Takeaways from the Enterprise UX 2015 Conference

This May, we traveled to San Antonio, Texas to attend Rosenfeld Media’s first-ever Enterprise UX conference. Since enterprise UX is our specialty, we were delighted to be one of the conference’s sponsors. We talked strategy and shared design solutions (and swag!) with UXers from companies like Microsoft, USAA, Rackspace, and Intuit. Here are some of the themes and highlights we saw throughout the week, with some notes on how they relate to our everyday work here at Salesforce.

Our Salesforce Design booth, featuring @joeowen, @mtotheia, @SalesforceMary, and @CheDigital. Photo credit: Shannon Johnson

Evangelizing UX

Catherine Courage, SVP of Customer Experience at Citrix, shared her experiences scaling a UX team from 3 to 300 in her excellent keynote. Courage mapped the team’s growth process over time, and offered some unusual ideas for gaining support across the company. She sponsored a UX speakers series and a Design Catalysts program, which sent non-UX team members to Design Thinking courses at Stanford’s D-school. When Citrix’s facilities staff were resistant to changing office layouts for better design collaboration, she led tours of other companies’ design spaces to convince them.

At Salesforce, we make sure to adopt communication styles and methods that are most effective with stakeholders. This might take some humility. As much as in-house design teams would like to be seen as the ultimate authorities on design, an outside perspective may sometimes prove the most successful. If you’re based in an area with a big design community, take advantage of that native expertise — and share your own.

Valuing emotional design

Kelly Goto of Goto Research and Nathan Shedroff of California College of the Arts both talked about the emotional side of design.

@go2girl on emotional design. Photo credit: Shannon Johnson

While traditional market research can report on people’s explicit preferences and needs, people have a harder time articulating deeper desires and aspirations. This emotional side is design research’s forte. Goto contrasted big data (the what) with “thick data” (the social context, the why). You can find a rich list of methodologies to uncover the why in her slide deck. Also in Goto’s deck: some terrific frameworks for sharing the value of user research with stakeholders. We won’t duplicate her efforts by reproducing them here — go look at the slides!

Shedroff focused on the traditional divide between the business and creative sides of the enterprise. In companies, the business side has tools to describe the functional and financial value of our products (think: balance sheets). However, as designers we need to get better at describing and quantifying other sources of value: meaningemotion, and identity. Shedroff argued the premium value (what people will pay extra for) is located in the nexus of meaning, emotion, and identity — or, as Shedroff described it, good will. The best example of the price of good will is the Instagram acquisition: its book value at the time of its purchase was only $86 million, though Facebook eventually paid $1.1 billion. The business and creative sides have to work together to make sure that meaning, emotion, and identity are equally valued.

@nathanshedroff on the value of Instagram. Photo credit: Shannon Johnson

Let’s face it: enterprise software historically has not successfully integrated meaning, emotion, and identity into UX designs. As an industry, we have a lot of work to catch up to the best of our consumer counterparts. At Salesforce, we complement traditional user testing with rapid ethnography to increase our understanding of our users’ worlds. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the what when sharing our designs with stakeholders. As a response to these presentations, Mary and our research team have focused more on the emotional side of our users when preparing for trips, debriefing stakeholders, and sharing data with other team members.

Crafting design systems

Enterprise UX was a fantastic opportunity to see how other teams are tackling the challenges of creating and scaling design systems.

David Cronin, Executive Design Director at GE, discussed the evolution and craft behind GE’s Industrial Internet Design System, a comprehensive tool for aligning visual language, interactions patterns, and technology across numerous products, teams, and users. GE, maker of everything from aircraft engines to microwaves, has in many ways become a software company as complex as any in the world.

Likewise, Phil Gilbert, General Manager at IBM Design, described the massive design effort underway at IBM. They are building a team of 1,500 designers — including many college recruits — in studios across the globe, with an IBM Design Language to support them. This gorgeous resource is the shared vocabulary for a design organization at unprecedented scale.

IBM Design Language
Use the IBM Design Language to create beautifully crafted products and enlightening user experiences.www.ibm.com

Here at Salesforce, we have a growing Design Systems team that is busy crafting a design system not just for our own products and teams, but for the vibrant ecosystem of partners and customers that build on our platform. Through our Salesforce1 Style Guide, we’ve found that many external developers, administrators, and users are looking to our UX team for design guidance and direction. We’re working hard on tools like the style guide to support consistency and quality across our services.

Fostering cross-functional collaboration

Another common theme was the importance of cross-functional collaboration to success in enterprise software development. We heard this constantly from presenters at companies like Citrix, Paypal, GE, and IBM, as well as from fellow attendees on the floor and in the official conference Slack.

The so-called “Three-in-a-Box” model, describing the required partnership across Design, Product Management, and Engineering in particular, certainly reflects our experience here at Salesforce. We’ve found that bringing product teams into our process early on is extremely rewarding in the long run. We include product owners and engineers in brainstorming and sketching sessions. We invite them to watch (and ask questions) during user research. Early cross-functional involvement means that everyone, not just UX, has a hand in our designs.

@jarber shares stories of bringing design culture across functions at Citrix. Photo credit: Shannon Johnson

After the conference, we’re inspired to take this collaboration further. We want our designers and researchers to work closely with product managers to learn about the business side of our products. We should work even more with engineers to better understand Lightning and our overall development architecture. We’ll keep bringing PMs, developers, and quality engineers to our customer site visits. We’ll also continue to encourage our design team to gain Salesforce certification and get a true look at the experience of our administrators.

Designing for experimentation

How might enterprises embrace the fail fast, fail often mantra? Lean methodology needs an organization willing to adapt and learn. Bill Scott, VP of Business Engineering at Paypal, emphasized the value of designing for “throwaway-ability” and being open to constant change. In large organizations, it is easy to fall into the trap of building for delivery versus innovation.

To reinvent their checkout experience, Paypal formed lean UX/engineering teams to rapidly prototype and test new ideas. These teams stressed the importance of constant learning. Scott also presented Netflix as an example of a company that embraces experimentation by focusing on the customer and strategically carving a path to build-measure-learn, from the structure of their teams to their choice in programming languages. Netflix uses its UI as an experimentation layer. Scott ended his presentation with an open question:

Does your team defend the solution or embrace the problem?

@jboogie, @alissadesigns, @billwscott, & @stevesanderson talking enterprise experimentation. Photo credit: Shannon Johnson

Building further on the value of experimentation, Jeff Gothelf, Principal at Neo, contrasted two types of enterprise innovation: sustaining vs. disruptive. He described the difficulty in achieving disruptive innovation: hackathons and innovation labs just don’t cut it as solutions. These activities can be useful in sparking new ideas and fostering creative thinking; however, innovators must be strategic in approach to be successful.

His solution: Innovation Studios, made of cross-disciplinary teams — think CEO/PM meets engineering meets design — united to solve a problem and quickly bring innovative products to market. These teams must have a financial stake in the outcome of the product, with the ability to spin off from the originating company.

As Salesforce continues to grow, it is easy to shift our focus from innovation to production. We want to deliver exciting new features to our customers in each release. With more release cycles, we have less time to explore new concepts and ideas.

To tackle this, we leverage our internal UX prototypers and dedicated UX Engineering team to achieve the build-measure-learn model. Prototyping our designs allows us to quickly iterate on ideas, test them with our users, report back, and refine. Live prototypes make it easy to quickly tweak things and help our engineers understand the intended design, with the added bonus of reducing the creation of design specs. Static prototypes can be equally useful in conveying interactions and ideas. Prototyping and testing with users before committing any lines of code helps us build the right product and be more thoughtful about experience vs. features.

Our intrepid organizers, @daveixd, @louisrosenfeld, and @udanium. Photo credit: Shannon Johnson

Until next time…

Thanks to everyone at Rosenfeld Media for a great conference, especially Elaine Matthias. Beyond the content, everything was superb, from the wonderful Rackspace venue to the delicious food truck lunches. We’re looking forward to next year!