Intuit – QuickBooks Online Accountant (Virtual Office)

Oct '13 – Apr '14  |   Interaction Design, Product Design, Research

The Objective

Capture a large majority of accountants switching to managing their practices in the cloud. 

Expand Intuit's online accountant offering to surpass the desktop version in the features that matter the most to customers and push them to switch from QBA Desktop to QuickBooks Online Accountant.

Context

Intuit had 90%+ market share in desktop accountants’ software, but their existing online product was far from feature parity with desktop, and a growing number of younger accountants wanted to manage their practices only in the cloud. Additionally, Xero had emerged as a cloud-only competitor.

Links

QuickBooks Online Accountant marketing page

My Role

Interaction Designer, Researcher

(I worked on the early stages of the product, doing research to identify pain points, setting the vision for the product, and creating sketches, wireframes, and prototypes to test with users and iterate on. I led the design on the mobile companion app until dev resources were reassigned, and then rejoined the web team to work on wireframing the core dashboard and practice manager workflows.)

Other Contributors

3 Interaction Designers, 1 Visual Designer (1st Phase)

Research + Brainstorming (Foundational)

For the foundational design, my team at Intuit (4 designers) ran a design sprint in parallel with a design agency team, sharing ideas and feedback along the way.

We started with a week of immersive research, conducting interviews with accountants with small practices (2-5 employees) to learn about how they do their work and their main pain points. After distilling the observations into insights, we started brainstorming and sketching concepts.

The Email Can Opener on the left came from the insight that accountants spend a huge amount of their unbillable time combing through emails from clients extracting and tracking files, to-do’s, and appointments. They also have a huge amount of fear of missing anything and losing their client’s trust. The Email Can Opener would automatically extract and make files, to-do’s, and appointments visible on the Virtual Office Dashboard.

We also saw that small accounting  firms have trouble keeping track of the amount of work each of their employees gets done. We came up with the idea of an insights dashboard showing the billable hours and revenue coming from each employee. It could also allow them to find which employees get which tasks done the most efficiently if combined with tracking employee hours (which it might if Virtual Office were also used for the accounting firm’s payroll).

The Email Can Opener – automatically extracting and parsing emails for files, to-do’s, and appointments that it shows on the Virtual Office Dashboard.

Employee Insights Dashboard – tracking metrics on which employee is bringing what in the most efficiently.

Once we had put together concepts, I designed and led a test session with 20 accountants where we showed a number of these concepts in smaller groups, facilitated discussions around which were most useful, and extracted design principles based on their feedback (some pictured here).

Virtual Office Mobile

We settled on the vision for Virtual Office – "using data to empower small accounting firms to be their SMB clients' hero and grow".  Because the functionality we wanted for v1 was so large, we broke it into 14 workstreams. I led the mobile workstream. I had the vision of creating the “accountant’s trusty companion that makes sure they never miss a beat”, based on research showing that:

  • Our target accountants (small practices, tech-savvy, eager to expand) wanted to manage as much as possible from their phones because they had mobile practices, travelling to clients around the area (and many only brought iPads to their client consultations)
  • Looked at their phone as soon as they woke up, and just before they went to bed
  • Were terrified of dropping the ball on client work

My focus was on features to provide the most relevant info to the accountant instantly, using existing data we collected. 

I began by creating wireframes of mobile features we had come up with during brainstorming. I then set up a card-sorting exercise with users where they would rank what they wanted to see on the dashboard, and what types of alerts would be the most useful for them in terms of importance. I found that because a diverse range of small accounting firms exist, a customisable dashboard would be ideal, and also refined the list of alerts/notifications so it wouldn’t unnecessarily panic the accountant.

Most of the mobile work was de-scoped as the company set an aggressive deadline for v1's unveiling, so the focus switched to finding the highest impact feature that would have the least build time. During research, we found one of the biggest time-sinks was finding clients’ mis-categorised transactions. There was no way for clients to say “I don’t know which category” when adding a new expense, so many would apply a valid but incorrect category, forcing accountants to carefully go through all their transactions to find mistakes.

My solution was to create a way for clients using the QBO Mobile app to mark that they didn’t know how to categorise one of their transactions. I wireframed a couple of solutions that added an “Ask My Accountant” option to new expenses. We ran a test with 4 users and asked 4 accountants to confirm that the feature was a useful one, and met with a positive response from both sides – accountants thought it would save time and help to train clients to categorise transactions properly by notifying them when they corrected a transaction, and clients felt more supported by their accountant with the in-product option to ask them. It also created an opportunity to suggest clients find an accountant in-product if they didn't have one and didn't know how to categorise a transaction.

Dashboard

After the mobile work, I started a design sprint with another interaction designer and a visual designer to define and mock up the core product’s dashboard / client list. 

We created a number of concepts – 

  • Tiles to alert accountants to key information that expand to show more detail.
  • A gamified dashboard inspired by LinkedIn and "zero-data states" to encourage the accountant to explore QBA's functionality.
  • Expandable rows so accountants could initially quickly scan their list for important info (why they love tables) and then dig in without changing screens.

The expandable tiles resonated with accountants we showed it to, and got traction on the Intuit side as well despite being a radical departure from the focus on the “feed” in QBO. Based on accountant feedback, my team refined the information shown by the interactive tiles, and made them configurable by the accountant. We also made the tiles interact with the client list below, sorting it based on the selected tile (e.g. clicking on the tile about overdue invoices filters the list to clients with overdue invoices.

Sketch of the refined design

Mockup of the tiled dashboard with a drawer to configure what's shown

Final Product

I rolled off the project shortly after presenting the designs for the dashboard to the management team to move on to my next rotation. Work continued on QBA for another 6 months, and the final product dropped the tiles, but built on our idea of surfacing key actionable info in the dashboard and letting accountants configure it and filter with it. You can see some of that in this introductory video >