Back in 2017, when I was still a design consultant, I was handed a project with the codename, “Scott’s CRM.” I was intrigued by the prospect of working with Scott McCorkle once again, having worked with him on another unique and ambitious past project.
With hardly anything to work off of other than loose sketches, whiteboard doodles, and broad conversations, it felt like a true “blue-sky” opportunity for design. It was clear that the ideas, although still forming, were unprecedented and expansive. The product needed to match this vision, so that one could tangibly experience the non-incremental approach we were taking.
Design at MetaCX
What are we doing differently–and more importantly, why we’re putting all our chips on the table.
We acknowledge the risks in defying convention. There is a reason there are best practices and established standards for UI; it is beneficial to stick with tools and behaviors that people are already familiar with.
Our approach is still something that causes me occasional worry that perhaps we’ve gone too far into the unconventional. But then I remember that this is a common concern for anyone pushing against the bounds of the norm.
The truth is that we’ve been drawn into the unconventional by asking the right questions about the problem we’re solving. By asking these questions, we quickly came to realize that no conventions existed for the sort of connected and collaborative supplier/buyer experiences we sought to enable.
And, in doing so, we saw both the fundamental limitations of conventional approaches and, frankly, their wrongheadedness. We’re pretty confident that what we’ve created at MetaCX is not only different in ways that are necessary because of the simple fact that what we’re doing is different–but also better in material ways that will not only challenge, but ultimately change conventional approaches to UX.
These moments of uncertainty are sobering and healthy for us to always keep in mind. After we recover, however, we are reminded why we’re all here. We believe that we are creating something remarkable. It not only challenges design conventions, but also questions deep-rooted and sometimes outdated beliefs on how business relationships should work and how the products that help manage them should function. We’re pushing the limits not just because we can, but because we must.
Principles & Approach
How are we pushing the limits?
“All B2B enterprise SaaS products look the same”—tables and lists of records that fail to capture the real-life processes that real-life human beings go through. This was one of the initial drivers for us to challenge convention. Why should B2B products merely be functional? How could we support existing workflows and also create an experience that makes people feel like the product is not just another tool to manage?
So, we looked beyond the existing landscape and borrowed practices and techniques that are tried and true from adjacent (and even distantly related) industries. We looked at consumer products, like video games, closely examining how each experience is a rewarding journey to learn and master. We explored emerging technologies, like AR and VR, and thought about how we might apply similar immersive experiences to a B2B environment. We looked at sci-fi references, filtering through all the cheesy dashboard UIs and looked more into the aesthetic and feeling of what a new, next-gen world could be envisioned as.
We wrangled these broad concepts to create the backbone and rationale for our platform. How everything looks. How objects layer. Why elements are positioned here, and not there. Then ultimately, we came back down to earth, exercised humility, and asked people what they thought. After all, no one will care about a crazy, beautiful world you made if the value found is superficial and fleeting.
It is a challenging balance to create something that’s novel yet still intrinsically meaningful. We have to constantly keep ourselves honest and know when it’s time to stick to basics. Areas that require heavier configuration and setup should not distract with cool, shiny features. Sometimes, you really do just need a table.
The Value of Design
The importance of leadership and company attitudes towards design and having the privilege and space to push the limits.
I recall the energy and excitement in the room when I was first introduced to the seed of what would be MetaCX today. I also remember the equal and palpable sense of anxiety that to me, translated as the eagerness to put real action into figuring this all out. At that moment, I was struck by the confidence they had to start with design. They had an intuition that the vision was big and hairy; it needed to be thoroughly questioned and unpacked. Scott and Dave—the initial leaders of this company—sought design as the forethought, not just the surface layer application that most business leaders think about. This bold approach set the stage for everything else.
I am constantly reminded and humbled that this is not a privilege that is given to all design teams. I hear stories from colleagues of the constant struggle to get a seat at a table, or even to have design in the room at all. For MetaCX, not only is design in the room, but we’ve been given the sledgehammer to break through walls, rebuild the foundation, and set the stage.