Five tips for running successful B2B design projects

Designing products and services for B2B organisations comes with its own set of demands and potential pitfalls. Partner Katie Buchanan offers her guide for running a project successfully.

By Katie Wishlade, Partner, Wilson Fletcher

1. You’re never going to become a meteorologist, so don’t try

We’ve worked on some complex tools in some very specific industries, such as a weather graphics platform, an automotive data management tool and a professional casting service. One of the problems you immediately encounter when trying to design such a tool is that you literally can’t even begin to imagine what the user is trying to achieve. Many of the users in question would have trained for years to acquire the domain knowledge needed to use these tools effectively. You simply can’t become a meteorologist overnight, so understanding how to use a cyclone tracking tool can be tricky.

The best way to approach this is to nominate a subject matter expert upfront. This expert literally works alongside the design team on a daily basis. They act as a domain knowledge interpreter and also provide a constant voice of the user, explaining how, when and why tasks would be completed.

As a designer, it’s important to appreciate that you don’t need to understand everything, you just need to understand enough to ensure that the solution you are proposing is optimal for the task in hand.

2. Don’t cheat, work with real data

Everyone knows the importance of designing with real content or data. Despite this, it remains tempting (and easier) to work with a fake or sample data sets, particularly if you are working in an unfamiliar domain and don’t truly understand the nature of the data that you’re dealing with.

The sooner you work with real data, the sooner you’ll be able to get your head around the nature and scale of the problem, and the sooner you’ll be able to identify a suitable design solution.

3. Don’t let legacy problems define today’s solutions

Many B2B services that we’ve worked on have been around for decades. Over the years, they have been tweaked and added to countless times, and as such the user experience has been severely compromised. When redesigning a service such as this, it’s important to silo these legacy issues and focus on uncovering the needs of today’s users without being constrained by current solutions.

4. Be prepared for user insights to drip feed into the process

Since people rely on these tools to complete their jobs you’ll often find that behind every B2B service is an army of some of the most passionate users you’ll come across. Opinionated, thoughtful and highly invested in the service’s improvement, they are often the most inspiring users to design alongside. The catch is, getting time with them can prove challenging, since you need to slot into their often hectic and fluctuating work schedules.

We’ve found that the best approach is to be flexible, offering short, often remote, one-to-one interviews at times suitable to them. In reality this means that user insights are drip-fed into the design process in a more sporadic manner, as opposed to in a B2C programme where you might arrange two days of user research part-way through the design process.

5. Be inspired by real users, rather than fictional ones

The creation of user personas has been a technique used in UX since the mid-90s, as a way to embed users in the design process. Each fictional persona represents a portion of people in the real world and enables designers to focus on a memorable cast of characters, instead of focusing on thousands of individuals. Personas essentially help designers design for a specific somebody, rather than a generic everybody.

In theory, personas are just as valid when designing B2B services as a B2C ones. In reality however they are often harder to create, as every organisation varies greatly and this makes it harder to make generalisations in a small sample size. In recent projects we’ve instead profiled a handful of real organisations (both existing and potential customers) and the end users within them, and used these as a stimulus for design. While this might be less representative, it’s proved successful and the knowledge that this is an actual customer creates more empathy among both designers and stakeholders.

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