How SAP’s SuccessFactors used anthropology to understand its customers

As part of a new approach to user interfaces, Amy Wilson, Head of Product at SAP SuccessFactors, pulled designers together with behavioral scientists with backgrounds in cultural anthropology. The goal was to help the designers better understand the way most individuals intuitively work. This way, even while high-design was still a priority, the designers could make a product users wouldn’t have to adapt to.

“With the growth of big data in the last few years, there has been a big focus on using analytics to understand user behavior,” Wilson says. “Software companies (both enterprise and consumer) have large data science teams who are tasked with analyzing server logs to understand what the users did: tracking sessions of users as they move through the software, understanding feature utilization, etc. Data does provide important usage analytics, but it’s an incomplete picture. It tells you what the users did, but it’s unable to tell you why.