28 July 2017
Designing modern enterprise
software at Boxever
Traditionally speaking, enterprise software hasn’t always been at the forefront of exhibiting cutting edge user experiences, and it is easy to see why. Bloated software created by siloed, engineering led teams and a lack of understanding of users, means mature enterprise applications are often bulky, inflexible and difficult to use.
However, the rules have changed for the many enterprise products that are appearing today. Mere functionality is no longer good enough and strong user experience is becoming a real differentiator for potential customers.
At Boxever, we have invested heavily in the user experience of our app. We believe in build, measure, learn cycles throughout our research and development phases that mean we identify core needs and shape the product to solve them iteratively. We are always working to ensure that our user experience is world class and focussed on what makes users, as well as their teams, successful.
User Experience Design at Boxever is a little over a year old now, and, at this point, it seems a good time to reflect on some of the things we have learned about designing a world class enterprise application.
Users are not all created equal
Core Boxever users are fundamentally technical individuals, but not everybody is using our product to solve the same problems and, as a result, not everybody requires the same level of functionality. Boxever supports teams with different roles, and therefore, different goals.
For example, a marketing engineer will use Engage to build and optimise customer experiences. On the other hand, a marketing manager will tend to be concerned with reporting and analytics on these customer experiences.
It is vital when designing a feature or workflow that we think about all of these users as a spectrum of goals and skill sets. We look to design solutions that seamlessly scale in order to allow all users to complete tasks without exposing too much complexity when it is not required or dumbing down the user experience to a point that users lose flexibility and functionality.
To do this, it is useful to plot personas as a matrix of users alongside their goals, challenges and frustrations. It is also useful to analyse which parts of your product are used by each of these personas.
Users who are new to your product will tend to exhibit very different needs from the product, than an expert user who may be looking for advanced optimisation of AI powered decisioning. Speaking to your users to map their goals, proficiencies and corresponding frustrations will always reveal new insights.
Simple isn’t always the right answer
There is a difference between a specialist application for a skilled user base and software that is just complex. Boxever Engage is a specialist application for specialist users – and we passionately believe it should be. Achieving true omni-channel decisioning at scale is no mean feet. Development, testing (at multiple levels), deployment and optimisation all need to be supported for effective personalisation.
Very often, product teams talk about simplicity without defining what simple means for their users. Usually this will be very different from what your product team believe simple to be. This is where user research is vital. We have worked a lot with our primary users to understand their mental models. We are often surprised by how our initial ideas of what is intuitive or simple, turns out to be too inflexible or doesn’t allow them to see enough of how the system is working in a particular way. So, meeting user expectations should always be the goal.
Focus on little steps towards success
Designing for enterprise software can be a little like changing the engine of a plane while it is is mid-flight. At Boxever, we’ve learned that evolution is better than revolution. Small smart changes in the right direction are the most effective way to move a complex enterprise product forward. This lessens risk and ensures that changes result in systematic and consistent improvements.
It is vital however that every-time you make a change, you measure the result to understand the impact, for better or for worse. Building effective feedback loops, either data led or through qualitative research, will act as proof that your design updates are working. It is also the best barometer as to what your next steps should be.
Measure twice, cut once
In enterprise UX the stakes are high. In other contexts, moving a feature can be frustrating for users – in enterprise products, this can have very real costs. Changing or removing what seem like small features, can have unforeseen consequences.
It is important to remember that your team aren’t your users. Speak to different users to not just understand how they use a feature, but also the problem they are trying to solve, and the context in which they use it.
Try to understand what jobs users are actually using your app for
One of the most revealing things you can do is to conduct research to understand what users are actually using your product for. This can often reveal unmet needs within your product.
Boxever’s flexibility means it can be used to achieve any number of customer experiences across channels. This is a real strength in our product, but means it can be difficult for us as a product team to know how users will use a new feature. To this end, we utilise our design partnerships and discovery sessions with users to understand in great detail, how they use features as well as the problems they are trying to solve. Insights from these allow us to plan new workflows that support a user’s core goals more appropriately.
Here are a small selection of best practice tips we have learned in the last year. Designing Enterprise applications with a lot of moving parts can be challenging and at times can even seem daunting. However, these simple rules can help you build a foundation for success within your organisation.
– Not all users are created equal and therefore cannot be treated as one and the same.
– Don’t just design for simple, conduct research to understand what simple really means to your users.
– Make many small incremental improvements, not revolutionary changes to your product.
– Before making any changes, always understand not just how a feature works, but why it is valuable to your user.
– Always talk to your users to understand how they are actually using your product in the wild.
Over the coming months, we will be rolling out a raft of new updates and improvements as we endeavour to build a world class user experience. As part of this journey, we will also be reaching out to users for feedback on their experience using the Boxever Platform.
Product UX Designer
Simon is Product UX Designer at Boxever – a market-leading personalisation platform that uses data and AI to make every customer interaction smarter. Boxever is recognised by Gartner as a leading player in personalisation and ranked by Forbes alongside Google, Apple and Amazon as one of the most powerful examples of AI in use today.