How I Design Enterprise Software Applications

We’re living in a world where information overload dominates people lives, and the question of how to create an easy-to-use product experience often seems rhetorical. Enterprise level web applications are not exception.

Many SaaS tools on the market claim to optimize your working experience, boost your productivity, increase company metrics and so on. In reality, after you log into application, you’re immediately bombarded with notifications (email & in-app), onboarding tips, ambiguous dashboards that raise more questions than answers. Everything screams for your attention.

Now tell me, how can you be productive and focused in such a noisy environment?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been working with enterprise software for quite a while now. And I do believe there’s an answer - a human-centered design.

The term was coined by IDEO. It's a process that starts with the people you're designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs.

Human-centered design isn’t a perfectly linear process, and every project has its own character.

I managed to adapt human-centered design to enterprise software with a few modifications, and the results have been amazing so far.

So, let me show you my version of it.

No matter what kind of design challenge you’ve got, you’ll move through three main phases:

  1. Understand

  2. Ideate

  3. Prototype & Learn

Let’s talk about each phase in more details.

1. Understand

In this phase, you get to know your target audience better, their frustrations, goals and how you want to make them feel when using your product.


No matter what you do, your cool new product will not succeed if you are making stuff nobody wants.


To make stuff people want, you have to spend time exploring peoples’ needs and developing empathy.

2. Ideate

Here you identify opportunities for design, generate hypotheses (sketching) and decide which hypotheses are worth to pursue.


During the ideation phase, you should give yourself permission to explore lots of different possibilities so that the right answer can reveal itself.


3. Prototype & Learn

This is where you build a quick prototype, share it immediately, and keep on learning. Since prototypes are meant only to convey an idea—not to be perfect—you can quickly move through a variety of iterations, building on what you’ve learned from the people you’re designing for.

You’ll also find yourself frequently shifting gears through the process, and as you work through its three phases.


You’ll come to an understanding that your first idea doesn’t matter that much and it’s going to change. And that’s good. As long as you’re learning, it’s not a true failure.


Iteration keeps you nimble, responsive, and trains you focus on getting the idea and, after a few passes, every detail just right. If you aimed for perfection each time you built a prototype or shared an idea, you’d spend ages refining something whose validity was still in doubt.

In almost 7 years of work with enterprise software, I’ve successfully used the human-centered design process to create products, services, experiences, and social enterprises where people and their desires are at the core.

📌 Takeaways

  • Make it. Failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. Designing experiments, prototypes, and interactions and testing them is at the heart of human-centered design.

  • Thomas Edison put it well when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And for human-centered designers, sorting out what won’t work is part of finding what will.

  • Fail early to succeed sooner. The point is to put something out into the world and then use it to keep learning, keep asking, and keep testing. When human-centered designers get it right, it’s because they got it wrong first.

  • Most of UX challenges are invisible. The act of making something (through prototyping) reveals opportunities and complexities that you’d never have guessed were there.

  • If you’re spending the bulk of your time looking at sketches, wireframes or discussing static pages, you’re making way too many assumptions. Prototype your hypothesis, share it with others, and learn from it. Rinse and repeat.

  • Don’t be obsessed with processes too much. People forget that Progress over Process matters more than vice-versa. It happens a lot with many methodologies such as Agile or Scrum.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Gilev is a UX Strategy consultant with experience leading a variety of complex projects in B2C, and B2B organizations.