The Intuit Harmony Design System: Insights from Joe Preston


If you are interesting in providing requests or learning more about the roadmap, please post your comments below. Spot opportunities and challenges for increasing the impact of design systems and DesignOps in enterprises. UXPin is a product design platform used by the best designers on the planet. Let your team easily design, collaborate, and present from low-fidelity wireframes to fully-interactive prototypes. I think you can go really big like I would actually say we probably maybe have too big of a design system sometimes or you can go really small.

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We should be, let’s say, story completion time that it took us to build that component, but now we’re taking it to the max level, and we’re actually looking at how many instances of that component are being used in the product and where, and we’re also starting to look at how much traffic, how much customer traffic is actually going through that component. Essentially, if we don’t have component code yet, then we would start production, but a lot of these things will finish with a code component, but it could be other things. It could be adding styling variables to our CSS framework.

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That can be really frustrating to people because most of the design systems are not on the bleeding edge of innovation. Brad Frost actually had a great article about this recently called like “The best design systems are like the really boring ones,” and there’s some truth to that. Like it depends on what the artifact of the system is and how we would measure success, but we’re definitely … Velocity is huge to us, and then also making sure that what we put out is being contributed to a lot, and then is being adopted by teams a lot.


Sorry about that, the boots on the ground so to speak, doing the work. Harmony is a living design system that unites Intuit’s small business products, brand and marketing experiences across devices and ecosystem. Here is where you’ll find guidance, information and resources for creating delightful experiences.


I’ve been with Intuit for a little over a year and three months now. Before that, I was partner at an Enterprise UX agency where I did mostly enterprise software design. Apps add more features and functionality to your QuickBooks to help you run your business. Eliminate tedious, manual data entry by integrating apps you already use.


The creative brief is then reviewed by essentially like the drivers board, which I’m on. Joe explains how to sell a design system, strike a balance between consistency and creativity, and other lessons learned over the years. Check out the full video and transcript below.


One is basically a single-page application show that we can embed in a native app that allows us to show web experience seamlessly. Having a defined process, so like I said, it’s really important actually to have creativity for some set of requirements initially about, “What are you trying to accomplish? ” Hopefully, that’s backed by some customer or some business benefit, so I think as funny as it sounds, I think it is crucial to at least upfront spend a little bit of time defining that stuff. Whereas you come in, you go, “Hey, look. We’re changing the whole ecosystem. We’ve done a lot of customer testing, and we’re getting really good results in this visual language.

In the meantime, here’s a primer on what it’s all about and how it can benefit you, your app, and your customers. About 12 weeks ago, at Scaling New Heights, during our developer tech track, we introduced you to the concept of “harmony”. For those of you that were not at our developer track, “harmony” is essentially the unification of our Intuit product experiences. Across products, platforms, and devices.

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I think that’s really the key skillsets of design system folks because you’re the connective tissues with all these different people, and so it’s those social and the soft skills that come in the most handy more than I think technical skills, and that’s hard. When people come on my team, it’s like I know they just want to put the headphones and start cranking away a sketch, but it’s like unfortunately, you’re in a lot of meetings because you’re having to influence people or you … The other part of it is you have to see the breadth of what teams are designing in order to have those conversations in order to figure out like, “Oh, wow. That’s a new emerging pattern that we’re seeing happening right now. That is a really nice addition.” You have to be there and talk to those people to be able to experience that. The other 30% of my time, I’m trying to dedicate to the Intuit design system and make it more over time. Another change was that mobile became more of a focus.

  • Joe explains how to sell a design system, strike a balance between consistency and creativity, and other lessons learned over the years.
  • We had another team on angular as an example.
  • Like it depends on what the artifact of the system is and how we would measure success, but we’re definitely … Velocity is huge to us, and then also making sure that what we put out is being contributed to a lot, and then is being adopted by teams a lot.

The design system isn’t fully adopted across all the products to the same level. When we looked across that landscape, it was very disparate and very all over the place, and so the company’s mindset had shifted to thinking about really the product only being the core tenant of the experience to looking more holistically at that, what we call the “end-to-end experience,” so that was one change. I actually knew Suzanne Pellican because she had spoke at some meet-ups that I run for client and Enterprise UX meet-ups, and I was always really impressed with her, and I had always thought of Intuit as a design-driven company.

QuickBooks Enterprise

We’re still in the early stages of that. We’re building basically a toolkit or a source of the truth for Intuit design systems, starting with components and those sort of foundational visual language elements. Whereas on QuickBooks Harmony side, we’ve actually had a site, a source of truth for a long time, so we’re taking all our learnings from Harmony, and we actually have a new site, We’re taking all those learnings and applying them now at an Intuit-wide level. Dos and don’ts are another great way to show more example-based guidelines in terms of where you’d be prescriptive.

I’m the representative for QuickBooks. There’s another equivalent for TurboTax, Mint, and ProConnect. Then, we meet multiple times a week going over … reviewing proposals, talking about what we’re going to do next, aligning our roadmaps together, and then we try to involve different designers and teams from each of our businesses to actually be the boots on the ground so to speak.

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That really I think is the crucial piece to making it work, and that’s really … to use another Nathan courtesy dimple. That’s really having a small central team to help drive initiatives. Then, really having a delegated model where there’s a whole wide variety of stakeholders that give you that diversity of thought that you need. To be honest, I think that was actually the more crucial piece to design system. In terms of future-proofing a design system, that’s a great question, and it’s probably my biggest concern always.

Design systems can become dated or they can become irrelevant to companies for a variety of reasons, and so part of what I found interesting and challenging was how to make it more relevant and how to make it solve problems that the company was having now when I joined, which were different from when the problems it was trying to solve when they started Harmony. To find out, we spoke with Joe Preston, Director of Design Systems and Engineering at Intuit. Co-founder of the enterprise UX consultancy Momentum Labs, he joined the Intuit team in 2016 to help them scale their design system across all products.

How about we sit down with one of your front-end developers and give us a couple days, and we’ll just crank this out? ” That makes the conversation go a lot easier. Then, we also had to embed and pair programmers and designers with each product team. It’s amazing what happens when … If you just ask an engineer for an estimate based on a red line spec, you get a very high estimate.


The way they build their UIs is really progressive, and so they can bring a set of expertise to the table that we can all benefit from and vice versa. QuickBooks too has been doing some really interesting stuff in terms of … The new sort of text stack we’re moving with is something that the whole company actually really likes that new text stack. I think those are what we’re seeing now on the horizon as a big value add that the system can bring to the company. Then, the other thing is there are some business units that don’t have a design system, don’t have a team, don’t have resources, and for them, it’s nice to get a whole bunch of stuff that’s highly involved and been tested essentially for free. If you do believe that your job as a design system is really to enable the products to do the best work that they can and to support them, but not to be the determinant factor of what gets released in products. To be honest, we’re still in the midst of it.

Meaning, like we pre-cache everything. All the components are responsive, even adaptive, and the user doesn’t really know that it’s actually web, which is … It’s funny. Like in my old job, that has been tried so many different ways by so many different companies that when I heard that, I’m like, “This is a terrible idea.” But then, we actually pulled it off where it’s actually pretty seamless. The central team really acts as…making sure the work scales for the ecosystem, making sure the documentation is tight, and then making sure that the information is served, collected centrally, and disseminated out to all the teams. I love a new challenge, and I think the stars aligned for me somewhat in that I was walking into a design system that already had some legs underneath it, but there’s a good and a bad to that too. There are some legacy issues with the design system that I also inherited too.

You can just do like the mini Bootstrap library. notes receivable plenty fine for most start-ups and most small companies. The other things we’re doing are adding like continuous integration, so some CICD stuff where we’ve got linkers, we’ve got automated functional tests both locally like an automated unit test, and then we fire off a more significant set of functional tests, functional automated tests the minute you try to submit a poor request, so we’re trying to like tighten up our CICD of our library. Right now, we made really good progress.

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It’s going to be a long journey, but I think what we were getting to see the fruits of creating the model of our process in terms of working together as brands because we have really different customers and use cases on it, so I think that’s the biggest challenge for at least Intuit design system. That’s what’s hard about … especially in the existing design system. I could see on a small company that doesn’t have a design system where it’s just like, “All right. We’re not going to talk to you guys until we have V1 out, and then we’ll figure out how to have other people start contributing.” When you get to the point of … You’re at V2, V3, V4, and you really want to involve other people in terms of them feeling like the design system is theirs, that’s where those skillsets change of being more soft skills of a designer. Then, the other part of that I think would be the … This is the difference between a component and a pattern, most people would say, so like you think of components as being really reusable, really modular.

A reactive, card-based UI framework built on UIKit for iOS developers. Currently investigating a way to provide you the ability migrate your existing QuickBooks Online “classic” company to a “harmony” experience. Once I find out how, I’ll post a follow up here. Then, once they got back to their product teams, the other advantage of that was those people had just been involved in the design system work, so who better to be an influencer of that product than that person? We found a lot of those people and took them out to coffee and beers a lot. Really, what I was looking to do was take the design system to the next level, figure out how to add some pieces to it maybe that were missing.

At some point, you don’t want to step on the product designer’s toes and be so prescriptive that you’re really restricting them from doing their job, which is figuring out how to make a great experience, and so there’s definitely a balance there in terms of … I think we’ve made the mistake plenty of times of probably being over-prescriptive. We try to develop this concept in Intuit design system of having what we call “fixed” and “flexible” elements as a way to help give guidance … depending upon your use case or however, whatever context you’re going to use it in. We’re anticipating all these elements will change, so we’re trying to do that. I had the benefit of coming in with that sort of groundwork already laid for me. Ours is called harmony because building the QuickBooks ecosystem is all about creating a harmonious experience for our customers, across all their apps and devices. It’s because of our design system that our ecosystem of products can share a common look, feel, behavior, and data across platforms and devices.

  • Whereas you come in, you go, “Hey, look.
  • Across products, platforms, and devices.
  • At some point, you don’t want to step on the product designer’s toes and be so prescriptive that you’re really restricting them from doing their job, which is figuring out how to make a great experience, and so there’s definitely a balance there in terms of … I think we’ve made the mistake plenty of times of probably being over-prescriptive.
  • Get tips on hiring, onboarding, and structuring a design team with insights from DesignOps leaders.
  • Check out the full video and transcript below.

Whereas when you sit down with them, and you open up the IDE, and you start changing the code, boy, it was a lot faster than anyone expected. When we looked at it, we said, “Hey, look. We’re not on the same technology stack, so what can we develop that will help accelerate adoption and help with cohesiveness or dare I say consistency, which was a CSS framework? First, I brought in two contract front-end developers to work with the design system team, and then we actually built out a design engineering team that works in parallel with design systems. That way, we could really have a nice blend of designers and developers, but again, we were still operating mainly under QuickBooks with that model. Arriving at a process, and a contribution model, and a decision-making framework that we could scale, especially where all the businesses of Intuit felt like they had ownership, felt like they had a sense of the design system is by the people, for the people.

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