“If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.” – Ralph Speth, Jaguar CEO

It is impossible to ignore the incredible impact that great design and user experience can have on business. According to a 2013 study, design-led companies have outperformed the S&P 500 by an immense 228% over the past 10 years.

The impact of design on business software is most visible in customer-facing applications and those used to manage internal tasks such as HR or sales force automation. But as businesses build and become more connected, the design of cloud-based business networks is gaining a new level of importance.

Great design can literally affect the degree and intensity of business-to-business interactions in the global economy. Intuitive user experiences engage more employees to adopt and use business networks. And this helps deepen relationships and grow commerce. So what does good design for business networks need to take into consideration?

1. Great user experience design needs to be consumer-simple, yet business strong.

Simple is good, simpler is not. Business between companies follows business rules and contracts. The applications companies use to facilitate business should mirror and follow the same flow. But this must be transparent to the end user. Solutions need to look, feel and work like they do in the consumer world. Good design makes applications highly intuitive, yet hides the complexity of the business rules underlying them. And the experience for the managers or administrators who set the business rules needs to be equally simple. Finally, all of this needs to be available on mobile devices and accessible anywhere,
anytime. That said, just replicating processes on a mobile device may not provide a superior experience. One has to use mobile consciously, knowing what tasks and operations are best performed on mobile, or only on mobile. Art meets science.

2. Great user experience design needs to facilitate business relationships and add transparency

Business networks not only connect enterprises, they create communities of people with shared interests. In cloud-based business networks, people are part of a marketplace and share a community. Everyone in the community belongs to the same industry value chain and often is engaged in a similar job function. If the community features are well designed, they can support collaboration with other professionals who have the expertise, experience and knowledge to help them execute a process such as responding to an RFP or creating an auction. Design thus helps to facilitate relationships and collaboration. The beauty of increased engagement and user collaboration is that the network inherently becomes more valuable. The more people interact and contribute, the more it
improves for all – for those that contribute and those that consume.
Most importantly though, good design provides additional transparency in a digital marketplace, which builds trust and in turn leads to more commerce. Think of vendor ratings, supplier information, or product details. If this type of information is hard to find on a page, it slows down business transactions. Clean and well-designed user interfaces on the other hand add trust and confidence in deepening business relationships.

3. Great user experience design needs to remove barriers of adoption.

The ultimate measure of success is user adoption, and consumer-like design is critical to achieving it. When launching new designs, companies should leverage consumer-like paradigms that enable users to work when and how they want, across mobile and web.  Companies should deliver design experiences that are user centric and role-based, with the spirit of knowing who users are – and take advantage of consumer innovations such as biometrics to allow them to log onto mobile apps across their devices. The key is to remove anything that could create barriers to adoption. For instance, a sourcing manager should be able to view a requisition on a mobile device while commuting to work and pin it to the application so that when they arrive at the office, the item is at the top of a “to-do” list displayed on their dashboard.  Such investments are key, because at the end of the day, technology only works if people embrace it.

The power of good design has already had broad-based impact on nearly all aspects of our personal lives. We are expecting and wanting good design in our professional lives, too. The opportunities for good design to influence global commerce are virtually untapped. Good design can increase collaboration between companies by adding transparency and trust.  And as communities like eBay prove, it can drive real business and commerce growth. The cost of good design may be high, but at the end of the day, it is a small price to pay for making the world of commerce more connected and transparent for all participants.

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