Durable and Adaptable

Intuit’s Framework for a Scaled Design System

Leonardo De La Rocha
Jan 19 · 6 min read

Frameworks are necessary for companies to operate at scale. A thoughtfully crafted and fully adopted design system serves as a powerful framework for organizations with multiple apps and services, consumed across multiple platforms, by millions or even billions of people. As a framework, a design systems ensures:

  1. Products coexist in a symbiotic manner (allowing each product to benefit from the innovations of others)
  2. Customers experience familiarity and continuity as they move from one product or platform to another, and
  3. Speed to benefit is guaranteed for their employee community of builders (with designers and developers reusing proven components and swiftly ship new features).
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At Intuit, we are passionately committed to “Powering prosperity around the world” and provide customers with robust products and services across desktop, web, and mobile native platforms to help them achieve it. These products and services are enabled by the Intuit platform, of which the Intuit Design System (“IDS”) is a critical part.

IDS was born from a need to build a true ecosystem of connected products that can quickly be reshaped to build sustainable wealth for our customers. The launch of IDS has also signaled a new way of working within the Intuit design community, calling on every builder at the company to embrace decisiveness and an ecosystem mindset.

Our definition of IDS is not radically different from what you might hear elsewhere: It’s the ensemble of guiding principles, design data, tools, and of course — guidelines — that our community of builders have co-created to establish the gold standard for our products. Embedded therein, however, is a radical shift from a long-standing design system heuristic.

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The “Intuit City Map” is our tech stack and services related to our workforce.

Why “Fixed” no longer works

As UX professionals, we’ve moved well beyond The Golden Age of Design. For the most part, we do our work with a matured, ecosystem mindset. One where innovation intersects with thoughtful standardization. To avoid making that feel like a sad, stagnant reality, we must be comfortable challenging any perceived wisdom that turns a design system into an inhibitor of innovation. Rigidity leads to dissatisfaction leads to dissent. For us, saying something is “Fixed”, crosses that line.

While standards and frameworks guide designers away from fixating on the wrong details (say the radius & elevation of a button, for instance), as stewards of such frameworks we must create a balance that encourages our creatives to do what they love most — hone the tools/pixels they are given, but with extensibility in mind. When we use the term “Fixed” as it pertains to the components we provide and hope are used as-is, we run the risk of creating an anti-iterative mindset on the very components and shared experiences that, when thoughtfully evolved with data and rigor, can improve every product that leverages them. In other words:

While you don’t want all of your designers thinking about the radius & elevation of a button every time they work on a feature that uses it, you absolutely want to encourage them to make improvements to the button as usability and design trends evolve to better serve our customers.

Thus, ensuring your design system allows all of your core elements to evolve and positively impact the platform at large.

“Durable” is a better way to describe our core, shared elements because it more accurately captures the spirit and mindset of innovation while maintaining the fundamental principles that make IDS a system that:

  1. does no harm to CX or business metrics,
  2. minimizes the amount of duplicate code in our repos, and
  3. delivers high craft/beauty impact with low cost across our entire family of apps and services. These are the three principles that guided the creation of our Durable set of components and shared elements shown below
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Intuit Durable components cannot be infinitely customizable and iteration on them requires data-backed rationale and partnership with IDS, as changes to them will be platform wide.

“These durable components help our suite of products feel familiar and accessible, which not only helps them work faster, but it also helps us refresh designs across multiple products with a much quicker turnaround.” - Matt Ashwood, Principal Product Designer for ProConnect Group

Inclusive design = Adaptable design

Our cornerstone brands, like TurboTax and QuickBooks, meaningfully connect with their customers via deep expertise in solving problems unique to each brand’s offerings. As they solve for specific needs, they also partner with IDS to unlock increased benefits and value to their customers as part of an ecosystem of offerings that is uniquely Intuit. We communicate this by creating a sense of ubiquity across our products and “front doors” (marketing surfaces) with shared elements like a unified login experience, and cohesive app store designs for all of our products.

As our product experiences subtly shift from Intuit centricity to brand specificity, we look at the changes that take place in our design themes (what we call a sub-design systems within IDS) as full shifts, or adaptations to meet the customer’s need. An experience that adapts to meet people where they are … is more likely to expand product demand through more meaningful connections.

In the past, we called design themes a “Flexible” part of the Intuit Design System, but “Flexible” was fraught with debate. It didn’t allow us to lean into customer problems and created a rigid mindset that was counterintuitive to the nature of the word and our Design for Delight.

In contrast, when we use the word “Adaptable” in this context, and attach it to the way we want our design community to think about the components taking different forms, we’re embedding our desire to be permeable to customer voices and engage in dialogue.

It’s a subtle nuance; as one might argue having a “Flexible” set of components allows for adaptability of their products in a highly empathetic way, but words do matter. We see empathy as the cornerstone of great design, and when renaming a framework puts our employee community in a stronger customer mindset, we will lean in.

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“The shift to a Durable and Adaptable framing was a lightbulb moment for our teams. It sparks a mindset of productive re-use while also encouraging innovation to benefit the entire Intuit design community, and most importantly, our customers.” - Ian Clazie, Creative Director for Brand and Marketing, QuickBooks

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A big thank you to the IDS Product and Marketing leaders and partners for their input and guidance in creating this framework and write-up. Lots of love to our IDS Embedded designer team who work tirelessly to support our amazing design community to accelerate their work.

Intuit Design

Musings from the creative community at Intuit

Thanks to ventrebleu, Kelly Harrop, Andrea Turner, Ian Clazie, Shannon K'doah Range, Laura Huston, Juan Hernandez, and Candice Pham

Leonardo De La Rocha

Written by

Dad, designer, coffee lover, advocate of respectable cocktails. Currently a Design Director at Intuit, formerly Facebook and Yahoo. delarocha.myportfolio.com

Intuit Design

Makers of products like TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint, Intuit houses some of the world’s most amazing design talent. These are their stories.

Leonardo De La Rocha

Written by

Dad, designer, coffee lover, advocate of respectable cocktails. Currently a Design Director at Intuit, formerly Facebook and Yahoo. delarocha.myportfolio.com

Intuit Design

Makers of products like TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint, Intuit houses some of the world’s most amazing design talent. These are their stories.

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