Design · User Experience Design

Is there a difference between designing for enterprise vs. consumer?


February 18th, 2015

It used to be that consumer apps focused on design and product, while enterprise apps "got away with" just working. It made it so designers didn't really enjoy working at enterprise companies. But given new frameworks and user expectations it seems like that is changing. Wondering if there are still differences between designing for enterprise vs. consumer. Would love to hear from designers on both sides as to what appeals to them.

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

February 19th, 2015

Let's take the question at face value. I'm not trying to be a smart-ass, but how we phrase a question can sometimes dictate the answer!

"Is there a difference between designing for enterprise vs. consumer?"

Enterprise - a legal entity.
Consumer - a person.

You can't design a user experience for a legal entity! In both cases you are designing for humans.

Now, the difference in the UI/UX for a home user vs for an enterprise user will be dictated mostly by the functionality and workflow you need to offer for that particular user. In word processing, I doubt a home user needs to do multiple rounds of revisions and track changes for her resume or letter to mom. For expense tracking, a home user will not need to get the expense approved depending on the amount, assign it to a project, etc. So the experience, actions, complexity of the screen will be dictated by the use case.

One of the major reasons "enterprise UIs" have improved is simple. Before, enterprise purchases by driven by the IT department against a list of checkboxes and criteria, that included security and -ilitys like escalability, manageability, etc. Usability was an unknown word. Today, with the cloud, departments, business units and individual users can purchase their own IT solutions with a credit-card. So that has upped the bar for "traditional" vendors.

So, coming back to your question - I don't think there's much difference today in terms of the thought that goes into designing for consumers or enterprise users. However, there's a selection bias. Enterprise-focused companies typically have slower release cycles than consumer-focused ones. And that's the part that might drive designers crazy, as their ideas take a long time to make it into the wild.


George Calvert

February 19th, 2015

Excepting stuff like network security, enterprise apps are mostly about delivering productivity.  Pretty, intuitive interfaces and short learning curves -- qualities consumer apps excel at -- improve adoption and productivity, particularly in the short-term.  But speed, power and flexibility are also very important in the enterprise -- and these mean balancing the equation differently.

To me, there's little difference in the process.  It's about knowing your customer/market, understanding their needs and being sensitive to the nuances therein.  You then imbue and invest your design efforts accordingly.

Nathan Bobbin Senior Director, Product Innovation at Travelport

February 19th, 2015

The most significant difference here is that the user is not the buyer. This fact will drive many important decisions for enterprise software - design and otherwise. 

Gavin Heaton Digital Strategist, Advisor, Keynote Speaker

February 20th, 2015

As always - design with the user in mind, but understand the use cases/user journey.

The "enterprise user" has a different "job to be done" than the "consumer". The enterprise use case will have multiple stakeholders and perhaps even multiple buyers. They will be looking for reassurances around privacy, security and data management. They may need (or wish for) integration with existing systems, single sign-on etc.

Effectively you need to design a "system" rather than just an app.

Dale Lampson Product Management at Fitbit

February 18th, 2015

The days of poor enterprise app UX are over.  IMO, multi-tenant cloud applications have made a huge impact for the better in this regard.  


For one, because end users are far more involved in buy decisions, and they can spot an awful UX 10 seconds into a demo.  Smart sales folks quickly figured that out, and took the message back loud and clear.

Second, enterprise app product managers are not stupid.  They realize that maximizing LTV requires a UX and platform that can quickly support new features--where such are things like maps, video, mobile data access, etc.  In other words, all the things that one expects in a consumer app.

Finally, there are enough patterns, experienced developers, and frameworks available that implementation cost is no long a big deal.  

Just look at how firms like Salesforce and DocuSign have turned what used to be the domain of green terminal apps into sizzling UXs that people Chatter about and sign with their finger. 

Mike Rozlog Advisor at TechColumbus

February 18th, 2015

As a CEO that produces commercial software and in the past developed enterprise software, there is a difference, but the difference is becoming a much smaller gap IMO.  Why should internal enterprise software users have to put up with poor-designed software?  They should not, but it usually comes down to time and resources as all things do.  However, with some of the frameworks the time difference between doing it better and doing it wrong is not near as high as it once was.  

However, I will say if I build something for myself (situational application), that may be used by me and a few others... I don't worry to much about the design (however, I believe I design better than I used to in the past), I'm more worried about getting the functionality as soon as possible.  However, if I'm green lighting a project for internal use, I want them to plan adequate time for usability.  Therefore, I'm the classic the TV Repair guy, does not have a working TV for his family but everybody in town, does.

Mark Tuttle co founder and CEO at Cryptografx Security Solutions

February 19th, 2015

The first two comments make strong points.... 
The way I view it, is that Humans are the users, an only the business model and buying decision and economics are different between Enterprise and Consumers.  There is so many examples of good UX with the Web, there is no excuse for making a bad UX.  Tools like allow you to get an early in depth feedback about usability.  And remember, engineers shouldn't decide the UX, Users should drive it.  good luck....

picibucor Deputy Head of calibrational laboratory at CETA Testsysteme GmbH

February 19th, 2015

The world is getting more complex. In our strongly connected world the difference between an enterprise and a consumer is getting smaller and smaller.
People are able to buy products from China, to have a virtual assistant in India, and they could make use of the tools used only by enterprises some years ago (for example: presentation/project management tools).
The very same people appear on the market once as a consumer and on an other occasion as a representative of a company. And there are companies out there, serving their needs. These companies are actually having two licenses for the same product. There is a corporate, and a consumer / free / opensource edition.
There is no need to make a difference between consumer and enterprise apps. There are only problems and solutions. Enterprises having usually more complex problems, so they need a more complex solution.

Rob G

February 19th, 2015

I'm not a designer - i still struggle with stick figures! But i have spent many years in the enterprise software world (from the engineering, sales engineering, sales and sales management disciplines) and one important aspect of the purchase/sales decision for enterprises acquiring software applications is user training and user uptake and on-boarding. These are often very big expenses for the enterprise and the application provider who can show that they can reduce these costs has a key differentiator. device and application developers who sell to consumes simply cannot afford to train users so they really had to focus on making the user experience intuitive to lower the learning curve. On the enterprise side, Implementation and training services have traditionally been huge profit centers for the big enterprise app vendors and the thousands of consulting firms that support them. But office workers are consumers too. They know what is possible and they are demanding applications that are more intuitive. Enterprise apps still need to show they are 'industrial strength' (bullet proof), but the more you can reduce the burden and cost of training and on-boarding the better. Also, user adoption is key. If a departmental application can spread 'virally' within an org that reduces the vendors cost of sales so it's to your advantage to consider features that help 'spread the word' behind the firewall. my $00.0000002 worth.

Joe Emison Chief Information Officer at Xceligent

February 20th, 2015

I think George Calvert has the best answer so far. The enterprise (and organizations in general) are more rational consumers, and they're also less creative and willing to just try things.  So when designing for the enterprise, you will be more successful if (a) you're providing something they already think they need (and hopefully are generally looking for), and (b) what you're providing has a relatively clear reason for being used in the organization (doesn't necessarily have to be clear ROI, but something in that neighborhood, so the purchase can be justified).

UX matters more and more, but in the enterprise, I think UX is more around retention than getting the initial sale.