Designing for diversity


4 min read
16 Apr

In this interview Ben Brown, Head of Engineering for Europe from Intuit QuickBooks talked to me about how the company uses inclusive design to improve the customer experience and diversity of colleague experience. He also explains how the whole thing started at a kitchen table.

I started by asking Ben how he got into his current role and why he thinks businesses need to take a much more human-centered approach to diversity and inclusion?

“Well, I’ve been in engineering since I graduated around fourteen years ago. I moved into engineering management eight years ago. I joined Intuit back in January 2019 to help launch the QuickBooks product in the UK and France and to help grow the teams in the European region.”

Intuit is a company that works from what we call a true north goal of employees first. That leads to the idea that happy employees make happy customers which in the end, makes happy shareholders.

I think the really important thing for me is that first of all, D&I is a human challenge. So why do we need to be human-centered? Well, really, we’ve got to look at more of a data-driven rather than an opinion-driven approach, something that a lot of companies have made popular over the last decade. So really, making it human-centered means engaging with people and actually interviewing, talking to them, asking questions, rather than just kind of acting on assumptions or acting on opinions because that doesn’t give you that same level of certainty around what you’re doing.”

I know that Intuit started at a kitchen table. How did it become such a human-centered organisation from a kitchen table?

“Back in the mid-1980s, Scott Cook, our founder, noticed that his wife was having problems balancing her chequebook, a true customer problem to solve. He wondered, “What could I do, as somebody who likes solving problems, how could I make that better?” He observed his wife more which led him to create the first piece of software that Intuit owned, a product called Quicken.

In the early days of Quicken, founder Scott was keen to understand why customers loved using the product, or what was it about the product that they really hated, and how could they make it better?

Bear in mind, we’re back in the mid-1980s here, there’s no Internet user groups or forums or easy ways to reach out to people, so Scott camped out in the shops where people were buying his software. When somebody went to buy the software, he would go over and say, ‘Hey look, I see you’ve decided to buy Quicken. Can I help you with that purchase? And can I understand a little bit more about what you find good about the software? And could I even come and watch you at home and see exactly how you run your business? And maybe that might help us understand how the software could be better?’

It’s this process we continue to follow at Intuit thirty-five years later, where we’re still reminded that the idea of “follow me homes” is the most important thing. And “follow me homes” are very much not an interview. It’s not going and asking questions. It’s actually sitting there and watching that person run their business and then taking some observations from that and learning how we can make our products better on their behalf.”

I then asked Ben to explain the internal programme Intuit run called Design for Delight or D4D for short.

“Once things got a little bit bigger, Intuit created a framework to solve all the customers’ problems called D4D or Design for Delight. It’s the process we use that helps us to understand how we go about solving customer problems. We combine it with another process, something we call CDI or customer-driven innovation, which helps us to understand which problems to solve. D4D is quite a simple process consisting of three different principles.

  • The first principle is deep customer empathy. That goes back to the kitchen table and “follow me homes” that our founder did. The idea being to understand the problem and empathise with them a lot more, and then use that at the next stage where we start to look at solutions.
  • The second principle is called ‘go broad to go narrow’ something most people would understand as brainstorming. Go out there, think of as many ideas as possible and then look at how we can start narrowing that down to some ideas, which then leads us into the third principle, which is;
  • Rapid experimentation with customers. The idea here is one that most tech companies have taken now. The more quickly you can get something into a customer’s hands, the more quickly you can test something. The more quickly you can learn and understand what works and what doesn’t work, the more quickly you can improve it.

Now, those three principles, pretty simple to implement, repeat as a cycle. We go back into more deep customer empathy. When we’ve experimented, we learn more, and we can go broad and narrow again, and then further experiment. That leads us into the rapid cycles of innovation that we call D4D at Intuit. Some people might have heard about design thinking. Ultimately, use whatever works for you. There’s plenty of different processes out there but what’s more important is that we can follow those principles behind them.”

I told Ben that I really like D4D’s simplicity, those three very simple principles. “How have you been applying D4D internally, for your diversity and inclusion aspirations?”

“We use it to solve any problem, essentially. Employee problems, customer problems, whoever that happens to be. I think the first example is that Intuit has 11 Employee Relations Groups. These groups support diverse communities of Intuit team members who share a common characteristic.

Our Pride ERG supports LGBTQ employees. It has 420 members, about 5% of our workforce. What the group learned by talking and listening to each other, was that about half of the Pride ERG were straight themselves. They joined the group as straight allies, to understand more about what they could do to support their colleagues and the LGBTQ community. What they heard was that ‘We don’t really know how to support our colleagues. What can we do to help?’

When they heard that problem, they went away and looked at ideas out there. They went broad, they generated loads of ideas; anything from getting some external speakers in, doing some storytelling, creating some case studies, just creating a safe space. They identified one key idea to take forward: ally training.

At Intuit, we have a Badge Network, which is a way of seeing what people in our corporate directory have achieved. The ally training gave people a badge once they’d gone through it at the different levels of bronze, silver and gold. The bronze level was a 20-minute training program for allies, on-demand and online, so relatively easy to do. When that was completed, the employee got their bronze training badge and showed up as an ally in the directory. That went pretty well. People loved it. That led to creating silver and gold training options, building awareness and helping allies feel even more connected to their colleagues.”

I told Ben I loved the fact that using D4D the group went broad, and also managed to incorporate some gamification into the training to embed learning. As my business is based on the belief that greater diversity leads to better organisational resilience and growth I then asked Ben, “How do you think that greater inclusivity at Intuit will enable your organisation to grow?”

“Intuit serves over 50 million customers worldwide through our different products. So I think what it boils down to is that that range of customers means we have an extremely diverse customer base. And if we aren’t able to empathise with that customer base, then we won’t be able to create a product that delivers what they need. So I think greater inclusivity really is something that has to be there, otherwise you won’t create a product that works for everybody. Another example of this would be our focus on things like accessibility of software. Our software wouldn’t be usable by people with certain disabilities if we didn’t have that accessibility. We did a workshop a few weeks ago where one of our accessibility leads came over from the United States and one of our blind customers was invited to show us how he used the software.

We’d made a change in the UK software for VAT, that meant people had to use software to submit their VAT submissions. Our customer went through this process and showed us how it was quite frustrating and difficult for him to do that. Immediately following that we made the process much more accessible and gave the developers much more empathy for blind customers so they knew what problems they had when using that software. If we hadn’t done that, we’d have been missing out on a proportion of people in the world who could use our software. Our mission at Intuit is to power prosperity around the world. That’s not power prosperity in just one country and it’s not power prosperity in certain demographics, that’s the whole world. The whole world is diverse, so we just need to support that.

To learn more about the Design for Delight process and principles it’s all available at intuitlabs.com Hopefully that gives enough tools and tips to help.