I’m a millennial. I value pretty branding, avocado toast, and most importantly, easy-to-use software. As a digital native, I grew up with dial-up internet and witnessed its exciting evolution to the on-demand economy. Today, I’m a master of my smartphone, frequently multitasking between apps while maintaining conversations with friends.
My personal life consists of a suite of communication services, financial tools, and social media apps carefully selected from an ever-changing landscape of competing products and services. My work life, on the other hand, has been a different story.
The workstation at my first post-college job, July 2006.
Consumerization of the Enterprise
Unless you’re fortunate enough to work for a tech-conscious software company, chances are you’ve experienced cumbersome and frustrating digital tools at work. “I click here, don’t know why I click here, wait a bit, then click here. It can be a little finicky.” In the past, this was an acceptable and perhaps expected part of the 9-5. But then came the iPhone, and usable technology became a constant in the lives of employees everywhere.
Consumer technology exploded with the introduction of the iPhone, fueled by intense competition between companies battling for users. With this increasing number of digital products naturally came rising standards and expectations.
Today, we’re all power users. This is perhaps most apparent in my generation, which now composes the largest in America. A few years ago, SurveyMonkey and Microsoft reported that 93% of millennial workers agree that modern technology is an important factor when choosing where to work. Another study says that 77% believe that “suboptimal application performance” hinders productivity and their “personal best.”
Dilbert meets a millenial (2011).
Employees expect the same quality of software at work as they do in their personal lives. Whether consumer or enterprise, if it’s poorly-designed, adoption suffers. Similar to abandoning an app, employees are becoming more likely to leave an employer to seek one with better offerings.
This trend is sometimes referred to as the “Consumerization of the Enterprise”, and it continues to shake things up.
How Modern Enterprise Products are Responding
The advent of my avocado-toast generation has pushed technology companies to rethink their approach to enterprise software in light of these rising expectations. If it’s digital, I want it to be personal, intuitive, immediate, and (best of all) delightful. Rarely have these requirements been used to describe the design principles of enterprise software.
Organizations are responding to these rising standards by taking bigger steps toward prioritizing good design and user experiences in their products. We at DesignMap have had the unique opportunity of seeing this trend amplify over decades of working in the industry.
The thought of needing an instruction manual to use a piece of software has moved from funny to insulting. Employees (myself included) don’t have the time or attention span to dig through long support articles or detailed instruction manuals.
The more successful products of today gradually guide their new users through educational on-boarding flows that gets them familiar with the system quickly. A low-investment stepwise tour helps speed up the learning curve without demanding a lot of the user’s time and attention.
Zuora, a robust subscription management tool, introduces new users to its features gradually through a guided tour.
Once up and running, users are then greeted by balanced colors, clean typography, and comfortable white space. Though such systems often contain overwhelming complexity in data, object hierarchies, and user permissions under the hood, the interface need not show it.
Hick’s Law, one of a designer’s favorite psychology lessons, reminds us that decision time increases when there are more stimuli to choose from. Traditional enterprise applications are often guilty of this. Modern products employ fewer bells and whistles that keep the attention of the user.
We worked with Healthagen to consolidate complex patient data into a clean and simple dashboards that reduce decision-making time for users.
With smartphones now commonplace in everyday life, providing mobile offerings is quickly becoming the norm. Workplace software is no different. In fact, a Gartner report two years ago predicted that by 2022, 70% of all software interactions in the enterprise will be on mobile devices. 😱
As users have grown to expect consumer-level experiences whenever they use their phone, organizations need to ensure their offerings can compete. They expect fast and intuitive apps that can sit next to Instagram on their home screen.
Expensify mobilizes expense reporting with a lightweight app that takes full advantage of native functionality such as the camera and GPS.
In an effort to bridge the gap between work and play, some modern enterprise products offer creative reward systems for traditional workplace tasks. Gamification, an often misunderstood concept in UX design and tricky to get right, is seldom seen in enterprise software. But used effectively, gamification can increase engagement for users by creating a sense of achievement.
In the sometimes-monotonous life of the 9-5, this can be a powerful motivator.
We worked with InsideSales.com, a lead management tool for sales teams, to help incentivize users through a point and rank system. Everyone loves competition!
You can’t talk about evolving enterprise software without mentioning Slack. The success of Slack can be attributed to a number of factors, perhaps most arguably to the emotional connection they’ve created with its users. People love Slack! How did they do it?
Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab, the design agency who helped get Slack off the ground some five years ago, explains one reason Slack is different than other chat apps:
“In Slack, every piece of copy is seen as an opportunity to be playful…A strange little injection of fun into an otherwise boring day. Slack acts like your wise-cracking robot sidekick, instead of the boring enterprise chat tool it would otherwise be.”
– Andrew Willkinson, Founder of MetaLab
Brand personality can be expressed through visual design, interaction patterns, and voice. Slack nailed all three.
Rather than using traditional spinners, Slack‘s famously-delightful loading messages make work life a little more fun.
Why This Matters for the Future of Work
Analogous to products competing for users are companies competing for talent. As the line blurs between tools at work and those for personal use, user and employee expectations will grow. Additionally, as more workers disconnect from traditional physical office spaces, enterprise software must adapt to platforms that users prefer (namely smartphones and tablets). Are you providing your employees with digital tools that satisfy these needs?
We at DesignMap help companies cope with this shift in mindset and rising standards of enterprise users. Drawing on more than 10 years of experience in the industry, we partner with companies large and small to design next-generation solutions for the workplace. Millennials, we got you. 🥑