Designing for delight

Suzanne Pellican on Intuit’s transformation to a design culture.

By Mary Treseler
February 10, 2015

I recently had a wonderful conversation with Suzanne Pellican, chief design strategist at Intuit. She has spent the last several years coaching both designers and non-designers on how to think of and use design thinking as a core competency to improve business results and spur innovation.

Design thinking admittedly is a quirky phrase. What’s important is that it places design in a context that non-designers can appreciate. Pellican defines it and its relation to service design:

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“‘Design for Delight’ at Intuit is our version of design thinking, and we reduced it down to three core principles: deep customer empathy, go broad to go narrow, and rapid experiments with customers. … Design thinking is the practice of problem solving and is based on those three core principles. That’s the actual skill set, the tools, and the mindset that you have. Service design is actually applying that then, end to end, as you’re thinking about very specific experiences for customers across many channels.

“The way that we do service design at Intuit today, a lot of the effort is in, let’s say, care — so when you think about a care experience for a customer you have to think about the many channels that they can access, including telesales and agents and care or the website or on my articles. You’re trying to think about their whole experience and you’re also trying to think about infrastructurally how could you deliver a delightful experience. That is service design.”

Design and empathy

Empathy is emerging as a key ingredient in experience design. Pellican discusses the role of empathy for designers and non designers alike — we’re all responsible for customer happiness:

“The reason why we started the journey about eight years ago was because we were not unleashing the creativity in our employees in a way that lead to breakthrough innovation at the company. We knew something had to change, and as we looked around and got inspiration from our friends at Procter & Gamble, we learned about design thinking and how that that could really transform the way people work and lead to greater innovation.

“Whether you are a designer or an engineer, or if you’re in finance or in HR, if you use design thinking and you come from a really empathic place and you iterate your way to the best solution, what you do will notably be much closer to delighting the customer.”

Culture change takes time

Pellican explains her experiences over the course of eight years on changing the culture at Intuit. As she points out, change is a long-term investment:

“If you’re going to change the way people work day to day, that’s going to take a long time. You can’t just ask people to do it and expect them to change. You have to give them ample opportunities to practice so that they can then understand it and make it their own. When we started eight years ago, the first mistake we made was telling people to please do this; everyone nodded their heads and said, “Yep, we got it,” and they went away, and a year later no one was doing it, so we tried again. The second year, we said more forcefully, “Please do this,” from the CEO down, and no one did anything. We brought in inspirational speakers, and we had convincing PowerPoint slides about why they needed to do it, and everyone nodded their heads again, and nothing happened for two years. It wasn’t until we had our first workshop where we said, “Here, do it, and do it now,” that things really started to change and things started to click — it went from being in their heads to being in their hearts and in their fingertips because they were starting to practice it themselves. What we found in our culture is that it takes everyone about eight to 10 times of practicing before it finally resonates with them.

“It took a long time for design thinking to get in our DNA, but it laid an incredible foundation for us becoming a design-driven company. As a design-driven company, it means that design of the customer experience is the ultimate responsibility of everybody, that comes first. You’re not trying to make old technology look great, but you’re trying to design the best, most delightful experience for customers, and then you figure out how to go build it. This couldn’t have happened when it happened if we didn’t have design thinking in the DNA of 8,000 employees.”

Apply the design process

Pellican advises designers to have empathy for every customer — including internal customers, colleagues, and leadership:

“The shift that happened at Intuit that I always give as a piece of advice for any designer is that designers inherently are very empathic people. They tend to point that empathy very much to who they’re solving for, which tends to be a customer. They will go on and on and on about why a design has to be a certain way for a customer, and that’s what makes them very successful.

“My advice is to take that same skill set and that same disposition and apply it internally to your leadership, to your teams, to your engineers. Have empathy for them, knowing that they’re all trying to do the right thing — how could you get closer to understanding what they’re trying to achieve, and then how can you help them design their way there? Sometimes you apply design to organizational structure, or sometimes you apply design to process, or sometimes you apply design to recruiting endeavors, whatever it is, but how can you apply design to all the things that will make your company successful? Instead of complaining about your environment, design it. You’re a designer.”

This interview is part of our ongoing investigations into Experience Design and Business and Experience Design and the Internet of Things.

Image on article and category pages by Tristan Schmurr on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Post topics: O'Reilly Design Podcast