How to make enterprise software less ugly: 3 tips

Enterprise software designers and product managers can keep these considerations in mind for making more appealing and user-friendly products.

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Enterprise software has a reputation for being among the ugliest and most miserable to use out there. But software designers can take steps to improve products to attract and retain users, according to Eric Shashoua, CEO of Kiwi for Gmail and Kiwi for G-Suite

Commonly-used enterprise tools like ERP systems are poorly designed, both in terms of aesthetics as well as user friendliness, Shashoua said. 

"The whole user interface and trying to accomplish the things that you need to do are very painful," Shashoua said. "People get lost in a Byzantine, hopeless mess and have to piece together information themselves." 

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Software design in the consumer space has improved immensely in recent years, thanks in large part to the influence of Apple, with it's sleek designs and intuitive interfaces, Shashoua said. 

"The consumer sphere companies are forced to succeed by wooing the user, and enticing them with how appeal you are--companies on the consumer side now live or die based on their ratings in an app store," Shashoua said. 

"In the enterprise sphere, companies succeeded by wooing the IT guy or administrator or CFO, not the user." 

Consumer users are brought into an app or piece of software based on its appeal, while on the enterprise side, users are forced to use these tools, Shashoua said. 

However, in recent years, new companies have tried to make enterprise software more appealing for end users (think of Slack versus the original Microsoft Workplace Messenger, which has since become Microsoft Teams). 

How can tech companies make enterprise software better? Here are three tips to remember, adopted from the realm of consumer software that Kiwi for Gmail employees use, according to Shashoua: 

1. Effortlessness begets engagement

"This is really about simplicity as well as reliability," Shashoua said. 

If you try to use a certain feature in an enterprise application, and one time out of every 10 it crashes or doesn't work properly, that's a problem, even if employees are used to working around it, he added. 

Another issue around simplicity is the user interface, Shashoua said. "One of the things that we've seen with our software is that if something takes people three or four clicks to do, they won't do it," he added. "If they have an alternative that's likely faster, they'll do that." 

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2. Beauty facilitates desire

If you consider Apple's products, it's very clear that the company works hard to make them look beautiful, which is evident from the keynotes and rollouts, Shashoua said. This is very different from how Microsoft, for example, introduces and advertises a new piece of software. 

"If you look at most enterprise software, it is the most ugly kind of drab, depressing looking stuff out there," Shashoua said. "[Some companies] don't really care about how it looks, they just care about what it does. You can't do that in the consumer space anymore." 

It doesn't take a huge amount of effort to go in and make graphs and interfaces look nicer, he added. 

3. User experience reigns supreme

Ultimately in software design, the user experience is more important than features, Shashoua said. For example, if users have multiple accounts, they should be able to easily sign into each and switch between them. 

"It's really important to care about the user, even if they're not the person you're selling to, and that's fundamentally what it comes down to," Shashoua said. "The user isn't the person who is making the decision about whether or not a piece of software gets adopted in the enterprise space."

But if software companies are only focused on cost-cutting or the features included, they may face competition from startups like Slack that end up taking a large portion of the market share, Shashoua added.

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes