Enterprise UX Design: Collaborating and Taking Charge of Uncertainties

January 8, 2024

In my role as a Product-Design Lead at VMware Design, I craft user experiences for enterprise products and services that are integral to customers’ operations. These products help enterprise users handle intricate, sensitive data relating to cloud infrastructure, security, and networking. Therefore, our UX design process demands high standards of performance, reliability, and usability.

Designing enterprise products necessitates comprehensive thinking, managing complexity, and welcoming uncertainties. Enterprise UX design is a field for people who thrive on solving complex problems and enjoy piecing together puzzles. However, it comes with its own set of challenges and uncertainties. For example, how can UX designers strike a balance between functionality and simplicity? How can you reconcile the expectations and requirements of different stakeholders? How do you stay adaptable to evolving market trends and customer needs?

In this article, I’ll share my knowledge and strategies for how you can navigate such challenges and uncertainties by improving the UX design process through effective collaboration. I’ll also share some practical examples, as well as some tools that you can utilize in your day-to-day work. Plus, I’ll discuss some challenges that you’ve probably encountered and how you can address them.

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Data Deficiencies

In numerous situations, you might not have all the necessary data to aid decision-making. However, adopting a curious mindset and finding answers to design questions is what motivates many enterprise UX designers. For instance, when I was redesigning and reimagining a leading business-to-business (B2B) product, we didn’t have any product analytics to lean on. The product wasn’t connected to the Internet and was used primarily in customer data centers, making it difficult for us to understand its usage.

To overcome this hurdle, we launched a comprehensive survey to collect data on how users interact with the product and identify their painpoints. We had to think outside the box, so turned to user blogs and Reddit forums to develop an understanding of both the domain and user personas. Even though this approach was more time-consuming than simply checking data about user behaviors on an analytics dashboard, this desk research enabled our team to gain a robust understanding of the domain.

Diverse Personas and Varied Goals

In an enterprise context, the users are not the people purchasing the software, so it’s crucial to understand the diverse user personas, as well as their interactions to foster collaboration between them. It is also necessary to understand users with whom we don’t often interact. Their challenges are unique, so solving B2B problems requires heightened levels of empathy. In enterprise UX design, striking the right balance between business objectives and user goals is vital.

For instance, while spearheading the design of subscription and billing functionality for an enterprise product, I noticed that purchasing decisions are rarely made by a single individual or during just one browser session. Finalizing the decision-making process regarding what to buy involves multiple iterations and several layers of approvals, as well as resolving situations where the user deciding the quantity to buy doesn’t have the authority to make the purchase. There’s often another individual who must click the Buy button—although, in some organizations, the same person can make the purchase. How can you navigate such varied scenarios? How can you design for the necessary handoffs and collaborations? How do you accommodate each user persona’s goals within a single workflow?

One thing that helped my team was creating an ecosystem map, in which we mapped out all the user personas and their goals and prioritized the different usage scenarios. This design-thinking activity helped clarify our assumptions and clearly map out all the personas’ goals.

Figure 1—An ecosystem map
An ecosystem map

Navigating the Unknown

Navigating the unknown is a significant challenge in UX design—and not just in enterprise settings. However, this challenge is even more pronounced in enterprises where there is a scarcity of data and limited customer access. When venturing into unexplored areas with unpredictable results, there is a tendency to choose a single path and follow it, prioritizing action over the evaluation of diverse ideas. However, this approach might result in less-than-ideal solutions or overlooked opportunities. Given the extended-release cycles in enterprise UX design, it is crucial to find the optimal solution for the user. Updating a product post release could be time consuming. A UX design team can aid an organization not only in handling such uncertainties but also in formulating strategies for tackling them by investigating a variety of options through UX research before settling on a particular course. Here are some valuable insights that you can integrate into any UX design process to help you navigate intricate challenges.

1. Keep the user at the center of the process.

The goal of the Discovery Phase is to empathize with users and understand their needs, goals, painpoints, and behaviors. For enterprise-software companies, success depends on balancing user goals with business goals and objectives. The following suggestions can help you handle ambiguities during this phase:

  • ecosystem mapping—Determine the product’s target users and align their goals with those of the business stakeholders. Concentrate on understanding the motivations, needs, and painpoints of the buyer persona, as well as hands-on users.
  • user recruitment—Based on the user personas you’ve identified, conduct a user survey to answer fundamental questions and maintain a ready pool of customers for research.
  • constructive feedback mechanisms—Utilize the documents from the Discovery Phase to keep stakeholders focused. Encourage them to adopt a user-centric mindset when they’re providing feedback. Suggest their avoiding subjective statements such as “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” and evaluate feedback from the actual user’s perspective, asking questions such as, “Is this design beneficial to our users?”

2. Collaboration is essential.

On large projects, a common challenge is aligning a product team to focus on the most important user needs, which requires effective collaboration. Some ways of improving collaboration during this phase include the following:

  • stakeholder interviews—Document the business goals and vision for the product.
  • partnership with stakeholders—Collaborate with stakeholders and leverage their expertise in engineering, sales, and marketing to demystify the domain’s complexity.
  • assumptions tracking—Gather the team’s assumptions about both the product and user behaviors. Use these assumptions during UX research interviews to validate the product concept and facilitate constructive discussions with your stakeholders to address obstacles.
  • over-communication—Be transparent about your work’s status and where you’re facing challenges. For instance, you might send a biweekly update newsletter comprising three sections—Customer Insights, Accomplishments, and Blockers—to the cross-functional team to help inform stakeholders about your progress, challenges, and next steps.
Figure 2—Template for a biweekly update newsletter
Template for a biweekly update newsletter

3. Iterate and refine your designs.

During the Design Phase, the goals are to prototype and iterate on your design solutions until you find the best one for your users. One challenge is gathering feedback and getting signoffs when each stakeholder has a different point of view, along with the time pressure to choose the easiest option and move on. Here are some tips for overcoming such challenges that I have learned from experience:

  • beginning with user flows—User flows are diagrams that capture the step-by-step actions that users take in achieving a task or goal using your product. These diagrams help the product team align on a high-level design direction before delving into design details and interactions.
  • adopting low-fidelity prototypes—Because these are quicker to create, they provide the opportunity to explore various ideas with users and stakeholders.
  • applying design-thinking techniques—You can use these techniques and activities at different stages of the UX design process. This can help you manage ambiguity by embracing an iterative, open mindset. Design thinking also assists teams in aligning on goals and design solutions.

4. Deliver, then measure your user-experience outcomes.

The final stage of the process is the Deliver Phase, when you launch your product to the market and make sure that it meets user expectations and quality criteria. For complex projects whose goals are unclear or controversial and might also be hard to follow and understand, the following tips can be helpful:

  • video walkthroughs—Given the complexity and the scope of enterprise design workflows, creating a video walkthrough and sharing it with stakeholders for review before meeting in person or online gives everyone an opportunity to contemplate the designs and ask constructive questions about them, avoiding immediate negative reactions.
  • documenting UX design case studies—At the end of each project, document it as a UX case study and share your learnings and recommendations with other UX designers.
  • conducting usability testing and benchmarking studies—These studies can help you record and quantify the current user experience, which can serve as a reference and be useful in evaluating the impacts of future enhancements.


To design great enterprise products, you need a solid, iterative UX design process that can help you to deal with the uncertainties and complexity that often come with these projects. Plus, being able to handle ambiguity is essential for UX designers in this dynamic, fast-changing industry. While several process frameworks exist, effective collaboration and teams that have a problem-solving mindset are the keys to making consistent progress and delivering user experiences that are usable, timely, and innovative.

I hope this article has been helpful and informative to you. I’m eager to know your feedback and questions on this topic. Please share your opinions and stories in the comments. Thanks for reading! 

Staff Product Designer at VMware

Palo Alto, California, USA

Sumithra GnanasekarAs a UX design lead, Sumithra is motivated by solving complex problems and passionate about empathizing with user needs to create simple, usable, easy-to-learn designs. I love uncovering the Why and How behind every design problem and delivering innovative solutions. I have led design for critical enterprise products such as vSphere+ at VMWare, which has been adopted by 100% of Fortune 500 companies, and Oracle Management Cloud. I have more than ten years of experience designing enterprise and consumer technology products.  Read More

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