Beefing Up Productivity and Quality of Life through Enterprise Software Design

It's a jungle out there in the workplace, but, with the right software, it doesn't have to be. Senior UX Designer Charlie Trotter explains.

Senior UX Designer Charlie Trotter takes an entertaining and informative look at enterprise software design in this video presentation.

As Charlie illustrates, well-designed software affects the lives of employees and their productivity. That positive impact, in turn, can significantly beef up a company's ROI.

A transcript of Charlie's presentation follows.

I'm Charlie Trotter, a senior UX designer at projekt202, and I would like to talk to you about the exciting world of enterprise software design.

A lot of designers end up giving enterprise gigs kind of a wide berth in favor of some more exciting stuff, like startup projects or social apps. And those things are rewarding in their own way, but so is enterprise software. And so I wanted to talk through; maybe it'll persuade you to give it more consideration.

So, to prove that enterprise software is a party, I'm going to recommend a book to you called The Jungle, which is a gigantic bummer. It's about the meatpacking industry in Chicago in the early 1900s and it was written in the journalistic muckraking method that was the style at the time.

Upton Sinclair did what we could call something akin to an early form of contextual inquiries, where he went in and he spoke to a lot of the people who worked in these meatpacking plants. And he revealed that, through a fictionalized tale, that the conditions were appalling and unsanitary, and these people were treated terribly. It was a really powerful book at the time. It had a lot of impact on society.

One of the things he revealed is that the living conditions, when you were an immigrant family that has arrived on U.S. shores for the first time, you don't have a ton of social capital. And by the time you get here, you might not have any actual capital left, so finding a job is tough.

So, also, is finding a place to live. And so these are some tenements that sometimes are provided by the factories, for the people to live in. Having grown up outside of Chicago, which is where this book takes place, I can tell you that surviving a Chicago winter in a well-sealed, heated house is no picnic, let alone one of these places.

The factory conditions are not something I'm going to show you, because you would spontaneously become a vegan, but they're just as appalling. People were hurt. Obviously, it was fatal to the animals, which was kind of the idea. But when you're in one of these factories and you cut your finger over the course of doing your business, you don't get a sick day, because there were 10 more people waiting in the snow to have your job. So you had no protection and no real consideration was given to you.

When this book was released, there was a big outcry. Sinclair's message was, “Hey, we're treating these people like dirt, and they're literally dying of it.” The American people read the book, and their reaction was strong, but different. They said, "What? There's rat tails in the Salisbury steaks? This will not stand. We have to do something about this," which was not quite the reaction he had hoped for. He has this great quote that says that the public outcry was " ... not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef."

What does this have to do with designing for enterprise software? Let me draw a comparison. Two ways, I think the two audiences are similar, and one key way they're very different.

So these are the people from the book, and this is the user type we typically design for in a lot of enterprise software applications. She gets to enjoy a nice, air-conditioned office space. Probably an orthopedic chair of some kind. And a lot of pains are taken to make our physical working environment, in these kind of scenarios, very good. But a lot fewer pains are taken to provide people with better software to do their daily work.

So, how they're similar, is both of these groups of workers have no power to negotiate a better system for themselves. They don't say, "This system I use to do my work is awful, and it's hard to use, and it hurts." They don't have any ability to do that. A different set of people make the decision on who gets the enterprise software, what they buy, who even makes it, what it accomplishes. And a lot of times the people who buy it don't even have to use it themselves.

Where they're different is in their expectations. The workers in these factories had no expectation that it could be any better. Even if they did, when they got here, those expectations were quickly lost by the reality of their situation. The difference is, this worker here that we design for is in constant tension with the bad quality of the average enterprise software system, and the incredible quality of the smartphone in their pocket. So, say what you will about your favorite mobile OS. For good or bad, they're all pretty incredible.

So, on one hand, through their workday, they're looking at their monitor and they have a very clunky, hard-to -use system that's really not doing all the things it should be doing for them. And they pull out their phone on breaks, or when they're not taking a break, when they should be working, they pull out their phone and they have this great user experience. They download an app for a need they have and, if that app solves their problem, they keep the app, but if it doesn't, they get to delete it.

But they don't get to do that with the software on their desk. They're stuck with it. And they're spending eight of some of their best waking hours in these kind of conditions.

The reason I think enterprise software is a really exciting category in our world to work on, is because it affects the daily lives of a lot of people, and it improves the quality of life of a lot of people. That's why it's really fulfilling and the complexity of these problems is staggering, but it feels all the better when you finally solve it.

The reason I like to work on enterprise software projects is because you can't uninstall your job description.

So, these people are stuck with this, and when we come in, as either the consultants or whether you're an employee inside a company that makes some kind of enterprise software, the work you're doing is contributing to a much better quality eight-hour workday for years of somebody's life.

I think that's worth not only your occasional attention, but potentially the arc of your career.

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