Beyond Utility - The Role of User Experience in Enterprise Software

Frameworks to think about role of user experience when creating enterprise software

During the first 2-3 years of my career, I used to think that enterprise software can get by with average UX (user experience). I don’t believe that anymore. It depends a lot on the type of work the end-user does. The extent of involvement of managers and executives also plays a part.

Let me clarify what I mean by enterprise and user experience here.

  • “Enterprise software” refers to software which are used for business use-cases. Tools like Notion, GitHub or Figma which have enterprise versions but are frequently used outside of a workplace qualify too.
  • User experience refers to how a user feels when interacting with a system. It goes beyond utility. It includes the emotions of joy, empowerment and satisfaction.

When thinking about this topic, I came across a related blog post by Calvin French-Owen, Segment’s co-founder and ex-CTO. He differentiates B2B UX based on the sales motion (top-down or bottom-up). The UX will match the buyer, not the end-user. If the practitioner is the end-user, UX and aesthetics matter significantly in the buying decision. Visibility and reporting takes precedence over UX for an executive. That makes a lot of sense.
I explore adjacent theories. My opinions are loosely held and I believe there’s something interesting as well as useful to be found along this line of thought.

UX, sales motion and type of work

Building on Calvin’s idea, I hypothesise that a bottom-up approach works out better on average for software for people directly building products. Hence, software meant for them has better UX on average too.

Examples of builder roles include designers, developers or data scientists. Individual contribution with low high-level stakeholder intervention in day-to-day goal-setting is more common. Pain points that can have an outsized impact are often discovered during daily work rather than meetings.
In contrast, visibility is critical in software meant for roles such as sales or customer success. Pain points that are prioritised to be solved by tools are often aligned on in meetings involving managers and executives.

As a result, a designer or developer is likely to try and find a tool to make their lives better. Preliminary adoption and validation can be done more easily by an end-user in such cases. The bottom-up approach kicks in and UX becomes important.

How much do they care?

There may also be a correlation between how much a person cares about their work and how much they will think actively about improving the UX of their tools.

If you are creating bottom-up software, this correlation can help you qualify users. People who deeply care about their day-to-day work in addition to having a painful problem will provide you with the best possible feedback. They are more likely to have tried hacky solutions too. You can learn from them. The business implications aside, startups can be good early product users for the same reason. It will be harder to satisfy these users but you will have higher chances to make a good product that works for even the laziest of users.

Do people in certain roles tend to care more about their work on average? I don’t know but it’s an interesting question. That can relate this hypothesis with the previous one.

In conclusion

My hypotheses are based on observations and experiences. More than being definite, it can open up interesting lines of thought. No matter who you are building for, user experience is becoming more important. It will be interesting to see the direction our software experiences take with the advent of AI too. It’s an exciting time to build!

Thanks to Ankita Mathur for reading drafts of this post.

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