Search UX in SAP Ariba Guided Buying

Redefine search experience for B2B e-commerce solution for immediate business needs and long-term vision

  • Redesign the search experience to help users find what they need with guidance and clarity
  • Engage with customers over a course of few months for gathering feedback and setting expectations

Being the sole designer on this project, I hypothesized, designed and tested the end-to-end search experience, and worked with PM, researcher and solution manager to inform about our immediate deliveries and long-term vision of search


SAP Ariba Guided Buying, part of its parent procurement suite, was launched 5 years ago for casual buyers to make a purchase in a familiar e-commerce experience. However, as more features added to the platform to serve our 1M monthly unique users in multiple industries and regions, the search experience becomes really complex and confusing.

Framed as a customer engagement initiative topic, we were tasked to not only redefine a more helpful and pleasant search experience for our users but also communicate the story to customers through a series of design workshops.

Project goals

Framed as a customer engagement initiative project, there are 2 goals for this project that are equally important:

πŸ’‘ Redesign the search experience to help users find what they need with guidance and clarity

πŸ’‘ Engage with customers over a course of few months for gathering feedback and setting expectations for both short term and long term

Research and understand

It's a big topic....where should we start?

Search is a big topic in Ariba Guided Buying. It's one of the main way users navigate and locate different procurement activities, ranging from purchasing a catalog items, finding a supplier to work with, to starting a sourcing events for quotes.

Working closely with the researcher colleague, I designed (and iterated) a series of design workshops and test sessions depending on the stage we're at, what we're trying to learn and what goals we try to get from each session.

User journey walkthrough

Priority matrix

Concept testing


Synthesizing the feedback, some key findings are:

Insight #1: System doesn’t support different user intents

Insight #2: Limited support to guide users through multiple channels of results

Insight #3: Not enough info scent for users to differentiate similar results

Design highlights

Rethink the experience for the end-to-end search journey

Scoped search

While the technical constraints compromise the search accuracy, how can we help the system to support users better?

The search scope facets and suggestions provide users options to narrow down the scope of search early on in the process, without having to consume all results every time they search. By identifying the intent of search, the system suggests the most likely result types users are looking for, such as products or requisitions, for users to have control of their search scope

Rethink navigation for short- and long-term

Understanding and navigating to different channels of results have been a big pain point for our users. However, it is not an easy task to solve in one go.

As the first baby step to solve immediate business need, the sticky tab bar enables users to understand what are all available channels to this search, and jump to the corresponding section easily.

A true, guided experience for our users to navigate this multi-channel search results should not stop here. On top of proposing practical short-term solution, I also took a step back to evaluate the journey of how users navigate the system, and identify the opportunity gaps where could be provide contextual, relevant guidance for users.

This approach allows us to not be constraints by thinking about one-size-fit-all solution, but desiging for guidance that is truly meaningful and helpful by the context users are in. For example, users are really confused by different types of form, and the previous layout doesn't allow easily accessible options to filter down the results. Providing colloquial terms in context turned out to be one of the simple but highly-appreciated features in the feedback.

Flexible and adaptable product listings

How we should present the products were also revisited to provide users relevant and right amount of info while shopping. It turned out that there's also a quick win to achieve but a long-term strategy to consider. Even though we achieved quick wins by adding few piece of product specs to the cards, users from different industries would like to consume product listings other than by cards (which is highly image-driven). That's why I also worked with PMs and design framework team to understand what categories of items are likely to require different view and what is the right amount of info to display at this stage.


It's still ongoing!

While this project is an ongoing initiative (yes, I I'm probably using my coffee energy on this while you are reading this β˜•οΈ), the next steps for this project in the coming weeks are:

  • Conduct user testing with end users (rather than workshop participants who are usually representatives of the customers) to validate our concepts further with a wider group
  • Break down the design proposal into features that are immediately actionable / medium-term / long-term and plan it for the roadmap

...AND this is what we heard so far in regards to our project goals:

πŸ’‘ Redesign the search experience to help users find what they need with guidance and clarity

πŸ‘‰ "Put it in production a.s.a.p. Highly wanted by my end-users."

πŸ’‘ Engage with customers over a course of few months for gathering feedback and setting expectations for both short term and long term

πŸ‘‰ I have been to several CEI workshop like this, this has been the most productive one."

Going beyond "my project"

Search is a fundamental experience for a lot of procurement scenarios. While the design proposal and insights were based on the context of SAP Ariba Guided Buying and its current users, the impact of our work has extended beyond the current product. I'm currently supporting development for a brand new buying solution, and the learnings, previous stakeholder discussions and documentation have influenced strategic decisions from architectural level, and still served as a fundation to achieve an effective, pleasant search experience for users.


Communicate effectively within, across and outside of the team

Search is a topic that involves different teams, workstream and people in my organization. This project makes me truly believe that transparent communication across teams is crucial to design an experience that leverage what we know (from support team: what did customers say before?) and what we have (from data science team: what are they planning to release and tune soon?) as team. While the need for effective communication for this project even spans beyond my company, I also learned how to communicate professionally while achieving actionable outcomes by empathizing with the needs of different types of audience.

If I'd be able to start this project again from the beginning, I would strive to engage the point of contact from those relevant teams early on, instead of just leveraging their knowledge for brainstorming and validating. I also hope to make the ad hoc discussions we had, which turned out really fruitful for a lot of ongoing topics for the product team, to be more transparent and available for the product team, and documented in bite-sizes.