SAP executive discusses iterative UI prototyping through user feedback

SAP Build is a tool for prototyping and testing user interfaces. Under the hood, it encapsulates a decade of research into best practices and leverages the Fiori template library.

Repeatedly revising user interface prototypes likely isn't anyone's idea of fun, but it's necessary in the quest for ultimate usability. What a designer thinks is good could be utterly incomprehensible in the eyes of testers seeing a screen layout for the first time.

To make the process less painless and more fruitful for all involved, enterprise software giant SAP recently introduced SAP Build, a UI prototyping platform that leverages more than a decade of research along with existing interface template libraries. In this exclusive interview, SAP's chief design officer Sam Yen discusses why good UI design is the result of multiple testing rounds with interactive user feedback.

What is SAP Build?

Sam Yen: SAP Build is a cloud-based UI prototyping tool. It is part of our user experience as a service (UXaaS) on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform and helps enterprise IT in scaling application development while making sure the UX is delivered to end users. What we want is for business analysts or non-technical users to iteratively develop prototypes based on template gallery, and obtain interactive test user feedback.

Sam YenSam Yen

Where does SAP Build sit within SAP's user experience as a service, HANA, and Fiori?

Yen: We feel that Build is strategic to SAP both internally and externally. Internally, this helps us build Fiori and helps us implement design thinking internally, because we use these tools to make sure we start with low-resolution prototypes, get feedback in a scalable way from our customers, and make sure we go through iteration loops to go up in fidelity before we develop products. In that process, we incorporate a lot of Fiori design guidelines, including templates, which we call Fiori Elements, so that you go from a concept to something further refined to a Fiori application that goes into the web IDE development environment.

Is Build only for current users of Fiori and SAP's HANA in-memory relational database management system, or are you looking to non-SAP enterprises as well for UI prototyping?

Yen: That's correct. This isn't just for SAP or Fiori. You can use Build to mock up conceptual things, taking whiteboard sketches and creating hot-button mock-ups and use the feedback tool. Build is built in an open way so we can eventually incorporate other technologies. We had an extensive beta program with more than 20,000 users that ran over 12 months. These were not all SAP users. Some were schools that had students designing applications.

There is no shortage of tools for UI/UX design and wireframe prototyping. Why should a developer choose this one, especially if the organization is not a current SAP customer?

Yen: We feel this notion of building applications for businesses is relatively new with enterprises placing a focus on design. This hasn't been a priority until recently in a lot of IT organizations trying to develop enterprise software. By and large, they don't have UI/UX developers or design processes. Helping organizations come up to speed, not only with the tools, but with the education and processes to implement this in a corporate setting is what SAP provides.

How do application developers, who typically have no design or UI prototyping expertise, benefit and deliver a better product?

We see digital transformation happening with every customer we talk to.

Yen: We made a huge investment in design 10 years ago. Build is a way to capture the best practices of what we've done within our own organization. There's a lot of content that's just about education. How do you educate developers and products managers in corporate environments who haven't focused on design before? Build has templates and forms and best practices, so we are trying to look at this from a holistic perspective. The goal is to enable organizations to set up a UX practice.

How does Build keep users from creating UI prototypes that are positively ugly and unintuitive to navigate?

Yen: The point is to not just put out the tool, but to also put out galleries, best practices, guidelines, and education. As more people use Build, we're hoping to grow a best-practices community. My hope is that we're taking years of best practices and design work, and use technology to amplify that. That said, I'm not expecting technology to replace the need for designers within corporate IT.

Once UI prototyping is complete, how is it put into production and integrated with data sources and other applications?

Yen: You won't see that right away, but you will see Fiori Elements as design building blocks. Security is already contemplated in those building blocks. Within the SAP environment, you will be able to generate real front-end, functional code which can be integrated with web IDE and connected to data sources. Going forward, we'll make it easier for non-techie people to connect to data services.

This is yet another case of development tasks traditionally done within IT moving out to line-of-business departments. How do you see IT changing as a result?

Yen: If you think about the role of IT going forward, we see digital transformation happening with every customer we talk to. IT should position itself as an innovation partner and not as an organization that is merely keeping the lights on.

Joel Shore is news writer for TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Write to him at [email protected] or follow @JshoreTT on Twitter.

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