Designing for internal tools

I lead the product design team for business applications at H&M Group. Together as a team we help fashion designers, assortment planners, business controllers and other colleagues to do their best work through smart, effective and collaborative digital tools.

What does it mean to design for internal tools?

As a designer for internal tools, I design for my colleagues, I influence the outcome of their work, and I help them to reach their goals whether it is to create an inspiring assortment for our customers, or to plan the most accurate stock level and work towards a demand driven supply chain, or even to work towards a circular economy and help to develop products with sustainable components.

For instance, we have custom build apps to build and plan assortments together online, we have plug-ins we built for 3D software like CLO, we have AI-powered tools to quantify and forecast the right amount of stock levels and much more.

Before we scaled our design team for business applications these tools were designed mostly by engineers and business stakeholders. There was no one dedicated to looking at the problems fashion designers and planners were experiencing holistically from designing a fashion product to order, source and produce it. These tools were quickly build solutions out of an excel spread sheet, useful but often inefficient, since users had to switch between apps with a lot of redundant data entry.

Challenges designing for internal tools

Building tools that help people do their jobs is a very satisfying work for designers but it also has many challenges, like inconsistent user journeys, complex UI’s and the lack of examples of patterns that work or don’t work in specific scenarios, to only name a few.

Compared to customer facing products, where UX design is a known and welcomed expertise, the design of internal tools is often less prioritised. The gains of having designers in the product teams of these tools are however huge.

Team size

7 designers working in 5 different value streams

Team culture

We foster a cohesive design community and complete our skill set through exchange while learning from each other


We can’t share any specific details or final UI’s.

Some examples of our work

1. Establishing UX metrics
2. Design process
3. Consistent UI

Measuring the user's experience means focusing on the outcome and effect of what we build. What our users need and how usable and understandable it is has mostly no correlation to the number of features or capabilities (and Jira epics 😊) we develop. To find out what drives real value for our users (and therefore the business) we measure the users experience. At Business applications we use an adapted version of the system usability scale questionnaire, for every tool separately as well on a holistic user journey.

But writing surveys and observe user data is only one part of it, we also need
to present the results in a suitable way to show stakeholders the progress of our work, and demonstrate the value of improving our users experience. An example:
In summer 2021 we introduced a new way of how users can bring in their “human” experience to improve the machine learning process of one of our AI powered quantification tools. We measured before and after is visualised in this graph:

1. Establishing UX metrics
2. Design process
3. Consistent UI

One of the most exciting work for a designer at H&M Group Business applications is to design new solutions from scratch. Often there is a lack of examples from competitors since most internal tools are under NDA's and sometimes we design solutions which even haven't been build before, designing for the unknown 🤯.

The tools we use at work are getting smarter and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help make decisions at work will rise even more. We don’t know the full extent of possibilities and implications of emerging technologies. And with so many variables and uncertainty, we focus our attention on things that are unlikely to change: the needs of users, in our case Fashion designers, Planners and Business controllers.

Design thinking with it's emphasise of discovery using research methods that are empathetic and user focused is crucial for us. We are using a design process framework developed by our Design ops team. The framework goes from a discovery phase and design phase to delivery and driving the solution. Within these phases, designers decide by themself which methods they apply to get the desired results. For the Business applications team however Design sprints, Value proposition canvas and rapid prototyping are often used methods.

1. Establishing UX metrics
2. Design process
3. Consistent UI

Since we have very different design challenges at Business applications compared to customer facing UI's, we decided to develop a dedicated design system for internal tools. The design system was developed while we redesigned a wider range of products.

Colors, typography, shapes and effects are restrained with focus on the assortment rather than an eye catching UI design. It also allows theme variations for colors in the primary scale to let the products teams decide on their identity color. The core system is mainly the great work of our UI designer Jacob Nyquist.

To achieve cohesion, consistency, speed, and scale in design our system needs to be maintained constantly.

Our designers meet up with UI-heavy product teams to iterate on what we have today and develop the system further. In our front-end community designers can ask about best implementation in code while engineers get design input for teams without a designer.  

Future of business applications

As mentioned we don’t know the full extent of possibilities and implications of emerging technologies. H&M Group widely adopts AI across the company especially within our colleague facing tools for use cases like fashion forecasting, pricing algorithms and demand forecasting.

I belief as designers we have to embrace these technologies not only as helpful tools for ourself but to design them with the user and for the user. For us designers at Business apps that means more focus on the discovery phase of a design process and more engaging business partners, engineers and stakeholders to co-creation.