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I am in the middle of designing a web application for a company that deals with institutions, there are both the end-user facing site (what the schools will see and use), and the "behind-the-scenes" site that internal staff uses for set-ups/purchased accounts.

My question is this; When designing the behind-the-scenes site, it is clear that its does not have to be as "pretty" as the consumer site, because of scope and money, but should it be consistent with the design patterns as the institutional site?

Meaning should the internal staff be able to log into the end-user site and see different options only for internal staff functionality, or should the internal staff have a completely different UX for that?

I have not done too much work with designing internal screens for a company before.

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A very lively and related question: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/19936/… –  Karen Jul 6 '12 at 15:54

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You need separate designs.

There's a key difference in users of the consumer site and the users of your internal site: the internal users are likely to be power users - they'll be doing the same tasks a lot, and they'll get very good at learning whatever interface you give them. End users will spend the vast majority of their time using other sites, so will need more hand-holding from the design.

Since they'll also have very different use-cases and goals, your two groups will need different UX. Bolting on admin functions to the end-user site is always going to be suboptimal, since your internal users will almost never need to use the functionality that the end-users need, and vice versa.

You've also mentioned limited scope and money - by creating focused designs which solve use cases more effectively without having to bolt on features to a design that doesn't support them, you can cut down on the development work required to fit them together.

There may be advantages between sharing some design patterns - having your internal users be familiar with your external site allows them to resolve customer service issues more effectively - but for the majority of cases all you need to do is ensure that the internal users are able to access and/or use the external site whenever needed.

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I'm going to slightly extrapolate on what dhmholley said regarding knowing your users. While he/she brings up excellent points regarding "casual" users vs. power users and needing to be aware of those differences, I think it is important to keep in mind the shift in the workplace environment as more and more millennials enter the workforce.

The millenials are a generation that have grown up on technology and it's almost an after thought in their daily lives. If we can start to design internal applications that feel like the technology they use in their daily lives as opposed to your "old" heavy data entry WinForms layouts then it could help create an emotional connection to work. The idea is that it reduces that strict barrier between what they do at home for entertainment and what they do at work. This in turn may help extend the emotional connection they have with their devices at home to their job and make it feel less like "work".

There is plenty of information out there about how the millienial generation can't be bought, that they value intangible benefits over monetary raises and are always looking for the next best thing (i.e. little loyalty). So if internal applications can encourage that emotional connection to work then it may help address their intangible needs. I'm not saying this is always an appropriate design pattern but with this upcoming work force and the psychology behind it makes it interesting and thought provoking.

TL;DR: That was a long winded way of saying that you should still consider the contemporary and modern design patterns when developing internal applications. Chrome Add-ins have this similar applet layout, Windows 8 is Microsoft going in this direction as well.

As an aside, while your internal users may be power users and have the ability to master the system over time, a better design approach can help drastically reduce training costs.

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