5 things I learned as a new enterprise product designer

Mingda
Mingda
Nov 14, 2019 · 9 min read
Person on a laptop at a desk with abstract shapes in the background
Person on a laptop at a desk with abstract shapes in the background

During my studies at the University of Michigan where I studied UX design, I gained significant interest and internship experience designing enterprise and data visualization products. For my first full-time job, VMware was one of the enterprise software companies on my radar that had a huge focus on design.

After working at VMware for over four months, I have been inspired by my colleagues and connections in the industry to share my unique experience working as an enterprise product designer.

This article is dedicated to anyone who is interested in pursuing user experience and product design, especially if you have some interest in enterprise product design.

Regardless of your situation, I hope my writing will help you understand my perspective on what I’ve learned so far.

1. Enterprise UX is complex but rewarding.

Enterprise products may seem comparatively more complex and overwhelming than any other digital products you’ve seen. You also might fear the complexity that is often associated with enterprise products.

Furthermore, UX and product design job interviews are already nerve-racking and anxiety-inducing on their own, so why should you make it even more difficult for yourself by looking into enterprise design?

This was my thinking when I first stumbled upon enterprise UX during the job search process, but I now feel that this was a myopic vision of my potential career path.

After understanding more about how enterprise design has evolved, I’ve realized that the level of design and usability expectations between enterprise-grade and consumer-grade products are becoming closer than ever before.

VMware’s products are examples, but other companies’ products are as well.

Screenshots of Dropbox, Quickbooks, Slack, Google Drive, and Asana
Screenshots of Dropbox, Quickbooks, Slack, Google Drive, and Asana
Dropbox, Intuit Quickbooks, Slack, Google Drive, and Asana. These are all enterprise products— Source: https://uxmag.com/articles/the-future-of-enterprise-design-is-consumer-grade-ux

The apps above are enterprise apps, but they feel like your everyday productivity apps.

So what this means is that enterprise product design is complex, but on a user experience perspective, the complexity is being broken down to feel less cumbersome and more like the apps you use on a daily basis.

Speaking on the rewarding part of enterprise product design, VMware has specifically offered me:

  1. Design opportunities within industry-leading enterprise software products
  2. Learning and career development opportunities that pave a clear path of growth

Potential problem spaces at enterprise companies, including ones at VMware, are often vast and unexplored.

Previously, the amount of features, or “utility”, was the focus in most enterprise software. User experience was usually an afterthought. For example, design guidelines were not defined across multiple products under the same company brand.

Fortunately, VMware and other companies have recognized the importance of a great user experience. This is why VMware has offered me so many great learning opportunities during my time here.

2. The selling point of enterprise UX is to increase user productivity.

One thing that I currently love about working at VMware is the amount of focus that our global design team puts on One-Experience-led VMware.

Enterprise UX has a slightly different emphasis on design compared to consumer UX. Our general goal is to improve and simplify target users’ existing workflows.

Animations, motion design, and“delight” are becoming increasingly important to our enterprise products to align with the delight of more consumer-grade products.

Nonetheless, what comes first in enterprise UX design is the designer’s ability to increase user productivity.

This is the user interface of vSphere, one of VMware premier products.

vSphere is a suite of virtualization machine applications provided by VMware. In the vSphere client, the user manages (create, modifies, stops, etc.) virtual machines. Those virtual machines are used to emulate different computer systems without the need of more physical hardware resources to run them.

The design goals for experiences such as vSphere are to create a user experience with flexibility and scalability given the amount of information we have to show.

The above screen capture shows alarms, which essentially monitors how the various statues of the virtual machines.

Due to the complexity and large number of the available alarms, there needs to be a unique interface to indicate the rules and actions that need to be taken when the selected alarms are triggered.

From a more general point of view, enterprise products need to allow users to view information and complete actions of any scale with ease. The level of complexity and amount of information that needs to be displayed is the designer’s real challenge.

3. You’re not expected to be an expert from the start.

The complexity is necessary because enterprises are complex entities themselves with different user personas.

More importantly, all of this complexity hasn’t been thrown at me all at once.

For one of the projects I have been working on, I have been collaborating with other designers on my team for a set of products and features that will be used by sales reps and other stakeholders. We are facing tight deadlines and are consuming huge amounts of information to get things done. Also, communicating with subject matter experts in different domains have been essential in understanding the right use cases and creating the most optimal designs.

But none of this would be possible without input from others. I started from knowing nothing about this project to having a decent level of knowledge that will only grow as the project evolves.

At VMware, this is what I call an appropriate level of mentorship. I was outside of my comfort zone, but I still had someone holding my hand just in case I became confused.

Regardless of the project or team, initiative is essential. Mentors offer you advice and guidance, but they also expect you to follow up on your learnings, deliver, and lead.

You ultimately carve your own path.

Let’s give a (maybe) more relatable example. Kanye West was relatively unknown to the world at the turn of the century as he worked as a producer under Jay-Z.

Because of Jay-Z’s mentorship and Kanye’s hunger to work with and learn from people from different backgrounds with different talents, Kanye is now one of the most influential artists of our generation. And the rest is history…

So, you should want to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Ask questions to your stakeholders about larger and smaller details of your assigned project. Work closely with them and inform them frequently with your updates.

And finally, as you get a good grasp on your work, reach out to other designers, developers, product managers, leads, etc., to understand what they are working on. This will help you understand the potential relationships between your own projects and other projects within your organization.

Connect the dots!

4. Enterprise product design shares general UX skills with other domains.

I was initially worried about having to already be well-versed in enterprise design to excel the interviews and at the job. While it helps if you’ve previously worked in enterprise, the reality is the field is huge, so it’s not expected for a designer to have lots of knowledge in this domain fresh out of college.

But it obviously helps if you’ve worked previously on enterprise designs.

With job interviews and performing at enterprise (or any UX design jobs) general UX skills are more important, especially at the junior level. These skills include:

  • user empathy
  • communication skills (ex: being able to speak when put on the spot)
  • collaboration skills
  • interaction and visual design
A list of soft skills and percentage of employers that look for each
A list of soft skills and percentage of employers that look for each
Soft skills employers look for in UX design jobs — source: https://uxdesign.cc/what-employers-expect-from-ux-designers-49d2819be0d4

You learn these from internships and hands-on courses.

When I prepared for my onsite interview at VMware, I went in as my genuine self with my design knowledge, rather than trying to already understand VMware’s products.

Both design and communication skills are transferrable regardless of the types of products you design for.

I was still doubting my own abilities (this will go with the last part of this article), especially because this was my first onsite interview, but I think this is normal!

Communicating design decisions requires real skill, but don’t be overwhelmed. I tried to tackle whatever problem the interviewers gave me during the whiteboard exercise as I would during a regular day at work.

The goal of many design interviews is to see how you react on the spot and how you communicate your ideas.

Even on the job, every time I speak in front of new people, it becomes a chance for me to further develop my communication skills!

And I really believe that these skills (or at least your eagerness to work on them) is what makes you stand out and shows that you are a real UX designer!

I recently led the design of a project with stakeholders from a variety of groups (legal, privacy, development). At the start of the project, some of the lead stakeholders hosted a kickoff UX meeting that explained the project requirements to the designers on the team. One of my fellow designers participated in the meeting with me to guide me through the beginning of the design process.

Once I had a good understanding of the requirements and created a high level set of wireframes, she entrusted me in leading the project all on my own.

At this junction, it has been up to me to reach out to stakeholders for feedback and speak out in front of meetings to present my work and answer any questions I have knowledge of. This project has allowed me to exercise my communications skills effectively.

These above thoughts go with my example with Kanye and Jay-Z. Both of these individuals did not only have talent, but they definitely put themselves out there and worked with a lot of people to create some of the most well known projects in hip hop today.

5. You may be affected by imposter’s syndrome if you are new to enterprise UX.

And finally, when I first started working at VMware, imposter’s syndrome overpowered me for a bit. I questioned my abilities and designs at work and during design meetings.

I felt this way (and continue to feel this way) because of the existing complex workflows that users have to go through. There were so many terminologies and minute details that I needed to comprehend to rethink their flows more clearly.

But so far I have been trying to take advantage of this feeling. And you’re not the only one who feels that way.

A graphic showing everyone feels like an imposter sometimes and that’s okay
A graphic showing everyone feels like an imposter sometimes and that’s okay
Source: https://medium.com/glughq/working-with-imposter-syndrome-a448a123c3a0

You are not supposed to feel like you already know everything and that you don’t need much help on anything. If you do, then you are doing something wrong.

When I am frequently outside of my comfort zone, I am always faced with new challenges that I think will slowly (but steadily) make me a better designer.

You most likely will have a lot of experienced designers working with you. So, ask a lot of questions and be transparent about how you feel about the work you are doing!

A huge thanks to Jehad Affoneh, Mitul Bhat (My manager!), Grace Noh, Bonnie Zhang, Stela Stamenkova-Din, and Mandy Shen for helping me to put this article together!

Check out our Clarity Design System here to see more about what VMware designers use to piece our designs together.

Also, the VMware Design team is looking for talented designers at different levels to help us continue transforming enterprise design.

Check out our open positions!

VMware Design

The VMware Design team | Transforming enterprise user…

Thanks to Grace Noh, Bonnie Zhang, Mitul Bhat, Mandy Shen, and Jehad Affoneh

Mingda

Written by

Mingda

Product Designer at VMware | Previously at Amazon & NASA https://www.mingda-tang.com/

VMware Design

The VMware Design team | Transforming enterprise user experience and design

Mingda

Written by

Mingda

Product Designer at VMware | Previously at Amazon & NASA https://www.mingda-tang.com/

VMware Design

The VMware Design team | Transforming enterprise user experience and design

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