Unlocking business autonomy: Why enterprise apps deserve and require exceptional UX for success

If you think about it, it’s peculiar how we expect software designed for business purposes to be complicated, to require extensive training, need a lot of concentration to use, and require extensive agility to navigate.

Why can’t B2B apps be as simple and straightforward as their B2C counterparts? Why can’t business users, who use software applications for hours on end, enjoy and even be empowered by these applications, helping to create the autonomous enterprise that has been identified as today’s optimal organizational model?

The answer to these questions is more complex than you might anticipate. The simple answer is yes, even processes for high-value, complex transactions can be simplified, but getting there involves an extensive design process, much more than just simple visual changes, such as adding colors and fonts.

There’s no need for clunky UX in even the most complex B2B application

The same principle applies to consumer user experience (UX), and it’s even more critical. Steve Jobs famously stated that it’s not our job to give customers what they want, and that instead it’s our job to understand what they’ll want before they even know it. Steve Jobs’ approach produced exceptional, user-friendly products.

If you’ve ever observed a kid effortlessly navigating an iPhone the first time they’ve picked it up, you’ll appreciate the brilliance of all that work. Creating the first iPhone was actually a long and arduous process that involved years of research and numerous missteps. If I had asked you in 1995 to design a device that could function as a phone, camera, music player, and Internet access point, it’s highly unlikely that you would have been able to achieve the level of usability found in iOS in one jump. Even Apple had to go through several iterations before achieving their success.

B2B usability is an even greater challenge, as IT departments often purchase and install third-party enterprise applications without a lot of input from end-users. As a result, users are left with no choice but to accept the software, regardless of whether they find it user-friendly or not. Despite this, there’s no fundamental reason business software should be inherently difficult to use or visually off-putting.

I’d go as far as to say that the enterprise software industry has a responsibility to do a lot better in this area. As someone who has spent years working to optimize software interfaces for optimal user experience, I know it’s not enough to simply talk about “consumerizing” enterprise applications. The “consumerization” of enterprise apps is not as straightforward as just mimicking mobile app aesthetics or transplanting B2C UX ideas into the B2B domain.

In the specialized B2B AI-driven work that my organization performs, we see how crucial it is that the application enables optimal user engagement and effectiveness.

In order to achieve this, apps must always be designed with a well-designed interaction framework, unwavering consistency and clear intuitiveness in order to drive the highest levels of user-friendliness. Achieving this entails interface designers having a thorough understanding of the “mental models” that users bring to the application. If the designers do not comprehend what the user is attempting to accomplish and how the software is conveying that within the user’s pre-existing mental model, the UX will not be as helpful as it could (and really these days should be).

I experienced how small changes in the design can make a big impact at my last company, DocuSign. We found that there was friction when users received emails and were presented with a “call to action” button that said “Sign.” After extensive user testing, we realized that users were interpreting the “Sign” button as a full commitment to a legal agreement which at that point they had not even viewed, which caused a natural resistance. By changing the wording to “Review Document”, something much less committal in the end user’s mental model, we were able to clarify the action and improve user trust in the product.

So to deliver excellent B2B UX, and enable employees to self-serve with confidence, it’s crucial to appreciate the importance of designing for the domain space and understanding how users perceive and interpret actions within an application.

Avoiding cluttered interfaces

In B2B applications, we need to prioritize and progressively disclose functionality or risk inundating the user with too much information or too many choices. Users often have specific tasks that they need to accomplish regularly, but they may also have occasional or more complex tasks that require additional steps. Structuring the functionality in a way that accommodates both primary and secondary use cases is crucial for achieving good user experience.

UX veterans know it is important to pay a lot of attention to cognitive, visual, and motor load when designing great experiences. “Cognitive” load refers to the mental effort required to interpret and use a software application, and if an application requires too much cognitive load it can lead to confusion and frustration where the user feels overwhelmed. It’s therefore important to minimize cognitive load by simplifying interfaces and eliminating unnecessary steps.

“Visual” load, on the other hand, refers to the amount of visual information presented to the user that they need to process. Clearly, a cluttered interface with too many elements can be overwhelming and make it difficult for the user to find what they need. Finally, “motor” load refers to the physical effort required to use a software application. A good UX designer works to minimize motor load by designing interfaces that are easy to navigate and which can be used with minimal physical effort. You can’t really ask regular users to repeatedly click on tiny things on the screen and use extensive hand and wrist movement, for instance.

It’s important for businesses to prioritize the user experience of the software you’re asking them to work for, as the ability to quickly and easily self-serve directly impacts employee productivity and overall satisfaction.

Great user experience leads to delivering on the promise of autonomous

We are entering the autonomous enterprise era where companies are looking to introduce self-serve technologies to replace outdated, inefficient business processes. This vision for going autonomous is simply not possible without great UX.

The reality is, in 2023 there’s really no excuse for enterprise software to be difficult to use. So, ask your enterprise software provider why their app isn’t as easy to use as all the other ones in my life?

And if they tell you that their application does something very “complex” and as a result can’t be packaged as a user-friendly solution, explore alternative suppliers who can.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Matt Malden
Matt Malden
Matt Malden is Chief Product Officer at Globality, an AI-powered autonomous sourcing platform for global enterprises

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