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I work for a big software company, and i have access to a lot of enterprise now and then . I have also worked on a few application myself . What i have noted that , these applications have fantastic business logic, functionalities buried behind bad looking User Interface. People spend a lot of time working on the backend of the application compared to the UI elements . So I have had a few questions that i would like to clarify on

  • So Why is UI treated with less importance , compared to backend logic? Just because they are back office applications is it right on giving UI less preference ? They are just still being used by end-users right?

  • People i have asked always tell me that there are restrictions on saying changing the coloring of the application for a matter . If so doesn't www follow these restrictions/standards ?

I am currently working on an enterprise application which has excellent functionalities , but the look and feel of the application is bizarre . I had really like to improve the UI of this application, but other team mates do not understand . How do i convince them on this ?

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My experience is that software companies are mostly set in old ways, slow to adapt and have the mind set 'it works so why does it need changing?'. Even with great tips about how to make a compelling arguments towards your peers and managers it's mighty difficult. Endurance is the answer to my opinion. Keep bringing it up, show examples, speak of the benefits and eventually, maybe, they'll see the light that is great UX. –  Paul Jan 3 at 8:54
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@Paul: while I agree that companies tend to use the "it works so why does it need changing", I don't agree with your assessment that they are set in old ways or slow to change. Most companies are quick enough to change, even the big ones that generally have long-winded decision making procedures, given "hard" arguments. What they won't do is hop on your band wagon based solely on your word for it, nor on someone else word for it even if that someone is a guru. Companies have a bottom line: profit loss. Make the case in those terms and they will change direction in full flight. –  Marjan Venema Jan 3 at 11:53
    
Haha wrote this last year for a conference I spoke at - gist.github.com/amcdnl/5356963 –  amcdnl Jan 3 at 14:33
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I don't have anything to back this up, hence a comment not an answer, but I would suggest that an additional reason is that enterprise software is often used for much longer periods than other apps (both per day and product lifetime), and hence a bright and flashy design will get tedious. A plainer design is less likely to be out of fashion too. –  Tom Jan 5 at 23:09
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Another point is that often these are sold B2B. So a big feature list will be appealing to the company writing the check as opposed to the difficult to use and unenjoyable UI which is often not used by said person. –  Matt Lavoie Jan 7 at 21:48

12 Answers 12

up vote 24 down vote accepted

There are many factors contributing to this.

Enterprise apps are evaluated by their functional features, not by their UI. When the UI does come into play, it's evaluated by its efficiency, not by its look and feel. By "efficiency" I mean comparisons like "with our software your employees will complete the task in 10 minutes, and with the competing software it will take them 15 minutes".

The pressure to prioritize features over UX is much greater than in a consumer product. Both because of the reason above and because in a consumer setting you don't say "We have a really big client demanding this feature", since you don't have big clients. And big clients never say "The look and feel must be amazing".

In a typical enterprise setting, the opinions of the end users aren't awfully important, and they aren't the ones buying the software. Their managers appraise and buy the product, and the users are pretty much stuck with it. They can't say "we don't like it so we'll go over to a competing product". If they're extremely dissatisfied they can try and press the management into switching to a different product, but it's not easy.

Typical enterprise software is much more generic than a typical consumer product. It relies more heavily on infrastructure and external components. The external components, even the more flexible ones, have limited customization capabilities and while you can go out of your way to make them look just like your custom-built components, often it won't be quite the same. So either you get an inconsistent look and feel, or you make your own components look like the purchased ones, compromising on the visual aesthetics.

Even when it's your own infrastructure developed from scratch, generic components pretty much by definition don't look as good as a UI that was tailored to its setting.

As to how to convince anyone, you can get some arguments here: Rethinking Enterprise UX in the Age of Consumerization.

Also, this is a related question with lots of interesting insights: Do we need good looking design for a program internal only to our company.

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I do understand "with our software your employees will complete the task in 10 minutes, and with the competing software it will take them 15 minutes". My point is why not showcase Better UX as an another selling factor against the competitor –  Sam Jan 3 at 10:37
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Because you have to prioritize, and in an enterprise setting UX loses to functionality. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Jan 3 at 11:08
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@Sam: when dealing with in-house software, the budget usually won't allow for the "niceties" unless you can make a case that better UX would actually come out as a benefit on a profit-loss type of comparison of all costs and benefits of development and use. When dealing with packaged software, UX is just one of the checkboxes on the long list of stuff for which you need to be able to say "yes we do that". And that is why its priority is much lower than for software "out there" where UX and presentation is a major factor in the buying/not buying decision. –  Marjan Venema Jan 3 at 11:41
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@VitalyMijiritsky: +1 and thanks for the links. Very helpful. –  Marjan Venema Jan 3 at 11:48

Wikipedia says this on Enterprise Software:

Enterprise software, also known as enterprise software application (ESA), is purposed-designed computer software used to satisfy the needs of an organization rather than individual users. Such organizations can vary from businesses, schools, interest-based user groups and clubs, retailers, or governments. Enterprise software is an integral part of a (computer based) Information System, and as such includes web site software production.

Let's break that down, shall we?

  • Satisfy the needs of an organization rather than individual users. Surely the organization needs is the driver, but all organizations are built on users which are individuals. Every group of users changes when a user leaves, or a user is added to that group according to Fundamental interpersonal relations orientation (FIRO). Organizations that doesn't take that into account will have difficulties seeing the individual user needs.

  • Enterprise software is an integral part of a (computer based) Information System. That is true, and this trend accelerates. We have more integrated software, clients, servers, farms and clouds. The same trend happens in every users private sphere. Who havn't shared information from one web page, application or game through multiple channels to different environments.

Being a SharePoint consultant myself, I do everything I can to make intranets all but dull and boring. In the latest version of SharePoint; social aspects are greatly honored through comments, likes, labeling, tagging. On team sites gamification aspects are implemented with reputaion points, permission levels and badges (where have I seen that before? :)). So the industry is definately changing towards less dull and less boring applications, IMHO. But these changes take time.

Gartner predicts that "By 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations":

Seventy percent of business transformation efforts fail due to lack of engagement. Gamification addresses engagement, transparency of work, and connecting employees' actions to business outcomes. Companies apply feedback, measurement and incentives — the same techniques that game designers use, to keep players interested — to achieve the needed engagement for the transformation of business operations. Diverse industry segments are already finding gamification effective, and, according to M2 Research, the worldwide market will grow from $242 million in 2012 to $2.8 billion in 2016, with enterprise gamification eclipsing consumer gamification in 2013.

Still, the dull and boring observation is subjective and probably related to the private sphere of applications. But the trend is definately moving from dull and boring, if you look at GUI development over time. As an example, SharePoint have evolved from 2001 to 2013.

2001

enter image description here

2003

enter image description here

2007

enter image description here

2010

enter image description here

2013

enter image description here

Texas.gov

Conclusion

Enterprise Software Applications have been dull and boring before, but are in transition towards joyful and exciting platforms implementing more and more of good User Experience. In the years to come, I believe that the information workers and organization needs will keep this trend going for the better.

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+1. Also enjoyed the collection of screen shots. Nice to have them all together and see the evolution. –  Marjan Venema Jan 3 at 11:47
    
@MarjanVenema Adding an 'm' after each screenshot link makes them resize nicely. Thanks. –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Jan 3 at 12:25

The short answer

Enterprise companies may perceive less motivation to support UX because of a difference in chronology of monetization relative to web companies.

On the web:
the user experiences UX -> money follows

For enterprise software:
the company (not the user) pays -> the user experiences UX after the money has been paid -> the user's experience may impact later purchase decisions


The longer answer

Consider the three levels of visceral, cognitive, and reflective design proposed by Donald Norman.

On the web:

  • Step 1: The user looks at page and gets a gut impression (visceral engagement). If the interface is ugly, the user may go elsewhere.
  • Step 2: The user decides to interact with the product (cognitive engagement). This is where information architecture and interaction design are important. The site must be easy for the user to accomplish what she came there for or else she will leave.
  • Step 3: Once the user is engaging with the site, there is an opportunity for monetization.
  • Step 4: If the overall experience was good, the user may return later (reflective engagement).

For enterprise companies:

  • Stage 1: Company executives decide to pay a large sum of money for the software. This may be partially based on visceral reactions to how it looks, but is based primarily on the features the of the software rather than its appearance, interaction, or navigation.
  • Stage 2: Users within the company use the software (cognitive and reflective engagement).
  • Stage 3: Users provide feedback to their executives and to other people in their profession as to whether the software is good. This feedback may impact future purchasing decisions in their own company and elsewhere. This stage shows the long-term benefit of UX design to an enterprise software company; however, because this stage occurs later than the others the benefits of UX may not be immediately evident, which means that UX evolves more slowly in an enterprise environment.
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I think @Bennys answer about Sharepoint explains why enterprise solutions are what it is.

Because as Benny says, enterprise solutions all starts with an idea of what the organization needs, or more, what the managers need. Often, when this idea is built with Sharepoint or other "one thing fixes it all- software" - You do not get tailored applications for the user/employee needs, but a user interface cluttered with all the functionality the managers say is important.

Of course, social aspects and gamification elements are a great addition to a dull interface, and it also fits perfectly with the outcomings of the "manager brainstorming session" - more functionality, more happiness.

I do not think this is how we are going to think about enterprise solutions in the coming years.

Innovative new businesses with specialization in each enterprise-field, great UI/UX, great API's that work in collaboration with other enterprise-solutions. - This is (hopefully) the future.

When innovation become less "Create a new social plattform for pidgeons" and more "Fix REAL problems that exists in REAL businesses" - and the companies themselves start trusting independent off-the-shelf cloud solutions - Enterprise solutions will be tailored perfectly for each business - letting the companies focus on what they want to be experts on, and not how they are going to create their new internal sharepoint-solution.

And to prove my point, here is a small list of new enterprise-solutions for businesses, with, in my opinion, a NOT dull and boring UI:

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+1 on referencing my post, but be careful on your judgement on SharePoint. I'm a SharePoint consultant you know :-) –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Jan 7 at 21:36
    
@BennySkogberg my condolences. :) –  DA01 Jan 8 at 2:42
    
@DA01 Thank You :) –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Jan 8 at 4:44

I read an article a few months ago on uxbooth about how to design user centered for enterprise software. There are three problems the author mentioned:

  • Generic Design. Enterprise Software is designed generic so it can be adapted to the context it will be used in.

  • The number of use cases. The number of use cases multiplied by the enormous number of users no one can design for.

  • Motivation issues. The users who use the software (often) didn't buy the software.

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Because when you ask a question about User Interface you get 12 responses about User Experience and not a single person who articulates the distinctions between the two.

What you're describing is the lipstick. The question, to me, sounds more like "Why aren't enterprise offerings pretty and slick?", which is a much different question than "Why can enterprise offerings get away with being so difficult to use?"

So, I'll assume that I'm interpreting your comments correctly, and that what you take issue with is purely superficial rather than functional. In this case you're asking the wrong question.

The right question is "Why are consumer offerings so over-designed compared to enterprise offerings?"

And the answer, typically, is that their weak or non-existent value proposition forces them to provide an alternate reason for a User to proceed past the landing page. They try to imply grand utility in order to capture the user registration while they work on identifying which features are actually necessary.

In the case of the enterprise they already know what features are needed, they know how users expect them to work, and all they need to do is put two and two together to create something that can be used without a learning curve.

Pretty gradients and typefaces don't help users know what to click. You know what does? The color blue on text and rounded silver beveled buttons.

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Many of the above points are correct.

  • Indeed, enterprise applications are usually evaluated by the efficiency of their algorithms.
  • However, there is change as UX is slowly but steadily making its way into enterprise software.

Additionally,

Many users have been reluctant to adopt better UIs or UX workflows, since then they felt that all these years they spent to specialise on learning the oddities of whatever Weird-UI™ Enterprise Edition would go to waste.

Sad, but slowly going away.

Now, for arguments for your co-workers, there are some. Apart from being doing what everyone else have started to do and thus become more competitive, depending on where you live there might exist a legal obligation to provide usable interfaces. Even though usability and UI design are not entirely the same thing, the legal argument might give you time and budget for some user testing—and thus you can do a UI revamp in the meanwhile.

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Various reasons.

  • Lots of enterprise software is not sold to the user. It's sold to people at a company that will never use the software. As such, they're more interested in a bulleted list of features rather than things like how usable it is.

  • Lots of enterprise software is legacy software. It's old. It was build with old waterfall processes. It has UI baggage.

  • Enterprise software is big business and about making money. If the competition doesn't have a better UI, there's little incentive to make the one they have better.

  • Enterprise Software Customers tend to put up with really crappy software. There's a bizarre level of tolerance of bad UX in a lot of organizations. For example, have you ever used a product from PeopleSoft? A big part of this goes back to bullet one...that the people that have to use the software rarely have any say as to which software should be purchased.

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Most software companies that produce COTS packages do work to improve the UI/UX as this will help them to remain competitive. Increasingly now the trend is to abstract the UI layer from the business logic so that each implementation can choose to change the look and feel.

Within the Entetprise when customising or developing applications there is a vast difference in appetite for spending money on UI. Thanks to the consumerization of IT there is increasing emphasis on UI/UX.

I've seen business cases include user uptake and cost of training and support to justify spend on UI. After all in an enterprise application the cost of UI/UX is relatively low.

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Marketing of enterprise applications has the great difference from marketing of another applications - customer (who pays money) usually is far from user (who use application).

Main goal for customer is that application does exactly what business needs. As he spends corporate budget he need to make emphasizing on functionality.

From the other hand usually there are no much competitors and they work on functionality as their main market advantage. As UI is expensive part of software development, company saves on UI specialist and spends more on functional developers who are usually specialists in industry of their customers.

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This is a great question. And, as someone who works in Enterprise software, with the task of improving the software UI, I can tell you that is slowly changing. It is just not that easy to do a complete redesign as it is a website redesign. For example, a product can be on version 5.0 but have customers on version 1.1, 2.0. 2.2, 3.0, 4.0, 4.2.1 etc. And with every customer, you have to consider how that customer will migrate to the new software. So the UI is treated similar to new product features. You schedule them in the road map. A simple improvement to say, call to action buttons have to be assessed for each existing version, and what is the impact of having one item look different against others.

There are some ways to help escalate that -one is creating the complete vision via detailed mockups/ wireframes and sharing them with developers. They will piece it a part - "we can get this and that in this next patch, but that other part will have to wait until the next big upgrade, etc."

Another way is to make the UI the focus of the next big upgrade. To do that successfully, you as the UI person, should have all the details upfront because the questions will come from everywhere and everyone at once.

There is value in making Enterprise software beautiful, but it is important to keep in mind that functional and intuitive UI should always come first.

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For enterprise software it's about selling features. Traditionally product managers and marketing sell features and don't know how to sell UX. Customers (not users) will also prioritise features over UX when it comes to negotiating.

But this is now changing. Everyone now expects a better user experience and more and more customers are shouting for better UX, especially as their users get more and more frustrated. Unfortunately for the vendors it's a gradual evolution as they still need to sell features.

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