Enterprise applications are designed to meet the complex, scalable and mission critical needs of an organization, including everything from payment processing to customer relationship management.
To be successful, they need to be accessible, easy to use, and eye catching. This is where application design comes into play.
As some of you may know, we are currently revamping our own graphical user interface (GUI). The process is a long and methodical one, made ever more complex by the fact that we are redesigning controls and dashboards that are already being used by many thousands of users.
In projects like these, you always want to measure twice before making a decision. Here are some of the questions we ask ourselves during the design process to ensure that we meet the needs of our current and future customers.
1. Who are our users?
Identifying and understanding your users helps align your choices with their needs and expectations. This should be the first step in any design process.
As a rule, an enterprise application should be designed with both customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) in mind. While the two sometimes overlap, they’re differentiated as follows:
- CX relates to customer interactions with a brand. It includes everything from the application’s appearance to the support a customer receives.
- UX is a subset of CX. It relates to user interactions with an interface and how effective a system is at solving a user’s problems.
In our case, Incapsula users include NetOps, system admins and security professionals. They often prefer functionality to presentation and gravitate towards UX-focused solutions.
What we found out, however, is that the CX of our new design cannot be ignored. A sleek presentation helps our users convey the benefits of the Incapsula platform to their peers and managers, often to justify the purchase or to communicate its different functionalities.
2. How do we want our users to feel?
Identifying users’ desired emotional state is important for meeting their expectations.
Emotional states of enterprise application users typically fall into one of the following categories:
- Power – Users want to affect real change while using the application
- Control – Users want to be the ones directing their application.
- Assurance – Users want a secure application that performs as intended.
- Pride – Users want to view their application as superior to market alternatives.
- Accomplishment – Users want their application to help them achieve their goals.
We discovered that one of the recurring emotional states that our customers strive for is a sense of assurance, which has impacted our designs.
One simple example is the use of an animated checkmark, which appears when a configuration is changed using auto-save. We saw that this small verification was important to many users who were looking for confirmation that an action correctly took place.
3. What scenario(s) are we designing for?
Scenarios illustrate how users are expected to complete different tasks. For designers, they are helpful for visualizing how someone may interact with a given feature. For example, in our case, a scenario might consider the steps a user takes to purge cache on our CDN.
Sounds simple, right? It rarely is. When creating a scenario, your challenge is to be as thorough as possible. This is the perfect time to use the information collected about your users and their desired emotional states to understand how they will react to a situation.
Once your scenario has been defined—usually by your product development team—it needs to be broken down and analyzed from all angles (e.g., user knowledge, technology, limitations, user goals and needs) in order to craft the best possible UX.
This process offers two advantages:
- It’s much easier to work on small design aspects rather than the whole project at once.
- Every action in a scenario eventually becomes a UI element. For designers, analyzing each one is helpful for easily discovering interface components.
Task analysis is a valuable tool for evaluating the steps users need to take in accomplishing a task. The data can reveal if your target audience has the skills needed to complete a task featured in your application.
Personally, I’m a bit old fashioned and still use sticky notes to map out tasks and scenarios. There is something about writing things down by hand that helps me pause and reconsider my thinking—a useful practice when I`m trying to break down processes into small pieces.
4. Did we miss our target?
Perhaps the most important step in creating an application is getting feedback and readjusting your design accordingly.
Early in the design stage, a paper sketch of your application is perfect for getting quick feedback. The sketch can then be used later on for developing a high fidelity prototype, which should also be submitted for feedback. Axure is an effective tool for this process.
Three to five volunteers should then be recruited to test your application and provide feedback. Here you can use Validately—an effective tool for recording trial sessions. Once you see that users are correctly completing tasks while following the designed paths, you’ll become more confident in moving your design to the development phase.
Testing and getting feedback is critical at this stage as well. You don’t want developers to implement your designs only to learn that you’ve missed something critical once the application goes live.
Stay Tuned for More
Do you have any suggestions for improving Incapsula’s design and user experience? Please let us know in the comments below.