Enterprise Interaction Design?

For my work, Enterprise had a few key characteristics:

  • A separation of chooser and user. Often the systems were procured by IT departments, provisioned and deployed (I’m using their terms on purpose). They did not often prioritize the UX, so UX often suffered in favor of systemic value to the organization. When they came to me at IDEO, they were trying to catch up on UX and improve this systemic value. The systems that nurses, stock traders, and lawyers use are great examples.

  • Business-business, often the interfaces were distinctly not consumer. They were to help people improve the way they ply their trade. Typically the offering was from one business to another, not something people would chose to play with on a weekend, nor use, if not compensated for it.

  • A professional user. Often the tasks, goals, are professional in nature. Often the complexity is such that a naïve user could not understand the system nor make use of it. They are tools, often esoteric, requiring 5-10 years of experience in the field to make good use of. My earlier example of “brand-category manager” is one such. Sales or relationship-manager is a more accessible tool. The latter, is an example of a sophisticated tool I designed for a large financial client - one that I wish I could use today - it would be extremely useful in this highly-networked world. There is a need for more sophisticated tools today for everyday.

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Jack, I think you get it. :wink:

I’m not sold either. I’m sold enough. :wink: (well, obviously, b/c I helped create a conference on the topic).
Why am I sold?

  • B/c every time I go to a generic design conference, I feel like no one is talking about anything I can use b/c it is contextually irrelevant.
  • B/c every time I mention “enterprise” to people working in the deep end of B2B work, they all (ok, not all, but vast majority) say “Amen, brother!” While others kinda shrug and say, what are you talking about?

Do I have the perfect words to articulate it? Nah! I’m ok w/ that.
But just like there are other contexts like Healthcare or Education, I’m OK w/ there being Enterprise.
For me it changes a lot about how I do my practice as a designer compared to when I’ve been working on consumer stuff. I’m still experimenting with how to articulate it in a clear format that others can jibe w/. I’m hoping that by drawing a community of like experiencing practitioners and thinkers together we can maybe come up w/ something, or figure out that we need to move on. Both are more than acceptable answers. Ignoring? Not so much. :wink:

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Well, I don’t believe there’s any difference designing for B2B than for B2C either.

If I show you any random design constraint/context that one would attribute to one of those labels, I can find the same constraint/context in an example of the other.

I think fragmenting into imaginary (not real) contextual labels creates a false taxonomy that people start to believe in. It’s troubling, because it implies that solutions found to work in that contextual label wouldn’t apply outside that label.

If you’re co-creating the conference and labeling it as Enterprise as a marketing trick, then ok. But if you really believe there’s actually a pony in here, then I think you’re leading in the wrong direction.



I can point to many interdependent system relationships in “non-enterprise” design contexts, such as how we’re now integrating 3rd party APIs and OS middleware into our design stack.

Designing for interdependent system relationships is really important and a significant design challenge going forward, but I don’t think it’s unique to anything I’d classify as “enterprise.”

Separation of chooser and user: This happens in “consumer” systems all the time. Did you choose your bank’s software? How about the system that your favorite restaurant uses to make reservations? UX as a priority or not is an artifact of the economics of the ultimate choice - (would you move to a bank with a better online experience? Simple is thinking that. Would you move to a different company that treated you as an employee better by giving you better tools? Lots of people do.) - but this has nothing to do with Enterprise specifically.

Business-Business interfaces are only not consumer because we did a crappy job of justifying that good design is good design, and (possibly almost-criminally) let organizations deliver sub-standard designs to their business customers. Again, companies are realizing that the experience of using the vendor is as important (or more important) than the “features” that vendor provides. Ask anyone who has switched away from SAP in recent years.

Professional users? Are Uber drivers not professional users? Why is the interface on their system more like a consumer-grade system. In fact, what we’re seeing is more and more employees doing professional work demanding better designs - based on what their used to in their non-work world experiences. Look at what the airline pilot unions have insisted for the iPad-based flight tools.

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I think you have a very particulate way of looking at this. Yup, for every example I can think of a B2C, heck a C2C for that example. That’s good! But isn’t it about the wholes, and not the parts?

Let’s take your bank example. Don’t I choose the software? Heck, the software at Citibank is why i stay at Citibank, even though I know they are a very evil organization. The software is NOT part of the choice of the consumer. Isn’t that the big pitch that Simple is making? you can’t do that though for the other side of the teller. has an employee ever a) quit a job b/c they use SuccessFactors? (I know you wanted to, but did you ever pull the trigger?). Has an applicant really never applied b/c of the HR applicant management system? Well, I know some designers who have; and I’m glad they did. But the point is, that choice is not black and white. It is part of a larger system. What is your point of choice in the system? Is it before or after the point of sale, like banking software? Or during the point of sale like airline reservation software? Is it software that isn’t part of the customer experience at all.

Better example of this is did I choose the collection of software that comes w/ my HP printer? Hell, no! but like Internet Explorer that comes w/ Windows, I do have choices to that very same collection in the consumer market, so it “competes” there. it’s advantage is distribution, not in proximity to the customer.

I think you are over reducing here.

But the real question in my mind isn’t whether or not Enterprise is a special context, but does that special context CHANGE how I do things? And quite honestly after many conversations in the co-creation of this conference, I’m torn. Very torn. And that is a good thing, I think. To me whether or not Enterprise is a real thing or not, is a red herring to the overall question, but it is good to know where you stand.

– Dave

Hi Dave:

What are the core elements (say 5-10) of this: practice of interaction design

This helps me understand how this practice fits in the context of an enterprise setting and may provide more clarity on the possible differences.


I’m still working that out, to be honest. And again, I’m not so sure it is different per se.
There seems to be these issues of scale, wickedness (or as Philip Hunter put it, layers of relationships and networks) that seem to manage up. There is more of a need to address systems level thinking, instead of man:machine level thinking. I find that Enterprises are de facto services in their nature.

Some people think that Enterprise just means doing the Non-design stuff differently, but that is the same for all parts of the organization.

I’m finding that to be definitely true as well. But I want to do it in a designerly way. So how? Applying VizThink to change management, change initiation, change success? Prototyping possible futures of the organization, not just of the touchpoints. And of course, you can do the same thing w/ many many consumer related things as well.

I think we actually are missing the tools for really dealing w/ the level of wickedness in deep enterprise solutions, infrastructural elements, etc. Where not just the customer and user are separated but where the user is not even the problem owner.

Here’s what I do know. I go to events that don’t make this distinction and the topics fall flat. They don’t address my personal context and I hear many other people saying the same thing. It also feels like common sense to me.

Why would I ever design software for an ERP system, oil rig, etc., the same way that I design a social network, a travel site, a newspaper, etc?

Maybe I should be, but my mind tells me that is a fools errand. But I’ve been doing Enterprise for so long, maybe I am doing it the same way as Consumer is done. Doesn’t seem that way when I listen to people working in the consumer space.

– Dave

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Thanks Dave.

Perhaps some things to learn from the systems thinking world (and recent discussion here) and Oslo was mentioned - http://systemic-design.net/ (as sent to me this week by Marc Rettig who is attending)

Also been chatting with Steve Portigal about practice and maybe this links into some of your frustrations + opportunities of the types of discussions you are looking to have/learn from around: (thanks to Steve Portigal to help frame):

  • Influencing Your Organization
  • Making Sustainable Change
  • Shifting Towards a LongTerm View
  • Redefining Your Own Individual Goals

Also nice to return to fundementals and what we would like to see in a healthy practice (as influenced by many schools of thought)


Perhaps some clues in here - http://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/the-pitfalls-of-productivity/


Thanx Dan,

I don’t think this is about “org change”. I do think/believe & have observed that the way I need to actually do IxD changes across the continuum complexity of the systems involved, and that there is a grouping of qualities that hit complexity that I would call Enterprise. Systems thinking definitely helps for sure. But I actually think that raw IxD needs to be done differently as well.

– Dave

I’ll admit I don’t really understand your points. You seem to be arguing with me by agreeing to my points.

So, to reiterate:

Most people don’t switch banks because of the online banking software. (That’s why Simple hasn’t gained any traction.) And to your point, most people don’t buy their printer because of the printer’s software. These software choices are forced on them. Forced software choices are not unique to enterprise software.

But the real question in my mind isn’t whether or not Enterprise is a special context, but does that special context CHANGE how I do things? And quite honestly after many conversations in the co-creation of this conference, I’m torn. Very torn. And that is a good thing, I think. To me whether or not Enterprise is a real thing or not, is a red herring to the overall question, but it is good to know where you stand.

Again, I don’t understand your point. If the question isn’t whether Enterprise is a special context or not, how can it not being a special context change the things you do.

And I don’t understand how the question of whether there is such a thing as “enterprise software” be a red herring to a question about how does it make a difference in how you design? If there’s no such thing, it can’t possibly change how you design.

What am I missing here?

What’s an example of “raw IxD” that needs to be done differently in this world of enterprise software you imagine? :smile:

I admit that I’m confusing myself. I do not have clear answers at this time. I’m exploring possibilities and I’m open to your POV. I find it (and I hope this doesn’t come across as attacking) as overly reductionist. Everything can be reduced to everything is the same at some point. Even an apple and an orange share more in common with each other than an antelope or a nebula cluster. But there is value in understanding particularities.

What I find in my own practice is that the scale of complexity, wickedness, proximity of problem owners to system users, to system buyers causes me to change the way I work, how I do it. Etc.

E.g. Part of my goal here at RAX is to not just make something usable, and desirable, etc. but to make it so that it is a platform for those using it directly can bring in others into the system to use it in non-primary, but required ways. It means I’m not just designing for use and direct learning, but for creativity and teaching. I’m sure there are consumer examples that you can think of that have to do this as well, but maybe those contexts can learn from contexts where platform and utility/infrastructure design are the primary purpose.

What I don’t see valuable right now, is a reductionist, “everything is design” perspective b/c that approach has been tried, and for way too many people doesn’t seem to be working. If people are feeling left out, then the question should be why? or what’s missing?

Maybe you have those direct answers, but I don’t think the answer is that these orgs just aren’t “mature” enough. Where I’ve worked in more mature organizations success was better, but still missing a lot of the puzzle.

Basically, I’m not interested in shutting down the conversation (yet).

– Dave

I’m not saying that everything is design.

I’m saying that there are attributes to design, like the ones you pointed out, of scale, wickedness, and proximity.

I’m saying that projects may be a small scale or of large scale, and that you design differently for the scale.

I’m saying that projects may have clear solutions or they may have a large factor of wickedness, and that you design differently for wickedness.

I’m saying that projects may have no issues with proximity, or possibly large issues with proximity, and that you design differently for proximity.

But, mostly what I’m saying is that there is no combination of some intensities of scale, wickedness, and proximity that is unique to Enterprise work. I’m not saying that everything is design. I’m saying that Enterprise isn’t a thing you can design to.

If you want to talk about designing to specific attributes like scale, wickedness, and proximity, (even certain combinations of varying intensities of those attributes), I’m all for it.

Just don’t label it “enterprise” because someone may think that enterprise is something special to design for. And I think we wouldn’t want to mislead those people.

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I completely agree on all you points and I didn’t suggest designing for independent system relationships was special or unique to Enterprise. Not sure where you got that from. I do believe it’s more common for an Enterprise user on a day to day basis.

I will also agree with @daveixd when it comes to context. There are few resources, conferences, presentations that address the context I design in. That context has a lot to do with independent system relationships.

Stakeholders I work with refer to these types of solutions as Enterprise. I’m not about to start a terminology war and insist the language be changed because that wouldn’t be listening. It would also be irrelevant. I believe other designers who work within this context understand Enterprise to be the same. I want to have conversations with those designers, so I believe using the term can attract those designers to the conversation. Using familiar language to frame specific design conversations around is the value I see in what Dave is trying to communicate.


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Ryan, this is where I disagree. I don’t believe other designers have the same understanding as to what Enterprise means. So, when you’re attracting them to the conversation, what conversation is that exactly?

Here is one to start. https://medium.com/@patrickdeuley/what-im-struggling-with-66e75fe707f

There are plenty more, but I don’t have rights to publish more than one link.

I get that. Every one of Patrick’s issues is a real design issue.

However, not a single one of them is unique to Enterprise software.

Let’s talk about the real issues instead of trying to apply an imaginary label to try to make them unique.

We are a group that loves to assign labels to things. Let’s reserve our labels that have a unique meaning in the world.

You could show me 10 articles like this, all by designers inside large organizations. Maybe there would be some overlap in issues like functional complexity and single authenticated sign-on across applications. But people who aren’t designers that are inside large organizations deal with these issues too.

I still contend there is no group of design issues that define enterprise (and more important, are unique to enterprise).

Have I beaten this horse enough?