within enterprise platforms and systems

Peter Zalman
Dec 18, 2020 · 5 min read

This article is part of a three-chapter Enterprise Design guidelines.
Start reading here.

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ServiceNow Design process [1]

UX Research

It is great to see more focus on ethnographic research resulting in an increasing number of dedicated UX Research roles within the enterprise environment. UX research discovery is used as an input for popular Design Sprints and other problem solving collaborative methods. The product team and stakeholders are often rendering their intent and expectations of the solution regardless of the technological constraints or available building blocks.

When stakeholders’ expectations and user research outcomes are used as the only source to generate future product ideas, it might lack insights that cannot be gathered by simple observation or interviewing. There is a risk that this approach creates greenfield design solutions that are aligned and validated with user goals. Still, its execution results in a subpar user experience as it can’t be delivered within real-world constraints.

Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM. [2]

On the other range of the spectrum is the enterprise IT approach defined by the infamous IBM catchphrase. In the past, integrated solution bundles were thrown at any enterprise IT problem with little to no UX research. Solution specialists were trying to solve problems with only vague evidence of individual people’s motivations and needs. Way too many professionals still recall the pain of improving the user experience of tools build with IBM, Oracle, or Lotus Notes bundles.

Integrated bundles

Modern enterprise platforms can be seen as a constant game between two product strategies: best-of-the-breed and integrated bundles. If you are designing an enterprise app, the chances are that tools such as Slack, Zoom, Box, or Office 365 are integral touchpoints of most of the workflows. Their specific usage patterns often came out as insight from individual UX research, but how might we discover all its hidden potential?

If a best-of-breed product doesn’t already face an integrated bundle competitor, it is virtually inevitable that some bundle provider will try to move into the space [3]

User First Technology Second

In the quest to modernize the professional and enterprise workflows, executives are now turning their attention to UX research and design to avoid known traps. The IBM-era is gone, and there is an intense urgency for user first and technology second approach to professional software. The success of best-of-the-breed apps such as Slack and Zoom bridges the gap between consumer and enterprise software. But focusing on technology second is a risky strategy when taken to the extreme in design discovery.

Designers and product stakeholders tend to overestimate ideas and underestimate the execution by a large margin. It is not enough to invite technologists or domain experts to a Design Sprint and expect them to validate other ideas on the fly. Sources of insights such as licensed application modules and available building blocks must be an equal source of design discovery and aligned to the user goals and motivations.

Use Case

ServiceNow platform is an example of an integrated bundle ecosystem. Consider that the IT service management team wants to discover an idea about building a native mobile app. They hypothesize that a mobile app could be the only way to avoid calling the help desk when people are locked away from accessing their laptops. Not knowing all the ServiceNow latest trends, this could be evaluated as a high-risk, high-cost, medium-value initiative. It might not make it through the quarterly prioritization and trigger a substantial UX research brief to gather more evidence about the problem.

The team could invest effort in researching mobile interaction patterns, e.g., left vs. right-hand usage or brand explorations. Classic UX research methods would not be helpful to bring evidence about the problem and observe users during this edge condition use case as their laptop is locked in. [4] But similarly to Jared’s edge use case about a delayed flight, the locked account is a universal pattern for all IT.

The cost dimension could be significantly changed by knowing the app could be designed and deployed within reasonable constraints in just four sprints using low-code tools such as Mobile Studio [5].

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Design Research, Agile, and Traps. [6]

Would you invest the same research and discovery resources to the idea of having a new item on a lunch menu compared to buying a house? [6] How do you know if ServiceNow mobile app cost-value compares to the lunch menu or buying a house without having substantial knowledge of its features, low-code build methods, and future roadmap?

Design Research

Notice saying “design research” and not “user research.” That is intentional. User research is too narrow. As Hall argues, confining design to the user’s experience distracted us from the importance of outcomes, which is the proper focus of design. [6]

Design discovery and user research within the enterprise software domain are different from the consumer world. Some of the well-established methods might not be effective, such as comparative analysis or market trends. It would not help your users if you diligently compare Zoom to MS Teams if your organization decided to invest in Zoom and you are facing the challenge of integrating a meeting scheduler into a larger user journey.

Taking into account the innovation provided by ecosystems such as ServiceNow is an essential initial step of the design research that can inform the scale and objectives of the user research.

There is no quick answer to how to do desk research [7] that maps available platform innovation to your current business objectives or product idea. My main observation and advice are to invest the effort in individual learning within the specific domain and ecosystem [8]. By participating in user communities and advisory councils, Designers and Product Managers can get insights and gain an overview of the ecosystems such as ServiceNow, Box, or O365. When an opportunity such as the Mobile arises, the team already knows where to start and the building blocks available. They can come up with more accurate assumptions and hypotheses as an input for qualitative and quantitative research that lowers the cost-value from house to lunch menu [6].


[1.] How to Elevate your Service Experiences with Effective Problem StatementsServiceNow Knowledge 2020

[2.] What does the phrase “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM” mean?-Quora

[3.] How Long Can a Company Thrive Doing Just One Thing?- Harvard Business Review

[4.] For an Edge Condition, Seeing the Problem is a ProblemJared M. Spool

[5.] Mobile StudioServiceNow

[6.] Design Research, Agile, and Traps Charles Lambdin

[7.] What is desk research?David Travis

[8.] Learning and certification programServiceNow

Enterprise UX

Design stories from designing apps at large enterprise for…

Peter Zalman

Written by

I am crafting great ideas into working products and striving for balance between Design, Product and Engineering #UX. Views are my own.

Enterprise UX

Design stories from designing apps at large enterprise for large enterprises.

Peter Zalman

Written by

I am crafting great ideas into working products and striving for balance between Design, Product and Engineering #UX. Views are my own.

Enterprise UX

Design stories from designing apps at large enterprise for large enterprises.

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