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Design thinking, portals and UI: the Redmonk perspective and the Facebook disease

Earlier in the month, Redmonk’s James Governor kicked off a discussion about design thinking as it applies to enterprise applications:

Portal reskinning is a growing business – both Deloitte and Accenture, for example, have built practices dedicated to using Adobe technology to make existing enterprise applications and their portal front ends less painful for users.

That’s right- less painful for users. Products like IBM WebSphere Portal and SAP Netweaver Portal were supposed to bring much improved user interaction models to enterprise IT, but unfortunately traditional systems-focused IT departments, rather than user interaction specialists and their web brethren, did the work. People like Josh Portergenerally weren’t invited to the party. Portals were built to support IT systems and data, rather than users. Portals were part of what Adobe calls a system-centric view of the world. Portals had glue, if not concrete poured all over them.

Mrinal Wadwha added his two cents:

…the problem is that there are no design thinkers in most teams that build or customize enterprise software…. A quick search for Job posts with keywords “interaction designer SAP” and other related terms on various reputed job boards here, here, hereand a few other places revealed almost no relevant results .. clearly we don’t even realize yet that we need to design the interaction a user has with the software we build .. so it should be no surprise that our business software is a pain to use…

…Unfortunately, many business decision makers very often fail to see beyond the commercial glitz of well designed applications on the Internet and quickly dismiss or underrate the need of an Interaction designer on their team.

I kinda agree/disagree with Mrinal. Trying to be objective, I find that enterprise software designers are a tad snobby about their designs and that gets passed on to users. Users grump about apps but they end up finding workarounds. Some argue the consumer web changes that. Maybe but I’ve seen little hard evidence of the truth in that statement. Even so, it shouldn’t make us complacent.

There should be firm pushback from those who think Facebook is the next big thing in UI. To me it is digital vomit. And let’s not forget that as apps become more complex, it gets increasingly harder to keep UI’s as simple and as intuitive as some might wish. Even so, that should not be an excuse for ignoring the user experience.

In this video, James and I had a short (8 minute) discussion on the topic. It is inevitably one that can only scratch the surface. Even so, in conversing about the learnings that are available from the consumer space James opens up a useful line of thinking from which we can all benefit. Enjoy.

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  • Good discussion. I think the business case goes beyond user productivity and can only be established specific to the applications and use case. At SAPPHIRE I talked to an IT Director in charge of procurement applications in a large CPG company. The company rolled out SAP SRM, but due to usability issues a majority of the end-users continued to purchase through their established channels circumventing the SRM app. The expected savings could not be reached. The company spent $1 Mio. in writing a custom user interface on top of SRM, mirroring a lot of functionality found on sites like Within 3 months after rollout the adoption increased from 30% to close to 80% and resulted in significant cost savings. In the end the ROI for the User Experience enhancements was accomplished in 6 months.
    • @matt: thanks for this – are there more specifics to the case you describe? If so then perhaps there are broader learnings that will help take this forward inside the SAP community.