A crucial part of any app development is the design. Without this, an app is just a bunch of code with no context. Using design, we not only get the visuals of an app but also information on all of the features of the app, which allows the user to have an optimum experience. This is critical for mobile apps, however often a different approach must be taken for both consumer and enterprise app development. While consumer design is often handled with all the latest hardware and firmware in mind, enterprises are years behind and so designers need to work around the outdated and clunky tools that are at their disposal. This can mean that the designers as well can sometimes end up outdated and clunky themselves and end up underestimating what enterprise-level apps should be, producing a sub-par experience. Enterprise app design does not have to be this way and in order to create high-quality apps within the restriction of enterprise development, there is one key design aspect that must be utilised: the focus.
The most important design element for an enterprise app is the focus. What is the purpose of this app and who is it being made for? The answer to these two questions will ultimately have a major impact on the design of both the User Experience (UX) and the User Interface (UI). The purpose of the app is something that should be clearly laid out in a project plan before any work is undertaken on it, both for designers and coders, and it must always be clear and understandable. What is sometimes overlooked however is the latter question, who will use this app?
To figure out the target audience of the app, some research will be required but it is important to note who commissioned this app. As an example, was it a major retail chain or a consultancy? The former would likely need an app that has easy access to customer data, can make stock enquires and potentially even allow for transactions. Meanwhile, a consultancy might need an app with access to client data and allow for updating of said data on the fly. By understanding who the target audience is, a designer can focus the UX and UI to suit those needs and create a better product.
A benefit of an increased focus is how it helps to improve the other areas of app design. First and foremost, the discovery and use of information. In enterprises, 99% of mobile apps have something to do with data, whether it be searching for it or creating it. Either way, an efficient way of retrieving data will be needed and the method to go about this depends on the focus of the app. A simple search bar could be utilised to find the data or something more interactive like a list of inviting buttons and categories that segregates the data into relevant categories. The correct answer will, once again, depend on who the app is for.
Benefits to having a simple app design
The next area of app design where having a clear focus will improve the results is in regards to the struggle between simplicity and visually stimulating. Now, these two points are not exclusively separated from one another but more often than not enterprise apps will fall into one of the two, and often the former. There is almost a kind of expectations that mobile apps for enterprises should be simple. An app design that utilises simple shapes, often rectangles, and only a handful of basic colours that are associated with the enterprise’s brand.
There are benefits to having a simple app design. An app that is packed with features and data may need a simple design for optimisation purposes. The benefit of an enterprise app is its speed so if the app runs sluggishly it is failing. When this happens the first thing to go is the ‘Visual Chrome’ and that means simplifying the app to just the necessities. A designer should go through each design element and remove it piece by piece. If the app still works without it, then it wasn’t necessary in the first place.
Keeping an app simple can make it more efficient, but it also has an adverse effect of making the app visually unengaging. Often when discussing with an enterprise client, they want to cram their app with as much information as possible, leaving no space to breath. This is not always the best practice for app design however, and there are plenty of consumer apps and websites out there that make use of ‘white space’ effectively, it is all dependant on how long the user is expected to utilise the app. This is a focus of the app that needs to be considered as a simple design may benefit users who spend a few seconds on the app, treating it like a search engine, but any app designed for long periods of use will get dull fast when every page is the same simple shapes and two to three colours. In this instance, a more visually pleasing solution is required.
Most users are not bothered by what goes on behind the scenes of the app, just how efficient it is and how appealing it looks. Using multiple colours in your app could at first seem unnecessary but there are benefits to this. Colours can affect the emotions of the user which is why simple black, grey and white colours can come off dull. But more positive colours like blue, pink and yellow can help to create a positive attitude in the user which will extend towards the app itself. This is not limited to colours either, as unique shapes and a range of graphics and logos can make the product more interesting. Just remember not to go too crazy and flood that app with images. As stated before, sometimes a designer may have to make sacrifices in their app in order to keep focus and improve the overall UX and UI. There is a balance to be had and as a designer, it is a part of the job to find it. There is no point in over-designing an app just for the simple sake of designing.
There are other aspects to consider when making enterprise apps that have not been brought up here. A designer could hide quality of life (QoL) features in the app for the user to discover, increasing interest in the user to explore all parts of the app and improve the UX. As well, in enterprise app design it is important to listen to feedback and offer post-launch support so that the app can remain as efficient as possible. However, to not lose focus on the purpose of this piece those tips can be saved for another day. Neither is as important to enterprise app design as discovering the focus of the app itself, for once a designer learns this and focuses on it, all the other important design elements can be created to best match the user, and that is the most important part of enterprise app design.
Jake Davis, design director, Pocket App
Image Credit: Pixel Fantasy / Flickr