How Intuit created the QuickBooks app for the iPad

In-house for Quickbooks
Project Title

Our Vision: spend your time doing what you love, not managing your finances, since your data is anywhere you are.

Target user: new to the franchise, service-based sole-proprietor who’s always connected and on the go 50% of the time.

Biggest Pain Point: without tools to run a business out of the office, small business owners are frustrated, and catching up by working evenings and weekends leaves them exhausted.

How we solve it: one tool for all your money in and out needs, with synced data across devices makes SBOs look more professional and be more efficient–no more losing critical data.

After identifying small, service-based sole proprietors as an ideal target market, we began with a process Intuit calls Design for Delight.

Step 1: Deep Customer Empathy

We acquired an understanding of our audience—their needs, goals and current tools— using ethnography, interviews, and observation, and found that small service-based business owners find it challenging to keep up with their finances while they’re on the go, and that accounting software–even QuickBooks—was confusing, especially around tax time. Specifically, they struggle to stay organized while out serving their customers. The tools available to them make it difficult to keep track of details and important customer and job information can easily fall through the cracks.

Step 2: Go Broad to Go Narrow

Our team is agile, and we focused on building a usable product, story by story. While converging on solutions we discovered our greatest challenge: our app needed to share correct data from any access point within the ecosystem. While we were eager to innovate for mobile, the existing QBO backend code, services, and web site user experience imposed large design constraints.

Step 3: Rapid Experiments with Customers

From prototyping in the lab to our alpha-tester “posse,” we iterated using customer feedback as primary criteria. Our initial experience is small, but tied closely to these customer’s needs. Our motto: do a few things really well.



In addition to the research and design process described above, our team launched the application in the spirit of a Lean Start-up. We closely track usage data, app store ratings, and in-product feedback and follow up with our small business customers to immediately understand their experience and inform our agile backlog. We measure our success using our “Love” metric, a net promoter survey embedded in the product experience, and we provide users with mechanisms to promote their use of QBO for iPad on their social networks. All this data informs design decisions as we continue to evolve the product experience.

Design Principles

Even though we’re designing for the iPad, it’s the foundation of the QBO ecosystem, so we focused on creating a reusable design system made up of principles and guidelines. This led to building modular elements that can be reused and changed easily across channels and devices. Our design principles are:

-Product & ecosystem harmony makes us better
-Data is king
-A great first time, every time
-Always let them finish with guidance to the next step

The interactions give primary consideration to how people use tablets, many of which are designed primarily for gestures like tapping, pinching and swiping. Most decisions are based on user observations, such as “typing for selection is secondary.” The app works in both portrait and landscape modes. On the go, it’s typically portrait. At home, when users are dealing with more complex transactions, it’s landscape. The linear design supports their mental model without forcing them to change their workflow. We also reinforce user tasks with appropriate feedback.

The visual design added an element of warmth and whimsy to the app, while also improving information hierarchy. It feels touchable and friendly. The entire design system is optimized for simplicity, and the subtle visual distinctions increase usability and help a user understand and complete tasks.

Design Hypothesis

QBO for iPad increases productivity for small business owners by enabling financial management tasks on the go. Business owners can hold the iPad and get approvals on the spot, email invoices, and get paid with a tap on the screen. Business can move quickly while cutting down on waste.

Along with this increase in productivity, small businesses grow their ability to serve their customers on the go while keeping track of important business information. This means nothing falls through the cracks at tax time and throughout the year. And, using the iPad helps them appear more professional and modern to their own customers. We anticipate this will result in increased customer acquisition and retention.



Our inherent challenge was to design a simple: find a mobile solution for small, service-based businesses that were new to QuickBooks without alienating existing QBO users. We had to remain true to the web application’s data model while reimagining how users could interact with this data while on the go, such that a current QBO user would recognize their data in the new experience.


Our application launched in the Apple iPad App Store on February 14, 2013. To date we have an app star rating of 3.5. Our existing QBO users appear to be disappointed with the limited scope of the current v1.0 (user expectations regarding x-platform job parity on mobile devices is extremely high). However, what is most impressive is the emotional response that our design has elicited from users across both our targets—those who are new to the franchise as well as existing QBO users.

Download the app: free trial

Reviews from the app store:

“Gorgeous! This app is way, way overdue, but at least they got it right the first time around. No, it doesn’t do everything the website does, but it nailed what it does. It’s definitely one of the best looking apps on my iPad.”

“Love it. Way to go Intuit. Makes life easy!”

“This app does all that I’ve wanted. Love the mobile experience.”

“Awesome! Absolutely love this app. I am able to manage all of my clients on the go, create invoices and receive payments...”

“What you guys got right is awesome. However, where is the rest!?”


It’s still too early to tell, however we’re converting users from free trial to paid subscriptions at a 5% rate.