Enterprise software isn't exactly known for its emphasis on user design. And you can double that sentiment when the enterprise is industrial.

However, the tides are changing as companies begin to recognize the business value of well-designed software in the industrial workplace to boost productivity, increase morale, or simply cut costs.

Dan Harrelson, experience design director at GE Software, is at the forefront of bringing user design to industrial experiences. He recently joined a group of industry experts in a roundtable discussion moderated by John Maeda, design partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. Here are three insights that emerged from their conversation on designing this next wave of enterprise software.

Shift towards designer-defined products

Traditionally, product design has been dictated by engineering teams who expect designers to put a gloss on the product they’ve built as an afterthought. But according to Harrelson, the new trend is towards designers being heavily involved during the product definition process.

Rather than being subservient to the engineers building the product, designers are increasingly part of defining the product roadmap. As a result, designers can advocate for the user experience from the beginning resulting in more usable products that meet customer needs in the long term.

This is also changing the structure of organizations. Rather than reporting into engineering, Harrelson suggests that designers report directly into product management.

Embrace tension between design and engineering

The struggle between form and function is age-old. In the workplace, this problem manifests between the design and engineering groups: is design more important, or is engineering? According to the Harrelson, neither trumps the other, and the tension between the two leads to better products for customers.

“If there isn’t a compromise happening then something is either too engineering-led, or too design-led, without thinking about how functional it is going to be,” said Harrelson.

For example, if a 747 is not engineered well, it will cost lives. But the same is true if it is not designed well. So neither can be overlooked.

Harrelson added that this tension helps bring clarity to what needs to happen today, versus what can happen in the future.

Understand the customer; layer on domain expertise

Harrelson said that where companies will really shine is when they recognize their customers' unique needs and layer on top their own domain expertise.

For example, the needs of a company running a power plant will be vastly different from the needs of one that operates ocean liners. Companies need to figure out the unique needs of their customers, and then layer on top unique domain expertise to build effective solutions.

Harrelson is at the center of bringing this practice to life at GE Software and transforming the products that are delivering on the Industrial Internet promise. 

About the author

GE Digital

Driving Digital Transformation

GE Digital connects streams of machine data to powerful analytics and people, providing industrial companies with valuable insights to manage assets and operations more efficiently. World-class talent and software capabilities help drive digital industrial transformation for big gains in productivity, availability and longevity. We do this by leveraging Predix, our cloud-based operating system, purpose built for the unique needs of industry.