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04 September
11 min read

Enterprise UI That Works: 7 Not-So-Obvious Lessons From World Leading Companies

Enterprise UI can decide whether your enterprise app will be loved by millions or hated by a handful of your employees. We have 7 lessons to back that up.
by AndrewEditorial Team at Lucky Duck

For years we’ve been talking about building interfaces and apps that people will like.

What about building interfaces that companies will like?

Enterprise UI can be a vague term, but it’s actually easy to define: it’s an interface that helps enterprises achieve their goals.

Thing is, enterprises have many different goals.

Whereas a B2C fitness app helps individuals get in shape, an enterprise app should help companies with hundreds employees and different job titles to achieve unique business goals.

No wonder enterprise apps can be incredibly complex with hundreds of features and workflows. Often that comes at a cost of cluttered, poorly-designed interfaces that workers can’t stand.

It seemed like in the past not many enterprise developers really cared about that. Until products like Slack, SAP, and Quickbooks demonstrated that enterprise interfaces can be both efficient and pleasant to use. And then they took the world over.

We’re entering an era when if your enterprise UI is not consumer-grade, you're out of competition. According to McKinsey, design-led companies boast with 32% increased revenue and 56% growth rate.

In this article we’ll provide you with 7 Enterprise UI examples from leading world companies that applied the most recent UX/UI techniques to their products, boosted their bottom line, and knocked their competition out of park.

Want to learn how? Let’s dive in.

1. The Art Of Subtle Gamification: Slack

When we talk about enterprise gamification, we think leaderboards, badges, and interactive tutorials.

Slack has none of the above. And yet with hundreds of thousands of companies as its clients, Slack is one of the most subtle and wildly successful cases of enterprise gamification of our time.

But why?

Because gamification is not about taking specific techniques from games. It’s about taking fun and applying it to something that is not fun.

Slack made work communication fun.

There are many components to the “fun factor” of Slack, let’s see the ones directly tied to its UI:

  • Slack’s casual and playful interface shifted our perception that work apps have to be serious and boring.

Left: mIRC chat had the majority of features Slack offered on its launch.

  • Slack introduced an emoji-based reaction system in a working environment.

Reactions were added by skype only in 2017, two years after Slack became one of the leaders of messengers market

  • Slack’s audio notifications sound as if they were taken directly from a board game. Tss Tu Tu Tu.

Every small detail matters. Slack sound notifications have become iconic and haven’t been changed since the release.

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  • Notifications feel like a side quest from a computer game.

Go through all of them and clear your quest log.

There are several other components that hook people on Slack: dynamic message feed, short learning curve, integrations...

But no one can deny that Slack’s UI played a crucial part in making Slack feel like a fun app, a new and addictive venture. In fact, Slack became so addictive that for some teams it’s more productive to be off Slack. On June 27, 2018 when Slack was down for a few hours the time tracking software recorded a productivity uptick for its 12,000 users.

And yet companies love Slack. Slack gamified the work communication for hundreds of thousands of enterprises, including 65 companies from Fortune 100.

If you still there’s a coincidence, remember that the company behind Slack was initially developing a multi-player game. A Slack was born out of its chat client.

2. Enterprise Navigation Simplified: Quickbooks

Enterprises applications often include tens if not hundreds of features placed within a single interface. And developers keep adding new features to the old ones, bloating a simple UI into something so intimidating that only a trained NASA pilot wouldn’t be scared of.

At some point you may start thinking that it’s ok for enterprise applications to have complicated interfaces. After all, some enterprise apps are really complicated.

Well, that’s not the truth.

Before it’s redesign in 2013, Quickbooks, an accounting software, featured a navigation system that consisted of more than 50 tabs.

Quickbooks UI before the redesign, 2013

After a thorough user research the company set a clear goal: make the product more usable and intuitive so that new users had an easier time getting acquainted with the product.

Following a series of redesigns and tests product designers at Quickbook managed to reduce the number of tabs to just 10.

Quickbooks UI now

Here are some of the outcomes of the redesign:

Quickbooks went from 250,000 users to over 700,000 in a year after the redesign

There was a 23% increase in first visit task completion

NPS increase of 9 points

33% increase of adding 3rd party paid services to Quickbooks by users

3. Building On What’s Already Built: Google Docs

If you want to make an impact with your enterprise product and engage a wide audience, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and reimagine interfaces every time.

In fact, taking something that already works and adding on top of it might be the million-dollar strategy for your company.

Before Google Apps entered the market of document management, Microsoft Office apps barely had any competition.

But here’s the thing: Microsoft Office software was that great in terms of usability or clean interface. It’s just that millions of people used the apps daily and didn’t know better.

So instead of trying to come up with a completely new way of work, Google designed their applications more or less similar to Microsoft ones.

The only thing they added was the key differentiator: online collaboration.

Google docs current market share is at around 15%, but if you look at how Microsoft designs the latest version of Office application, you'll see that the tables have turned, and now it’s the blue giant trying to make its apps look more clean and minimalistic.

4. Taking Enterprise User Research To The Next Level: SAP

SAP is one of the most successful enterprise companies of our century, and it’s tough to point out exactly what amounts to that level of success and ubiquity in the enterprise sector.

But one thing is clear: SAP applies extreme effort to learning how their corporate clients are using their software.

A user researcher in our team even went down into a mine once to observe users underground.

As Esther Blankenship, User Experience Evangelist at SAP shared with Forbes, “Because enterprise UX designers craft the software that companies use to run their business-critical processes in many different industries, countries, cultures, and languages, their impact is real, global and vital.”

Zack Frazier, Design System Operations Lead at SAP, expounds, “The scale makes enterprise UX the ultimate challenge for a designer. There are problems to be solved all around you and countless ways to improve the lives of millions. If you embrace the opportunity, you can learn a lot.”

The company’s revenue has been steadily growing since 2001, now amounting to almost 27 billion euros. On top of that SAP leveraged its extensive user research experience and created SAP Fiori Design Guidelines, a design language aimed at bringing great UX to enterprise applications.

Fiori won a Red Dot Design Concept Award in 2015, and since then allowed SAP to become a natural extension of many enterprise applications that were developed using the guidelines.

5. Custom Enterprise Data Flows: Exponea

Almost 90% of all data has been created within the recent two years. But the more important trend on the rise is democratization of data. Simply put, big numbers and analytics are no longer in exclusive possession of data analysts -- every enterprise user has to learn and use data insights in their work.

With that comes a modern challenge: how do you design data-heavy enterprise applications that make it easy for users to access, understand, and use data?

Meet Exponea.

Just a few years back Exponea started as a gaming analytics engine. But the team quickly realized that there’s a lack of customer insights platforms on the market.

And there’s lots of data on how customers are buying your products. Here are just some forms the data can take in enterprise environment:

  • Tables

  • Modal dialogs

  • Forms

  • Graphs

  • Reports

How do you make sure not to overload users with all this? Customization.

What sets Exponea apart from competitors is how customizable the platform is to the particular needs of every enterprise organization and every enterprise user within it.

Interface customization is a big thing in modern applications, but when applied to enterprise environments it becomes the personalization of workflows.

With a set of graphs, custom behavior blueprints, and reports, Exponea users can quickly build and adjust data flows to their particular needs.

The app covers a wide range of data-queries in the modern enterprise, going from fully visual representation of data, like graphs:

To numeric table reports:

And custom behavior workflows:

In every organization there are people who like numbers and those who like images. Such a drastic difference cannot be addressed with a simple interface customization e.g. change background color or data format. There’s a need to customize workflows, and developers behind Exponea understand that.

With that approach to custom data flows Exponea increased its evaluation from over $3.2M to $18.9M over the last three years. Seems to be going in the right direction.

6. Redesigning Enterprise Software For Employer Productivity: General Electric

We all know General Electric as one of the leading engineering and electrical companies in the world. Yet over the last decade, it has also become a leading software company with over 1,400 software developers and billions invested in digital industrial programs.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

Since the late 2000’s the company has been undergoing a complex digital transformation, luring software engineers from the leading tech companies, investing heavily in digital startups, and facilitating startup culture at newly built software centers.

Yet as soon as the company stepped into the unfamiliar software environment, it became apparent that all the things that affect software companies are now affecting G.E., including the critical influence of digital products that the company uses on their own employees..

G.E. realized that as a software developer, the company had great power to shape its employees' user experience through designing better interfaces.

The industrial mogul launched an enterprise-wide redesign of its internal systems, creating a UX Center of Excellence with broad guidelines of how the software should be designed.

The results of this UX/UI initiative were amazing: 100% increase in developers’ productivity and $30 million in savings in the first year.

Later G.E. team established an extensible UI toolkit that allowed the company to more effectively co-collaborate with partners and dramatically increase speed to market for large scale industrial products.

7. The Power of Branding In Enterprise UI: Asana

The idea of branding an enterprise app that people use for work would seem funny a decade ago. But now if you neglect the branding part, your enterprise app will quickly get lost in the ocean of copycats.

These days Asana is one of the most lucrative project management tools, but years ago the team behind the service struggled with two main challenges: the app looked very complicated for new users and there was a clear lack of connection between the audience and the brand.

The product team decided to kill two birds with one stone and launched a major redesign effort in 2015.

Asana before redesign

Design leaders at Asana decided that the app should not only become easy to use, but also feel easy to use. The ultimate goal was to rebrand Asana from a feature-packed complex app into an easy-to-use project management tool that teams love. And the design team behind the project did exactly that.

Those were the new branding guidelines:

That was the result:

Asana these days

Along with simplified navigation, Asana team made sure that new visual styling and branding colors made the product look more intuitive and easy.

Turns out, it was a long play. The new casual branding allowed the team to organically add gamification features [just like with Slack], allowing Asana to become even more addictive without looking superficial.

New Asana goal-tokens. Imagine using these within the old design.

Less than 2% of existing users opt out of the new design, and the adoption funnel metrics saw an increase of up to 10%.

If you want your audience to talk about your enterprise product, it’s crucial to establish the strong connection between the product, the brand, and the audience.

With the total evaluation of more than $1.5 billion and $100 million in recurring annual revenue it’s safe to say Asana hit that nail on the head.

The Future Of Enterprise UI

For years enterprise users had to use certain apps to do their work just because they didn’t have a choice.

Then, with many competitive apps on the market, users started to have a choice.

But nowadays it’s not a question of preference anymore: enterprise apps with interfaces that boost productivity, increase retention rates, and employ the latest best UX practices will always outperform those that don’t.

Companies featured in this article realized that years ago, and became market leaders.

Hopefully examples and lessons from this article will help you achieve the same.

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