Enterprise UX: Craft Amid Complexity Wrap-up

Welcome to Fuzzy Math’s recap of the Enterprise UX 2015 conference. We’re organizing our blog posts around both the keynotes and the four conference themes: Insight at Scale, Craft amid Complexity, Enterprise Experimentation, and Designing Organizational Culture. Today we recap the second theme of the conference, Craft amid Complexity.

This theme focused on how to create engaging, delightful user experiences within the complex reality of an enterprise UX experience. Given a topic so broad, it wasn’t all that surprising that the talks from Peter Morville, founder and president at Semantic Studios; Uday Gajendar, principal designer at Peel; and David Cronin, executive design director of Industrial Internet Applications at GE were all a bit different from one another. The talks from Peter and David especially stood out to me, but in very different ways.

Highlight 1) The Architecture of Understanding, presented by Peter Morville

Peter’s talk, titled “The Architecture of Understanding,” covered the broadest range of topics of any talk over the two days. Even though I caught myself thinking, “Wait, what?” more than once regarding some of the more out-there — yet very relevant — anecdotes he talked about, it was one of my favorites. Between using examples like the Winchester Mystery House, the largest Swiss Army knife ever sold, larval cysts in the brain (note: yes, they were in the presentation and even in a context that made sense), and keystone species vs. architectural keystones, he made focused points about UX and the world we live in. Here are a couple paraphrased points that have stuck with me:

“When you’re in a culture that celebrates complexity, it’s hard to change your culture.” – Peter Morville

  • If you’re brought in at the mid-level in an organization, you can see the problem but don’t have authority to change it. It’s not a good place to be.
  • For all things, start with a simple understanding, dive deep to learn all the complexities, and finish with a simple solution.
  • Many of the models and metrics we (the royal “UX we”) use are far too simple, we need to dig deeper in complexity. We use radio buttons when checkboxes or sliders would reveal the truth.
  • When you’re in a culture that celebrates complexity, it’s hard to change your culture.
  • Information architecture has changed, there is an importance of understanding context.
  • Side note: Peter used Comic Sans seemingly randomly throughout the presentation, which I expect is rare at a design conference, but very enjoyable.

All of these points are relevant to UX and the enterprise UX design services we provide on a day-to-day basis, but some of them are also pretty poignant to life in general and were wonderful to hear. I will be making a point to follow Peter more closely and hope to see him speak again soon.

Highlight 2) GE’s Pattern Library, presented by David Cronin

As for David, his talk was fascinating for a very different reason: We work closely with GE Healthcare using the design system that was the focus of his presentation (if you’re so inclined, you can check out some of our work with GE).

“We have 40,000 software developers at GE, with a UX team of 20.” – David Cronin

A couple of his opening lines really highlighted what “at scale” means; he said, “At GE, we have 300k employees, $150 billion in gross revenue,” “We make half the jet engines in use,” and, “We don’t make the power plants (anymore).” Awesome stuff. Another quote that highlights what it’s like within an enterprise was this: “We have 40,000 software developers at GE, with a UX team of 20.” So with that said, how does design work get done? With a pattern library and lots of examples.

GE enlisted outside help to put together a design system, similar to the NASA design system or what Tog did for Apple, that gives everyone in the GE organization “tools, not rules” according to David. The industrial internet design system that was built gives everyone a visual language, including interaction patterns and a single technology framework to work from. However, instead of rigid guidelines, the GE UX team built ‘reference apps’ that serve as examples for how various interfaces, like dashboards, list views, etc., should look and behave.

In order to encourage adoption, they’ve created stencils for various design tools (like Omnigraffle and Illustrator) that the various (numbering in the thousands, I believe) internal teams could use within their normal work process. They found that this worked well, but almost too well, in that it made it a bit too easy to skip the sketching phase altogether and move right into design.

The general learnings gained through GE’s creation and distribution of the pattern library have been:

  • People love prototyping! They love to move fast, get prototypes in front of end users, hear feedback, and iterate.
  • Lots of pieces aren’t used at all or aren’t used correctly.
  • They failed the most on extendibility and rolling in contributions.
  • We know more about the industrial internet of things now than in 2012, so a new system is going to be needed.

Having used the end result of what David and his team put together and evangelized, it was so interesting to learn more about the genesis of the IIDx and its offshoot, the HDx, which we are intimately familiar with.

Here, you can read our pre-conference post on this theme.

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