Soccer team in a huddle

A Dozen Designers at SAP

Feature Article | December 20, 2016 by Esther Blankenship

When I started in design at SAP nearly 20 years ago, there was more or less one design discipline: usability. Some people were more focused on accessibility, others on interaction design, and my group was focused on product design.

But basically, we were all heaped into one big usability boat. Since then, I have been witness to an amazing increase in the number of designers here, and also to a considerable specialization of design roles. The evolution has markedly improved the user experience of our software while also enriching our work environment.

So who are these visual designers, user researchers, design thinking coaches and chief designers? Moreover, what do they do all day? What do they most enjoy about their jobs? What are their biggest challenges?

I started a small blogging project to reveal the diversity of design roles at SAP and give readers a behind-the-scenes look at the people who have a hand in the design of the software you might be using every day. There are many hundreds of user experience and design professionals at SAP. Some are working in central design teams, while others are integrated directly into development teams. Some spend all of their time doing “hard-core” design work, while for others design is a tangential, but important, part of their daily work.

Keep in mind that I’ve probably missed a few roles (this wasn’t a science project) and that each person I talked to is an individual. Fazlul’s job, for example, as an interaction designer might be very different from a colleague down the hall or across the globe who has the same role.

The Usual Suspects

I started out with the most common design roles: visual design, interaction design, and user research.

Timo Bess, visual designer
I got to know Timo when we started working together on the design of the SAP User Experience Community. We’ve been collaborating on that and other design projects ever since. Talking about his work, Timo says, “Asking the most fundamental questions, challenging opinions and trying not to lose sight of the big picture and the final experience are key for me. And then, and only then, if I fully understand why and how something should work, do I start to design it.”

Eva Ruegenhagen, user researcher
Eva was a natural choice for me when I started looking for someone in this role since she was sitting directly across from me at the time. She is also one of the most talented and knowledgeable researches I know.  Eva likens user research to insurance, “…with user research you make sure you build a product that users really can and want to use. If you are on a budget or have a tight timeline, you think twice about your investment in insurance. But when disaster strikes, you wish you had done it.”

Fazlul Hoque, interaction designer
After I had published my first two blogs, Eva told me that a colleague in a project she was working had remarked that I was missing the role of interaction design. So I clearly had my next victim. What gets Fazlul excited about his job? “I really enjoy the creative process of finding simple and elegant solutions to complex problems.”

Moving Farther Afield

After having covered the main three design roles around here, it was time to travel farther afield into more exotic territory.

Tina Rauschenbach, SAP Fiori designer
Like Fazlul, Tina is an interaction designer. However, instead of working in a product team and focusing on one product, Tina belongs to a central design team. She creates interaction design concepts and UI controls which are used by our whole company, as well as by customers and partners. What does Tina enjoy about her work? “I love variety. Each day is different. Fitting a new generic UI control that arises out of requirements into the existing control library is like putting together a huge puzzle and, while doing so, solving a very tricky riddle.”

Clemens Sandner, design intern
SAP employs a large number of students each year. Many of them have very challenging and interesting tasks and are deeply integrated into the teams’ daily work. Quite a few interns end up working at SAP full-time after their studies. The most valuable take-away for Clemens? “Learning how to carry out a project end-to-end from design to development was really useful for me.”

Tobias Hildenbrand, development project expert
Tobias’s job might not sound like it has much to do with design, and in fact, he has a PhD in software engineering, not design. Nevertheless, he is a passionate design thinker and a living example of how to bring design, development and business model thinking together. Why is visual communication so important to Tobias? “Normally you talk to someone and they have a picture in their mind and you also have one, but putting that picture on paper or on a whiteboard helps to align the communication and make it more effective…”

Beate Riefer, design thinking coach
It seems that design thinking is ubiquitous at SAP. So who are the people that introduce individuals and teams to design thinking methods? Beate describes her role as follows, “As a design thinking coach I support design projects in the DCC with my expertise in design thinking methods and process. It’s a bit like project management mixed with user research and creativity methods.”

Olga Cherepanova, senior developer and UX advocate
One thing at SAP is clear – design is very important, but often there just aren’t enough designers to go around. To alleviate this situation, SAP began a program to train interested non-designers in user experience to act as multipliers and “advocates” of design within their teams. I asked Olga what the most challenging aspect is for her about being a UX advocate. Her answer: “… balancing two different mindsets – user-oriented and technical. On the one hand, I know the technical limitations. On the other, I still want to come up with new design ideas that help users.”

Philip Miseldine, development expert
Having a talented, “design-minded” developer on your project team is, in my view, the best thing that can happen to a designer. Philip is that kind of a developer. What advice would Philip give to other developers with regard to design? “Always think about the user who will work with what you are coding. In the end, we develop software for human beings, and we need to always keep in mind the way people want to work, not what is easiest for us to code.”

Moving Up the Chain of Command

So you’ve met a few of the design “doers,” but what about the people at SAP who manage designers, define the design strategy, and ultimately help keep SAP firmly focused on user experience?

Janis Shuttleworth, design manager
Keeping designers motivated and productive requires a special skillset that Janis seems to have mastered. Setting up the project correctly and managing expectations on all sides is crucial for success. According to Janis, “In a large software company like SAP, designing user experiences is all about joining the dots. This requires a huge amount of communication… much of my time is taken up by managing stakeholders, either internal or external, and ensuring that design projects start and run smoothly.”

Martin Wezowski, chief designer
What technologies are on the horizon that will help SAP to deliver the best possible user experience to customers? How can we as a company more fully embrace a culture of design? Providing answers to these questions is central to Martin’s role as chief designer. According to Martin, “[People] will ignore solutions that directly or indirectly ignore them, their needs, their ambitions and their consumer-grade standards. Designing with empathy and being truly human-centered in our methods changes the way we support people at work.”

Sam Yen, chief design officer
Sam is easily one of the most genuine and likable executives I’ve ever met. His enthusiasm for design, SAP, and people shine through whether he is speaking on a large stage to thousands of customers or in a small meeting room talking with a handful of designers. I asked Sam what the secret is to his success. His answer: “Whenever I do something which rocks the boat a bit, but I think is the right thing to do, I make sure it is something the customer is asking for. And I always position it that way. That’s really been the secret sauce because people listen. As an organization we exist to serve our customers. So if they are saying what their real needs are, we have to rally around that.”

This story originally appeared on the SAP User Experience Community site.

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