Your Internal Products Need Love Too

Companies often focus their UX efforts solely on customer-facing products while neglecting design for internal tools. But there is real ROI to be had in putting some effort into ensuring that internal products are well-designed.

Your Internal Products Need Love Too
via Adobe Stock

I’ve worked in software development for a long time and have been a UX designer for more than 15 years, so it’s safe to say that I’ve been around the proverbial block a few times. Over the years, trends come and go, but certain ideas persist.

One of the most prevalent notions I’ve encountered is the utter disregard with which executives and product teams treat internal products. By internal product I mean systems and tools that companies build in-house for their own teams to use. These could be administration tools for customer-facing products, IT tools, or other systems, but the common attributes are:

  1. The company builds and maintains the product itself.
  2. The product is primarily used inside the company by its own employees or contractors.

Since I like making short, numbered lists, here are three things that are also (almost) always true of internal products:

  1. Every company has them.
  2. They are critical to the company’s operations.
  3. They are difficult or confusing to use.

Every now and then I hear from a product manager with regard to one of these tools. It’s usually a simple request, something like, “Hey, do we have a standard icon for [insert some new feature]?” I’ll ask for a little more context and offer to put together some designs for the new feature. And the response is almost always the same:

“We don’t need a design for this, it’s just an internal tool.”

If you’re a product manager or business leader, you know that you have either heard this or said it yourself. Go ahead and admit it. You know it and I know it.

I get it: all businesses want to put their best foot forward for customers because customers give us money. Customers generate revenue and internal products don’t. Oftentimes they are ways of automating tasks that would otherwise require someone to manually write and run code or database scripts or some other painful-but-necessary job.

But have you ever thought about much more you could save by investing a little extra time and effort to make your internal products highly usable and efficient for the people using them?

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