designing approach for enterprise level products

20 May 2010 - 6:06pm
989 reads
Shraddha Sorte

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I have worked bottoms up from distributed and have seen a lot of worthy contributions and I understand the importance of centralized approach at the same time. I also understand that “distributed” cannot scale and may miss out on the bigger picture but at the same time “centralized” can miss out on the "need-of-the-minute", if it makes things too generic in terms of patterns.

Listing some of the pros and cons for both these approaches:

1. Ownership

Distributed: You are the dedicated designer for the product so you feel like a part of the team and thus have a sense of ownership of the product rather than being seen as an alien independent UX entity who polices around and preaches best practices.

Centralized: Designer belongs to the generic UX team and thus is not a dedicated designer for a particular product. This does not give a sense of ownership for a particular product since you act like a outsider consultant and talk at higher levels and make generic comments / patterns that the product team should follow. This may not necessarily be in the best benefit of the product because of many oversights (especially if the product is deep and complex)

2. Scalability

Distributed: You may not have the luxury of having dedicated set of designers for every product in your organization and thus may not scale with limited resources.

Centralized: This approach scales well even with limited resources.

3. Consistency

Distributed: Consistency will not necessarily be enforced across products if the designers are not aligned in the same direction and don’t meet regularly to keep themselves updated on the unified vision of UX along with the recommended design patterns.

Centralized: Consistency across all products can be easily enforced with pattern library, best practices, guidelines, etc.


I think that for startup mode products that are more concerned about "proof-of-concept", a siloed distributed approach works best, allowing you to focus on the single product. But as the company grows, it needs to start thinking about a range of products/solutions and thus consistency across products and scalability of the approach become some of the important factors to consider.

Both these approaches have their own advantages, so why can’t we have the best of both the worlds? Don’t we need a good combination of the two – something like distributed but in a centralized way? Especially in an enterprise  domain where products have great depth and complexity and there are almost always exceptions and trade-offs for every single point in the product workflow. Designers don’t need to be SMEs but need to be working very closely grounds up from concept to design.

At this point, I am inclined to say that although a centralized UX vision and strategy is needed, the designers should be distributed amongst individual product teams while regularly syncing up with other product designers to keep each other informed and ensure consistency and alignment with the centralized UX vision.

Thoughts? What has worked well in your organization? What approach do you use for designing your products?




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