The Puzzle of Enterprise UX Design

Andres Reaza | March 6, 2015 | Mobile Strategy

When it comes to UX design, there are many, very different ways to approach a problem and create a solution for users of any type. If I’ve learned anything from all my years in UX, it is this: there are no rules.

Consider Facebook. Used by nearly 10% of the total world population, this mobile app has nevertheless earned countless unpleasant reviews. Everything from: “this app sucks, it’s clumsy, it’s bulky, it’s a memory-hog, the UI looks old, having tabs at the top and bottom is confusing!” While others simply remain unimpressed. I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t expect anything more complimentary out of users, and here’s why. Facebook’s UX strength lies in its transparency, its frictionlessness. Much like reading a book without being consciously aware of the font type and size, folks use Facebook without even noticing the interface. Despite encapsulating tons of people, photos, cat videos, gossip posts, hurt feelings and new Ferraris, users are able to find everything about everyone they’re interested in without having to struggle to do so.

This is the essence of good user experience.

Propelics specializes in app development for the enterprise. We devise mobile strategies and build mobile applications focused on reducing costs, increasing profits, and enhancing productivity for large companies. In my two years designing apps with Propelics, I have reached one conclusion: never deign to assume you know how users are going to behave when using an application. The perfect user experience isn’t something accomplished on the first try. Rather, try to create the most appropriate UX for the situation; perfection is a continuous process.

Here are some tricks I find useful when planning the “right UX”—with an emphasis on synthesis, simplicity and attention to detail.

Requirements Synthesis

Here’s a design exercise about synthesizing shapes and figures: reduce a realistic sketch (of a dog, say) down to no more than 50 geometrical figures. The experience is that of tracing something finished back to its origins and is very good practice to help you become more creative. The principle is called graphic decomposition and was a technique used by cubist artists like Pablo Picasso. Hint: start by drawing shapes from scratch rather than drawing over the sketch. You can always modify the shapes to mold your figure until it approaches the real thing.
Take a similar approach to UX and navigation: instead of thinking of ways to include every bit of functionality, synthesize the client requirements until the right path to navigation is laid out before you. Start from the launching of the app (silly as it may seem) and begin drawing shapes to represent each section and feature. Then connect them with lines that represent navigation, add lists of functionality for each section and think about how they interact with each other and with other sections.

A way to go back.

Users are not dumb, but even Einstein made mistakes. How many of us use ctrl+z fewer than 100 times a day? Well, this is something that also happens in mobile devices. The back button (whether hardware or software-based) is the most common way to correct an error and retrace ones steps, but one can also employ intuitive gestures like closing a popup by pressing anywhere outside the popup. Hand your phone to a little kid, and you’ll see this is an action our brain performs as a reflex.

Swipe-physics may also be used to create an intuitive way to go back, if the screen enters right to left, users would swipe to the right to go back (applicable in some cases, not all). While editing or adding text in input fields a best practice is to display two buttons at the same hierarchy-level: Done and Cancel. As obvious as this may sound, users always need a way to go back, lest they become frustrated. So always keep this in mind while planning your app’s navigation.

Be flexible with layout and navigation.

In-keeping with the Lean Startup philosophy, begin designing your app from a minimally viable product. At Propelics we create our apps in phases, including most essential features in Phase I and adding functionality in later stages. Because great apps always deserve a next phase.

The lesson is this: always be prepared to expand an app’s functionality. Do not create designs that risk running out of screen real estate or require removing or rethinking navigation because you didn’t allow for the possibility of scaling, either in terms of additional functionality or use-cases.

Use native controls

Do not try to reinvent the wheel. There’s simply no need to. Apple and Google employees work day-in and day-out building tools and solutions to handle the most common interactions, like selecting an option, picking dates and times, taking photos, and sharing documents and content to others by email or social.

Their efforts save the rest of us a lot of UX planning and development time. Plus, using native controls means your app will look more native and will be more intuitive for users. All mobile platforms have their own standards (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone) so be sure to become familiar with the native controls specific to each.

Consider all exceptions, validations, and error messages.

For designers, it’s common practice to design screens the way they will look in the final analysis: full of content (and lorem ipsum copy), including third-party services like maps or web views. But we must remember to be flexible, because despite how great our comps look, when all is said and done, they may not reflect the final product.
Regardless, I have always found it best to design thusly: with all possible content displayed. This means handling all exceptions: empty table cells, text-field validation, and connectivity issues, just to name a few. For example, be sure to include a “No items on this list“ message (or something similar) for those cases when an empty list appears. Create highly visible, redundant alerts for text-fields that need validation as well as depictions of the offline experience, and error messages for a broken server connection. Failure to accommodate all edge-case scenarios will inevitably make your app seem buggy, amateurish or incomplete. Never leave a user behind and all of them will thank you.

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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