Enterprise is Sexy

A few months ago we were approached with an opportunity to help a company in the health care space. It was a great project: they’d done their market research and knew this was an area no one else was tapping yet. This gave them a good idea of what it needed to be viable, but hadn’t gotten into actual scope, how it should work, or behave. We had productive conversations with their internal design and business teams talking through the “how.” At some point along the way, they mentioned that one of the reasons they were seriously considering going with us was that we were so excited about the project. “Who on earth wouldn’t be excited about this project??” we wondered, baffled. Several designers, they told us, thought it would be boring to work with a health insurance company on a B2B product aimed at HR Administrators, and had actually declined to discuss the project – it wasn’t “sexy”.

In the last few years much has been written about, and invested in the changing enterprise market. Little has been contributed to the “enterprise is sexy” conversation by designers.

Designers are in high demand and position, truly a significant progression since the dark days of the dotcom bust. Yet we still see designers flock to consumer startups or massive consumer forces like Facebook and Google. Why? in a word, they’re “sexy.”

But is enterprise sexy? Yes! Here’s six reasons why:

1. Your work will have reach.

With all but the most wildly successful (read: very rare) startups, the market adoption for a new product is going to be relatively small, if any users at all. So many startups fail, and do so before they get to market. Consider that, versus the reach of an enterprise-level product with existing clients, a marketing department, and a business that has a proven record of getting products to market.

Much experience can be gained at a startup, we’re working with at least one or two at any given time. A designer’s ability to hone their design isn’t fully realized until a product makes it to users at scale, giving back quantifiable measures of the user experience.

2. Your design will have an outsized impact.

Consumer products and services have a significant impact on their users’ lives, which is a large part of their attraction for a designer. But the points of interaction between the product and consumer are often limited, and “lowest common denominator,” designed for an extraordinarily broad audience.

Conversely, a user may spend hours a week or even hours a day with the product. A designer’s work is potentially considerably more impactful.

For example, we’re currently designing a payroll product. The person running each week’s payroll is controlling the check that every one of their coworkers, manager, even CEO, are going to receive. If we can make that process dead-accurate, error-proof, and even a delight to use, what an amazing opportunity to make that person’s work life better! We are helping people avoid “resume generating events” and avoid stress and frustration, which we all have way too much of!

3. Enterprises have resources.

Enterprises have many, many resources. Not just funds (certainly critical), but also highly skilled people who know how to do their jobs well. Back to our health opportunity, there is a chance to work with Product Managers who are experienced and deeply knowledgeable—true experts in the complex web of healthcare. On the engineering side, there’s a whole team that has already built significant technology and is hungry to work with design to make it more accessible for the end user. The internal design team is forging those interdisciplinary relationships, being a champion for the user from the inside.

This all makes for a compelling situation for us, one that we can truly get excited about. A product will be released, that it has the ingredients for success, and we get to learn from experts along the way!

4. There is a big design opportunity

Most B2B product user experiences are terrible because the buyer wasn’t the user – an executive buys based on bullet-point list of features, price, and how it was marketed. The people who actually would be using the product are at best influencers of the decision and more likely left out altogether. That is all changing—enterprises, and specifically B2B enterprises, are investing into their product’s user experience. Thanks to enabling technologies like SaaS and cloud infrastructure, business users expect a good experience outside of just functionality, and can leave their current solution if they don’t have it (zero install, subscription models). In general, Apple and Google have proved that the user does care about the quality and simplicity of every digital experience.

There are two sides of the coin to this opportunity: large enterprises have identified a good UX as a differentiator, and startups and smaller companies can enter the same market and effectively compete. A situation tailor-made for designers, who can then match their skill and experience to either side.

5. Enterprise work is truly challenging.

Our design horizon has been stretched wide through working on the enterprise side with complex business and technical requirements, and discovering their end-users multi-layered behaviors and goals. Connecting those two is an epic design challenge all by itself.

As a designer, you gain experience and skill working at a strategic level of large organizations. How do we work effectively, efficiently, and even inspire those around us, often disparate business units across the globe? What kind of tactics and activities can we invent to overcome old conventions, build on successes, reveal hidden agendas, evangelize the user needs, to design a successful product?

If we didn’t ask those questions of ourselves, and not believe the challenge was worth taking, then we could just toss over some beautiful mockups with a UI fad of the moment, write up a case study for the portfolio, and call it a day. But designers are better than that. We have ideals that inspire us to positively impact others in this world, and become better designers for it.

6. Enterprise work is crazy-interesting

Don’t get us wrong, consumer work is interesting, and enterprise products often aren’t sexy on the face of it, but that’s obvious, right? We’ve worked with clients on unified storage systems, tracking TCP/IP packets for regulatory compliance, company payroll and benefits, and helping health insurance brokers. To the popular crowd, these topics might not sound very interesting compared to say, a mobile first education startup, the future of connected neighborhoods, or mobile shopping in Australia (also projects of ours, lucky us).

Designers should be driven by curiosity. We believe that anything is interesting if you work to deeply understand it, for two reasons:
First, empathizing with the human beings that have to get audited for compliance, helping them keep their plates spinning in a world where companies work harder with less, and mitigating the fear they feel by helping them avoid “resume generating event…” should make it easy for anyone to get interested.

Second, add the opportunity to geek out on the details of what’s actually in one of those data packets, or why thin provisioning is so important but so little understood. This deep and narrow diving conversely also gives you ever broadening knowledge that can be applied in unexpected ways.

Nowadays, it may be taken for granted that design is a critical component of any “sexy” enterprise, but we think it’s a topic worth digging deeper into. We believe there’s great opportunity here, opportunity to entwine great design into every enterprise and product. Please reach out to us, we’re eager to talk with you more about how to make enterprise sexy!

Nowadays, it may be taken for granted that design is a critical component of any “sexy” enterprise, but we think it’s a topic worth digging deeper into. We believe there’s great opportunity here, opportunity to entwine great design into every enterprise and product. Please reach out to us, we’re eager to talk with you more about how to make enterprise sexy!

Further Reading

DesignMap's Presentation: Enterprise is Sexy

Enterprise Software Is Sexy Again — Techcrunch

The Enterprise Cool Kids — Techcrunch

A16Z’s Scott Weiss, Box, Zendesk And Nebula To Talk About Winning In The Enterprise At Disrupt SF — Techcrunch

30 New Franchises — Techcrunch

Silicon Valley's New Secret Weapon: Designers Who Found Startups — Co.Design