Editor’s note: Since this was published in 2015, we recently conducted a brand-new interview with Intuit. Check it out!
We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, inspirations, workspace must-haves and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome.
This week we chatted with Sandra Li-Rosi, senior interaction designer at Intuit, the Silicon Valley-based software company famous for get-money-stuff-done products such as TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint.
Sandra’s group handles a range of Intuit products that help small businesses handle their accounting, payroll and taxes, while her smaller agile working team hones in on tools related to worker’s compensation and HR compliance. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you get started in design and ultimately end up at Intuit?
My grandfather was a shoe designer, while my dad studied photography and had a darkroom in the house. I grew up helping him take pictures of my grandpa’s shoes for the catalogs, so I was really surrounded by design and art from a very young age.
In college, I studied architecture and general design, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on. I knew I wanted to go into something like product, graphic, or interior design, but I couldn’t pinpoint what. So, I took a summer internship at an agency to see what it would be like to work as a graphic designer in the real world. That internship turned into a seven-year career! They ended up hiring me and then the agency got acquired by Sapient. That really launched me into the graphic design path, moving up to art director, and then interaction designer.
“Design is art with a purpose.”
In the end, I found my passion in interaction design. It really combines my analytical side with my creative side. Design is art with a purpose to me, so it’s the perfect focus for me, and what really brought me to Intuit a year ago. I love working on products that help small business owners excel. I feel like it’s one way to give back to the community.
What is your role and responsibilities at Intuit?
I’m responsible for the design of anything that goes out from my products, from marketing landing pages to emails to anywhere the customer touches. We work as a startup team and have full autonomy to make decisions, run experiments, come up with designs, test them ourselves. We basically do it all!
We’re always looking to make sure our customers are very happy with our product — that people are signing up, that sign-up flows are easy to understand, that customers are able to quickly decide whether it’s a good solution for them and sign up. We also want to offer more HR-related products integrated into Quick Books, so if I’m doing a good job that means that we will have more of those!
I feel like it’s a never-ending process where you’ll never have all the answers, but you always have to be asking the next question.”
What are the key skills to be good at your job?
You can never stop asking questions! You need an inquisitive mind and a thirst for research — designers have to always be searching. I feel like design is a never-ending process where you’ll never have all the answers, but you always have to be asking the next question.
Also, as a designer you have to do the work: you have to just try things out, because even if you think you have it all figured out, you won’t know until you start trying, taking those risks and really putting yourself out there. Through experimenting and failing a lot, you actually realize what works and where you need to pivot in a new direction.
What are the wider industry trend that are changing the nature of your work?
Mobile, definitely! Customers are used to taking their mobile phones with them everywhere and can access data wherever they are, whether they are in line at the grocery store, checking email or making bill payments. Accessibility is changing the way we see our products and changing the way we cater to that need, because you always have to be able to stay ahead of that curve.
“Through experimenting and failing a lot, you actually realize what works and where you need to pivot in a new direction.”
My product doesn’t plug into mobile — yet — but it’s one of the things I want to explore in the near future. And mobile still affects the way that I view customers: Small business owners don’t have a lot of time, they’re on their phone, on the go, maybe they’re trying to pay an employee while they’re offsite. So while mobile hasn’t affected my product directly in the design, I certainly think mobile affects the way I see the customer I’m designing for.
How do you use InVision?
I started using InVision when we were going to market with our workers’ comp offering. The main challenge of the whole concept was that workers’ comp is very complicated. In many cases, small businesses may not even fully understand what it means or how it works. They just know they have to pay a lot of money for it!
“I opted for InVision, because I felt like it had almost no learning curve. I love how simple the interface is.”
So, our job was basically to explain, in a very simple form, how our service could help them and how they could benefit from it. InVision came into play because we wanted to test something with customers that looked like a real live page, a quick working prototype. I found InVision when I was searching for different prototype tools and found it was really easy to upload my comps. We were able to use it to test with tons of customers and we got a great response — they loved the design.
I liked InVision because it had almost no learning curve. I love how simple the interface is and that I can invite other team members so they can review the prototype as I put it together.
I also use InVision a lot for collaborating on feedback and copy changes, especially for those where content and interaction really needs to be married together. The copywriter is able to look at the mockups and write copy down right next to it, it was much easier than trying to keep track of the copy changes with multiple PDF versions.
We also use InVision a lot with our remote team in Boston, and then we also use it with our partners — insurance carriers who are not Intuit employees. We’re able to show them how their product would plug into our service and take them through an immersive walkthrough rather than just showing them a PDF or a PowerPoint.
What are the three critical elements of your workspace?
I definitely like to have a big monitor. We all have laptops, but the screen is obviously very small, which gets frustrating. So I enjoy my good-sized monitor with cinema display!
I also prefer to design on my Wacom tablet, rather than a mouse. I started using it in my previous life as an art director and now when I go back to a mouse, it almost feels strange to me.
Finally, I love buying desk supplies, like an array of Sharpies and fine pens and colored pencils and different types of sketchbooks. I love my moleskine and my fountain pen.
Where do you look for design inspiration?
I don’t like to focus just on other web designs. For example, let’s say I’m designing a web page; I don’t like to start by looking at stuff online. I like to think of the essence and the feeling of the experience before I jump into actually thinking about it from an online perspective.
So, I look for inspiration in architecture, photography, music, and art. I really enjoy looking at everyday objects and how they are designed. For instance, I love using fountain pens. I love to look at the tip and how it’s made and how it’s put together, just seeing how a piece of plastic and metal can become a beautiful pen and how ink flows through it.
What are some of the tools you use in the design process?
I usually start with a whiteboard or sketchbook, and then once I have sketches that I feel very comfortable with, then I’ll start bringing it into OmniGraffle, and I’ll start putting together some wireframes.
From there, we have a big library of assets in Fireworks. Once the wireframes are done, it’s very easy to move into Fireworks or Photoshop and just start grabbing some of those components to put together into a higher fidelity mockup. And then, of course, we use InVision to make the prototypes come to life for testing.
What blogs or news sites are you loving right now?
I tend to look at Dribbble, Pinterest, Smashing Magazine and sites like Adaptive Path — I really like what they’re doing as far as mapping user experiences.
Then there’s also a lot of internal sharing. Intuit works very much like a community. The designers are very engaged and integrated, and we have weekly sessions where we get to show our work and get feedback. Sharing your work is an opportunity to share ideas. You’ll think, “Oh, wow, that reminds me of this thing I saw,” and then we’ll send emails with links of videos or sites or new apps.
Who are some prominent designers or developers you follow?
I follow Jared Spool, Luke Wroblewski from Mobile First, Chris Risdon from Adaptive Path. And Cyd Harrell — She does a lot of work with personas and metaphors. I really like her because sometimes we get so stuck in who the customer is and what they do that we create these personas that feel so stale and cold and detached. She has really injected a new perspective.
You have to foster and feed your curiosity.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other designers?
It’s a combination of things: There’s that initial curiosity and sense of always looking for things and asking questions. You have to foster and feed your curiosity by following design leaders and really staying on top of what they do.
Then create a community where you share what you know with other people. For every piece of design information that you find fascinating and innovative and amazing to share, your friends will probably tell you three or four more.That’s a quick and easy way to grow your design appetite.
Writer, editor, and lover of words, stories, games, and adventure. Tweets on @ajhackwith and at Google+.