Enterprise design sets the bar higher than ever before

As a design recruiter, one of the most notable trends of late has been the ever-increasing standards in enterprise design.

Companies like Slack, Dropbox, and Asana have substantially raised the bar for the level of functionality and user delight that's now expected from enterprise products. Here, we take a quick look at why the role of design has become more prominent for these companies and advise how they can be competitive and attract the best enterprise design talent.

Why the standard for enterprise design was generally lower than consumer design

The old school approach was to design for the business case, not the end user. The C-suite would generally choose the platform employees would use, focusing primarily on the promise of increased efficiency and lower costs over ease of use.

Traditionally, the user experience of enterprise products was not a priority. Most of these applications had complex workflows, served a small group, and faced limited competition.

If the first version of an enterprise product was released to the market with mediocre design and the company renewed subscriptions for the product, it reinforced a vicious cycle that design was not needed.

Additionally, it was an expensive, onerous, and complex process for a company to switch to a different platform driving vender lock, even if more user-friendly products were now available.  

What changed?

There were several factors that contributed to this change. Some of the major players in enterprise design, like Google, generated a suite of enterprise products matching the standards of their consumer counterparts.

In my opinion, the most impactful change was the introduction of Software as a Service, and how this changed the decision maker.

With the SaaS model, users were able to bypass company IT departments and their sales cycles and choose products on their own. More importantly, small sets of users were able to choose products for themselves without impacting the larger enterprise or asking for permission.

As companies were able to rely on dependable revenue from monthly SaaS charges and a growth in self-service signups (versus long sales cycles previously) more developers were able to enter niche industries.

It's becoming more widespread, especially in the Bay Area, for teams to be given the choice of what platforms they use. The end user was now the decision maker.

Because of this transition, new companies like Slack started building enterprise products with a completely different approach. These products required little or no training, were intuitive, and employees at companies used them because they helped them work more efficiently (which in turn was also beneficial to the company).

Advice to enterprise startups

Invest in design at an early stage and ensure that you have a designer as part of the founding team (or as one of your first hires as a company).  If there are fully built out product management and engineering teams and then you try to hire a designer, this sends two clear messages to designers:

  1. They are not valued in the product development process.

  2. If they were to join they would have an uphill battle to prove the value of design thinking.

Give design "a seat at the table". The most senior level person in product management and engineering should be a peer to that of design.

Additionally, ensure that your interview process is efficient. Share pertinent information with your recruitment consultant so that top candidates can make an informed decision about your company. For example, designers may ask who the role reports to, how design contributes to overall business goals, and what teams design regularly collaborates with.

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