Product Design Modes

I’ve been kicking around this idea of modes for the design for software products. Primarily from a designer’s perspective when considering different market segments. In particular the distinction between designing for consumer applications vs designing for enterprise applications. There’s a massive distinction in approach that can be distilled down to a simple concept.

In consumer software the designer is focusing on engagement, stickiness, and ultimately behavior change. In consumer applications you can triangulate on various metrics – DAU’s, MAU’s, etc. to gauge whether or not the design is succeeding.

There was a great talk by the head of product from Metromile at the first Amplitude conference a couple of years ago in SF. The topic was product growth and the design of virtuous acquisition loops. The small behavioral nudges that can be designed to move a user toward conversion. These can be planned and deliberately designed to keep progress moving toward conversion (whatever that is for the particular product).

In enterprise software, all that goes out the window. Distinct from a consumer audience (large), daily usage of an enterprise product tends to be much smaller. The buyer and the user are more often than not different personas. The buyer may not understand the capabilities of the product, but is making a buying decision on behalf of the user. And most importantly, the user has no choice – they are unable *not* to use the product if there is a corporate mandate. Depending on the domain, the product may be complex. This creates challenges for product design.

Task flows are repetitive, there isn’t much of an opportunity to do multivariate testing as the test pool is smaller, and the overall motivation for users within the product is much different. Complete a task and move on.

All of this changes the goals of building products for an enterprise audience. In my experience this can be distilled down to a simple but important distinction. The goal of building software for the enterprise is to educate the user in best practices and to show how the product allows the user to accomplish those goals – and then exit the product. It’s not uncommon for a high “time on task” metric to be associated with confusion about what the user should do.

This places a greater emphasis on the information architecture of the product and how the product helps the user establish a mental model that guides them to making efficient decisions that lead to action.

How does this manifest within a product and product design? In a few ways:

  • Guided onboarding
  • Contextual help
  • Tooltips
  • Data dictionaries

The product should aim to educate while guiding the user through a workflow of good decisions with clear actions and end states.

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