How Design is Changing IT

Chad Pytel

If you work at an enterprise company, your intranet and the tools your company uses probably suck. The reason why? The primary needs and concerns of the IT department are not the same as yours. So the people who decided to buy the software are not the people who will use it.

However, for the people who have to use this software, this is no longer good enough. This change is being driven by the shift from desktop to mobile software, and the fundamental importance of design in the new ecosystem.

Computers were once the domain of people with technical expertise. But mobile devices, with market penetration of two billion people and growing, represent the mass consumerization of technology, with different usage patterns than traditional computers. People unlock their phones every 5.6 minutes. A single bad design decision will frustrate a user repeatedly throughout the day.

When the majority of people at your company solely used Windows at home, and did not have a smart phone, the expectations for the software they used at work were low. IT was free to let their primary concerns of things like security and cost be the primary decision makers. So the crappy internal software, systems, and hardware that IT provided met those low expectations.

Mobile devices now confront us with new input methods and interaction models that make incorporating better design very important.

As users became exposed to this new technology, their expectations for the hardware and software they used were raised. The impact of this was first seen by the number of people bringing their own devices to work, even though they weren’t officially approved by IT, and then forcing IT to accept these new devices.

This is now eroding the traditional IT decision making process, and providing crappy software to users is becoming far less acceptable.

How do IT departments and vendors of traditional enterprise software deal with this new reality, while still addressing the important needs of the enterprise, like security?

They must rise to the new bar by incorporating design into their process.

It is important to understand that design is not just how it looks, but also how it works. Creating a seamless, intuitive experience for the user, whether they are a consumer or an enterprise customer, is critical in today’s environment. And large firms are beginning to take notice.

Since 2010, twenty seven companies founded by designers were acquired by bigger companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Adobe, Dropbox, and LinkedIn. Of the cumulative-funded VC-backed ventures that have raised more money since 2013, twenty percent have cofounders who are designers. CapitalOne, the eighth largest bank in the United States, recognized this when they purchased the very well-regarded design firm Adaptive Path. As part of Capital One, Adaptive Path will now help improve both digital and physical banking products, such as mortgage packets, phone systems, and banking centers. JPMorgan has hired new key design executives away from the likes of Yahoo, The Huffington Post, and Google. In 2014, for the first time ever, six venture capital firms invited designers to join their teams.

So how might those in IT departments and enterprise software vendors incorporate design into their process?

Design should be viewed as an investment, should be an integrated part of the process, and not as something that can be sprayed on at the end. An experienced designer should be involved in most strategic and technical conversations. The smartest companies are making sure that designers are part of the senior leadership team.

If you’re a company working with an outsourced development provider, you should be asking how design is (or is not) integrated into the process. And you should be working with either a great design firm first, or ideally, a firm with an integrated design and development team.

Over the coming years we will see the fruits of this design transformation. We will see the companies that have fully embraced creating intuitive, enjoyable to use products and services gain more success selling into the enterprise than those who have not. We will see companies that have embraced design internally have happier, more productive employees.