SAP is a global company and the scope of our design teams reaches far and wide. In our Behind SAP UX and Design series, we home in on some of our locations and give a glimpse into the working and cultural life there. Today, it’s about Paris, France!
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had the following to say about the French capital: “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” Although other European cities might dispute that, it can’t be denied that Paris does have a reputation for cultivating the finer things in life; superb cuisine and elegant fashion to name but a few. Furthermore, Paris’ creative flair surely provides a nurturing environment for our UX and design colleagues who call the city home. I had the pleasure of interviewing UX designers Yori Bailleres, Karim Tadjene, and Marie Poggemann from SAP User Experience, as well as UX manager Assia Mouloudi and UX designer Cedric Hedin from SAP Analytics; they let me in on what they love about UX and Paris.
UX: No two journeys look the same
Assia started off her career by studying Robotics in her home country of Algeria. In her final year of university, she studied AI for autonomous cars. Her main interest was in the human part of human-machine interaction. After graduation, she came to France and got a PhD in human-machine interaction, where she spent five years studying and teaching ergonomics and cognitive sciences. Afterwards, she entered a consultancy company helping customers to tackle different business challenges with a strong focus on user-centered design. In 2013, she joined SAP as a people manager for SAP BusinessObjects BI and SAP Analytic Cloud design, which offered her new challenges and a chance for learning.
Cedric, a member of Assia’s team, is a UX designer and works with the development team for smart predict, part of SAP Analytics Cloud. He joined SAP ten years ago after studying Psychology and Ergonomics, first working for SAP UX, and then later with development teams working on SAP BusinessObjects BI. For the past two years, he has been working on SAP Analytics Cloud (cartoons of the SAP Analytics team in Paris pictured left).
For Assia, UX is about user-centered design and “listening humbly to the real-life needs of the user. Being in their shoes is not enough, it’s also listening to what they feel, what they expect.” Empathy comes first and foremost, and she stresses that it’s also about understanding how design can enable the end-user to leverage technology capabilities. Cedric has his gaze fixed on the future and embraces change: “The way we are working today is not the same as yesterday, and the way we will work tomorrow is not the way we are working today. We are not afraid to try new things and work differently, to experiment.” This rings especially true in the current situation with the coronavirus, which has forced innovation, and which will make lasting changes in UX and digital transformation.
Marie is originally from Germany and studied Communication and Media Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Karlsruhe. She first encountered SAP UX via her university professor Jürgen Muthig who had contacts within the department and enabled Marie to write her bachelor thesis about a software for managing business cloud solutions there. Having enjoyed an internship with SAP UX in Paris during her master’s degree, Marie stayed on in the team and has taken a role part-time as a UX designer working with SAP Fiori elements. She spends the other half of the week writing her master’s thesis. After finishing her master’s degree she will continue working full-time with the SAP UX in Paris.
If there’s one key observation to take away from this series, it would be that no two journeys to UX look the same. The interests and unique life experiences of our UX colleagues have guided them to the roles they find themselves in today. Yori has been with SAP UX for about two years, working on SAP CoPilot. Prior to that, he lived in various European countries – London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam – working for a while in financial services and then for digital and advertising agencies as a UX designer. Karim has been with SAP for eleven years working in various departments. In SAP UX he was involved in the very first waves of SAP Fiori working with the US team. Karim and Yori worked together on their most recent project on error handling.
What it really means to work in UX
Of course, when asking someone to explain what UX is about in layman’s terms, they will most likely start to describe the basics and mention some key terms such as visual design, usability, and consistency. However, at heart, each UX designer perceives their main mission slightly differently.
Marie acknowledges that “many designers struggle with prioritizing function over form”, but she has come to recognize that products must be easy to use first, rather than just nice to look at. “What we deliver primarily is the rich functionality that helps users handle complex tasks at work. Our job is to design a clean and simple user interface on top of that, so end users can work more efficiently and gain more satisfaction from work.” Yori emphasizes the role of simplicity in UX “so the end-user doesn’t have to think, they can just work”. Karim believes that although simplification is important, UX is equally about “helping people achieve their goals, whatever the journey and wherever they intend to “travel”, even if that journey is complex – that might be useful to them.”
Moments of pride
From striking moments of team collaboration and experiencing positive feedback from end-users to sharing UX wisdom and in-turn learning valuable new skills: all these experiences have led our colleagues in Paris to feeling a strong sense of pride.
Assia and Cedric both mentioned events where they felt a strong connection with their team members. Two years ago, they were asked to create a booth at the SAP French User Group (pictured left). In planning the booth, everyone was involved – seniors, juniors, and interns. “We had a moonshot design exercise, we imagined what would be the best booth imaginable and imagined all the crazy things that we could do, the result being the best booth this conference has ever seen,” Assia tells me with joy. They had a virtual reality application for people to have a VR experience using an iPad, as well as demos about products. “At that moment I was not a manager, I was just part of a team that was doing a crazy thing. It highlighted to me how we can do things if we just change our “it is impossible” mindset. Students have fantastic and very pragmatic solutions to problems, even if they’ve never worked before.” All the hard work paid off, the customers were impressed, and Assia was so proud that she even still has parts of the booth wall in the office as a lasting memory.
Similarly, Cedric mentions the spirit of team collaboration for an internal event as one of his proudest moments. They created a game, in French known as “Where is Charlie?” (commonly known in the English-speaking world as “Where’s Wally?”) and, using an eye-tracker, the user had to locate Charlie. Each team member wore a t-shirt with their portrait shown on it, and people could use their phone to identify them using an augmented reality tool.
Marie’s manager Janis suggested that she prepare a presentation with her colleague Mareme Diop (pictured left) for SAP’s yearly internal developer kick-off event called d-kom in Paris. They wanted to talk about user experience consistency: why it matters and how it can be achieved with SAP Fiori elements. “People don’t always see the benefit of having consistency in applications, and often see it as a blocker for innovation. What we tried to do is bring across why UX consistency is so valuable to us in our daily life.” Asked how they did this in their prepared presentation, she told: “We used the example of keypads at ATMs. You always know how to withdraw money anywhere in the world, because it’s a universal pattern.” Unfortunately, as with many things, the presentation planned for SAP d-kom has had to be put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Marie is hopeful that she will be able to present it later in the year.
Yori says he feels proud “every time I get to see a difference, whether it’s in the users’ behavior after a second or third user test, when something has been correctly implemented, or whether its visual design and people are saying its more beautiful.” It’s what we all need as humans, to see that what we do really makes a difference.
Karim enthusiastically mentions that external projects such as the SAP One Billion Lives project founded by SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner also give himself and other UX colleagues a chance to exercise their creativity – an initiative he would love to continue being a part of. All five colleagues also mentioned the significance of the SAP Culture Ambassador Network (CAN). Marie informs me that at their meetings they look at questions such as, “how can we build a stronger culture at SAP France?” and “how can we help people feel more connected to the work we do?” Yori tells me he is helping a start-up in Paris called Popee. “It’s a chance to meet people outside of SAP who are also trying to make the world run better, and you can see the benefits of your help immediately.”
Paris and the French culture
It’s not always easy to sum up a place and its culture in a handful of sentences. For Paris however, our colleagues had no difficulty telling me what parts they believe give it its unique flair, and what exactly sets the French culture apart. For Marie, it’s the magic of the River Seine, where she regularly goes for an early morning run. “I love feeling like I have the Seine all to myself at sunrise. It gives me a chance to collect my thoughts before work and set my goals for the day.” She commented that the French language has also made an impression on her, being so full of images and metaphors and reflecting numerous historic influences. Assia has her own metaphor to describe France as “an old, strong, Oaktree with deep roots and a long history, and branches in the future. It’s strong, sometimes rude, and certainly mysterious to understand… especially for foreigners.” Her favorite place to go is Saint-André-des-Arts, a street in the city center which hasn’t changed architecturally since the Middle Ages. “It’s crowded with students and young artists, brimming with book shops and artists’ shops. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be surrounded by this.”
Karim also described the wonders of roaming Paris by foot, “we always find a new street, place, or spot. It’s a small city, but when you are walking you see new angles.” He also loves to spend his weekends in the forest on the east side of Paris, near to where he lives. Yori is a food fanatic and says above all else, Paris’ restaurants would be what he would miss the most should he ever leave. Food is also close to Cedric’s heart, he believes that “there are many domains the French are good at, fashion, technology, all this diversity. But really, it’s the bread! The French love their bread.”
Yori and Karim also tell me that being French can largely be defined by putting a high value on freedom, above all freedom of expression, and the ability to challenge everything. “I don’t know if it’s something we learn at school or if it’s innate!” jokes Karim.
Many thanks to Assia, Cedric, Marie, Yori, and Karim for their contributions.