The most dishonest meme in all of design is the “Your Companies App” labeling a clunky digital interface with tons of buttons and that of Google with just a search bar and Apple with just a button.
While the call to simplicity is extremely valid, its co-mingling of visual design versus feature and function design is what is dishonest. No product or design team wants to build a bloated app. However, the dynamics of B2B, especially in enterprise, make simple elegant and uniform designs challenging.
I’m sure that thousands of reasons for scope creep in B2B products exist, but I’d like to focus on two:
- Cross functional collaboration
- Exogenous constraints
By example, something that nearly anyone can relate to is the simplicity of personal decision-making compared to the dynamic participatory decision-making process within a family.
In my personal life, I have plenty of control. I can make decisions pretty freely and if I make a bad decision, I’m prepared to live with the consequences. If I make a decision that precludes me from doing some things in favor of much easier workflows to focus on what truly matters for me, then that’s mine to figure out.
As a member of a company, much like being in a family, you need to make compromises based on what truly matters to everyone.
A good example of this can be seen in vacations. Many times, in my single life, I’d select a vacation optimized for what I love the most – surfing. My vacation would be the Google Product or Apple Product of one-dimensional optimization. Take a rickety old boat, with mediocre food, to a rock in the middle of the ocean, but the surf is better than anywhere I have ever seen. On the other-hand, when planning a vacation for a family, a collaborative approach is reached. These activities would be fun for the kids. My partner wants a relaxing spa day. And, I’d like to have better than average surf. A balanced, collaborative solution develops that maximizes or optimizes many “departments” utility functions. And, as the product experience designer, you may not really understand what really matters to all stakeholders. So, if a product can be configured to the max, then you know it will work.
Further, in my personal life, I’m able to lift any constraints. If I want to try a new digital wallet, I’m willing to switch credit cards and use a Visa card instead of my Amex with relatively little effort. I make a decision and I go. At a larger company, making the decision to use a different type of card for procurement is not your decision. It might take months to work through how to handle that scenario. Exogenous constraints or things out of your control are much more common in large companies.
These two categories for organizational complexity in B2B (enterprise) decision-making map into the software. How do you build a product that makes it easy for a line of business owner to adopt your product or service? You make it so that the product will work for many different constraints placed on him or her. You make a product that can be configured to enable success even if that comes at the expense of simplicity or elegance.
Sure, Google and Apple have intuitive, appealing designs. This is reflected in their Market Capitalizations and place in our collective minds as pillars of design excellence. But let’s not confuse all of this great work on the part of Apple and Google as an indictment of Enterprise B2B SaaS.
Enterprise designers have a really tough job. And their success or failure can’t be mapped into how “pretty” their visual design is. It’s much better to focus on how a product meets the needs of their real customers. And if you’re a UX, Design, or Product person at a B2B company and need some help taking customer feedback and extracting insights from those, then I am pretty sure you can find some software solutions to help you manage that process ;-).