The Importance of Enterprise UX Design (+Challenges)


Products designed for enterprise use cases are usually more technically complex, support highly specialized use cases, and solve complex problems. Consequently, the design process required to create and maintain them is similarly complicated.

That’s why the subject of enterprise UX matters for modern companies – and many enterprises have entire teams dedicated to creating, analyzing, testing, and optimizing a consistent end-user experience for their employees across the enterprise applications they use to maximize efficiency and drive business outcomes.

Whether you’re on a product team designing user experiences for an enterprise product, stakeholder vetting best-fit products for your organization, or an internal application manager who is designing your enterprise application UX, this article will help you understand the core differences between enterprise and consumer UX, the challenges unique to enterprise UX design, and how to empower end-users to maximize the functionality their tools offer and drive digital adoption.

What Is Enterprise UX?

Enterprise UX refers to the science (or art, if you prefer) of designing products for technology end-users that work at a large enterprise organization. Obviously, that’s a large and diverse segment we’re targeting and includes everything from designing experiences for one-person solopreneur teams to what UXMatters calls, “large-footprint software for internal functions such as HR and accounting systems, customer-relationship management (CRM), vendor management, and others.

Enterprise UX vs. Consumer UX

There are several differences in the UX choices and the design ethos required for consumer products vs. their enterprise counterparts, including:

  • User Goals: Enterprise UX focuses on efficiency and productivity while consumer products emphasize a broader range of user needs and preferences, including entertainment, information, and personal convenience.
  • User Base: Enterprise UX targets professionals and corporate users while consumer UX caters to diverse, generalized audiences, encompassing various demographics and user behaviors.
  • Complexity: Enterprise UX may involve complex workflows, data processing, and industry-specific functionalities while consumer UX focuses on simplicity and ease of use for a broad user base.
  • Integration: Enterprise products prioritize integrations with third-party products and other enterprise software, while consumer UX focuses on standalone functionality and only develops functionality as an aside.
  • Security and Compliance: Products designed with an enterprise audience in mind usually adhere to stricter security and compliance standards, than their consumer peers.
  • End-User Training and Onboarding: While consumer products are usually intuitive and user-friendly by default, enterprise product teams need to create structured employee training programs and user onboarding processes due to the specialized nature of their products.

The Importance of Effective Enterprise UX

Why does UX design matter for enterprise-first products? Here are a few reasons why.

1. Enables the digital workplace and empowers hybrid teams

The post-COVID era of hybrid teams means that in-person serendipity isn’t guaranteed any longer. You can’t stroll over to a co-worker’s desk or bump into them at the water cooler to clarify how a specific product/feature works. So, any UX choice that gets your end-users scratching their heads and struggling to understand what your product does is a minus.

Effective enterprise UX guides your power users to the functionality they intuitively expect and makes them jump through limited (or no) hoops to get there. It also enables the entire digital workplace enterprise strategy to encourage higher levels of productivity and end-user efficiency.

2. Accelerate digital transformation and achieve ROI from enterprise software investments

Effective UX design emphasizes usability and functionality—as a result, it makes it easy for enterprises—notoriously bad at digital transformation—to adopt new software and workflows and turn a positive ROI from their enterprise software investments.

Simply investing in a new enterprise technology is only one step of the process. Organizations must tie these new technologies to business outcomes and benefits. Enabling employees through role-based training, onboarding, and ERP end-user support drives real value from these tools, and practical, well-designed enterprise UX simplifies the adoption process – helping end-users achieve their “aha!” moment with enterprise applications and digital workflows.

3. Ensures process compliance and data integrity

Well-designed enterprise products make it easier to specify processes, ensure compliance, and guarantee the quality of data produced from such processes since they offer:

  • Intuitive workflow design that makes it easy for users to follow established processes.
  • In-app guidance that coaches users through all the necessary steps to complete specific tasks.
  • User-friendly forms and data entry screens with clear labels, validation checks, and error messages.
  • Role-based access control and permissions, ensuring that only authorized users can access or modify certain data.
  • Real-time feedback and data validation checks during data entry that can highlight potential errors or compliance issues

4. Shortens time-to-proficiency for new hires

New hires face the brunt of poor UX design choices most starkly since they’re often trying to familiarize themselves with internal organizational workflows while trying to adopt enterprise tools that they may be unfamiliar or inexperienced with. Thoughtful enterprise UX choices offer them:

  • Intuitive, user-friendly design that reduces their learning curve.
  • Clear, consistent navigation menus that make it easy to find helpful information.
  • Feedback mechanisms for getting tailored user assistance.
  • Responsive design across web and mobile interfaces for easier context-switching.
  • Personalized learning paths based on individual roles and responsibilities to reduce time-to-proficiency for new hires.

5 Challenges Unique to Enterprise UX Design

When crafting products/features for enterprise use cases, the main obstacle UX designers (and internal user support and IT teams) face is the need to balance utility and aesthetics, integrating newer products with legacy systems (that are often poorly designed), and building with users in mind. 

Here are five ways these challenges manifest in practical terms.

1. Designing enterprise UX contextual to highly-specific use cases

On the other end of the UX spectrum B2C products are designed with individual users in mind, but are still malleable enough to be customized and used in enterprise use cases.

For purely enterprise products, UX decisions are often made to accommodate specific roles, industries, and workflows, and to cater to the regulatory needs of a slim number of user personas.

For instance, Salesforce is easily the most prominent enterprise CRM, and its ecosystem is heavily invested in industry-specific solutions for industries like healthcare, financial services, and government administration.

Similarly, enterprise products like SAP, HubSpot, and Thomson Reuters need to pass certifications like SOC Type 2 and ISO 270001 to meet industry-specific regulations. In contrast, all the products above and their peers (Tableau, Slack, Veeva, etc.) need to maintain state-of-the-art APIs powering thousands of third-party applications that extend their product’s core functionality.

2. Steep learning curves and complex enterprise software

Since enterprise products are faced with the dual challenge of supporting highly specific use cases, without alienating casual, newbie users, they tend to have a steep learning curve—how else were you going to teach users to channel all that firepower your product offers?

This is also a result of the need to train users for different, case-specific roles, and test their knowledge continuously because experience doesn’t transfer quickly between enterprise products.

3. Difficult to test enterprise UX design without launching it

Testing enterprise UX in a sandbox is a minefield for IT and product teams since you still have to worry about:

  • Highly sensitive data such as financial information, proprietary business data, and customer data and testing with real data can pose security and privacy risks.
  • Confidential workflows and proprietary methodologies that can expose intellectual property.
  • Industry regulations that can lead to issues with non-compliance, even before your product launches.
  • Data privacy laws like GDPR or HIPAA that may prohibit using customer data for experimentation.

4. Legacy systems are inherently poorly designed

Enterprises take a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to software and it’s not unusual for utilities like nuclear power stations, bank ATM networks, and even insurance companies or law firms to still use Windows XP for critical services that might affect millions of users if they go down.

So, not only do enterprise IT and product teams have to build state-of-the-art, modern functionality into their new launches; they have to work extra hard to ensure backward compatibility with legacy systems.

5. Onboarding and supporting end-users across departments and roles

This brings us back to our first challenge. Building context-specific product use cases also means you have to narrow down, and design onboarding and support workflows for users in specific roles, for different intended outcomes and use cases, all at different proficiency levels.

UX Best Practices for Enabling Enterprise End-Users

To enable their target users to succeed with minimal hand-holding, enterprise UX designers need to proactively simplify their products to solve problems with limited steps, invest in help resources, and always build with the end-user in mind.

1. Support end-users with contextual documentation and in-app guidance

Speaking of enterprise-specific assistance, there are several avenues you can use to impart the skill new users need and simplify your product’s learning curve, such as:

  • Self-guided experiences and certification programs
  • Guided onboarding experiences, e.g. interactive walkthroughs and step-by-step product tours.
  • A self-help support library with wikis, product docs, and pre-recorded demos users can access at their convenience.

And, if you’re on the lookout for an all-in-one solution, the Whatfix digital adoption platform enables enterprise organizations to take a user-centric approach by empowering end-users with real-time, contextual, guided experiences. 

IT teams can embed a self-help widget with universal search where users can search through every piece of relevant content on the topic they need help with. End-users can leverage in-app guided Flows, Task Lists, Field Validation, Smart Tips, and more to help navigate complex processes and receive real-time support.

Software clicks better with Whatfix's digital adoption platform

Enable your employees with in-app guidance, self-help support, process changes alerts, pop-ups for department announcements, and field validations to improve data accuracy.

2. Use analytics to analyze and optimize enterprise UX

Product analytics tools offer an unfiltered, front-end view of how users interact with your product’s UX, issues end-users face, and bits of insights that can help you build a better experience that enables end-users and drive business outcomes. Common user behavior and analytic capabilities product analytics tools can empower enterprise IT and UX teams with include:

  • Custom event tracking to monitor any user behavior.
  • User flow analysis to map common user paths and identify areas of user friction across different cohorts of users.
  • Monitor overall adoption levels across types of end-users and analyze software license usage.
  • Heatmaps that offer a distilled footprint of user activity on your landing pages and digital assets (applications, etc.)
  • Session recordings that replay your users’ on-screen interactions, including mouse movements, page visits, taps, scrolling, etc. as one cohesive step-by-step narrative you can follow from start to finish.
  • Cohort analysis, which groups users into buckets based on the characteristics they share in order to understand how to improve your product for them.
  • Funnel analysis, which shows conversion trends from the first landing page users visit until they take it to your desired CTA.

Whatfix provides enterprises with a no-code tool to monitor, analyze, and optimize enterprise workflows to overcome user friction and create the most efficient processes.

Analyze user adoption, map journeys and flows, build user cohorts, and identify areas of friction all in Whatfix's no-code event tracking and adoption platform.

With Whatfix’s digital adoption platform and analytics suite, analyze, build, and deliver better end-user experiences to accelerate technology adoption and enable end-users to maximize software usage. Whatfix’s no-code system enables IT teams to analyze and measure digital adoption and product usage, create in-app guidance, and provide self-help user support.

3. Maintain consistency across your enterprise applications

Enterprises often invest in dozens of applications that enable employees across business functions and internal use cases. This leads to fractured, inconsistent end-user experiences, which hurts productivity – especially for enterprise workflows that span multiple applications.

Here are some tips that can help you bring consistency to your enterprise UX across your software stack:

  • Standardize UI elements (e.g., buttons, menus, and search bars) and ensure a consistent layout to minimize confusion across you enterprise apps (ie. your CRM, ERP, HCM, etc.). To assist standardization, consider QMS implementation from a tool like Veeva QMS.
  • Maintain a consistent testing environment to simulate real-world user conditions and verify that design elements and functionality perform consistently.
  • Develop comprehensive design guidelines that outline visual elements, typography, color schemes, and UI components to be used consistently across all applications.
  • Train your development and design teams on design guidelines and the proper usage of design components to enforce consistency.
  • Conduct regular audits and quality assurance checks to identify and rectify inconsistencies, both in terms of design and functionality.
  • Define and adhere to brand guidelines and identity standards, including logos, color palettes, and iconography to reinforce brand recognition.

Whatfix’s no-code DAP enables organizations with a simple content editor to create, launch, and test in-app content and UX tips that adhere to your branding.

“Whatfix reimagines our training. It supports in-app guidance across almost any platform. It’s so easy to update materials, we can finally keep pace with the system changes. Whatfix is an ideal platform for renewables and energy companies looking to improve the adoption of JD Edwards, CRM, or other applications. It dramatically reduces the time spent training and onboarding our employees and supports our environmental stewardship. Looking back, Whatfix was one of the best decisions we have made.”

Abby Essing, Sr. Manager, Operations Services at Renewable Energy Group, Inc.

4. Consider intended business outcomes when designing enterprise UX

Design teams tend to overemphasize form over function, building out beautiful bells and whistles to the detriment of core features their major users rely on.

The only way to balance your desire for beauty and your customers’ desire for a product that just works is to:

  • Start by thoroughly understanding the specific business goals and objectives that the enterprise software is intended to support. This may involve working closely with stakeholders to define key performance indicators (KPIs) and success criteria.
  • Design your product(s) to be customizable by default to accommodate different industries, use cases, and edge cases.
  • Prioritize productivity and real use cases vs. design for its own sake.
  • Use behavioral analytics data to prioritize features, tools, and design decisions.
  • Invest in user training and onboarding to ensure your end-users have what it takes to use your product to the maximum.

Or, in summary, don’t sacrifice usability for aesthetics—and talk to your customers a lot to learn what they want.

Analyze, create, and optimize your enterprise UX that enables end-users with Whatfix’s DAP

Building effective user experiences for enterprise products starts with learning about your end-users—through 1:1 interviews, surveys, polls, etc. Then you need to keep them in the loop during the development process to help you balance your personal vision with actual features users want.

Third, you need to deliberate on onboarding users, with role-specific experiences and contextual experiences.

Finally, behavioral analytics helps you figure out what your users love, hate, or are ambivalent about so you can adjust accordingly.

Whatfix is an all-in-one product experience suite designed to empower product teams throughout the process with:

  • Self-help resources embedded right inside your product’s UX, including wikis, docs, demos, and video explainers.
  • Unintrusive feedback tools like surveys and polls that surface after users complete specific actions.
  • Guided, step-by-step onboarding and coaching.
  • Product analytics that gives you a 30,000-ft overview or how much your users love your product

Above: In-app employee guidance created with the Whatfix Digital Adoption Platform

Whatfix’s DAP empowers organizations with a no-code editor to create in-app guided flows, onboarding tasklists, pop-ups, tooltips, alerts, reminders, self-help wikis, and more to enable employees to use software better. Enable your employees to become proficient in new applications faster, create interactive process documentation, guide users through process changes, assist employees through infrequent tasks, and provide self-help performance support on your CRM, ERP, HCM, or any desktop, web, or mobile application.

What Is Whatfix?
Whatfix is a digital adoption platform that provides organizations with a no-code editor to create in-app guidance on any application that looks 100% native. With Whatfix, create interactive walkthroughs, product tours, task lists, smart tips, field validation, self-help wikis, hotspots, and more. Understand how users are engaging with your applications with advanced product analytics.
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Whatfix's digital adoption platform empowers your employees, customers, and end-users with in-app guidance, reinforcement learning, and contextual self-help support to find maximum value from software.

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