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Collaborating with Customers to Design the New SAP User Experience Community

by Esther Blankenship | SAPinsider, Volume 15, Issue 2

April 1, 2014

As part of SAP’s renewed commitment to user experience, the company has followed a strategy focused on iterative design thinking to ultimately provide a consumer-grade experience for users. SAP also did this when launching the SAP User Experience Community website, where users of all types can join the conversation about UX. The site, relaunching in June 2014, is the culmination of co-innovation between SAP and its customers.

 

Dialogue. Openness. Design. User-friendliness. These may not be the words that immediately spring to mind when you think of SAP, but we have been working hard to change that perception.

At SAPPHIRE NOW in Madrid in 2012, SAP publicly renewed the pledge to improve the user experience of our software. Since then, we have crafted a user experience strategy together with the help of our customers. The strategy is a very pragmatic approach to a complex problem. With such a large product portfolio, a viable strategy cannot be a “boil the ocean” approach; it has to target the areas that will have the biggest impact. SAP co-developed with its customers a three-pronged strategy:

  • Provide a consumer-grade user experience for new applications
  • Renew existing applications by improving the user experience of software supporting the most commonly used business scenarios
  • Enable customers to improve the user experience of the SAP software they use to perform their own mission-critical business scenarios

This product strategy is complemented by user experience design services that support customers in reaching the best user experience for their business needs.

We are involving customers more and more in our design and development processes because users are the single source of truth about how they currently work, what their needs are, and how they want to work. To help facilitate this initiative, we developed a new community website where customers and interested parties can exchange ideas and knowledge about design and user experience: the SAP User Experience Community at www.experience.sap.com. Here visitors can learn more about design as well as what SAP is doing to improve the user experience of our software. The site is open to everyone, and members can share with each other and connect with SAP on this topic.

When the site went live over a year ago, it was a stake in the ground — a sign of our commitment to opening a dialogue with customers about design and to making our products more user-friendly. Since launch, we have been interviewing users, prototyping, validating, and redesigning in an iterative design thinking process to improve the site. You may be asking yourself, “Why did SAP launch a site about user experience if the design wasn’t perfect?” Perfection is quite hard to achieve, but iteration, the lifeblood of the design process, is the way to get closer to that goal. The beta version of the site has provided a valuable platform from which to start our work, incorporate feedback, and then get cracking on a new iteration planned for relaunch in June 2014.

SAP User Experience Community

A significant part of the creation of the SAP User Experience Community centered on involving end users and validating concepts with them. We encourage you to do the same in your projects. Click here to view an infographic that highlights best practices for designing products that will delight your end users.

Getting Cracking

Since the launch of www.experience.sap.com, our small team consisting of Christine Ley (project manager), Eva Ruegenhagen (user researcher), Jonas Brand (developer), and me (designer) has been busy getting the community off the ground and transforming the site into a lively information hub where visitors and members can learn from and communicate with each other about design and user experience. What makes this design community different from others is that our target audience is not just designers. We encourage developers and business experts, as well as design professionals, to learn about design and join the conversation. We strive to provide interesting content about design for beginners as well as seasoned experts.

Clearly the SAP context is a focus of the site, but the community is not limited to this aspect. In addition to “official” information about SAP’s user experience strategy, design services, UI design guidelines, offerings, and ways to engage with SAP to improve our products, you will find short, easy-to-understand definitions of basic design terms as well as practical design tips and resources from and for designers inside and outside SAP. Besides being a great place to consume information and build knowledge, the community is a place where all are welcome to share ideas about usability and design. Particularly in the new version to be launched this summer, there will be an added focus on asking questions and starting discussions.

The Design Process

We began the design process by interviewing nearly a dozen internal stakeholders to get their take on what the updated site should be. Once that internal base was covered, we then started working on getting feedback from external users (see Figure 1).

Design thinking session

Figure 1 — Design thinking session to get feedback from end users early in the design process

We contacted SAP’s Customer Engagement Initiative to line up users for remote testing, signed up for a usability testing slot at the annual Dutch-Speaking User Group (VNSG) conference in the Netherlands, and began writing an interview guide and preparing materials for our design thinking sessions. This contact with customers gave us critical insight into users’ needs and helped us craft a new structure and wording for the elements on the site. After our sessions with users, we got a much clearer picture of what terminology was most understandable for them, what their business needs are regarding design, and how they would like to use the site.

After consolidating the input from internal stakeholders and external users, we created a clickable wireframe prototype with which we could validate the design through usability testing. We performed this usability testing both remotely with customers in the US and in person at the annual German-Speaking SAP User Group (DSAG) conference in Germany with a second round of users.

Following that iteration, we drew up a new set of wireframes to incorporate everything we had learned so far and work out the details of our new concept (see Figure 2). In conducting this round of user feedback, we learned a lot about what worked, as well as what could be improved, such as differentiating SAP-driven and community-driven content.

Research findings are consolidated and synthesized after each iteration phase

Figure 2 — Research findings are consolidated and synthesized after each iteration phase

With a new concept in hand and a wealth of insights into the needs of our end users, we tapped into the pool of creative talent at SAP by announcing an in-house contest to encourage designers to submit high-resolution design proposals based on this round of wireframes for the relaunch. And this is where we are today. Leading up to the relaunch, we will continue validating with users, refining our designs, and implementing the changes to bring a better experience to the site.

All of this interviewing, testing, and refining may seem time- and resource-intensive to those unfamiliar with the design process, but iteration and validation with users simply produce the best results.


If you are thinking, “What is a wireframe?,” “I’m not really sure what design thinking is,” or “Where can I read about SAP’s user experience strategy in detail?,” visit the SAP User Experience Community at www.experience.sap.com to get answers to these questions and many more.


A New Site, A New Experience

The content you see on the SAP User Experience Community today will be transferred to the relaunched site, which will feature an enhanced navigation structure and improved functionality, such as a discussion forum, notification features, a smoother sign-up process, and clearer ways for users to interact with each other and the community staff. Those of you who are new to the topic of design and user experience will hopefully find as much valuable information as seasoned practitioners. Additionally, we are eager to see lively exchanges in the discussion forum around a host of design topics, including the points at which  user experience overlaps with development.

With the relaunch scheduled for this June, we aim to address the needs that users expressed to us and provide an even better user experience than we do right now. Visit www.experience.sap.com — and check back again this summer — and let us know what you think.

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Esther Blankenship
Esther Blankenship

Esther Blankenship (esther.blankenship@sap.com) is a User Experience Evangelist at SAP AG, advocating the importance of design in business software. Since joining SAP AG in 1998, Esther has dedicated most of her time to user interface design, including several years as the manager of the SAP User Experience — Visual Design team.



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