Why designing enterprise software is about more than looks

Design has always been a big deal in the consumer world, but we’ve got reason to believe it’s quickly becoming a huge deal in the enterprise world, explained Kyle Wild, the co-founder and CEO of Keen IO, at Gigaom’s Structure event in San Francisco.

Extrapolating from his company’s experience over the past two years, Wild attributed Keen IO’s rapid growth — without a marketing budget — to his company’s embrace of the ethos of design. “Inside a company, design is the process how you build things,” Wild said.

One of the major trends in terms of enterprise software is the increasing sophistication of enterprise buyers. In short, they’re all swayed by design. Many of these customers use smartphones at home, and on the smartphone platform, users choose apps all the time based on the design of the app. So they might be an enterprise buyer during the day, but when they go home, they’re making decisions like whether to use Secret or Whisper. They’re making intuitive decisions based on mobile design, and then they take those attitudes to their day job.

“We’re seeing this happen in the analytics field, an industry not well known for user experience,” Wild said. “UX is now our major advantage. ”

One stumbling point is the difference between designing for developers — who may be the primary users of the product — against designing your brand for the decision makers who write the checks. These people could be nontechnical CEOs or product managers. “Design of the API is a very important part of the brand. We have to build trust with our champions,” Wild said. “But that champion isn’t going to write you a $300 thousand dollar check.”

As a branding design decision, Wild explained, speaking to your customer in sophisticated technical terms can be an issue. If you make your messaging more generalizable, it doesn’t necessarily mean you lose the 10% of people who get it. “You’re building something abstract or you’re selling something abstract, and the language used to describe it is abstract,” Wild added. “But the sales pitch and the use cases need to be concrete.” When Keen IO, a former Structure Launchpad winner, started putting charts on its homepage and building demos, it became easy to build trust with developers.

One example of a smart design decision made by Keen IO was its funnel function. Wild described funnel is an imprecise word — a better term could have been progression, which is more general, as it implies the number of users from step to step can grow, not just shrink. Even when Keen IO was in dire straits, there was still an internal discussion about which term to use. They settled on funnel because they came to the conclusion that everyone in their world already knows it.

“The first step of design is anthropology,” Wild said. “You know, observing humans in their natural environment.”


Photo by Jakub Mosur

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