Today Salesforce officially announced a project they’ve been undertaking for many, many months – Salesforce Lightning Experience. More details will continue to come to light leading to up Dreamforce 2015 held September 15th-18th in San Francisco, but based on what we know already I can assure you that Lightning Experience is much more than a (badly needed) cosmetic facelift to Saleforce’s CRM app. In fact, it will create many ripples in the Salesforce ecosystem that will continue to roll for months and years to come.
Who are you?
Rethinking an entire application that focuses on one or a handful of use cases is hard enough. But what about an application that focuses on hundreds or thousands of different use cases, with customers coming up with their own new ones and building them everyday? #missionimpossible
Salesforce took a page out of the UX handbook and focused this initial release of Lightning Experience on one of the more popular personas you’ll find in the Salesforce user base – a sales rep. If Salesforce had just taken the current UI and changed the fonts and button styles, it would have been more beautiful than before, but the application wouldn’t have been any more useful. By focusing on tailoring the application UI based on the personas of users using it, Salesforce has taken a huge step toward improving the usefulness and efficiency of its users. And while they started with a sales rep persona, I would expect to see many more persona-focused UIs coming over the next several releases (like a marketing manager or support agent or…).
I’m not a sales rep
So, you might be thinking that if you’re not a sales rep, Lightning Experience isn’t for you. You’re wrong.
If you’ve been following along over the past several months, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard the term Lightning used by Salesforce. In fact, you’re probably confused by the difference between Lightning Connect, Lightning Components, Lightning Design System, Lightning Process Builder and Lightning App Builder. Well, finally, Lightning Experience is what ties a lot of this together. Once Lightning Experience is enabled, the promise of dragging and dropping Lightning Components onto a page to build your own pixel perfect, responsive UIs in Salesforce becomes reality. Lightning Experience takes the declarative goodness of Lightning App Builder and lets admins, non-coders, and coders alike build their own persona-based UIs within Salesforce. Very powerful stuff.
It’s about the X not the I
Mr. Salesforce UX, Craig Villamor, wrote a great post about how his team approached and executed this massive undertaking. I was fortunate enough to be invited to play a very small part in this project, so I can somewhat attest to the effectiveness (and challenges) of this process. But the most important takeaway I had is that this is not a UI update project – this a UX project.
Many people know Salesforce as the world’s leading CRM, but Salesforce is no stranger to building a programmatically extensible platform. First with s-controls (#neverforget) then Visualforce and Apex. With all the greatness that these technologies enabled, they often created a major rift in the experience of the application with obvious differences between the standard parts of the application and the custom built parts. Enter the Salesforce Lightning Design System.
The SLDS is a living, breathing CSS framework that allows developers to use the exact same beautiful styles Salesforce is using for their own standard Lightning Experience components. This allows developers to provide a beautiful, consistent experience throughout all areas of Salesforce, avoiding the user confusion that can often arise when they hit a custom page and “don’t know where they are.” This may seem like a small detail, but executing this balance of extensibility and consistency is a huge challenge and one I commend the Salesforce team for thinking through on a much deeper level than just a pretty UI update.
The journey is just beginning
Salesforce is on the leading edge of the “consumerprise” – the confluence of enterprise-grade applications with consumer-grade UX. Salesforce Lightning Experience opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for Salesforce customers and partners, and it’s only going to get better with time. So while we’ll get pumped up about the new Lightning Experience at Dreamforce this year and get to use it in our production orgs starting in October, you can bet that Salesforce already has much more in store for releases going into 2016 and beyond. So strap in, hold on tight, and ride the lightning!