It’s true, until now SAP was not known as ‘The Design Company’ in the world. But ever since the business software company started to focus on improving their customers’ user experience, design has blossomed more and more to become today’s buzzword. Besides 500+ role-based SAP Fiori apps even more customized applications have been brought to life. So someone needs to have the overview, don’t you think? Have you ever wondered how SAP ensures high-quality user experience for new applications? Let me start with the story of when the idea of design-led development came to light within the SAP organization.
Once upon a time, more precisely in November 2013, the Design-Gates (or D-Gates) were born as a design door opener and they have since become an essential part of the process cycle. SAP set up a design-led development process to intensify user centricity and to implement Design Thinking principles directly from the beginning. The overall approach behind this process ensures customer engagement starting from the initial development phase of the product lifecycle. It is iterative in nature and allows for constant improvement throughout development, and this is exactly why D-Gates were established. From there on, it guarantees a solid and consistent design delivery to SAP’s customers and end users. The objective of the design process is to provide a sufficiently structured and defined process so that UX teams can effectively support the whole organization in creating successful products. It is valid for all UI scenarios that have to follow the Fiori design principles.
How can D-Gates influence design quality?
1st and 2nd verifier
The D-Gate judge is a third party who has never been involved before in the product and is therefore able to try it out as an unbiased 1st (D-Gate 1) and 2nd (D-Gate 2) verifier. During the development process, two D-Gates should be conducted: One prior to development start and one after the implementation of the design and before shipping to the customer. With the first D-Gate, the aim is to take a look at the design before the developer even starts implementation. Imagine if the design wasn’t appropriate, the application would fail to be adopted and the process would have to start from the beginning – what a huge effort for everyone! Then in the second D-Gate that takes place after the implementation has been completed, the running application is checked to guarantee that the expected design quality has made it into the final product.
Guidance and guarantee
The judge is not only one of the first testers of the product, but is also an expert in product design rules. He or she defines design guidelines for the overall company to support the principles of consistency. Furthermore, the expert is in charge of open questions, guidance, instructions, and consultation. No product should pass a D-Gate without his or her agreement and the expert takes on a large responsibility. Design quality is still everyone’s business and should be taken seriously, but surely depends less on personal choice and more on product design guidelines. Nonetheless, sometimes exceptions occur and they help to test-drive required innovations in a controlled manner. As technology allows us to break out, we now have a great mechanism to drive change without sacrificing the consistency that is so crucial to our customers. A passed D-Gate is a commitment for the project manager that the company fully supports the product.
Any designer will agree that design isn’t something that you can just reduce to a set of criteria or numbers. Review structures like checklists won’t work and in the end it’s a discussion to find the balance between requirement and solution during the D-Gates. This can never be a one-way street but always has to be an exchange where both parties learn a lot. New ideas result from the discussions which lead to a better understanding between designer and developer. If the parties recognize the benefit of their close cooperation and align new perspectives with their processes, the company as a whole will succeed. No-one is interested in stopping a process or someone’s work. For the teams, it is sometimes hard to receive a rejection for something they put a lot of heart, soul, and effort into. Therefore, guideline experts accompany the teams as a neutral instance without bias.
Products that follow a consistent design guideline are what the company wants to deliver to the market and to their customers who, as end users, are the ones who have to be convinced in the end. 74% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system. The number of people in contact with SAP applications at this very moment can only be guessed. The D-Gates are checkpoints to confirm that the product delivers the same type of experience to the customer. A consistent strategy for product design and product experience is necessary to prove reliability and customer centricity. Of course, consistency in shapes, colors, handling, and implementation also supports SAP in its mission to help customers run simple.
So far about 950 D-Gates have taken place in SAP’s Global Design department. Aiming to support design-led development also in the user research phase, SAP has just established D-Gate 0 to build solid foundation walls. It ensures that you know which end user tasks to solve and which applications to build before starting any design or implementation.
Every day, the design and development areas are working ever closer together because business software development continues to become more and more a design-driven process that conforms to SAP’s design philosophy. Software has to fulfill the expectation of each individual while helping companies innovate their business.