Enterprise app companies that offer a consumer-like user experience are winning at work.
Good UX can be hard to define. By its very nature, when an interface is wonderful, it’s not obtrusive. Its job is to get us where we’re going as easily as possible, which means getting out of the way. A great user experience is simple and intuitive, and the product might even be described as a delight to use. The interface itself appears to anticipate our needs.
Until recently, that kind of good design had primarily been found in consumer-facing apps. Consumer design relies on getting users hooked on the product. Since consumer apps are often free, there’s far less incentive to keep using it if it’s a pain to figure out. We’re literally less invested in it. So it has to be good.
Contrast this to an enterprise app or software product, where there’s always been cost involved. Either we pay for it or our company pays for it, and then that’s what we have to use because it’s already been paid for or mandated. It used to be that a business app just had to get the job done, whether the experience was enjoyable or not. But now, we’re spoiled. We’re used to amazing design, because it’s so common in consumer-facing apps. Good design has become a part of our everyday lives.
The prevalence of good design overlaps here with the rise of the freemium model and cloud apps in the enterprise (making it easy for any user to test out an app before committing), and the fact that new apps are being created every day. Over 300 apps are created daily, and predictions estimate that the business and productivity app market alone will be worth $58 billion by 2016.
It’s not good enough any more for enterprise apps to work—they need a great user experience as well. Lacking that, there’s probably an alternative tool that’s easier to use and gets the same business results. So which companies are helping to herald the age of great UX in business apps?
3 B2B companies doing UX right
If we’re discussing UX in B2B products, we’d be remiss not to mention Slack, which is officially the fastest growing workplace software ever. Their user onboarding process has been referred to as “without parallel,” making it easy to get up and running with the app quickly. A big part of the reason the onboarding process is so great is because it combines ease of use with personality, which also show up in other small details throughout the app. For example, when you enter in a hex code, the preview automatically shows what that color is with a quirky message. Or, when the app is loading, it provides fun affirmations:
The tiny details aren’t just about personality, but about making the overall experience more pleasant. Another example is the easy function that can be used to send a mobile sign-on link inside the phone or tablet apps. Who wants to try and type out a long password on a small touch-screen keyboard? Slack’s success is probably due in small part to the rise of remote workers, but there’s no doubt that good design has been a major contributor to that success.
Trello was one of the first online tools to make kanban-style project management accessible. At its simplest, kanban is a method that uses different columns for task states (to do, working on, completed, etc.), and would be done in real life with index cards and a corkboard. But what about distributed teams? Trello was created to fill that gap. Of course, since it’s based on such a tactile/visual method (which doesn’t necessarily always translate well to a digital experience), the risk for an awful user interface is high.
However, Trello neatly circumvents those risks and has been lauded by ReadWriteWeb as “online collaboration software at its finest.” The easy drag and drop interface with the ability to look at the “back” of a card for more information translates the post-it note experience for online teams. It’s simple enough to get started quickly, with additional features (like color coding, file attachments, subtasks, and more) waiting for when you’re ready to use them. Users have noted that it’s made them work better with their teams—arguably the highest UX praise possible for a collaboration tool!
It’s flexible enough to have many uses outside of traditional kanban style project management. For one, it’s very well suited to being used as a editorial calendar management tool. And it has plenty of the tiny touches that make for not just good, but amazing UX, like giving you a direct link to whatever email service you use when it’s time to confirm your email.
MailChimp was one of the first easy-to-use email marketing tools on the market. At one point, if you didn’t have a technical background, MailChimp was essentially your only option for creating emails that wouldn’t make your readers’ eyes bleed (without spending hours tinkering on it or hiring someone to create an email template for you).
Their UX team leader has been interviewed by FastCompany about creating great user experiences, and he’s also written at AListApart about how their team makes sense of user data to pull out emerging trends and anticipate user needs. The MailChimp UX team has even gone so far as to write a book on the subject, helping others improve their user experience as well.
As with the other tools on this list, the reason that MailChimp is so memorable isn’t just because it’s intuitive and easy to use, but because it actively brightens your day by adding personality throughout the interface.
My favorite touch? When you try to schedule a campaign for a date or time that’s already passed, the error message is “Please schedule your campaign for a time in the future because time travel is still hard.” It’s a small detail, to be sure—but the first time I saw it, it made me laugh out loud, lifting my bad mood. Experiences like that are what create loyal users.