As the U.S. wraps up another tax year, PSFK delivers a first-hand account from one of the experts designing consumer-facing financial experiences

I design for taxes. As you can imagine, creating a delightful experience for something like government compliance is a tough job. Often times, our customers are full of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Others, just dread. And that’s why TurboTax hired me.

In my role as experience design director at Intuit, my charter is to make taxes, well, not so taxing. This means respecting the emotional, cognitive and often stressful journey that consumers go through while doing their taxes, and finding ways to lighten the load for them all while getting them their maximum refund. Especially in today’s technology-powered era, it’s easy to be distracted or overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at us.

Keeping It Simple
One of the guiding principles we have at TurboTax is to keep it simple, and remove the confusion in doing your taxes. Taxes are complicated enough, so we need our software to be intuitive and easy to use.

Through a project we called STEX (simplified tax experience), we partnered with the data science team to simplify the up-front section of TurboTax to make it easier to get started. Often times, many customers struggle with the decision to either file their taxes as standard or itemized—believing the itemized route will lead to a higher refund. Filing itemized can be a time-consuming process, and we estimate that nearly 90% of taxpayers will get a bigger refund by taking the standard deduction. So by starting the TurboTax experience by asking customers a few simple questions about themselves, we can help them determine whether they should file standard or itemized, and route them through to the correct path.

Taking a Breather
Most studies say that people should take a break from work about every 50 minutes to lead to better performance and productivity, which is why it’s more important than ever for technologists to build software that lets you take a break. It’s a counterintuitive concept for many software designers, who aim to get a user to benefit as fast as possible, but for us, our main goal is to inspire confidence in our users, so they know that they filed their taxes correctly.

This ties back to psychology research of Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman from the early 1950s that found a relationship between the number of stimuli a user’s exposed to, and a user’s reaction time. We incorporated this research into our technology so we don’t bombard consumers with multiple choices, but instead, give them pauses and breaks so they can comprehend the questions we are asking them. This allows them for time to interpret the context of the questions, and make the right decisions.

Based on this research, we incorporate pauses where it makes sense for the customer, such as transitioning from federal taxes to state taxes. We also build in pauses for celebrations when they accomplish a large portion of their taxes, such as mortgage loan deductions and finishing all of their deduction topics. We found that these pauses often led to a greater engagement of the user throughout the product, a higher adoption to self-help engagement and fewer calls to customer care for simple taxes.

Inspiring Confidence
One of our internal metrics for success is customer confidence. We ask ourselves, do our customers feel good about how they did their taxes? We have a variety of different ways for a customer to connect with an expert, such as through our SmartLook video-conferencing with an expert feature, but sometimes, they need a cheerleader rather than actual help. This is where we incorporate confidence-inspiring language throughout our product to show our customers we know they can do it.

We also show them that we have their back if they make a mistake. For example, we partner with our data science team to validate users’ entries against our large data set to detect anomalies and flag it to them, so that they are filing an accurate return.

One of our visions for TurboTax is to not only make it easy and accurate, but a delightful user experience. We look to find opportunities to surprise and delight our customers through discovery, such as “Project Sharey,” where customers take fun selfies after completing their taxes, and get a reward if their friends sign up with their link. In these ways and more, I enjoy designing taxes, and finding new ways to make finances fun.



Lead image: stock photos from anek.soowannaphoom/Shutterstock