Four years ago to the day, after a significant portion of my career working in agencies and consultancies, I made a shift into enterprise products. To be specific, I now work in the complex world of infrastructure automation.
It was a jarring transition, not only from UX project work in an agency to product – but to an enterprise product.
Like many designers, I used to sit on the sidelines of enterprise UX, muttering “why is design over there so bad?”
There are many differences between enterprise UX and B2C, or even much of B2B. One of the key differences is the level of tolerable complexity.
Enterprise products are more often used by teams, not a single individual. The dream of a single user who gets up and running quickly, who is delighted by the experience, and who converts to a product evangelist is a distant one.
Working in an agency, you are hired for expertise or for an outside perspective, possibly to overcome internal politics or inertia. You contribute, your client pays you, and you move on, possibly with some great material for a case study.
There are times when I doubt what I’ve actually achieved; forgetting, of course, that some of the achievement has been to deliver work that is not easily reflected in a portfolio piece. In those times, I find this thought from Jared Spool, one of the most respected voices in the UX community, so reassuring:
“When I talk with UX design leaders …they’re shocked (and a little disappointed) when I tell them it’s likely they won’t see any real movement for months. It could even be years before they’re close to accomplishing their objectives.”
Working in the enterprise means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable with your design output. Outright ‘wins’ of old are hard to discern, and only after some time.
But this discomfort need only last as long as it takes you to realise that what matters, more than ever, is the value you have helped to deliver.
Your work is unlikely to raise gasps of “cool!” from other designers. You realise you are now in much more of a team sport, and part of something bigger.
Enterprise is very different to agency, but it feels like growth and development. I won’t side with one or the other. I’m just grateful to have experienced and understand both worlds.