Enterprise Interaction Design?


The flip side is also true. There are people inside enterprise organisations who are designing and building products and services that don’t have those problems (and have an entirely different set of their own).

I’m with Jared. I can’t see a pattern in the way my design practices change for larger organisations. Because the design problems within the enterprise (hell — within the same enterprise) are so varied. I can’t spot subset that I apply within the enterprise context.

If you’re gonna use the Enterprise label I think it’s better to think about the community of practitioners in that space, rather than trying to find unique design practice problems up front. I do think that community often has different needs — but not so much on the design practice front. For me the interesting bit about design in the enterprise is the bit @daveixd doesn’t walk to talk about :wink: Namely

I’m not interested in the politics, and relationship management or other soft skills that change, but the actual design of systems meant for users within large scale organizations.

Because those are the wicked problems I have when working with larger orgs. The politics and relationship management side when you hit large companies feel very different to me. My big problems with larger orgs isn’t doing the design. It’s trying to figure out how to help the organisation get to a place where the design can be done.


Not that I don’t think they aren’t important. I said that in the original post, b/c they were obvious to me (not to solve, but that they exist) so I was trying to focus the conversation on craft.


I find it hard to separate the conversation about politics and management from the conversation about craft. They’re interdependent. Being able to get the work done is part of doing the work. The constraints of politics and relationships and project structure affect the kind of design work we can do. And the kind of design practices we work with pushes back or aligns with those constraints.

I think Conway’s Law applies to Interaction Design as much as it does to Software Design. For example I don’t think structurally distributed organisations like Spotify and Amazon ‘do design’ in the same way that more monolithic organisations like Oracle or Bank of America do. For good or bad the way that companies like Apple and Microsoft do design is as much a factor of the politics and management structure as it is the craft of any particular practices.


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.

Let’s explore.

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.


As an insider at both MSFT and AMZN, I can attest to the truth of this. And I’ll add in that the product creation process has a large influence as well on how design gets done.


I suppose the biggest difference is that most of the enterprise users
have to use the software for their daily work, they don’t have a choice,
where consumer software is chosen by the individual. I’m not sure off
hand how that’s influenced my design choices, but I’m sure it has in
some way.

Potty Training


I stumbled upon this discussion late as well, and I frankly didn’t read all through it yet. But having thought a lot about what design and enterprise might have to do with each other, I thought I jump in to create some more confusion. At eda.c we have the term in our name and explore this question since 2009. We spent the last 5 years exchanging with professions such as change/transformation management, enterprise architecture and digital workplace, and outcomes include a book, a conference, tools and stuff. So in a nutshell here is the latest and greatest thinking: we now think it is not (just) about enterprise as a context, or as a class of software - that would be adopting the IT definition of the word. It becomes meaningful as a shift in the playing field for design.

A useful definition is to see enterprise as a purposeful, daring and challenging endeavour (that’s one of the dictionary meanings). That endeavour aims to shift some existing ecosystem, and designing for it means designing everything needed to make success more likely. A company, a startup, a product launch, a university, the single european sky project or world peace are enterprises. Some have a large legal entity, some multiple, some don’t. But they all aim to have impact on a large and complex ecosystem.

I like to use Velib here in Paris as an example, a public bicycle system meant to make people bike rather than drive cars or take the métro. Now if I am an Interaction Designer, I will of course care about the cyclists using that system first, but my initial brief will be (sadly) limited to the app or website. In user research it turns out that the biggest problem is bike availability outside the centre and up hill. This has to do with the way the ecosystem (Paris) is structured and behaves. I cannot actually design for a good UX or good interactions without tackling that problem. I can try to address it in my apps and sites, but impact will be limited.

To really have impact I need to address the way bikes are being distributed (business processes), how repair and transport teams work together (org design), how information is shared (internal info systems/“enterprise software”). I also could work on influencing the way people use it through communication and branding or cultural change initiatives. I need to design for a multitude of actors, systems and aspects. Things outside of scope for even most Service Design initiatives, but key if we want to make design a strategically relevant discipline for our/our clients’ enterprises.

Now I sincerely hope this thread has not already died =)

PS I can’t help to post a little plug: there are many practices, methods, tools from related disciplines we can learn from, and we will organise a second 2nd edition of the Intersection Conference in 2015 to do just that. This event aims to bring people together interested in Strategic Enterprise Design. Location will be somewhere in Europe, some time in spring, please get in touch if interested! http://intersectionconf.com - this is last year’s site with videos.


Great stuff, Milan. Thanx for posting. I like where you’re going here.
Question: Your definition of “Enterprise” feels to be what I might call Service Design and looking at Intersection’s speaker list last year it definitely feels that way. Of course, SD is just a POV of design, so I’m curious what perspectives you are bringing here.

Further, as an aside, so you know Rosenfeld Media and Rackspace have partnered together to create the Enterprise User Experience conference to take place May 13-15, 2015 in San Antonio, TX, USA. (might help your planning)


Perhaps part of the answer lies in:

  • Our ability to see a system at play
  • Our ability to deconstruct what appears to be complex
  • How we can design cross disciplinary teams to help come up with better solutions

Navigating through the system to get answers to help the system seems to be one of the harder challenges.

How do we design to help that?

Not sure we can design for Enterprise without understanding the overlapping system realities that make up Enterprise.



Hi Dave
one interesting thing that happened after publishing Intersection is that many people approached me after reading, and said “this is a good intro to [insert my field here]”. Because of the overlap of enterprise aspects, IxD, SD, UX, IA, CX practitioners see this stuff as their purview, but also Enterprise and Business Architecture, Process and Organisational Design, Branding and Change, and the good old Design Thinking of course.

A keynote speaker at the last year’s SDN conference said that SD initiatives tend to “fizzle out”. Many blueprints, journey maps etc land in a drawer or on a shared drive, and fall short of real impact on the enterprise. Also, SD tends to scope their work on a single offering and focus on the customer (which is good), but when appreciating enterprise complexity you need to go beyond that, a suitable design challenge might be more open and less service driven.

As for Intersection, about one half of our speakers are people you don’t find yet at SD events, contributing insights on governance, modelling techniques and tools, complexity, systems, multi-stakeholder engagement, viable org design, process elicitation, operational rules and decisions… I can recommend some blogs, videos and resources or share some more detailed thinking offline if you are interested. I presented 5 years in a row at a London conference on EA and BPM, but we designers are still rare birds there. But we are definitely making progress.


IMHO #1 problem in enterprise design is so called cross-channel UX, when user could start task or workflow from one device and finish on another. Those devices are old good laptops/PCs, smartphones, tablets. Soon wearables. Probably not TVs. Interaction must be smooth, even if technology is totally different: there is web on phones and there is no room for web browser on wrist gadgets. It is related to scale, all those users will try to use the same app/service from all devices possible. Hence our task is to guarantee consistency across all those channels.