Design Leader Insights - Sam Anderson on Customer Centric Designs

October 30, 2023


Alex Smith:  Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX, a UX research strategy and design consultancy. Hey, Sam, thanks so much for joining the show today. 

Sam Anderson: Yeah, thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Alex Smith:  Absolutely. And to get started, can you give us a quick background on your journey and in UX? 

Sam Anderson: Yeah, absolutely. So I currently work at Intuit as the director of design system or Intuit. Prior to Intuit, I have delivered design systems at USAA, which is a banking and insurance company, as well as Cisco systems. I worked at Cisco for about 15 years and USAA for two, and now two years at Intuit. So knocking on the door 20 years as a designer in tech and just yeah, super happy for the experience that I've, I've accumulated along the way. 

Alex Smith:  Sweet. Let's jump into it. I think Intuit's a fascinating company. I know it's so many tools now, so many tech tools, but the two I always think about is like QuickBooks, TurboTax. I'm wondering how, like, maybe it's through the design system or design language, like, how are you thinking about designing for users in a certain mindset using unique financial tools, I would say. 

Sam Anderson: Yeah. You know, whatever you deal with finances, it's always like a, a potentially sensitive subject with, with customers, right? Like they it may be anything from like a credit karma where they're hoping they can qualify for a credit card or get a loan or, you know, they're trying to make ends meet or, you know, TurboTax where they're trying to get their biggest paycheck of the year. You know, they're, they're trying to get a really good return and make sure that they do it right, right? And don't get audited. And of course, if you're a small business owner, you're in QuickBooks or MailChimp every day, trying to acquire new customers, trying to make sure that those customers are paying you and trying to make sure you can make your own payroll every, every year. So I think there's, you know, our intuition is to power prosperity for both consumers and small business owners. And you know, we want to power prosperity throughout the world. And I think there's a specific design ethos that we need to bring to that, that help people design for, you know, sort of well structured, calm experience in spite of, you know, whatever they might be going through. 

Alex Smith:  Yeah, it makes a ton of sense. And I saw recently there's some AI being integrated into the tools as well. Did you have a part designing that experience? Like, how are we thinking about that? 

Sam Anderson: Yeah, we recently launched what we're calling Intuit Assist, which is a generative AI powered assistant in all of our tools. So it goes across all of Intuit tools, which is sort of a new thing for us. We're learning how to make our tools better together. And how to help our customers gain the benefit from, from all the tools that we offer. And Intuit Assist is like, it's been a really awesome thing to approach from a design systems perspective. It's given us an opportunity to really codify what should an assisted experience look like and how does generative AI play in that. And, you know, how do we balance the sort of good things you get from generative AI? And so you know, we have a really interesting problem to solve, which is how do you actually blend the two types of AI together, like a generative creative artificial intelligence and also the sort of predictive and analytical artificial intelligence that, you know, we've been known for in our products as well. So Intuit Assist is like a really exciting, new, new way. We're bringing those things together and I think those experiences are, are just starting.

Alex Smith: Sam. So it sounds like, you know, like most teams right now, in 2023, you were asked to integrate AI into the product, but I feel like teams can often get distracted by AI right now and, sort of like, over focus on that. So are there any learnings or advice you have on integrating AI into a product? I guess that's the question.

Sam Anderson: Yeah, I think we're learning through this ourselves as well. One thing that I've noticed, you know, as we've gone through the process of doing our early work here is you can't ignore what the product is good at. You can't ignore why people bought the product in the first place. So, as you look at like, how will  AI work within this product, how will AI influence the future of this product? You need to stay really close to like, why did the person buy the product in the first place? And you know, we can create all kinds of, you know, AI fun little, what I call like science experiments, but until they actually touch on a customer problem, something the customer is really trying to solve for and that it does it faster and maybe even better than they would do it on their own, then you've hit pay dirt. 

Alex Smith:  So is it a universal design system across all the product lines then that you're aiming for or how, how are you approaching a single design system for so many different, I guess, like honestly, like different business products that maybe don't have much to do with each other? 

Sam Anderson: Yeah. IDS was born sort of after almost all of our products were in existence or were acquired by Intuit. And so IDS is solving a challenge that I think a lot of enterprise design systems have to solve, which is how do we take products that have a design aesthetic to them or have a design ethos to them, but how do we actually like bring them together in some way? We're starting, we're doing that in IDS through sort of a foundation of approach. So we're, we've aligned things using design tokens and using common topography, using common iconography in some places. We are sort of creating cohesion and creating more of a shared language, the sort of subatomic layer and building up from there. So, Intuit Assist is like an interesting opportunity. Because it's sort of net new product to the entire, or a net new feature to the entire product set. 

Alex Smith:  How would you advise people to measure the success? Like, how are you checking in on the design system, gathering feedback, and then iterating upon that to ensure it's longevity and its success going forward?

Sam Anderson: Yeah, for us, everything we do is about our customer at Intuit. And we're a very customer centric, customer focused company. And we think no differently from a design system perspective about that. We ask ourselves, who are our customers, what do they need and how can we provide that to them in the best way possible? And so most of our customers, you know, currently are internal teams that are adopting the design system, trying to release quickly. And so we stay close to them. We do what we call follow me homes where we go and sit with them and we get their feedback. We bring their feedback back into the team. We prioritize what they need. You know, we make sure that when we release it, when we create, we create sometimes with them or, or sometimes for them, or sometimes they even contributed to the design system through our team. But we make sure that when we're done with it, you know, they receive it and use it and love it. And, you know, want more of it at the end of the day.

Alex Smith:  So Sam I want to talk about like, obviously you've had a long career in tech, which is awesome. And you've also led people. How do you motivate designers? How have you found an effective way of like running a team that, that is actually, you know, doing the right design decisions and providing consistent output?

Sam Anderson: Yeah. I always say empowerment is one of my highest sort of things I prioritize that within a team, we bring people through the door and then invest a lot of trust in them and say, we need you to go solve these big gnarly problems. And by the way, we need you to go out and like find new problems that we can work on as well. And we trust you with your time. Like we're not looking over your shoulder, we're not micromanaging you. And you know, you're empowered to go, to go do this, this work that we want you to do. Oh, by the way, like we'll check in from time to time. Like we want to see the demos. We want to hear the follow me hills. We want to look at the research. And so I think it's, you know, what you need to provide to people as a people leader, you want to provide that sort of encouragement or that trust upfront, some encourage along the way, but then also develop ways that you can, you know, structure their work. So they understand like there's a beginning and middle and end to it that, you know, you want to have checkpoints along the way or critiques or demos. Make sure that they feel like they have a path they're walking so they're just not sort of staring at a blank screen, wondering if they're doing a good job or not. 

Alex Smith:  Sam it's been, you know, a tough year for a lot of people trying to break into UX. I'm wondering what advice you have for new emerging designers that are trying to enter the field today.

Sam Anderson: Yeah, it's a great question. And I think it's been a tough, not just recently in the economy, I think for the last decade or so, maybe we haven't, we haven't leaned in enough to early career designers. We haven't opened enough for people joining design teams out of, directly out of college. And so I guess you know, don't be afraid to be scrappy early in your career. Don't be afraid to do small unpaid volunteer internships or, you know, like ways that you can enhance your portfolio. Have some real work to show when you go into those interviews. About how you're solving customer problems, be very customer centric, I think. And then you know, leverage your network as best as you can and, and extend your network into people that you may not, you know, you may not know really well, or you'd be surprised at who will help you along the way. I think all of us kind of acknowledge like we had a, we had help along the way at some point and you know, we're going to help others as well.

Alex Smith:  Sam, thanks so much for coming on the show today. 

Sam Anderson: Thank you for having me. It's been really great to be here.