Building Enterprise Technology is an Emotional Business, Says a Top Product Designer

As James Morley-Smith is starting to realize, technology users care less about the utility and more about the look and feel – and that’s influencing the way “user experiences” are engineered.

A retail associate helps a shopper usnig her Zebra EC50 mobile computer
by Your Edge Blog Team
April 21, 2022

When James Morley-Smith started his career in the technology sector in the mid-1990s, the discussion leaned more toward function over form, even though we now know just how much the two are intertwined.

But in his time as a software architect and, subsequently, as a user experience solution strategist, he has found that decision factors around technologies aren’t always objective. The “facts” influencing buying decisions can be just as much about how a solution looks and feels as how it works or performs. This is a bit of a departure from the past when subjective emotions didn’t have much weight on hardware, software, or solution design to do a task, or help an employee do a task easily, quickly, and accurately. It was utility-driven design.

But with that decision-making approach swiftly being discontinued, will we see a dramatic shift in the quality and performance of enterprise and industrial technologies? That’s what we asked James to ponder in a recent podcast interview:

Building Enterprise Technology is an Emotional Business

As the Senior Director of User Experience, Innovation & Design for Zebra, James and his team drive the influential discovery sessions and ultimate design decisions that result in the technologies that Zebra and its partners deliver and deploy worldwide. In this 20-minute interview, he analyzes this sea change in thinking about enterprise technology that’s being fueled by the consumer market, as well as the convergence of utility and emotion in enterprise tech solution development. More specifically, he explains:

  • [1:26] what lessons enterprise technology companies have learned about product design from the consumer technology space.
  • [3:57] how much aesthetics and workflows now factor into hardware design decisions.
  • [5:38] why it’s a good thing that product design is not exclusively informed by utility thinking anymore and what “thoughtful design” really means.
  • [7:40] the responsibility of product and solution designers to be problem solvers, and why they should be thinking more about “what we can’t do” to improve accessibility and inclusivity in solution design and workplaces.
  • [10:50] why using consumer products for business is a bad idea, even if there is a need to elicit an emotional bond between workers and the devices they use to complete tasks. (Tip: Go check your USB charger port for fluff right now!)
  • [14:22] why everyone needs to have input on product design, including customers’ IT teams, operations managers and end-users, as well as internal stakeholders from marketing, supply chain and other non-engineering functions.
  • [16:07] why the user experience should be at the forefront of technology design and purchasing decisions – and who should be categorized as a “user.”
  • [17:55] what will it take to build the business case for enterprise-grade devices, especially as they take on more of a consumer-like look and feel, and what level of change management will be needed.


Want more inspirational insight from James? Watch his TED Talk here, then check out these posts:

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