Establishing a UI Center of Excellence at Unilever

With the support of the Design and Co-Innovation Center from SAP, Unilever has established a User Interface Center of Excellence. Propagating user experience skills across the organization has led to a considerable increase in user productivity and satisfaction.

Opportunity: Making User Experience a Priority

Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies with more than 400 brands. Unilever provides products and services that reach more than two billion consumers worldwide every day.

“In order to remain competitive, companies in general have a strong ambition to continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how they run their business. Unilever is no different. We have realized that User Experience (UX) is a competitive advantage and thus decided to make UX a priority”, says Manfred Kürschner, Head of the User Interface Center of Excellence at Unilever.

Andreas Hauser, Global Head of Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC) at SAP explains the importance of UX for SAP customers: “Nowadays end users expect the same level of complicity and usability they experience with Google, Facebook, and Amazon from business solutions they use at work. This puts pressure on IT organizations to take user experience serious. It requires rethinking of how they engage with their end users and how they implement or develop business solutions.”

To improve the UX to a wider extent, Unilever approached the DCC, because a major part of Unilever’s IT landscape is covered by SAP products.

“The difference to other UX Design Service providers is the DCC’s flexibility and customer focus. The DCC team consists of UX experts rather than SAP solution experts, and is integrated into the new UX design developments. From a customer perspective, I can be sure to get both an excellent UX support and the latest technical solution options,” explains Kürschner.

Teaming up with the DCC, Unilever’s key objectives were to increase user productivity and user satisfaction, and to exert a positive influence on the employee value proposition. Unilever wanted to reduce the need for training while at the same time improving the quality of its data.

Approach: Integrating UX into IT

To initiate the collaboration, the DCC held a two-day workshop at Unilever in Hamburg, Germany, where employees from different departments, such as IT, but also business and marketing, gathered for the first time to discuss their common goals with UX.

During an exercise entitled “Remember the future,” the participants creatively developed a vision of what Unilever could be like in 2017 when UX has been fully integrated into the organization. Split into two groups, they had to create the facts for an article of the Forbes magazine, which had the following headline on its cover: “UX Thinking successfully implemented at Unilever.” In each group they collected what they expect to have achieved by 2017 and reiterated the steps for getting there.


On the second day, when Unilever was clear about what they want to achieve, the participants collected actionable ideas about how to actually get there. This led to questions such as how to set up a governance structure and how to measure success. The participants defined guidelines for integrating UX into the development process and conducted a SWOT analysis on how to organize UX. They also created a stakeholder map, taking into consideration the people involved, their tasks and responsibilities, and created a list of action items.

“Since organizations change over time, we have to help them develop competencies that can face these dynamic conditions and foster continuous relationships. Unilever works together with many companies that use different software systems, so it is challenging to design an integrative UX,” says Marion Fröhlich, Senior Design Strategist at the SAP Design & Co-Innovation Center.

“The key challenge – and I do not think this is specific to Unilever – is to change the mindset and to integrate the required new activities into the standard processes and ways of working, as well as to build the skills across the organization,” states Kürschner.


Experience: Establishing a Center of Excellence

“The workshop has brought Unilever employees from various departments – IT and business – together in order to gain an overall understanding of their mission, and to work on a common goal as one team”, recalls Hauser.

He also explains the three areas of importance for establishing a UX Center of Excellence in an organization: In terms of the process, user-centered design activities have to be integrated into the development process as well as the end users themselves. As far as people are concerned, you need to have people with design skills, the ability and passion to scale the topic, and to change the mindset within the organization. When it comes to technology, you need to know the tools and technologies that enable the implementation of the desired design.

“We offer a portfolio of Design Services to help our customers on their journey to increase their UX maturity level, to involve their end users in the design process, and to help them build up these skills in their own organization,” says Hauser.

Kürschner agrees: “The most important change that arose from the project was the improvement in user productivity, in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.”

By working together with the DCC, Unilever has reached its key objectives and turned its vision into reality. Besides bringing more UX thinking into the organization, Unilever also achieved very tangible results on the software level: With SAP Screen Personas, the end-to-end user workflow was reduced by 40%, and the clicks required for an action were reduced from 27 to 17. Due to these positive results, Unilever is continuing its collaboration with the DCC working together on the UX strategy and its implementation at Unilever.


Read an interview with Manfred Kürschner about the establishment of the UI CoE at Unilever.


Consumer Products

Customer facts

  • One of the world’s largest consumer goods companies
  • More than 400 brands
  • Improving business efficiency thanks to the UI Center of Excellence
SAP UX Design Services benefits

  • Support for the establishment of a UI Center of Excellence
  • UX skills and technical knowledge
  • Common UX goals defined by IT, business, and marketing

This story originally appeared on the SAP User Experience Community.