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User Experience at Hello Erik

My Intuit Service Design Journey, Year 1

Posted July 7, 2015

I joined Intuit in February 2014 as its first bonafide Service Experience Designer. It’s been 17 months, and things have really come a long way.

To set a little context, Intuit is a fairly large company that is mainly known by its 4 brands instead of the actual company name. The brands are QuickBooks, TurboTax, Quicken, and Mint. Most people are surprised to hear that the company has a 30 billion dollar market cap, and has somewhere around 8000 employees, a 14 building headquarters in Mountain View and multiple offices in San Diego, Menlo Park, Tucson, Reno, and quite a few more satellite offices in various cities around the U.S.

Being the first service designer at a place this size has been a daunting task. No one knew how to start, and no one really knew what would happen. The whole thing seemed crazy. A software company by trade, that is moving to be a service based, connected products and services provider, trying to integrate service design as the new way to create, optimize, and fix experiences? Oh wait, it doesn’t sound crazy at all.

Here are the highlights and insights of the journey so far

You have to have allies who are willing to commit to the beliefs around service design

Introducing something so new and foreign-but-not is not something a single person could ever do. The biggest challenge is finding and keeping allies.

I was lucky enough that there happened to be a natural service designer, Jaime, in our voice of the customer org. who had the insight and drive to adopt the practice from the start and use it to tackle and execute against existing customer and organizational. I talked about our journey and first big success in building and executing this capacity at the 2014 Service Experience Conference (you can watch the 30 minute talk that recounts the story here).

And of course, my boss and the person who sought out service designers in the first place, Pam, who found me at the 2013 Service Experience Conference when we randomly sat next to each other at the conference lunch. She is the one who decided that Intuit was ready to add service design as a role to the company, and fought hard to get the role established. And it just so happened that I was the person who finally passed the interview to land the job  ¯\_()_/¯

There are numerous others now that have gotten on board and are championing the cause, but it was these two who really made it a reality. I can’t talk about my first 1.5 years here without acknowledging these two real believers and people willing to commit to the beliefs and take the risk to push service design in their work.

I use the phrase “commit to the beliefs” specifically, since it takes quite a mindset shift for someone to say to an organization “we used to work this way, but I want to try and solve our customer and internal problems this other way.”

We’ve even hired a 2nd service designer, Eleanor, who is charging forward and sharing the beliefs and practices with people in the organization. Maybe we’ll be blessed with a 3rd service designer soon! (in contrast, Intuit has around 200 UX people.)

If any of you Intuit people who my partners in this journey, and you know who you are, you have my eternal thanks. None of this could have happened without my key supporters and drivers.


(Also as much as I wish I was the leader like Captain America, I’m more of a Bruce Banner AKA Hulk AKA giant green rage monster.)

The most involved stakeholders are product management, and voice of the customer.

I had come in to this role from a traditional UX background at previous jobs. I had the assumption that service design would be the evolution of UX, as it had been for me. My thinking was that the UX designers here would be the chief new converts of the service design methodology and process. Well, it turns out that the people who were most in need of service design as a new lever was product management and the voice of the customer.

This has been a counterintuitive experience for me. What I’ve found is that UX has a matured set of tools and methods, and are steeped in that every minute they’re working. Service design is similar to UX that it is focused on designing experiences of sorts – but thinking that UX designers that build product and interface flows would either adopt different but parallel methods, or expand their scope into more high-altitude service design was false.

I’ve found is that the people who are diving in to service design and the mindset and methodology it employs are obviously the service designers, and then product management and VoC. The leading hypothesis on this is that those groups are the ones who have influence or responsibility over higher-altitude experiences – things that span more of the end-to-end experiences and the ecosystem at large – and the tenets of service design serve those needs a lot more readily than they do product and interface UX.

What I think this boils down to is a simplified feeling of UX and service design both are focused on building and optimizing experiences, but UX already has their hands full with their own problems to solve, while the stewards of higher-altitude experiences and problems haven’t had a similar methodology to employ before service design.

There’s an outstanding question of “where does service design belong in an organization?” If it’s not UX in an organizational sense, what is it? Is it an extension of experience design roles, or is it an evolution of product management?

It’s a lot harder to grass-roots service design than it seems

A working ranch has to keep working. Adding something like service design to a technology near-giant who has for decades specialized in software sold in a box isn’t something that you can go out and read case studies on or find others who have done something like this. There are plenty of agency use cases and stories of service design in service-based businesses and industries, but nothing I’ve found on this scale, or frankly, this crazily ambitious.

Essentially, the service design mandate I have here is “Work to build the capacity in this huge, 32 year old software giant, helping transition it from being product based to being connected services based. Define the job, roles, methods, and figure out how to teach, integrate, and deploy service design across the company.”

Piece of cake. The cake just happens to be the size of a glacier.

My energy is then split between actually doing the work service design, and then driving change management around evolving parts of the organization to have the capacity for service design. And in doing so, what I am finding is that companies like this, especially here in the Bay Area, don’t really know what to do with service design. Like I said above, there are a lot of agency and service-based case studies and examples, but nothing that applies to my world, the world where UX has matured and tech companies have adopted it widely, but are now trying to evolve into being a business that “acts in service” of a customer instead of selling them a problem. This is where service design comes in as the new method people are looking to, copying it from the customer based businesses of hospitality, retail, healthcare, travel, etc etc etc…

I’ve had a handful of tech companies around here (Silicon Valley), household names you’d recognize, reach out to me to ask questions or talk. Not to headhunt or recruit, but to literally just ask “can you help me understand how you’re building this capacity?” A lot of it probably came from the conference talk linked at the beginning of the article. And each time I’m always intrigued at just how foreign-but-not service design is in these tech companies like Intuit and others of similar size, station, “software/saas/ecosystem” domain. People can recognize it, they know they want it, they know they may need it – but there’s just no good example and place to go to find out how you do it.

I’ll be talking more about this at Service Experience Chicago in August, and also sharing how we’ve adapted the traditional model of service blueprinting to fit the needs of our company, and I am hoping it can fit the needs of others as well. A lot of what we’ve had to do has been invented as we go, hoping it becomes a company best practice, and dreaming it becomes an industry best practice. Time will tell.

The Journey Continues

I feel like we’re still getting started. Gaining inertia comes slowly, the road is long. I have no idea what will happen in the future and if service design will flourish here like so many of us envision. I hope so. I don’t do this alone here, there are a lot of partners, teammates, champions, and general well-wishers that support this effort. Sometimes, I am not even sure if I’m driving it, or just another person adding energy to push it.

Either way, if any part of this story resonates with you, hang in there. If you’re trying to introduce service design, build capacity, and actually do the work of a service designer, you’ll have to follow the example of our friend Guiseppe, and show people there’s something to believe in… something new.


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I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.
  • Kyle Lyles

    All good stuff Erik, but my suggestion is that your team needs to work with the voice team and integrate those channels much more closely. Good luck in your journey!