How TurboTax Makes a Dreadful User Experience a Delightful One


Let’s start with the good news: When Donald Trump assumes his gold-plated throne in the Oval Office, 50% of US households will file their federal tax return by simply submitting a 1-page form to the IRS that says “I win”. Won’t that be nice.

But, unfortunately, this ambitious and progressive measure isn’t likely to occur until at least Mr. Trump’s 5th term as President. Until then, millions of tax novices will be left to fend for themselves.

I was recently among them. And just as in years past, I decided to file my own taxes using TurboTax.

Doing your taxes is never a pleasant task. But I couldn’t help but admire the thoughtful details Intuit’s product team had put into the TurboTax experience. They had managed to take one of the most complex processes in the world—deciphering our archaic tax code—and simplify it into a step-by-step, intuitive flow.

Here are some of ways TurboTax makes a dreadful experience a delightful one.

Orient Around the Goal, Not the Task

turbotax UX goal

Nobody is motivated to do their taxes just for the sake of it. TurboTax knows this and instead orients its copywriting around the user’s true motivation. Get your maximum refund, guaranteed—now that’s a value proposition I can get behind 💰.

Gradually Engage Users


Rather than immediately asking users to create an account or surrender a bunch of sensitive information, TurboTax gets users started by personalizing the experience based on what you did last year. This is a great way to build motivation through our human tendency towards Commitment and Consistency. Gradual engagement tactics like these have been proven to make a considerable improvement in conversion.

Automate Common Points of Friction


Nobody likes manual data entry. Even a standard W2 or 1040 has enough fields and anxiety inducing fine print to scare you into calling a high priced CPA. 

TurboTax addresses this by automating data entry whenever possible. You can automatically sync data from hundreds of popular brokerage and payroll providers. And you can even import data from paper forms by taking a picture with your phone.

By assuming this complexity themselves, the Intuit team provides simplicity to the end user; it results in a simpler process that users are more likely to complete.

Inject Some Personality

As you are getting started, TurboTax poses a question:


Nope, that’s not the hottest new machine learning algorithm that has finally mastered empathy. It’s just well designed software that understands the mindset of its user and and adds a touch of  personality to make her feel comfortable.

‘Cause at the end of the day, we’re all just humans staring at pixels on opposite ends of an information superhighway.

Keeps the User’s Attention Focused on One Task at a Time


If you were to prepare your tax return the old fashion way, where would you begin? State or federal? With your income or by itemizing deductions?

There are hundreds of places one could start. This could introduce a daunting choice paradox that inevitably results in inaction.

TurboTax has prescriptive flow to completing the tax return that focuses the user on one step at a time to ensure progress is made. All the while, you can still see exactly where you are in the process. File is only 3 steps away, I better keep moving.

Show Progress Towards a Goal

turbotax refund

After completing an early step in a long process, this simple animation makes the end goal feel so much more real and attainable. 

Side note: I wish this was my real tax refund!

Reengage Users Until They Reach Their Goal


TurboTax sends triggered emails to users who start their tax returns but have not completed them. Notice the subject line and call-to-action reinforce this as an incomplete task. This plays well with the Zeigarnik Effect, which illustrates how tasks heavily occupy our minds until complete. 

Celebrate Success


Woohoo! Taxes are complete and we don’t have to think about them for another 11.5 months! Celebrating success like this is a commonly missed opportunity in the software world. But TurboTax nails it with a victory moment image that helps users internalize a sense of accomplishment. 


Beyond these points, TurboTax is filled with thoughtful microcopy that is always one step ahead of the user. It’s clear the product team has spent thousands of hours on usability testing and iterating each step of this complicated process. And the result is simplicity that will put even the most anxious mind at ease.

Building @appcues, startup that will improve your user #onboarding | Learned @BucknellU & @HarvardHBS | Proud St. Louis native | Explorer | Made in the 80s

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