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Consumerizing the Okta User Experience, Part II

Brian Hansen

Part II: Bringing the Consumer Experience to Okta

That was then, this is now

Fortunately for all of us enterprise application users, today’s environment is very different from the one I described in Part I of this post.  As Eric mentioned in his recent post, the consumerization of IT is underway.

Enterprise software companies are now being held to the same high standard for user experience as their consumer counterparts because consumer products and online services have opened our eyes. As an example, Apple’s iPhone, with it’s emphasis on simplicity, pleasure and design, was able to take the traditionally enterprise-focused smart phone and make it appeal to consumers.  Also, software products like 37Signals’ small business collaborative suite, Zendesk’s on-demand help desk offering, and Splunk’s IT data management are some examples of enterprise applications that strive to achieve a consumer-level of user experience.

The bar was raised, enterprise software vendors had to respond, and end users are beginning to realize the benefits.

What does it meant to have a consumer user experience?

If the enterprise application UX is complicated, power-user centric, and costly to learn then the consumer experience is the opposite. The key tenets of the consumer user experience are:

Easy-to use

Great usability and a simple learning curve are hallmarks of good consumer products and web applications. Consumers expect to be able to instantly get utility or pleasure out of the products they purchase.  Training -- a nice source of revenue for enterprise software companies -- is unheard of for good consumer products and applications on the web. People don’t have time to read instructions let alone pay for training that takes them away from their “real” job for days or even weeks.

Designed for Everyone

Consumer applications are often tasked with supporting a wide range of user personae.  The best consumer applications are able to satisfy a large audience. There are a lot of design principles that factor into making an application that provides a high level of usability for a wide variety of audiences. Expecting your user to be a power user (i.e. subject matter expert trained on your product) is not one of those principles.

Quick Time to Value

Most consumer web applications can be purchased and in use within minutes. Often these products can be trialed for free. The time and money invested in trying these applications is minimal. Applications that don’t meet the needs of their users do not survive under these conditions.

A Beautiful UI: More than just Eye Candy

Consumer applications put an emphasis on being visually pleasing.  A positive emotional reaction to a user interface is something to strive for, and not just because designers want to impress their users with their skill. Research in cognitive science has indicated that things that look good are actually easier to use.  Objects that are pleasing to look at have a positive effect on our mood. When people are in a good mood, it turns out they are better problem solvers.  Conversely, objects that are ugly or poorly presented often put people in a bad mood. Much like the fight-or-flight response, a bad mood narrows a person’s focus and makes them worse at solving problems; their mind is less open and creative.  Beauty is not just skin deep when it comes to UX design.

For the record, I’ve never heard a person say they didn’t like an application because it looked too good.  Looking good never hurts as long as it's appropriate for the audience.

Applying these principles at Okta – Iterative Design for Usability

If knowing is half the battle, then execution is the other half.  At Okta, we know we want to deliver an easy to use,  quick time to value solution that is usable by all.   Execution means applying these values to the implementation of a design; in other words, it starts with a well-informed guess.   Then, and most importantly of all, we test and revise that design until we get it right.

Our testing approach is holistic and starts with the code; we are committed to providing automated tests for both the back and front ends. Of course, the biggest variable in any system is not the code; it’s the user. We use manual methods for testing the usability of the product, but we are considering some automated ways to complement our testing. Our hands-on approach to usability testing varies from paper prototypes to hallway testing to fully interactive mockups, and many flavors in between.

That’s it; that’s the secret sauce. We’re building a brand new product; there is no blue print or industry standard to reference. The only way we can be successful is to engage our users, listen, and incorporate their feedback.

An Organization and Operational Model that is Aligned

Continuous improvement is a noble commitment, but you can’t do it unless you have the infrastructure to support it. Our team knows what it takes to build a massively scalable service and a scalable business, and it’s visible in our team, process and architecture. We’re able to continuously refine our product because we release every week. That gives us many windows to improve the user experience and ensures we are always testing out new concepts with users.

Continuous improvement doesn’t just help our users; it’s critical to our business success. Like all SaaS applications, ours’ has to be highly usable without our assistance or we will never achieve the business goals we have set forth. Great usability is core to providing quick time to value, and a low cost of ownership to our customers.

At Okta, we are committed to building a service with all the values of a consumer product. It is a pleasure to work in an environment where everyone -- engineers to sales to leadership – understands the importance of the user experience, and where our business success depends upon it! If you have a passion to develop, market, and sell enterprise products that are easy to use, then come work with us, we’re hiring!