Author: Nejat Seçkin Oral (Product Designer at Vizibl)
If we ask people what software products they enjoy using the most in their daily life, it’s a safe bet that enterprise software would not be on the list. There are many reasons for this, one being that the users of B2B software are usually not the ones who buy it. Sadly, it’s more common that the company buys a software solution and the employees (or customers) have to suffer for it. There are several more reasons I’ve encountered during my time as a designer in the tech industry, but this is the most common and most painful one.
Software solutions are usually sold to businesses by other software companies with no UX in mind at all, because most of them don’t even have a competitor in the field. Or sometimes the companies who are in the buyer position just don’t know any better (and that’s okay).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the aesthetics at all. I’m talking about the actual functional experience. Whether you’re an employee of the business or an end user of a white labeled app, the software you’re interacting with should have a value proposition and it’s supposed to be realising that value in the best way possible.
Nowadays, we hear companies giving speeches about ”Digital transformation” everywhere. This is a good sales hook but it’s a no brainer in 2020 if you ask my honest opinion. What’s more important is adapting to new trends and needs in the rapidly changing social distancing landscape. When you move your business to the digital world, you must adhere to established user experience standards and best practices. These standards include accessibility rules and it’s not something that can be a second thought, unless you want to make your platform a worse place for a portion of your users and get a fine because of it.
I know some people are worried about pricing when it comes to getting your hands on an enterprise level software solution with a decent experience, but when you think about it, it’s almost always a solid long term investment for your business. It’s quite simple, if your employees spend more time than they need to complete a task, you lose money in the long run. The faster they do it, the more time they get back, which can be spent elsewhere. When a piece of software is not working properly, what you end up with is just sunk cost and unnecessarily stressed employees. UX can never be an after-thought, and if you try to cut corners by ignoring it, you have to realize that somebody else definitely will jump in and show them that it can be done better. Do it right or don’t do it at all.
Simple Suggestions to Create a Better Experience as a B2B Software Company
First, let’s start with the basics. No matter who you are, whether an end user of a white label app or an employee of the buyer company (or a part of the actual product team), never ever settle for ”It works”. In the past, when I’ve argued that some B2B apps don’t even achieve the bare minimum in terms of functional design, I’ve heard responses such as:
- But it works?
- What else do you expect?
- Maybe they didn’t have a budget to hire a designer..?
It’s actually one of the biggest differences between B2C and B2B products. B2C products are practically always exposed to bigger audiences and they’re held to different standards by users because, as Jakob’s Law states: users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. Yet, most of the B2B products can get away with screens full of excessive buttons that look exactly the same, with no information hierarchy, no present navigation, or my personal favourite data tables that are barely readable because of tiny font sizes.
Here’s how I think about it. Don’t try to break rules before learning them. Why? Because it’s actually more time consuming to go AWOL on your own instead of following best practises and industry guidelines. Not only you’re spending more of your limited resources, but you’re making it even harder by going ”custom”.
Software development is already hard enough without reinventing the wheel. Simply follow industry guidelines and best practises if you’re unsure. Believe me, it’s enough to get started. I know some of you are imagining vast libraries of visual components as soon as you hear the word ”guidelines”. But, if you take a closer look you’ll see that all they’re doing is providing you with the tools you need to create a decent user experience and teach you why you shouldn’t just put buttons all over the place then call it a day. Below is a screenshot from the Apple iOS Human Interface Guidelines. These companies already spent years of time and millions of dollars to identify patterns. You just need to copy their homework and apply the best practices.
Last but not least, what you can easily do is to just listen. I know it sounds cheesy but, I’m not talking about user testing or planned user research with big budgets. What I’m telling you is to just listen. Feedback doesn’t even have to be coming from the end users themselves. No matter where it’s coming from, you just need to listen and observe. If you encourage listening in your company culture, you’re going to see that everybody has tons of ideas that the business would easily benefit from. Being a good listener has no downside and is completely free. Especially in B2B products, professional services teams usually tend to provide the best feedback and insights if they’re given the freedom of speech, since they’re the pioneers on the frontline. At Vizibl, our beloved PS team knows both the platform and our users like the back of their hands. We at the design team always make sure to get feedback from them first, before we get ready for stakeholder sign-offs.
At Vizibl, we have a Problem Statement template that’s accessible to anyone in the company and nobody needs a pre-permission to use it. What you do is simply fill out the form, give more details about the problem, either that the platform is causing you or a problem the platform isn’t solving, and that’s all. This way, everybody in the company is given a platform to raise potential problems, provide feedback or new ideas and most importantly, take ownership, as autonomy is at the core of our culture.
I hope this article was helpful and that we can start seeing more enterprise level software with better user experiences. When you think about the current acceleration of technology and how fast we’re improving as humankind, you realize that it was all possible because some people didn’t settle for ”enough”, instead they always strived for ”better” and that’s what we need to do collectively. Basic functional design shouldn’t even have to be a topic to talk about anymore, what we should be talking about is what to build on top of it and how to proceed forward.
As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to hit me up 👋🏻
Author: Nejat Seçkin Oral(Product Designer at Vizibl)