Today, design and UX are the value differentiators among competing applications. Functionality is table stakes. People are gravitating to the apps where the UX and UI provide intuitive, elegant functionality, instead of software that's yet one more frustrating, time-consuming problem to solve.
One example of this is "Consumerization of the Enterprise," a Silicon Valley meme that’s been popular for years. Essentially, it's the idea that users of complex enterprise applications, like Salesforce or Marketo, deserve a good user experience (UX), just like users of consumer products.
In a bring-your-own-app (BYOA) world, users — whether in their role as employees or consumers — are voting with their fingers. They're used to interacting with the simpler, cleaner interfaces of Gmail or Uber and are losing patience with the crowded, hard-to-use enterprise applications of yore.
This trend is accelerating as B2B software purchases are increasingly torn away from IT and finance decision committees by the poor schmos who have historically been stuck eating the dog food these committees bought. They're demanding the same functional, elegant experience designed around user behavior for their business apps — just like they're used to in consumer apps.
The centrality of UX as differentiator has boomeranged back to the consumer market with a vengeance. Consumer products like Nest or Dropcam hide inexpensive, but hard-to-use technology like thermostats and video cameras behind gorgeous, intuitive interfaces. The UX increases the cost 10 times over. Yet people are happy to pay for it because it simplifies their lives.
I call this the "UX spiral,” where improvements in UX in the B2B and B2C spheres continue to bounce off each other, ratcheting up people's expectations of what qualifies as a beautiful, useful application. The consumerization of everything expands as the line between B2B and B2C disappears, with people's demand for the same quality and ease-of-use in both arenas. This is seen most clearly in the freemium business model, another ricochet point on the UX spiral.
A successful freemium business model needs users upgrading to access premium features. But the fundamental UX and UI between the two versions remain the same. If the freemium version doesn't have the UX and UI to attract users, you'll never achieve the product “stickiness” that delights users enough to upgrade. If the premium version doesn't maintain the same UX standards, then you won't retain happy, paying users who recommend your software.
With the momentum of the UX spiral in mind, here’s my perspective on capturing the consumerization-of-everything design ethos and how it's influencing the mobile design work we're doing today at Samepage.
MOBILE UX DESIGN IMPERATIVES IN RESPONSE TO THE CONSUMERIZATION OF EVERYTHING
There are four key imperatives fueling UX design that delight consumers:
1. Mobile-first design
Mobile UI and UX requirements have a way of boiling down an application to its most intuitive necessity. When you start with mobile and then build your software for a bigger screen, the essential appeal and inherent elegance and simplicity of the mobile-designed app is automatically embedded in the desktop version.
2. Create a desktop app instead of a browser-based app
Native applications keep control of the UX with the software designer, rather than leaving users at the mercy of Internet bandwidth and browsers' limited functionality. In addition, there are fewer platforms to design for, so you're not stuck having to create a visually-pleasing, balanced interface for every browser that keeps up with browser versions, Internet protocols, and all the associated problems. Last, consumer demands for speed are insatiable – people don't have patience for slow-loading Internet apps.
3. Include an artist on the design team
Only a true artist can breathe life into an otherwise brilliantly designed product. S/he can make it a visual, aesthetic—one might even say sensual—delight for users. An artist does that by making sure the ease of functionality is wrapped in a delicious UI: something so elegant, so intuitive, so engaging that people are completely unaware of how much time they actually spend in the app. The end result? Work becomes a pleasure instead of a chore. And productivity gets some wings.
4. Break free from the stranglehold of legacy enterprise apps
People used enterprise apps because they had to. Now the UX spiral and BYOA are forcing enterprise apps to address UX, but they're just trying to paint lipstick on a pig. The result isn't the light, breezy apps people want, but another coating on the same bloated enterprise app that lies beneath. Enterprise apps must have the courage to throw out the old and start fresh. They're no longer competing only against other enterprise apps. Hyper-niche apps that do one thing superbly well are now facing less-established competition. For example, Adobe's Creative Cloud has to contend with the simplicity of Pixelmator and Skitch.
Most industries have their share of legacy, high-overhead enterprise apps, and newer niche players. But any app needs an inviting UX to emerge successfully from this competitive, fragmented market. Without it, failure is inevitable.
Image of vector abstract spiral courtesy of Shutterstock.