User Productivity Worldwide – Branding, Design, Accessibility

By Hendrik Achenbach, Esther Blankenship, Anke Böker, Ulrich Kreichgauer, Alex Li, Oliver Mainka, Durga Prasad V, SAP AG – November 19, 2004

German Version • This article has also been published in SAP INFO 122

The SAP User Productivity (UP) department has teams operating around the globe. This article provides an overview of what they do and what they stand for.

SAP thinks and acts globally. Development does not take place only in Walldorf (Germany): Bangalore (India), Palo Alto (California, U.S.), Ra'anana (Israel), and Tokyo (Japan) are also important development locations. At many of those locations, the User Productivity department works to enable SAP to design and develop world-class user interfaces. Our daily work is shaped by the following aspects :

  • Nurturing and guiding the user interface community (technology and design)
  • Defining and achieving execution of the SAP product standard "Usability"
  • Offering services to SAP's development organizations (development of user interface building blocks, training, design support, consulting, etc.)
  • Observing market developments and trends


Creating the SAP Product Language

The SAP Product Design Center (PDC) is dedicated to ensuring a consistent user interface throughout the SAP product family. Its primary activities can be divided into two main categories: visual and technical. The visual aspect covers the definition, promotion, and evolution of the SAP brand in the software interface.

Product branding is what makes SAP software visually unique. The PDC determines the colors and forms of the individual screen elements that form the basic building blocks for our software. These generic elements must work together visually in an almost infinite combination on thousands and thousands of screens. Because the SAP product offering is growing all the time and new features are required to meet the needs of the users, defining the SAP product language is a continuous process. With this in mind, the PDC often works with world-famous designers like Hartmut Esslinger and his frog design team.

But there is more to this branding aspect than meets the eye. As a company, SAP is dedicated to giving its customers the flexibility to rebrand the products with their own corporate identity to truly make SAP software their own. Providing this flexibility – which is invisible until customers begin the rebranding process – is one of the principle activities of the PDC, the technical aspect of their work. They both design the controls and implement them into the SAP user interface control library. This library of building blocks is available to the entire SAP development community.


Usability for all SAP Solutions

The Usability Engineering Center (UEC) in Walldorf works on SAP-wide usability topics. They define the overall user interface (UI) concepts and building blocks, provide UI style guides and guidelines, and roll out usability related topics via the User Interface Design curriculum, in training sessions, workshops, and coaching sessions, and on the User Productivity website. They maintain the Usability Laboratory in Walldorf and are responsible for the Usability product standard.

Currently they are focusing on four major areas:

  • UI building blocks
    Over the last two years, the UEC has learned that reusable UI building blocks have many benefits. They lead to consistent user interfaces, reduce development time, and result in easy-to-customize applications. Their teams are working on the selection and specification of UI building blocks for all SAP solutions.
  • Scenario-based UIs
    Users don't work with applications only. The overall UI concepts include "Start my day" scenarios that include a control center, work centers, applications, analytics, monitoring tools, and all other relevant UI parts combined in one user interface.
  • User feedback
    User feedback is crucial for design validation. In collaboration with other teams, the UEC has updated usability testing facilities and methods and combined them with additional tools for running offline and remote usability feedback sessions.
  • Usability product standard
    Last but not least, it is important to check the execution of usability-related activities within SAP. The UEC is on the way to finalizing the next version of the Usability product standard and the associated checklists to ensure that usability quality is measured and reported for all SAP products.


Accessibility for Everyone

Accessibility allows everyone, especially those with disabilities, to use and make the most of technology and information products. Creating accessible products is a top priority for SAP.

Recognizing the importance of making its software accessible, SAP has established an internal accessibility compliance plan to enable individuals with disabilities to use SAP NetWeaver and other SAP solutions. As part of that plan, the company created the Accessibility Competence Center as part of the User Productivity department to:

  • Ensure that SAP products address accessibility requirements
  • Incorporate accessibility into the Product Innovation Lifecycle
  • Inform SAP development communities about techniques how to create accessible applications with SAP NetWeaver
  • Promote the proliferation of accessibility design in SAP development communities
  • Participate with international accessibility standards development
  • Cooperate with corporate leaders in IT accessibility
  • Work with organizations committed to making software accessible


A Hub for Innovation

User Productivity Bangalore, a fast-growing team in a fast-growing lab, focuses on designing world-class user interfaces for world-class products. It has evolved into a hub for innovation, filing almost 20 percent of all patent applications from SAP Labs Bangalore. Its key focus areas are:

  • Mobile UI design
    The team has developed strong expertise in designing the user experience for mobile business applications running on devices ranging from laptops to PDAs. One of the highlights was the definition of reusable UI building blocks for all PDA-based mobile applications.
  • Accessibility test services
    The accessibility test lab in Bangalore provides accessibility test and validation services for multiple GUI technologies, including SAP GUI for Windows and HTML. Based on experience from extensive testing, the lab provides crucial inputs into the refinement of the product standards for accessibility and the underlying technology frameworks.
  • Knowledge transfer
    Several pilot initiatives has been unveiled under the Product Innovation Lifecycle (PIL) program at SAP Labs India, which aims to create a user-focused development organization based on selected UI and accessibility champions. These individuals, from across the development organization, receive extensive training, coaching, and long-term support.


Linking SAP Development with the American Market

User Productivity in Palo Alto, California, focuses on two things. The first is to provide UI designs (such as for new user experiences in reporting and analytics). The second is to closely link SAP development to the needs and opportunities of the American market. The latter is approached in two ways.

First, they organize and co-conduct any activities we do with American users that involve gathering user requirements or performing validations and testing of SAP UI designs. These include site visits for user interviews, observations of tests at SAP Labs, and organizing usability tests at ASUG (Americas' SAP Users' Group) conferences. Last spring's ASUG conference included 40 test tracks with over 300 completed test sessions.

Second, since the U.S. includes the richest scene of user-experience experts, institutes, academics, startup companies, industry heavyweights, and analysts, the Palo Alto team pairs the most promising U.S. entities with the needs of SAP development.


Knowledge Empowers People

Enabling a world-wide development organization to create superior user interfaces that are consistent throughout SAP's solution portfolio is a major challenge. That is why the User Productivity department puts great effort into knowledge transfer. A team of editors in Germany, supported by counterparts in Bangalore and Palo Alto, works on the following tasks:

  • Running the internal UP Website
    Called UP Online, it offers guidelines and how-to-documents on user interface and graphic design. It describes current topics and projects, gives SAP employees an overview of the services UP offers, and makes it easy to find the right contact person.
  • Running SAP's public Web site on UI design
    The SAP Design Guild ( is a stage for UI people: Here they can exchange information and opinions on visual and user interface design issues. SAP design resources include style guides, methods, and insights on how a user-centered development process should be carried out and how to facilitate the mind change within a company toward user-friendly software.
  • Driving and organizing training curricula
    Traditional classroom training still has its place in User Productivity. SAP continually researches current trends and topics, engages trainers, and sets up training sessions.
  • Operating the User Interface Gallery
    In the User Interface Gallery, designers can publish their design drafts and prototypes online. It focuses on the collaboration between user interface designers and gives every employee access to the latest design ideas.

Since so much is going on in user-interface and graphic design at SAP, some UP members have a second role besides their normal day-to-day business: They lead communities of practice where people can share information, insight, experience, and tools.

In User Productivity, the teams share a vision of SAP software that enables the users to be effective and efficient - and the SAP experts work to make the vision come true.


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