First, I’ll admit I’m late to this (despite being quoted) and haven’t absorbed all of it. Glad to see it happening. Kind of wishing there wasn’t rejection before willingness to explore. There’s little risk in letting the idea of something different float around some. There’s more in shutting down something that’s just getting started.
To further what I consider a worthwhile investigation, I’ll offer an analogy, thinking about design as roughly equivalent to creating meals. Both are done in many ways, in many contexts, with a wide variety of considerations. Looking at a continuum of food delivery, most if not all of us are familiar with or can imagine the preparation of a meal at home, preparing fast food or food truck meals, working in a sit-down dining kitchen, and creating a high-end, large catered meal.
Across all, there are certainly many commonalities. Key differences, though, change the way each is approached and done relative to the others. The choices and risks of the work involved vary considerably, and it has less to do with the specifics of who is eating and more to do with why, when, where, and what’s at stake relative to the scale involved.
At home, food sources are somewhat limited, yet choices can be highly personalized. This ratio typically starts to reverse along the rest of the continuum. This impacts both chef and diner. In addition, in the home risk is relatively low. A ruined dish becomes pizza night. At a catered event, a bad meal becomes a ruined evening. Related, experimentation and iteration are much more feasible at home or at a restaurant. Catering requires immense amounts of upfront planning and has multiple points of no change and no return. And failure comes with tremendous implications.
As it is probably clear by now, I find that designing for enterprise contexts to be much like high-end, large scale catering—a job I’ve done, by the way, along with the others. Yes, in the end, from the POV of a single person using “enterprise” software, there seems to be little difference. Just like between sitting down to dinner at home or at a fancy wedding. Details change in matters of degree and refinement, but the experience is very translatable, except perhaps in terms of length of use and motivation, which are usually very different in a work environment from personal.
For the people who made sure you could eat, though, there’s a universe of difference. Timelines, scale of coordination, complexity, risk, ability to iterate in situ, consequences of failure, variation, and more all differ logarithmically for catering and for enterprise design.
Does this mean we as designers don’t think similar thoughts, use similar tools, or have similar goals? Of course not. But there are important differences in level of and approach to the work, and a person who works wonders in their own kitchen can’t just jump into delivering feasts for a thousand. Maybe it’s very challenging to see the differences and why they make a difference. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
P.S. Drawing in my allusion to layers of relationships and networks that came from an exchange Dave and I had on twitter. Of course these things exist in building small scale consumer products, but the considerations of designing for them, around them, and despite them often change greatly for the enterprise designer. And in multiple ways. A single designer may be responsible for a sliver of a huge product, for example just the formatting in Excel. Or one could oversee the integration of multiple new and legacy systems trying to provide a somewhat coherent and connected experience to customers of a banking merger. These situations seem to require different ways of thinking and acting when compared to designing for more straightforward “consumer” products.