QuickBooks for Mac
In the spring of 2013, during one of Intuit’s numerous design jams, a team of designers was asked “What could you do in three days to make our customers the happiest?” QuickBooks Online was freshly redesigned earlier in the year and I thought that some users might like a browser plugin that kept them up-to-date on the happenings in their QuickBooks Accounts, or a special browser just for our product. After a spirited brainstorm, Intuit began "Project Simba", an experiment to see just how awesome QuickBooks could be when made with love by Mac enthusiasts.
Create a native/SaaS “hybrid” application that uses native OS functionality enhance the everyday use of QuickBooks Online (QBO) for professionals and high-volume users.
In the early days, it was myself, a PM, and one developer. By my departure, the team grew to a development team of around 8, a QA team, visual designers, a content strategist, and a team of developers porting the app to Windows.
- Overcome the limitations of the browser experience through native functionality
- Provide power tools to power users and learn what makes them so successful
- Keep the experience approachable and accommodating to new users
- Support all versions and SKUs of QuickBooks Online
- Migrate users from QBO desktop legacy products to the cloud
To enhance the QBO experience with a native app, we wanted to really get into our customers’ shoes. We wanted to see the world from the perspective of our highest-volume users, professional accountants, and OS power-users alike. Because of the team’s small size, we had to get scrappy, so we scheduled visits with our bookkeepers at their businesses and CPAs at their firms. We went to conferences, ran closed betas with “Customer Posses”, and even rotated technical support on the app itself. Our goal was to observe our most efficient (and sometimes outspoken!) users in their element and capture what made them tick, to bring that spark to the rest of QBO’s user base.
Across dozens of experiments, panels, and interviews, our team noticed themes in feedback:
- Native Performance: Fans of QuickBooks Desktop love the immediacy that a native app brings. Many reported that they didn’t like interruptions like long page loads or automatic sign offs. They liked keeping an app running and “checking in” with it throughout the day.
- Keyboard Shortcuts: Most power-users in high-productivity environments will agree that keyboard shortcuts drastically increase their efficiency with tools like Excel, Photoshop, Premiere, or AutoCAD. Professional accounting is no different. We observed desktop users doing far more with far less time.
- Menus and Contextual Menus: Aside from the keyboard-pros, we observed most people navigating QuickBooks Desktop with the app’s native menus. We heard that along with navigation assistance, users will often start exploring an application in the familiar context of these menus.
- Customization: It's common for QuickBooks users to customize their interfaces slightly. Some of them add additional columns to their forms, others add custom fields or toolbar shortcuts for commonly-performed tasks
- Collaboration: Both business owners and accountants both expressed the desire to collaborate better. Business owners wanted to reach out and share their books with their accountants immediately. Accountants wanted to alert their clients about important upcoming requirements and deadlines.
- Multiple Windows: Accountants and power-users’ most common complaint about QuickBooks Online was that they were unable to use multiple windows. Accountants were especially accustomed to "running their command center" throughout the day.
- Data Migration: A number of users indicated that they felt insecure about importing their Desktop app’s data to a cloud service due to file sizes, security concerns, and the risk of data loss from their original files.
QuickView is a menu-bar (or system tray) application that shows a user their QuickBooks activity feed items, such as getting paid or syncing with the user’s bank. This feature led to a lift in both conversion, retention, and NPS in the Mac app compared to the in-browser experience..
Menus and Keyboard Shortcuts
Along with the most standard OS X menu-driven features, QuickBooks’ menu includes shortcuts to common forms and destinations around the site. Right-click menu designs were proposed but de-scoped. Metrics confirmed that a nontrivial segment of users rely on these menus for navigation exclusively. The app supports a robust set of keyboard shortcuts painstakingly crafted to support QuickBooks Desktop shortcuts, common browser shortcuts, and a full set of OS X conventions found in most Mac applications. We literally ran out of letters to use.
To support user customization, we built a robust, customizable toolbar with the most popular functions, including support for bookmarks (which was not supported by the browser at the time).
Other Mac Perks
Other Mac features - A constant connection, signup flows, a shiny login screen, informative error states, crash reporter flows, update schemas, everything you've come to expect from a quality OS X app release. XCode was like a toybox.
As it matured, QuickView developed features for accountants to communicate with their clients.
Accountants’ top request, support for multiple windows, was not only supported, but had specific flows to update open windows when any information was changed.
For professionals with multiple clients, we added support to quickly switch between client files while preserving the open window arrangement for each. I got an unsolicited hug for this one.
A new migration tool was built that drastically reduced the time and effort required to import QuickBooks Desktop files to the SaaS product.
Originally, the QuickBooks Mac team started as an experiment to see how we could enhance the QuickBooks Online experience through the magic of native apps and a better understanding of our most outstanding customers. By Version 2, we enjoyed thousands of users, a Mac App Store Editor’s Choice award, and the collective cheers of accountants and Mac-based professionals across the country (and some abroad!). Eventually, I ended up working to port the app in its entirety to Windows so PCs could join in the fun. Today both apps continue to receive support, with the mean App Store review being five stars.