For designers who have worked on enterprise software products, the title above may stir painful memories. It’s been my experience that most development teams that build products for businesses consider design as an afterthought. Companies aren’t shallow like people; they are more interested in how something works than in how it looks. Or so the thinking goes.

This disregard for enterprise software aesthetics may be a historical artefact. As Marc Scibelli explains,

When engineers started to build these incredibly complex systems in the early ’90s, their biggest concern was: how are we going to make it work? Every few years, that mindset continued to evolve—how are we going to make it work faster? Make it work reliably? Make it work everywhere? Source

But that approach isn’t valid anymore. The past few years have seen an explosion in enterprise software companies that are challenging the bulky, old school incumbents. It’s a crowded space and everyone is looking for an edge. One way to stand out is through great design.

Need to be convinced? Here are four reasons why you need to put design front and center in your enterprise product.

  1. The interface is the voice of your product

    To the user, the interface is the product Aza Raskin

    Your product is defined by how it is perceived as before what it delivers. Your customers care as much about usability as the service you offer. Does your product empower them to get their work done easily? Does it let them do so intuitively?

  2. The B2B buyer is dead

    Whether we admit it or not, we are an Apple generation when it comes to judging products. We expect every technology we use to have a slick off-the-shelf experience.

    The customer of your enterprise product is no different. She uses tablets, smartphones, and web 2.0 tools in her daily life - why should her work tools have a different experience? A neat design makes her feel that you know what you are doing and that she can trust you with the service.

  3. It’s a mobile generation

    51% of the emails are read on mobile.
    Mobile will force desktop into its twilight in 2014

    In most enterprise product development teams, engineers work on big screens. They tend to ignore the mobile platform. But that’s where we consume most of our information today. Thinking of the design during the development phase, makes you question your platform choice and also challenges notions of how your customer will consume your product.

  4. A design first approach leads to a more customer-centric product

    Finally, there is always a gap between how a developer visualizes a product and what the end customer actually expects. It’s a gap between a technology-driven view and a user-based view. The way to overcome this is to have your product team design pieces that are absolutely necessary for your customer, and then build the backend to meet the needs. Not the other way around.

  5. Your customers will like your product when it provides value. But they will love it if it’s also intuitive and appealing.

    Shouldn’t you aim for the latter?