Designing for diversity


Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse work place.

Hello and welcome to this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, your host for this episode. And I’m joined by a fantastic guest today. His name is Ben Brown, he’s Head of Engineering Europe for Intuit QuickBooks. And I interviewed Ben in my book, Inclusive Growth, where we talk about colleague experience and design. Intuit have a really great program at the organisation in terms of inclusive design that they apply for their customers and also in turn, rate within their workforce, which Ben is going to talk to us about today. So Ben, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me, Toby.

Could you give a bit more of an inspection about how you got into your current role? 

Yeah, certainly. I’ve been in engineering since I graduated around about 13-14 years ago. I moved into engineering management, probably around about eight years ago, and joined Intuit back in January 2019 to help launch the QuickBooks product in UK and France and to help grow the teams in the European region.

Thanks. Why do you think that businesses need to take a much more of a human-centered approach to DNI? And for one thing, I really love how this actually started at a kitchen table for your business.

Yeah, it certainly did, yeah. I think, first of all, from an Intuit perspective, we need to look at some of the kind of principles that we work with. Intuit is a company that works off of what we call a true north goal of employees first, and that, it leads to this idea that happy employees make happy customers which in the end, makes happy shareholders, which I think is often one of the values that’s touted by many of the Virgin brand companies. Now, I think the really important thing for me is that first of all, DNI is a human problem, it’s a human challenge, if you like. So why do we need to be human-centered? Well, really, we’ve got to look at more of a data-driven rather than an opinion-driven approach, which is something that I know a lot of companies have made popular over the last 10-15 years. So really, making it human-centered to me means going and looking at… Going and actually interviewing, talking to, asking questions to people, rather than just kind of acting on assumptions or acting on opinions, which doesn’t give you that same level of certainty around what you’re doing.

And I mentioned how this all started at a kitchen table. Can you share with us that story about how Intuit became such a human-centered organisation from a kitchen table? 

Yeah, our founder was a guy called Scott Cook, who back in the mid-1980s, he noticed that his wife was having problems balancing her chequebook. And he really identified there a true customer problem to solve. And that led him to think, “What could I do, as somebody who likes solving problems, how could I make that better?” So he observed his wife for a bit, it eventually led him to create the first piece of software that Intuit owned, which is a product called Quicken, which some of us may may remember from the CDs that came on the front of magazines back in the ’90s and 2000s. But that continued throughout time as well. So as he launched the product, he then went into this idea of what he [03:36] ____ “follow me homes”. So, in the early days of Quicken, they were really keen to understand why did customers love using the product, or what was it about the product that they really hated, and how could they make it better? 

And one of the ways they decided at the time to try to find out more, and bear in mind, we’re back in the mid ’80s here, so we didn’t have Internet user groups or forums or easy ways to reach out to people, was he camped out in the shops that people were buying his software. And as somebody would go to buy the software, he would go over and say, “Hey look, I see you’ve decided to buy Quicken. Can I help you with that purchase? And can I understand a little bit more about what you find good about the software? And could I even come and watch you at home and see exactly how you run your business? And maybe that might help you to understand how the software could be better?”

So it was kind of this general process, and now that is something we continue to follow at Intuit 35 years later, where we’re still reminded that the idea of “follow me homes” is the most important thing. And “follow me homes” very much are not an interview, it’s not going and asking questions. It’s actually sitting there and watching that person run their business and then taking some observations from that and learning how we can make our products better on their behalf.

Brilliant. So at QuickBooks Intuit, you have this program called Design for Delight. What is the D4D? 

Sure, yeah. So after a few years, when Scott Cook had formed the company and things got a little bit bigger, they decided to kind of codify this into a framework that we could use to solve all the customer problems. And [05:12] ____ created this framework called D4D or Design for Delight. And Design for Delight is really the process we use that helps us to understand how do we go about solving customer problems. We actually combine it with another process, something we call CDI or customer-driven innovation, which helps us to understand which problems to solve. But then, D4D is much more relevant to understand how we should go about solving that particular problem. And so, D4D really, quite a simple process, really, kind of consists of three different principles.

The first principle being something called deep customer empathy, so that goes back to what we’ve just talked about around the “follow me homes”, and the kitchen table example that our founder did. The idea there being, get more empathy with the people that are suffering with this problem, understand the problem, and empathise with them a lot more, and then use that in order to try to come to the next stage, which is where we start to look at solutions. The second principle, something called “go broad to go narrow”, this is what most people would probably understand as brainstorming. Go out there, think of as many ideas as possible and then look at how we can start narrowing that down to some ideas, which then leads us into the third principle, which is rapid experimentation with customers. So really, the idea here is one that most tech companies have taken now. The more quickly you can get something into a customer’s hands, the more quickly you can test something, the more quickly you can learn about that and understand what works about that, what doesn’t work about that, and look to improve that even further.

Now, those three principles, pretty simple to implement, but then that becomes a cycle. So we then go back into more deep customer empathy. So once we’ve experimented, we learn more, we then can go broad and go narrow again, and then further experiment. That leads us into that kind of rapid cycles of innovation. I think D4D, it’s what we call it at Intuit. Some people might have heard about Google talking about design thinking. Ultimately, whatever works for you. There’s plenty of different processes out there but what’s more important is we can follow those principles behind them.

It’s brilliant, and what I like about it is its simplicity, it’s three very simple principles that you can apply to your organisation. So when we were talking, as part of writing your case study up for the book, D4D is something that you applied to both your customers, but also, internally. How have you been applying D4D internally, for your diversity and inclusion aspirations? 

Yeah, sure, thanks. Thanks for raising that, Toby. It’s certainly something we use to solve any problem, essentially. Employee problems, customer problems, whoever that happens to be. I’ll perhaps talk about a couple of examples today that I’ve shared with you in the past. I think the first example that’s worth talking about is with one of our, what we call Employee Relations Groups. Intuit has 11 Employee Relations Groups and these are groups that support diverse communities of Intuit team members who share a common characteristic that are perhaps not supported or well-understood by society.

An example I’d kinda like to share is one around our Pride ERG which supports our LGBTQ employees. Now, our Pride ERG has actually got about 420 members, which is about 5% of our workforce. And what the kind of leaders of this group learned by interviewing people, talking to people, understanding more about the people in the Pride ERG, was that about half of the Pride ERG were actually what we called straight allies. So they were straight themselves, and they wanted to join the group in order to understand more about what they could do to help support their colleagues and the LGBTQ community. And what they heard from people was, “Well, we don’t really know how to support our colleagues,” and “What can we do to help?” When they heard that problem, what they really did was go away and look at what ideas could we find. They went broad, they generated loads of ideas. And these came up from anything from getting some external speakers in, doing some storytelling, creating some case studies, just creating a safe space. Now, what they really identified was one kind of key idea they wanted to take forward, which was something around called ally training.

So, in Intuit, we all have a Badge Network, which is a way of, every time you search for somebody within our corporate directory, you get a nice badge, which tells you something that they’ve achieved. And so what they looked to do is create some ally training, which gave people a badge once they’d gone through this training to understand the ton of different levels. So we had a bronze training, a silver and a gold training level. So they started out, they created a 20-minute training program for allies. It was non-demand training delivered through our computer-based learning, so relatively easy to do. When somebody did that and completed that, they got their bronze training badge, and that showed up as a kind of an ally on our people find a program on the Internet. So that kind of went pretty well. People loved that. And then that led to them creating these silver and gold options, and that really helped them create extra awareness and help those allies feel even more connected to the group of people there that they were working with.

That’s really good, and I just love the fact that you went broad, and you managed to incorporate some gamification into that as well, to really embed that training and learning. So how do you think that greater inclusivity at Intuit QuickBooks will enable your organisation to grow? Because the business that I’ve created is based on a fundamental belief that the more diverse and the more inclusive an organisation is, the better it’s able to grow and the more resilient it is. How does that apply for your business? 

Yeah, so QuickBooks itself is a product that has over three and a half million customers worldwide, but in Intuit, we serve over 50 million customers through our different products. So I think what it boils down to is that that wide variety of customers means we have an extremely diverse customer base. And if we aren’t able to empathise with that customer base, then we’re just not gonna be able to create a product that delivers what they need. So I think greater inclusivity really is just, it’s just something that has to be there, otherwise you’re not gonna be able to create a product that works for everybody. Perhaps another example of this would be our focus on things like accessibility of software. Our software wouldn’t be usable by people with disabilities, if we didn’t have the accessibility, accessible nature there. So we did a workshop a few weeks ago where one of our accessibility lead came over from the US. And we brought in a blind customer to actually stand at the front of the room and show us how he used the software.

And one of the recent changes we’ve put into the software in the UK was some new changes in the VAT, that meant that people had to use software to submit their VAT submissions. And he went through this process and he showed us how it was actually quite frustrating and actually quite difficult for him to do that. So immediately following that, that led us to make that process much more accessible and gave the developers much more empathy for blind customers and what the problems they were going through when using that software. Clearly, if we hadn’t done that, we’d have been missing out on a massive proportion of people in the world who could use our software. And our mission at Intuit is to power prosperity around the world, and that’s not power prosperity in one country and it’s not power prosperity in certain demographics, that’s the whole world, and the whole world is diverse, so we just need to support that.

Yeah, I love what you said about accessibility because I work with an organisation that specialises in digital accessibility, advising businesses how to create digital products, websites, apps and things like that. And the guy that runs the agency talks about the different levels of impairment. So somebody could be born with a disability like myself, I’ve got a mobility impairment that I was born with, but somebody could be situationally impaired. They could have gone skiing, for example, and broken their arm. And therefore, they find it difficult to type emails and then they rely on speech-to-text software for a short while. So it’s such a key point to make sure that we build accessible and inclusive products. Thank you for that, thanks.

No problem.

So if we want to learn more about your Design for Delight process and principles, where can we get more information? 

Yeah, certainly. We make it all public on a website called, so just please visit there, have a look around, you’ll read about both our D4D process and our CDI Customer Driven Innovation process. And hopefully, that can give you enough tools and tips to help. But more than happy for people to reach out to me on LinkedIn as well. I’d love to connect with others who’ve got questions in that area.

Excellent, well, thank you ever so much, Ben, for joining me on this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. And please tune in again for one of our upcoming episodes where we talk a lot more about inclusion in the workplace and how we can really hard-wire this into our businesses so that they are able to grow. Again, thank you very much for joining me today, thank you.

Thank you very much, Toby.

Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at

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