Mobile App Design Principles: Enterprise vs Consumer

Andres Reaza | August 5, 2016 | Mobile Strategy

I’ve been working with Enterprise products at Propelics for nearly five years now. I have to admit that on my first couple of projects, my penchant for creating flashy, ground-breaking user experiences was stymied. The feedback I kept receiving was, “You get it, but the users won’t.” Today, my ideas are still forward-thinking but now I understand better the experience today’s enterprise users are after. One that is super-fast and immediately intuitive. As a result, my UX design is more pragmatic and adapted to users who aren’t seeking an exciting mobile experience, but rather one that is gorgeous and laid-out in the native UI language they’re already familiar with.

Now that the Propelics portfolio also includes a variety of successful consumer apps, I’ve had ample opportunity to experience the different approaches associated with both types of apps. Enterprise apps are (usually) more complex than consumer apps, at least in terms of integrating with corporate systems, and each use case is specifically focused on its own discrete task. Consumer apps, on the other hand, generally strive for greater visual complexity, utilizing more colors, font styles, images and photos. All the things us designers love!

I’ve read many blogs with titles like “Taking a Consumer Approach to Enterprise Apps” or “Why Enterprise and Consumer Apps Aren’t as Different as You Think.” Well, yes. In some respects Enterprise Apps and Consumer Apps are exactly the same. Ideally, all apps should look and function at the same high level of quality and reliability. Where I tend to disagree, however, is with the notion that both design processes can and should take the same approach. Let me articulate the differences in B2C vs B2B mobile strategies:

  1. Alternatives: Consumer apps have to deal with a lot of competition—countless similar tools that all resolve the same problem. The playing field is wide and the struggle to keep up with competitors—and with the pace of innovation—is cutthroat. On the other hand, Enterprise apps are usually developed by the company itself and distributed to BYOD devices. These apps are intended to increase employee productivity and help them complete their daily tasks. Alternative apps are limited or nonexistent since these applications are connected to specific corporate systems and must conform to security and quality standards.
  2. Use cases: The user base for consumer apps can easily encompass several markets and include thousands of individual profiles. Further, such apps must be able to accommodate all users equally (or at least try to). Since consumer app use cases are plentiful, it’s more difficult to predict how most folks will use the product. Therefore, app updates are generally focused either on refining the feature set or on improving functionality to satisfy users and ensure the app’s survival. In contrast, enterprise apps are most often built to simplify business processes and boost employee productivity by enabling them to complete their daily tasks more quickly and easily. Enterprise app users have an advantage in that they often receive in-house app training on using the app and on what the app should do. Naturally, this make things much easier when defining requirements and functionality. As with consumer apps, enterprise apps also evolve and improve in stages as the features are refined, but in this case, app updates are geared more towards bug fixes and performance improvements.
  3. Expectations: Initial release strategies tend to vary for B2B and B2C apps. On the one hand, corporate innovation teams can’t spend months and months planning strategies without user-testing a beta (or early release) version of the app. A common enterprise mobile strategy is: “make it work now, we’ll make it look good later.” Being a designer, I care about aesthetics more than most, but I realize prioritizing expectations is the best way to achieve success. And focusing on functionality and back-end/web services integration must take priority. In comparison, making the app look pretty is trivial. But if you try to satisfy all expectations at same time, the friction around planning and development becomes painful and slow. The user side of B2B apps, paints a similar picture. Enterprise users can stand a bad looking app, so long as it works. On the other hand, B2C apps not only need to present a novel, clever design, they also need to be sure the first release works perfectly. Because general users won’t hesitate to delete a faulty app (and leave a bad review), no matter how good it looks. The planning and development of B2C products, therefore, must be slower and more deliberate to ensure the app has an opportunity to succeed.

Keep in mind, of course, that technology is an endless process of enhancement. What’s amazing now will be laughable in five years. Keeping up with the evolving UX of new devices and new technologies is a day-to-day challenge. The transition from skeumorphism to flat design is a clear example of how design trends can quickly undergo drastic change. In a world that keeps changing and keeps pushing new and revolutionary ideas to millions and millions of users, renewal is vital to survival. To that end, the following are some good practices and methods for launching or for keeping your mobile projects current from a UX/UI perspective. These apply to both B2B and B2C mobile apps:

Set aside ample planning time:
Bugs and defects are inevitable—the app will need support and will of course require improvements. So first off, never stop planning, even after the first release. But don’t rush it. Always provide ample time for planning updates. And it’s important to prioritize and arrange tasks so several can be accomplished in parallel. Don’t worry about releasing all enhancements simultaneously. Determine the app’s weakest areas and phase the improvements accordingly.

The importance of Beta users:
Ultimately, your users are the ones who will illuminate your path to perfection. Whether you use analytics, in-app feedback or feedback through app stores (or all of the above), comments, kudos, complaints and suggestions from real users is crucial to the success of your app.

Keep all UX/UI documentation up to date:
As projects advance, designers often forget the rules, requirements and technical minutia introduced early-on. While I realize the pile of outdated documents grows larger over time, we mustn’t forget that additional resources may have been added to the team—on either the client or the contractor side—folks who are new to the project and are desperate for direction. I’m not just talking about designers. Everyone—from developers, and project managers to project owners and third party resources—will need to be on the same page when it comes to understanding the project’s UX and UI. Disparate guidance can throw a project completely off-course. And your documentation is the only source of truth. Navigation diagrams, UI files, and design specs and assets must always be consistent with the documentation that describes the latest version of the app.

Design isn’t everything but what else is there?
The end goal of any mobile project is to produce a beautiful, innovative UI and an intuitive, frictionless UX. Good ideas are plentiful, but few of them result in a successful app. But if your app is gorgeous, works flawlessly, and fulfills a real public need it stands half a chance at enjoying widespread adoption.

All the tips and ideas I’ve expressed are based on my personal experience working on large-scale enterprise app development projects over the last five years. If you have comments or questions about this post please send me your thoughts. And if your company needs help building its enterprise mobile apps, or is looking to refine or update the UI/UX of its existing apps, check out our Mobile UI/UX Design Kickstart. Whether your company is redesigning an existing app (or suite of apps) wants to add new devices to its portfolio, our Mobile UI/UX Design Kickstart will get you going in no time.

Andres Reaza

Andres Reaza is a rare breed: as comfortable architecting simple and intuitive solutions to complex problems as he is bringing these wireframed visions to life with incredible design. With an arts degree from Guadalajara MX and nearly a decade of experience planning, designing, and building game-changing web products and mobile apps for companies like iTexico, and Periodico Mural, Andres remains unflappably committed to developing Enterprise software products of the highest quality on both a national and global scale.

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