5 ways user experience can be a beautiful thing for the enterprise

Another impact of IT consumerization -- high-quality enterprise UX, versus the dreary experiences now associated with applications and processes, will cut costs, spur innovation and improve morale.

In the consumer space, great user experiences (UX) are everything, and the winning companies -- the Apples, Microsofts, Ubers and Amazons -- provide it in huge doses. At the office, UX is, well, often a mushed-up experience. But the rising tide of enterprise IT consumerization may be opening up the gray bastion of enterprise computing to more enlightenment.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

In a compelling post, Uday Gajendar, an enterprise design specialist, says there's one simple reason why IT professionals should pay attention to user experience, or UX. Making enterprise UX a beautiful -- not dreary and complicated -- thing will make for a more well-functioning business.

"Vital person-data-task dependencies are at stake, to make decisions that impact literally millions or billions of dollars in waste -- or in savings," he explains. "There is a sobering level of scale and impact. These are necessary tools that engineers, HR staff, plant managers, IT admins, financial analysts, insurance brokers -- even top-level executives--must use on a daily basis to do their jobs, to somehow be accomplished."

Design thinking and high-quality UX is already creeping into the enterprise, via services such as New Relic, Workday and ZenDesk," Gajendar says. Plus, iPhones and iPads -- and their Android cousins -- are already ubiquitous in today's offices. Ultimately, having a high-quality UX in enterprise settings may be more important that UX in consumer interfaces.

UX is much more than simply designing a snazzy user interface (UI), though this is certainly part of the winning formula. UX covers all aspects of the relationship and interaction between the user and the enterprise, encompassing workflow, perceptions and responsiveness. UIs, icons or widgets are "gateways to deeper connections across other parts of a product or service spanning an entire business -- expressed as user journeys and workflows," says Gajendar. "This necessitates a nuanced understanding of how such elements relate in terms of the purpose, flow, and utility of the software system overall, which requires more investigative conversations with stakeholders and customers alike."

How can enterprises begin this journey? Jaimee Newberry, executive coach with Thoughtworks, outlines what it takes to develop a UX-focused culture.

Embrace UX as a corporate responsibility, not a one-off project. Many organizatins have UX professionals, but it should be an enterprise mindset, not a siloed area of expertise. "As brands, enterprises or corporate cultures, we need to think about UX as a responsibility, not as a role," Winter states. "UX is the responsibility of the company and of each individual employee, consultant or contractor that works with that company."

Encourage participants to "own" the challenge. Start simply, with a multidisciplinary team, and begin "every project, product, feature or requirement exploration by framing the problem that needs to be solved and the outcome that needs to be met," Newberry states. Avoid presenting the team with a solution or a 'we-need-you-to-make-this-in-order-to-solve-this' statement. Involvement from the problem-solving stage plants the seed of care and ownership."

Encourage respect for roles. "Lack of respect for roles can result in a lot of unnecessary misunderstanding, miscommunication, demotivation or feeling defensive and territorial," says Winter. This comes from "understanding the value of another person's role or contribution on a larger scale," or "relating to other people at a more human level." Newberry urges informal interactions, such as assembling small teams over coffee to hash out problems.

Communicate frequently, and on a positive level. "Over-communicate status throughout the project to instill trust," Newberry says. Also, bear in mind that words carry a lot of weight, she adds. Be positive, and speak positively. "Avoid word choices that hold an individual responsible for something gone awry, instead frame the situation and approach how you can work together to make the situation better," she urges.

Open up ideation to all.The more open to change an organization is, the better the results. There is likely talent, ideas and expertise that may surface in an environment more open to peoples' ideas. "Sometimes we don't know the power of the people we've already got on our teams until we open ourselves up to more collaborative ways of working," says Newberry.

The ultimate purpose is to convert our convoluted, dreary enterprise UXes into beautiful things. "It doesn't have to be ugly! Texture, motion, balance, tone, style--we can ascribe those qualities to enterprise UX," Gajendar points out. "We are surrounded by poignant products or services like the Nest, iPhone, Tesla or customer services at a chocolatier like Cocoa Bella or hotelier like Ritz-Carlton. Why shouldn't we imbue such delightful, charismatic qualities into the software that run our businesses, that are used by working folks nine hours a day, every day?"