Differences Between Website and Enterprise Software Design

In my last post, I described (SDL Web) product ideas and the user experience. I continue by contrasting design for website visitors versus for those that manage such websites and end with a thank you and invitation.

Disclaimer: these are my personal views, biased by a business analyst and CMS background and lots of love for my product and its community.

Design Alignment

The biggest difference between working with our customer's designers and SDL's UX team is the organizational alignment. As part of a given customer's digital experience ecosystem (read about being a Good Corporate player by Nuno Linhares) the CMS implementation is often downstream of Web design where the user experience design, wireframes, and even HTML often come before the CMS implementation. The goal of "happy customers" is the same, but the definition of customer isn't. Your persona is not my persona.

When Alignment Works

The best digital agencies and front-end designers understand content modeling and content strategy as they create great experiences for website visitors that the CMS and developers can implement and support. They think semantically, adopt approaches like BEM, and follow thought leaders like Gerry Mcgovern or A List Apart. They look holistically at website visitor goals to help solve real business and user problems.

The Pain of Misalignment

I haven't seen horrible designs in my projects, just the occasional design that didn't quite meet editor expectations that didn't account for long text, more/less content, and other changes to managed multilingual websites. Completely disregarding the existing content/data models and technical constraints means a website design isn't just a design, it's a proposal with new requirements and functionality. Often I've seen what Gerry McGovern would call "tiny tasks" creep into the design, to the dismay of the website builders and eventually users.

New requirements and functionality aren't bad on their own. It depends on what business problems you're trying to solve beyond "a shiny new website." This brings us to our own designers and UX team. When looking at our editorial and developer scenarios, we have to balance desired functionality with existing data models and constraints.

Web design is great when aligned, otherwise in a misaligned corporate Web development environment, you might see familiar elements of this amusing IT meme:
View post on imgur.com

Solving Business Problems

Though there's some overlap with typical website visitors, our users are corporate employees, contractors, and consultants that have built "business critical" systems with our software. Our disciplines each have their focus to support an innovative user experience. Philipp explains better with this slide:

Source: Building the UX Community at SDL

User Experience Community 

Though Product Management has plenty of product experience (a few decades worth combined), to continue to evolve the product lines we work with UX and Engineering to innovate in the intersection between people, business value, and technology.

With hundreds of Tridion-related blog posts and even more Tridion questions and answers, I'm fairly comfortable working in the open. If you haven't had the chance, give us feedback, share your ideas, or mention your open source project in the posts and sites below. Be sure to participate on SDL Community.
Oh and thank you. From my first posts on the old forum to an unexpected community award (awesome!) to the many times I was corrected learnt something new, you've helped me solve problems and better communicate solutions. It's been an amazing experience so far that incidentally turned into practical training for my new role.

It Starts with a Product Idea

You start with a fully-formed, marvelous idea for the product to solve your problem. This then gets reviewed to confirm its awesomeness and gets added to the product plan or backlog. From epics to stories to specifications to implementation, your idea gets transformed into one or more product features and is released to everyone, ready to solve the problem you had... two-to-three years ago.

Except that's not quite how it happens.

Lots of Familiar Ideas

In enterprise (possibly any) software development, the ideas are plentiful, evolving, and fleeting. Suggestions repeat and even compete with each other. Anamnesis reigns, where no idea is really new, just a recollections from past lives projects and other products.

For depressing inspiration on the relative importance of ideas, see Idea Guy Bill Gross's Ted Talk (hint: the idea is only part of the success equation).

As a product manager, I'm now part of a familiar process of prioritizing what we build without being too concerned with how it's built.

What I didn't tell you back as a functional consultant, the reason you liked (or didn't like) my functional designs was because of you, my dear technical consultant. I found a match between what the customer wanted and what you would likely implement.
  • You liked automation and the Event System? Sure, it's part of the design toolkit.
  • Content Delivery pro? Perfect, let's go dynamic with "widgets." Editor configures the Component, you deliver the results with a few Content Delivery API calls.
  • Container components are your thing? Sure, we'll go modular but not dynamic just yet.
I helped discover the WHAT; you figured the best HOW.

Though technical formats should not dictate a proper content model, architectural and technical constraints actually help a design (see Design of Design, a nice follow-up Brooks' Mythical Man Month). In past business analysis roles I worked with developers and business owners to convert marketing and business owner wants into system needs.

Now I'm one of the "business owners." But my focus is still on helping the customer and their content editors.

Experiencing User Experience (UX)

I get to work with another awesome team that's even more focused and dedicated to the user's experience. As much as I loved working with implementation teams to build next generation websites, your personas were not my personas.

As a client, partner, or PS developer, you care about agile development processes, high-quality websites, and manage-able website code. Your primary persona is the website visitor rather than the editors. But the editors are my personas. And now you are also one of my personas.

Philipp Engel, SDL's UX Group Director, describes the team and the evolving process between Product Management, User Experience, and Product Development:
Regardless of your experience with Tridion, please take a look at the slides, read the introduction, and consider joining the broader SDL UX community.

Beyond Feature Filtering

Having "field experience," I care about product features and have my own wish list of product changes. Paradoxically, the focus shouldn't be on features. If we look instead at what our users need to accomplish and what critical tasks they do over-and-over, we can focus on things we can improve qualitatively and quantitatively (read about data-driven design in our UX group).

A messier alternative is taking the few hundred (or thousand) ideas and then weight them by:
  • Cost
  • Appeal to stakeholders, the market, analysts
  • Timing
  • Size
But the point with feature ideas isn't to Catch Em All. You want a cohesive, comprehensible set, not a random selection filtered by attributes

Quick, pick the best ones by cost, appeal, or size. Source: Kotaku.
Discipline isn't just about saying "no." It's about saying "yes" to the right things. UX strategy helps us discover the right things based on the product vision and objectives along with well... the user experience. Organizations with "digital experiences" (websites) understand this and apply everything from A/B testing, to user research, to Top 10 Task Analysis to improve their customer's experience.

Since changing roles, editors are still one of my key personas and I'm still not responsible for the technical solution. I help highlight the problems; understanding the user's experience is critical to what we do. I'm looking forward to doing more than idea filtering.

In my next post I'll continue on user experience design, looking at some of the differences between website and enterprise software design and how the community can get involved.