When Words Are Not Enough

Written by: Daria Plutecka

The frequently-raised objection when it comes to quality research, UX research included, is that the conclusions are drawn based on the participants’ declarations. However, there exist some methods which allow one to grasp the real behaviors of participants, and they can be easily implemented into the research scenario.

During exploratory research, the respondents are often unable to articulate their needs or opinions. In turn, when it comes to usability tests or satisfaction surveys, it very often happens that the respondents’ answers are limited to vague opinions which, without being further explored by the moderator, don’t bring in much data.

Very often, they hide their opinions, because something is “not quite right” to say, something makes them feel ashamed, or their behaviors are controlled by mechanisms which they don’t even perceive—because who would admit to having certain prejudices or not fully socially-accepted desires?

Then how does one find out the real opinions of respondents?

Continue reading When Words Are Not Enough

A New Challenger Appears

Written by: Montgomery Webster

Prototyping is fundamental in a host of different industries. Since I spend a lot of my time prototyping as a user experience (UX) designer, I look to other fields for insights into new techniques that might save time or more effectively communicate an interaction. Storyboards are a great example of a technique that the UX community borrowed from film, television, and comic books. What’s interesting is that despite the value UX has added to digital products across all industries, I have never heard of another field adopting any UX techniques.

Continue reading A New Challenger Appears

Creativity Must Guide the Data-Driven Design Process

Written by: Rameet Chawla

Collecting data about design is easy in the digital world. We no longer have to conduct in-person experiments to track pedestrians’ behavior in an airport terminal or the movement of eyeballs across a page. New digital technologies allow us to easily measure almost anything, and apps, social media platforms, websites, and email programs come with built-in tools to track data.

And, as of late, data-driven design has become increasingly popular. As a designer, you no longer need to convince your clients of your design’s “elegance,” “simplicity,” or “beauty.” Instead of those subjective measures, you can give them data: click-through and abandonment rates, statistics on the number of installs, retention and referral counts, user paths, cohort analyses, A/B comparisons, and countless other analytical riches.

After you’ve mesmerized your clients with numbers, you can draw a few graphs on a whiteboard and begin claiming causalities. Those bad numbers? They’re showing up because of what you told the client was wrong with the old design. And the good numbers? They’re showing up because of the new and improved design.

But what if it’s not because of the design? What if it’s just a coincidence?

There are two problems with the present trend toward data-driven design: using the wrong data, and using data at the wrong time.

The problem with untested hypotheses

Let’s say you go through a major digital redesign. Shortly after you launch the new look, the number of users hitting the “share” button increases significantly. That’s great news, and you’re ready to celebrate the fact that your new design was such a success.

But what if the new design had nothing to do with it? You’re seeing a clear correlation—two seemingly related events that happened around the same time—but that does not prove that one caused the other.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the authors of “Freakonomics,” have built a media empire on exposing the difference between correlation and causation. My favorite example is their analysis of the “broken windows” campaign carried out by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton. The campaign coincided with a drop in the city’s crime rate. The officials naturally took credit for making the city safer, but Levitt and Dubner make a very strong case that the crime rate declined for reasons other than their campaign.

Raw data doesn’t offer up easy conclusions. Instead, look at your data as a generator of promising hypotheses that must be tested. Is your newly implemented user flow the cause of a spike in conversion rates? It might be, but the only way you’ll know is by conducting an A/B test that isolates that single variable. Otherwise, you’re really just guessing, and all that data you have showing the spike doesn’t change that.

Data can’t direct innovation

Unfortunately, many designers are relying on data instead of creativity. The problem with using numbers to guide innovation is that users typically don’t know what they want, and no amount of data will tell you what they want. Instead of relying on data from the outset, you have to create something and give it to users before they can discover that they want it.

Steve Jobs was a big advocate of this method. He didn’t design devices and operating systems by polling users or hosting focus groups. He innovated and created, and once users saw what he and his team had produced, they fell in love with a product they hadn’t even known they wanted.

Data won’t tell you what to do during the design process. Innovation and creativity have to happen before data collection, not after. Data is best used for testing and validation.

Product development and design is a cyclical process. During the innovation phase, creativity is often based on user experience and artistry — characteristics that aren’t meant to be quantified on a spreadsheet. Once a product is released, it’s time to start collecting data.

Perhaps the data will reveal a broken step in the user flow. That’s good information because it directs your attention to the problem. But the data won’t tell you how to fix the problem. You have to innovate again, then test to see if you’ve finally fixed what was broken.

Ultimately, data and analysis should be part of the design process. We can’t afford to rely on our instincts alone. And with the wealth of data available in the digital domain, we don’t have to. The unquantifiable riches of the creative process still have to lead design, but applying the right data at the right time is just as important to the future of design.

Mystical guidelines for creating great user experiences

Written by: Tal Bloom

The Jewish Torah teaches that the Creator created our world through ten utterances–for example, “let there be light.”

The Jewish mystical tradition explains that these utterances correspond with ten stages in the process of creation. Every creative process in the world ultimately follows this progression, because it is really a part of the continual unfolding of the world itself, in which we are co-creators.

This article aims to present an overview of the mystical process of creation and principal of co-creation and to illustrate how it can guide bringing digital product ideas into reality–although it’s easy enough to see how this could translate to other products and services–in a way that ensures a great user experience, and makes our creative process more natural and outcomes more fruitful.

And a note as you read: In Jewish mysticism, the pronoun “He” is used when referring to the transcendent aspect of the Creator that is the source of creation, and “She” is used when referring to the imminent aspect that pervades creation, because they are characterized by giving and receiving, respectively. Because this article discusses the relationship of the transcendent aspect, the masculine pronoun has been used.

The process of creation

Ten stages, four realms

Ten stages, four realms
The order of creation

The ten stages in the process of creation progressively create four realms.

Three triads create three spiritual realms, and the tenth stage creates our tangible reality, which is the culmination of creation. It is understood that creation becomes increasingly defined and tangible as the creative power flows from one realm to the next. When we participate in creation, our efforts naturally follow the same progression.

The four realms are traditionally referred to by Hebrew terms, so to make things easier I’ll refer to them using a designer’s day-to-day terms–ideation, design, implementation, and operation.

Before we dive in though, one more thing to note is that within each realm there is a three-stage pattern whereby the creation first becomes revealed, then delineated, and finally consolidated in a state of equilibrium. Hang in there, you’ll shortly see what this means.

The realm of ideation

In the beginning there was only the Creator, alone.

In the first three stages of creation, He simply created the possibility for a creation. This corresponds with the generation of business ideas.

Just as before there was anything else it had to arise in the Creator’s mind to create the world, so too, the starting point of all products and services is the emergence of an idea–a simple and common example of which is “a digital channel will help our customers connect with us.”

Next, the seed sprouts a series of details to define it. In creation, the details included the fact that creation will be limited and that there is an order to its unfolding. In business, the idea undergoes an extrapolation to define its reach and scope. For example, “the digital channel will need product information, a shopping cart, a customer database, and a social function for customers’ reviews.”

The third stage in the process of creation is the preparation for bridging the gap between the abstract realm of potential where the Creator is still effectively alone, with a new reality of seemingly separate creations. Correspondingly, in business the third step requires bringing the idea from a place of theory to a point that it can be shared with others, such as presenting to decision makers and stakeholders, or briefing agents and consultants.

The realm of design

Now that it’s possible to distinguish between the Creator and His creation, the next three stages serve to coalesce the homogenous creation into spiritual templates. This corresponds with the conceptual design of how the business idea may be realized.

The first stage in this realm is an expression of the Creator’s kindness, as He indiscriminately bestows life to all of creation. Correspondingly, the design process begins with telling the end-to-end story of the idea, from the user discovering the new product or service through to their consummate pleasure in using it, without our being too concerned with practical considerations. This could be captured in business process diagrams, but human-centred user journey maps or storyboards have proven more natural.

Next, the Creator expressed His attribute of judgement to establish the boundaries of His evolving creations. In business, we begin addressing practical considerations, such as time, budget, and technical constraints to define the boundaries of the concept. This generally involves analyzing the desired story to establish the finite set of practical requirements for realizing it. For digital products, the requirements are often closely followed by a business case, an information architecture, and a system architecture.

As mentioned, the third stage is where a consolidated state of equilibrium is reached to form the output of the realm. In creation, mystics describe the culmination of this realm as being sublime angels who are only identified by their function–for example to heal or to enact justice–and consider them to be the templates for these attributes, as they become manifest in the lower beings.

Similarly, we consolidate the business idea by sketching or prototyping how we envision it will become manifest. Typically we deliver low-fidelity interaction, product or service designs, which are often accompanied by a business plan and functional and technical specifications.

The realm of implementation

Using the spiritual templates, the next three stages serve to create individualized spiritual beings. This corresponds with implementing our conceptual designs into an actual digital product.

In creation, the life-force is now apportioned according to the ability of the created being to receive, similar to pouring hot liquid material into a statue mould. Correspondingly, we apply branding, colors, and shapes to bring the blueprint to life–the result being high-fidelity visual designs of what the digital product will actually look and feel like.

Next, the life-force solidifies to form the individual spiritual being, similar to when the hot liquid cools and the mould can be removed. This corresponds with slicing the visual designs to develop the front-end, developing the database, and integrating the back-end functionality.

The culmination of this realm is often depicted in artwork and poetry as being angels that have human form, wings, and individual names. They are, however, still spiritual beings, not physical beings like us. Correspondingly, at the final stage of implementation, there exists a fully functional digital product…in a staging environment.

The realm of operation

The culmination of the process of creation is our tangible reality, which is comprised of physical matter and its infused life-force (part of which is our physical bodies infused with our souls). Bridging the infinitely large gap between the spiritual and physical realms is often considered the most profound step in the process of creation, yet paradoxically it’s simultaneously the smallest conceptual distance from a spiritual being that looks and functions like a physical being, and an actual physical being.

Correspondingly, launching a digital product into the live public domain can be the most daunting and exciting moment, yet it can be as easy as pressing a button to redirect the domain to point to the new web-server or to release the app on the app store.

At this point the Creator is said to have rested, observing His creation with pleasure. Similarly, it can be very satisfying to step back at this point and soak in how our initial seed of an idea has finally evolved into an actual operational reality–which will hopefully fulfill our business goals!

The principle of co-creation

User feedback

By now we can appreciate why there seems to be a natural and logical sequence for the activities typically involved in creating a new product or service. Jewish mysticism, however, unequivocally adds that we are co-creators with the Creator. That is: We, created beings, are able to influence what the end product of creation will be, just like users can influence our products and services when we engage with them during the creation process.

Jewish mysticism relates that the Creator consults with His retinue of angels to make decisions regarding His creation. This corresponds with our soliciting user input to validate the direction of our creative efforts, such as:

  • during ideation, conducting research to ensure the ideas indeed meet users’ needs and desires;
  • during design, conducting user validation to ensure the sensibility and completeness of the story, correlation of the framework with users’ mental models, and usability of the blueprints; and
  • during implementation, conducting user testing to help smooth out any remaining difficulties or doubts in the user experience.

We are also taught that the Creator is monitoring human activity and makes adjustments accordingly. Similarly, at the stage of operation, it’s good practice to steer the finished product to better achieve business goals by monitoring the usage analytics.

Finally, we’re taught that the Creator desires our prayers beseeching Him to change our reality, similar to how we’ve come to understand the most potent consideration is user feedback on the fully operational product.

Continual improvement

On the surface it still seems as though the process of creation is a cascading “waterfall,” but we see that our world is constantly evolving–for example, more efficient transport, more sophisticated communication, more effective health maintenance–seemingly through our learning from experience to improve our efforts. In a simple sense, this can be likened to the “agile” feedback loop where learnings from one round of production are used to influence and improve our approach to the next round.

Jewish mysticism teaches, however, that under the surface our genuine efforts below arouse a magnanimous bestowal of ever-increasingly refined life-force into the creation. This can be understood as similar to a pleased business owner allocating increasingly more budget to continue work on an evidently improving product or service.

These days, it is becoming more common for businesses to implement a continuous improvement program, whereby an ongoing budget is allocated for this purpose. The paradigm of continually looking for ways to more effectively meet user needs and achieve business goals–such that they can be fed back into the process for fleshing out the idea, designing, and then implementing–perfectly parallels the reality that we are co-creating an ever more refined world using ever-deepening resources.

But how can a compounding improvement continue indefinitely? Jewish mysticism explains that as the unlimited creative power becomes exponentially more revealed within our limited reality, there will eventually come a grand crescendo with the revelation of the Creator’s essential being, which is neither unlimited or limited, but both simultaneously. This will be experienced as the messianic era–“In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know their Creator.”1

Users front of mind at every stage

Before we get there, however, it can be seen from the above how every stage of the creative process has a unique effect on the user experience of the end product or service, such that it would bode well if we strive to ensure:

  1. The initial business idea meets an actual need or fulfils an actual desire of our users
  2. The concept is designed to function according to the user’s understanding and expectations
  3. The product or service is implemented in a way that is appealing and easy to use
  4. The operating product or service is continually improved to meet users’ evolving needs

By knowing each stage and each skill set’s proper place in the sequence and how to incorporate our learnings and user sentiment, we can achieve a more natural creative process for ourselves, our peers, and our clients and ensure the end product or service offers the best possible user experience, indefinitely.

Creative activity Co-creation activity Output
Ideation Innovation brainstorms
Idea prioritization
User research User pain points
Idea pitch/brief
Design Business analysis
Requirements analysis
Card sorting
Interaction design
User focus groups
User interviews
Tree testing
User walkthroughs
User journeys/storyboards
Product requirements
Information architecture
Wireframes/prototype
Implementation Visual design
Front-end development
Back-end development
Content preparation
User testing Staging product
Operation Product launch
Product maintenance
Analytics
User feedback/surveys
Live product
Ideas for improvement

References and further reading

  1. Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Melachim uMilchamot, Chapter 12, Halacha 5, by the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon

Designing for Harmony

Written by: David Bloxsom

In 1982, Scott Cook was watching his wife sit at the kitchen table struggling to balance the family checkbook. Personal computers were just becoming popular and he had seen them transform work at Procter and Gamble; yet here was his wife fighting to do something challenging for humans but trivial for computers. In a flash of insight, he realized that software could replace pencil-and-paper accounting for everyone. This aha moment set him on a path of user-focused innovation.

Cook met programmer Tom Proulx at Stanford. With partial funding from Cook’s father, the pair not only founded Intuit, which improved many a math- and time-challenged life, but also gave another gift to the software industry that they borrowed from the consumer packaged goods industry: usability testing. They had users try their new software, Quicken, while they ran a stopwatch. Then they’d tweak the software and retest until processes that took an hour were reduced to a quarter of that.

Cook also pioneered a process at Intuit called “Follow Me Homes.” The CEO himself would go to software stores and when someone purchased a copy of Quicken, he would ask if he could follow the customer home and watch her use the application. This type of user research was useful because it allowed him to see customers using Intuit’s software in real-world environments.

By using these nascent user-centered design methods, they were able to meet the expanding needs of their user base and claim over 90% of the small business accounting software market.

Intuit went public in 1993 and then acquired Chipsoft, giving them the product that would become TurboTax. The now ubiquitous QuickBooks came out the following year.

As Intuit evolved, it acquired companies that added payroll, online payments, checks and supplies, online tax preparation, and more to its product line. This expanded the offerings but created a fragmented company where each product had its own division with separate management, design, and–in some cases—offices. A noticeable lack of focus prevented them from innovating as a company; their user-centered design DNA was disappearing. Was their size and rapid growth diluting their design-driven culture?

Solving for the innovator’s dilemma

In 2000, Steve Bennett became the CEO of Intuit. Fresh from GE, Bennett’s goal was to see Intuit act more like a grown-up company. His efforts were good for the bottom line–Intuit’s sales increased $1.7 billion during his seven year tenure–but acting like a mature company appeared to take the company even further away from its scrappy, innovative roots.

Over a decade after those early guerrilla user testing days, Intuit recognized it faced the “Innovator’s Dilemma”–the company was doing a good job of supporting their core products but they weren’t having any success creating new products and they weren’t keeping pace with the changing software industry.

A major change for the industry was the move to the software as a service (SaaS) model, often referred to as “the cloud.” This was a reinvention of the software publishing model that had customers pay a subscription fee to access software online rather than buy a copy for their desktop. SaaS meant companies could push out updates to their customers faster. It also made many things easier for customers, including remote access to work and simplified installs.

The cloud created opportunities for hungry young startups who were moving into Intuit’s space. Many of them were building their customer base from former Intuit users or from other startups looking for a slick, integrated user experience that Intuit wasn’t providing. After enjoying almost total market domination, Intuit finally was beginning to face some competition.

Years of incremental additions and piecemeal changes had turned QuickBooks into an awkward application with a dated interface. Intuit had developed its mobile platform late in the game, creating an inconsistent experience. If Intuit wanted to stay ahead of these new competitors–and the market–they would need to return to their roots.

The cloud also created opportunities for hungry young startups who were moving into Intuit’s space. Many of them were building their customer base from former Intuit users or from other startups looking for a slick, integrated user experience that Intuit couldn’t provide.

 

With Intuit’s market share, they probably wouldn’t see a decline for another ten years. A different company might have felt that was good enough. A different company might have been satisfied with just making money from their core products. A different company wouldn’t have tried to pull off a project as risky as Harmony.

Inspiring innovation by democratizing design

In 2007, Scott Cook had another important insight: He realized that he’d never be Steve Jobs. He’d never be that lone visionary who was single-handedly driving design and innovation at his company. What might have discouraged a different man inspired Cook. After getting advice from one of his design contacts at Procter & Gamble, Cook led a one-day program focusing on what he called Design for Delight (D4D).

His managers applauded in all the right places–Cook was the founder, after all–but there was little enthusiasm.

Undaunted, Cook had a consulting associate professor at Stanford named Alex Kazaks give a second presentation. Kazaks started with a ten minute PowerPoint presentation followed by an exercise where the managers worked through a design challenge that involved prototyping, feedback, iterating, and refining.

This time, the workshop inspired his managers and excited them about the power of design. This lesson–hands on workshops are better at engaging people–would help set the foundation for how Intuit would teach D4D moving forward.

To bring D4D to Intuit, Cook turned to a gifted in-house design director, Kaaren Hanson. Hanson, in turn, put together a team of nine people to help her. In making her selections, she was not only looking for user-centered design thinking but she also needed people interested in working together to solve problems. She wanted them to be outgoing and, most importantly, they needed to be passionate about sharing their skills and experience. If they were going to make a difference, they had to empower other people.

This core team would become known as the Innovation Catalysts. They would lead workshops with Intuit’s employees, educating them on the power of design. Any manager at Intuit could request an Innovation Catalyst to help them drive design and experimentation on their projects. And they were responsible for teaching new Catalysts. The initial group of nine would grow to over 200.

Hanson was not only looking for user-centered design thinking but she also needed people interested in working together to solve problems. She wanted them to be outgoing and, most importantly, they needed to be passionate about sharing their skills and experience.

 

Cook’s attempt to bring innovation to Intuit appeared to be a success. The Innovation Catalysts were teaching innovation and inspiring the rest of the company to think from a design perspective. Intuit was creating an environment that actively supported and encouraged innovation. The true test for the company, however, would be if they could produce successful new products.

In 2007, Bennett stepped down and the current CEO, Brad Smith, took over. Smith identified that Intuit had an innovation gap: Only four out of 50 products introduced in the past decade had grown to $50 million or more in revenues. Following in Cook’s footprints, Smith set out to bring innovation to Intuit’s products.

Taking it to the next level

In 2013, five years after Smith took the helm, Intuit was seeing the benefits of innovation and producing successful products, but to stay on top they would need to keep evolving. The company was still a collection of walled-off products and, although innovation was the goal, it wasn’t the reality in many departments. A focus on profits and products had watered down their culture of user-focused design.

Design-driven innovation was no longer a radical new approach. The industry—and Intuit’s competitors—was also using these processes to build successful businesses; many of them had learned their methods from Intuit. And although Intuit had successfully extended their experience to mobile, they had yet to take advantage of the cloud, a space their competitors were already at home in.

Smith announced a radical and risky new plan: Intuit would move away from being a desktop software company and move toward becoming an SaaS company.

They would do something they hadn’t done in more than a decade: a complete redesign of their flagship product. The centerpiece of this new Intuit would be called Project Harmony: a completely new QuickBooks Online, rebuilt from the ground up as an open and integrated platform. From that work, Harmony’s team would then create a new design vocabulary and apply it to QuickBooks Online and every other product Intuit offers.

This wasn’t Intuit’s first time at the rodeo: they had introduced QuickBooks Online in 2001. At the time, the technology was not up to the task of translating the desktop environment to the browser, so the experience suffered. Their customers were familiar with the desktop application and wary of change, and the ones who did try the new service were generally unhappy with it. Like any true innovator, Intuit would incorporate what they learned into the new product and move forward.

Klaus Kaasgaard and Dan Wenikoff
Klaus Kaasgaard and Dan Wernikoff during a design review.

Heading up Project Harmony was Dan Wernikoff, senior vice president of Intuit’s Small Business Group, and Klaus Kaasgaard, vice president of experience design. Wernikoff provided the executive backing so the project wouldn’t get derailed, and Kaasgaard acted as the project’s main advocate and development lead. Working together, the two sketched out the roadmap for Harmony, including a set of principles to guide the project:

  • Each product represents the entire ecosystem, so each product needs to deliver ease, benefit, and delight during a customer’s initial experiences.
  • Each product is designed individually but maintains the look and feel of the ecosystem.
  • Each product is designed in the context of its role in the ecosystem: understand the context in which each product will be used and create systems that respond intelligently when it changes.
  • Make it easy for a user’s data to follow them and move between products.

Design principles are often seen as fluffy and end up getting skipped or glossed over in projects, but the Harmony team couldn’t afford to skip any details for such a critical project.

It turns out that they made the right call. The design principles unified, inspired, and guided the developers. And when the team was in the middle of the warring desires of different business groups, the principles reminded everyone of their goal.

The centerpiece of this new Intuit would involve doing something they hadn’t done in more than a decade: a complete redesign of their flagship product, QuickBooks.

 

The Harmony team lived up to their name: They designed one Intuit experience despite many business units. But Harmony wasn’t just about changing Intuit’s products. It was also about changing Intuit’s culture and the way that their employees work and relate to each other. It was about strengthening the user-focused design culture that had brought Intuit its early successes. These changes were reflected in a powerful set of decision criteria, including:

  • Intuit’s core products will work together; any product that acts as a customer’s first point of contact will introduce the customer to the entire ecosystem.
  • When there are common jobs or tasks across products, Intuit will use common designs and components. It may not be the best for one, but it will be the best for all.
  • Share data across teams: If a product captures it, that product needs to enable other products to use it.

For Harmony to be successful, it had to work across all of Intuit’s products. And for Intuit to be successful, all of its employees would need to work together too.

From now on, there would be one team with one goal, and it would be design-driven.

 

Win together

At the core of this change is Harmony’s central design team, who act as advocates and caretakers of the Harmony design language. The Harmony team works with Intuit’s business units to insure that the designs are consistently implemented across the entire company.

The core team also evolves the design language. And, to help support their efforts, the design and development teams were reorganized to create an environment that encourages and supports creativity and excellence.

…not only does XD have a seat at the table, in many cases–like the project I lead–we’re driving the process.
— Dorelle Rabinowitz, Intuit Experience Design

Dorelle Rabinowitz
Dorelle leads a brainstorming session with the Harmony team.

According to Kaasgaard, the key to making the Harmony team a success was giving them license to change what needed to be changed and the encouragement to do it. Like the Innovation Catalysts before them, the Harmony team would bring Harmony–and the mindset behind it–to the company.

If Harmony succeeded with QuickBooks Online, the redesigned product would prove the value of the new design system to the rest of the company. If it didn’t, only one product would be affected. It was still risky, but there was no way to avoid it if Intuit was going to keep up with the industry.

To succeed, Harmony had to do three things:

  • Develop a scalable UI framework and the underlying services and infrastructure that make up a modern technology platform.
  • Unify its disparate interaction models and interfaces into one coherent ecosystem across the various products.
  • Institute a completely new way of working for Intuit’s designers and developers that placed the needs of the company above the needs of the individual business unit. From now on, there would be one team with one goal, and it would be design-driven.

Although it’s a relatively new term, design-driven innovation comes from classic design methods: observing people, understanding what their needs are, and making prototype solutions until you discover the right products and services.

By staying in the sweet spot of what people need rather than what they ask for, a company can evolve with its customer base. And it works. According to the Design Management Institute, design-driven companies have outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 by 228%. Companies like Apple, Herman Miller, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Walt Disney have consistently shown that focusing on your user experience is very good for your bottom line.

Early customer response to the redesigned QuickBooks Online has been positive, as seen in a gushing review by Bill Murphy of Internet Accountant:

…this QuickBooks Online is the most visionary change I have seen out of Intuit in ages; heck it is almost ‘Apple-like.’

Others, used to the desktop version of QuickBooks, have left less flattering reviews in which they complain about changes in functionality and appearance. Time will tell if these complaints are a reaction to the fact that things have changed or if they are the result of actual issues with the updated interface.

Of course, one of the advantages to the SaaS model is that Intuit can quickly roll out updates to its products, giving them the agility they need to react to the market as well as to user testing and experimentation. Intuit’s investors are happy: Intuit’s stock recently hit an all time high.

The Harmony Ecosystem
The cross-platform view of the Harmony ecosystem.

The Harmony team isn’t done yet. Intuit’s designers will continue to evolve their design vocabulary, improving the customer experience for both QuickBooks Online and the rest of Intuit’s products.

Intuit is a 30 year old startup where all 8,000 employees are entrepreneurs, and it’s everyone’s job to create, invent, and improve their customers’ lives.

 

Innovation is everyone’s job

Brad Smith describes Intuit as a 30 year old startup where all 8,000 employees are entrepreneurs, and it is everyone’s job to create, invent, and improve their customers’ lives. The most powerful tool they have to do this is user-centered design, which allows them to improve their customers’ lives and create delightful experiences. As long as they hold on to that–regardless of what method they wrap around it–they’ll continue to be successful.

Instead of waiting for a lone visionary to arrive, Intuit chose to teach design to all, and make the entire company responsible for innovation. The Innovation Catalysts empower and train their coworkers, and those employees find the insights that makes Intuit innovate. The Harmony team provides the consistent design that maintains a uniform experience across Intuit’s products and platforms, speeding innovation and integration.

Scott Cook’s famous kitchen table sits in Intuit’s Cook Campus Center. The walls around it are covered with whiteboards, and anyone can sit at the table to meet, brainstorm, or work. Intentionally or not, the table is a symbol for user-centered design and how it improves people’s lives. And everyone has a seat at the table.

Scott Cook's kitchen table
Scott Cook’s kitchen table holds a special place in Intuit’s culture.