Product design at Fastly: How we create useful enterprise experiences
At Fastly, we design for a delightful enterprise experience by looking deeply at customer needs. As a leading edge cloud platform, successfully designing at scale can feel remarkably different from designing for consumer sites. When you're creating human-centric experiences, however, many of the fundamental design challenges remain the same.
I spent 20 years creating consumer interfaces before making the transition into enterprise design, or the practice of creating experiences for business customers. The switch was daunting at first, but along my journey I have discovered remarkable similarities between B2C and B2B design, and some pleasantly surprising differences.
In this post, I will share some discoveries I’ve made in my journey of becoming an enterprise product design lead.
Discovering your customer’s needs
One of the wonderful things about designing enterprise software is that so much of your company knows the end user really, really well. At Fastly, our sales, C-suite, and product organizations are meeting with customers constantly, collecting requests for improvements to our products.
This is not always the case at a consumer organization, where UX practitioners and support representatives may be the only ones talking to actual customers. When consumers contact support, it’s often to complain about a material loss, such as a missing or damaged shipment, not typically to request product improvements. Enterprise software customers are great at asking for help and requesting new features to help them solve their day-to-day needs. An enterprise support organization is a treasure trove of customer input you can use as a designer to understand customer needs.
When a feature is near launch, we conduct rounds of testing with internal users before shipping the product. We release a product as a beta first, which gives us another opportunity to get customer feedback and iterate on the solutions. Fastly products go through beta, Limited Availability, and General Availability phases, which means our opportunities to collect customer input and refine our solutions are quite extensive. Learn more about our product lifecycle.
Design at scale
Enterprise design uses many of the same building blocks you would find in a typical consumer web application. As designers, we employ the same form controls, buttons, and even the same visual patterns you see on consumer interfaces every day. The account menu, for example, is typically in the same place on web interfaces for consumer populations as it is in B2B interfaces: the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Likewise, most web interfaces follow a common template of incorporating top or side navigation, a hamburger menu for mobile, and a footer element. While the standard framing of many interfaces is consistent, enterprise products must often account for complexity that may be unnecessary or even impractical in consumer experiences.
Enterprise UIs must often accommodate more controls to meet customer needs, and therefore need to scale gracefully to avoid becoming overly cluttered. Consumer design typically strives to strip away all unnecessary distractions with the goal of moving the user along through a sales funnel. B2B design, however, needs to accommodate a swiss army knife of options for savvy users. As product designers, we spend a lot of time iterating through different design solutions for integrating these options to an interface in an elegant, yet discoverable manner.
The final user interface delivered to a customer is just one phase of a mature process that many product designers use to create an experience. The development of an interface typically occurs at the end of a methodology that is often referred to as the double diamond design process. This methodology guarantees that research, customer feedback, and iteration are included throughout the design process. Depending on the project, the stages of the double diamond process can be more extensive and thorough in enterprise design.
If design follows the same fundamental process, why would this methodology be more extensive in enterprise design? The reality is this process is often heavily truncated in consumer design. Many consumer experiences are conceived of, designed, and fully launched within the space of weeks or just a month. A lot of corners are cut when designing at that pace. With methodologies like the week-long design sprint, a designer can take a brief sojourn into each of the design phases, giving each step a cursory nod. It’s hard to tease out that much discovery and research in such a compact timeline, however. With our product lifecycle, we have more time and structure for discovering customer needs, synthesizing research, designing, and iterating on solutions.
The reward factor
Human-centric UX design is important to us, and customer feedback is a key component to that process. We enjoy the chance to hear directly from customers on exactly which features make their jobs easier, and which are making things harder. Product designers are human, and we don’t always get things perfect on the first go. We rely on feedback to know what works and what doesn't. And when we do hear back, there's nothing more powerful than knowing that you've had a dramatic, positive impact on someone's day-to-day life. It's what keeps us motivated.
Have feedback on your experience using Fastly? Please share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.