- Question: Your early career includes consumer brand and product management at Proctor & Gamble. How did that influence your approach to computer software?
Answer: One of the early things we implemented when we launched Intuit in 1983 was the idea of usability tests. That was a P&G practice. No one had ever done that in software, though—they would design, engineer and ship a program, without testing it with a potential user. That meant there was an inherent bias in the product. What makes sense for an expert user like a programmer or engineer doesn’t necessarily work for the consumer. With usability tests we could re-iterate and adjust based on what we observed.
Question: How did this user-centered design approach evolve over time?
Answer: In the late 1980s we began to realize that consumers were having a different experience than the usability tests suggested. We borrowed a practice from Nissan, actually, that included shadowing a customer as they interacted with the product in the real world. We dubbed it “Follow Me Home.” We—by we I mean our designers and engineers—literally looked over the shoulder of an Intuit customer as they installed and began using the software. It became a big part of the front-end discovery phase of our overall design approach, which is “Design For Delight,” aka D4D.
Question: Can you explain how D4D works?
Answer: The four phases are pretty self-explanatory: Discover, Define, Design, and Deliver. An aerial view of the process wouldn’t look dramatically different from any good design process that begins with a broad scan of the customer experience to discover opportunities to make things better for them. Customer delight is often in the details, but to find those opportunities we go broad at first, and that allows us to then go narrow and focus on a possible solution. We couple that with high-velocity experimentation and rapid learning through prototyping. Delight is also often the result of great design and execution.
I think that what is perhaps most unique, though, is our philosophy, or perspective, which is to look for and study the unexpected, and to do what I call “savor the surprise.” By that I mean our surprise, not the customer’s. A number of our most successful products were not planned or intended.
Question: Can you share a specific example that might help explain that concept?
Answer: Our small business accounting program, Quickbooks, is one example. It came as a surprise to us that businesses were using our personal product, Quicken, which is set up like your checkbook. It was a surprise to us that a business might not want accounting software with debits and credits. But to the small business owner, accounting was a foreign language and not intuitive. By studying that, rather than ignoring it, we uncovered a problem no one had addressed. No one else had seen it, because no one else was looking for it.
Question: So studying surprise is a philosophy and method of discovery, not necessarily the goal of delight. How do you define delight, and what do you believe to be the key to delight?
Answer: You’re right, we don’t pursue customer surprise as a goal or outcome. That can backfire in our specific arenas. We pursue confidence, because it’s such a big part of delight. Delight is defined simply as a customer being happier than they expected to be with one of our products or services. We organize around delight, the goal being to have a customer be wowed about how confident they are in the solution.
Take Turbotax, for example. Our customers are delighted that they don’t need to know anything about the subject matter to be completely confident in preparing and filing their income taxes. It’s the opposite of the word processing program approach where you still need to know how to write! But that’s what first-time users think, so they’re amazed and delighted when they discover they need to know exactly nothing about taxes.
Question: You mentioned organizing for delight, and Design Thinking as an organizational concept is gaining wide acceptance. Is D4D something that has a broader organizational purpose at Intuit, beyond products and services?
Answer: Absolutely. It’s part of the genetic code of Intuit. We firmly believe that in order to get a good idea anywhere, you need a lot of ideas. And that can only come from constant experimentation and an on-the-job, learn-by-doing skillset. We’re after an internal culture of continuous improvement and everyday innovation at every level and every process, and the basic problem-solving approach underneath our D4D process is definitely one way to get there.
Matthew E. May is Chief Strategist for MBox Design, and the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. He blogs here. You can follow him on Twitter here.