What is design? Over the years that I have been a designer, I have asked myself this question at least once a year.
In my first year, I probably answered with: "Design is about making cool stuff that looks slick and fancy!”
I'm sure I wore a colorful checked shirt, with a wild haircut and beard (I still have the beard!) and said it loud and proud as the energetic, yet naïve, designer I was. As I look back at the rationale for my definition, it was clear that the visual and aesthetic style is what attracted me. It felt important because it's what gives you the first impression. That's still relevant today. It’s a bit like a date. Sure, once you get talking to your date, you might really start to connect with their personality. Yet it's the look and impression that person presents when you first see them that will form your first opinion. Whether you want it to or not, it happens automatically. It's human nature.
Then, over the years I grew with experience (and toned down my shirt) and my understanding of design evolved. I began to understand that design has a role in solving problems. Was my design usable as well as cool-looking? Are people able to get things done with my design? I was able to apply my skills in a UX capacity within a larger business. Here, I learned that design thinking can be valuable as a tool for problem discovery as well.
If you look at today's landscape, businesses are being founded by designers. At the very top, many board seats are being filled by design thinkers. Design has started to make an impact on business strategy. That, however, is a topic for another day.
It just so happened that not long ago, I paused once again to ask myself the same question, as if to admit I once again did not know why I was invested in this thing called "design". As I sat and mulled over this thought, eyes closed, practically half asleep, the answer hit me in the face with a sharpie and pack of post-its.
Design is not about problem-solving, or awesome color choices, or even post-its and sharpies. Design is the bridge between people and an idea.
You could replace the word idea with "business," "product," or any other entity that wants to get in on the party. But at its core, it's about people. Whether it's an artistic expression or a new trading workflow designed for efficiency, both aim to engage with people and provide value to the user. If you skip this aspect, you miss the point of being a designer. You become the designer of things, not the designer of experiences.
Let's take the enterprise software industry as an example. Historically, enterprise apps have been clunky, difficult to use, and gave new meaning to the phrase "eyesore." But people used them anyway, because they had to. People adapted what they did to fit into the constructs of the application.
Applications were built by adding feature after feature. Little to no thought about how this fit into the complete workflow was given. Nor the impact it would have on the persons day. This model has worked for a long time... until now. More recently, there has been a tectonic shift to make difficult and boring enterprise apps user friendly and appealing. Why is this and what does it mean?
Well, let's paint a picture of what your daily experience looks like today versus 10 years ago. You travel to work via an on-demand cab service like Uber. You order this cab by touching a glass device. This device handles your calls, emails, web browsing and dozens of other tasks. Your lunch gets delivered to you by a service that texts you each morning. When it's time to go to dinner, you open another app telling you what's hot and what's not. This is intelligently based on your location and the feedback of a community of foodies. Perhaps you are in the mood to cook. Enter the service that delivers recipes and the required ingredients to your door. Even your everyday groceries can be ordered and delivered to you in a matter of hours. All these experiences that you have on a daily basis have changed. Your world has become smarter and easier to engage with than it has ever been.
This has only been possible by companies having customer empathy.
A deep understanding of people, their problems, and their journey throughout a day is what arms a team to make the right products with the best possible experience. This has resulted in a rebalance of what is expected when you have an experience with technology. This new expectation is now filtering into the apps we use for work every day. If your experiences outside of work have upgraded, why shouldn't your experiences at work do the same? That's why we see a boom of enterprise apps being well designed, and, as a result, being successful. Slack is a prime example.
How have we at Eze Software adapted as a result?
Well, since its start, Eze Software has always led the way when it comes to customer service. Making sure our clients always have people they can rely on to service them has been at our core. As we evolve and design our next generation products, this focus on the customer has become a core pillar of how we do it. Seeking customer empathy and understanding their lives and problems is a key factor in how we operate. It's what allows the team to create the right product with an awesome experience.
As an example, let’s take the idea of tracking your commission budgets as a trader. To provide a solution that you can use to see how you’re tracking against your budgets, we might create a new screen and workflow to present. However, through understanding of how and why commission budgets are used by a trader, we might conclude that making that a part of the trading workflow, within a ticket, would provide a more seamless and valuable experience than requiring the trader to navigate to a different part of the system to make a decision. The value is that the right information is provided at the right time within an existing workflow that the user is comfortable with, without the need to switch contexts.
The way users interact with our products is part of a larger journey that they go through during a day. Our products need to fit into that journey without being disruptive or painful. People shouldn’t have to adapt their processes and lives to use our products. Our products should adapt and fit seamlessly into their day. Done correctly, design allows you to create something that simply becomes a natural, better way to work.
So, what is design at Eze?
Design at Eze is the mechanism and thinking by which we deeply try to understand our customers, their lives, and the problems they face. It's the bridge between our products and our customers. Ultimately, we are providing our customers with a better way to work. This is achieved by creating an awesome experience that doesn’t fight them, but adds value by making things easier, simpler, relevant and sometimes pretty cool!