It’s easy to assume that, because user experience (UX) is all about people, all UX must be the same. In reality, however, effective consumer UX and enterprise UX feature some key differences. This presents both advantages and challenges for enterprise UX, but also means that the best enterprise design can bring significant benefits to businesses.
The most important difference between consumer and enterprise UX doesn’t come down to price, features or technical variations. Instead, it’s all about choice. A consumer who is unhappy with an application’s user experience can usually switch to something else with relatively little cost or hassle. They’ll also be more likely to put the extra initial effort into “learning” software that they’ve chosen and invested in.. However, an individual employee often has little choice about what applications they use at work. This means the negative effects of a poor UX are greatly magnified. It can even lead to a vicious cycle where an individual’s productivity is affected by problems with the application, leading to lowered morale through frustration, which in turn further decreases motivation and harms productivity. Add in the fact that an employee may use an application for many more hours a week than a consumer, and it soon becomes clear that going with a cheaper option at the expense of UX is a false economy.
Scope and Complexity
Consumer apps are more likely to cover a narrow range of commonly used tasks. In contrast, enterprise apps tend to be more complex, have a wider variety of features and are able to support employees in very specific roles and tasks. This has design implications. With a consumer application, a developer usually knows the key things the user will want to do and can make these tasks prominent and straightforward. With an employee application, the UX needs to adjust to different usage patterns and customisations while remaining intuitive.
Consumers often spend less time actively using individual applications than employees do, mainly because it’s more likely they’ll use them for a one-off or occasional task. Meanwhile, employees will often use an application for a significant proportion of their workday, perhaps even a majority of their time. The good news for enterprise UX designers is that employees have more incentive to learn how an application functions rather than be deterred by the effort. The bad news is that they simply won’t have the tolerance for inefficiencies. Take, for example, a menu structure where performing two closely related tasks involves going down different branches of menus and submenus. For a consumer who does the task now and again, this may mean a moment of confusion, until they remember where the options are. For an employee who performs the two tasks in sequence frequently, it means wasted time and constant frustration.
Support is arguably less of a factor in consumer applications. A straightforward UX that targets common, predictable use patterns reduces the need for queries. Meanwhile, the large user base of the most popular consumer tools makes it more viable for the developer to offer direct support. At the same time, third-party support and help (both commercial and non-commercial) will often flourish. With enterprise applications, the initial burden of support often falls on the business itself. The more help employees need to use the software, the higher the cost. That could be “opportunity cost”, with IT staff unable to perform other duties (such as maintenance and security) or direct costs with more staff needed. The challenge, therefore, is that enterprise UX developers need to design systems that are more complex and versatile – but also ones which are more intuitive and understandable.
For a consumer application with a large user base, an update that changes the UX is relatively painless. The sheer number of affected users will certainly mean the developer’s social media timelines become a little more lively for a few days, but users will encounter and adjust to the changes at their own pace. The most avid users will quickly pick up any problems or counterintuitive effects and spread the word. Developers will also be able to gauge when it's worth actively highlighting changes to the user base. With an enterprise UX, any change will often hit most of the user base almost immediately. That builds up delays while staff try to figure out what’s changed. IT departments have to work out the problems and decide whether they need to proactively educate staff – or deal with confusion as and when it arises. As all this represents lost productivity and a poor user experience, there is a greater need for enterprise UX to be effective and fully optimised from the beginning. There’s less scope for frequent major updates and for product design problems being fixed with updates.
The Bottom Line
UX design for consumer and enterprise apps share core principles but have significant differences. Compared with a consumer app, an enterprise app’s user base:
- Has less tolerance for inefficiencies.
- Is more likely to have specific, detailed use requirements.
- Suffers a more immediate and prolonged negative effect from any confusion over UX elements.
- Has support cost implications for their employees.
- Makes an update or alteration to the UX a more significant undertaking.
That’s both a challenge and an opportunity for UX developers and application customers alike. Designing enterprise UX takes a specific approach and skills, but done correctly it creates a desirable product that in turn helps business customers work better.
WQA provides supercharged digital product development for growth driven companies around the world. Working with Startups, Scale-ups and Enterprise, we design, build and scale digital products, experiences and platforms used by millions of people.
If you need to improve organisational confidence in your UX design to ensure it has the right budget, adoption, C-level champions and a real chance to scale, you can chat to us or email us for a conversation and assessment of your unique digital context.