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TurboTax Spotlight: Building an Accessible Product with Cesar Villegas

TurboTax News Meet Cesar Villegas, Vice President of Design at Intuit

We know how important it is for products to be accessible and user-friendly for anyone and everyone. Last year, TurboTax processed 40 million tax returns, and our goal is to make sure the filing process is as intuitive, easy to understand, and accessible for all of the people who file with us. And in order to build the best user experiences, we work to address different accessibility needs such as blindness, limited mobility, or photosensitivity. 

At Intuit, we have more than 800 Accessibility Champions who, through volunteering, customer research, deep customer empathy, and accessibility best practices, help inspire both designers and software engineers to create delightful experiences for those who may need assistive technology. 

But what else goes into optimizing software for accessibility? In what ways can accessible products have the biggest impact for good? What does the future of accessible product design look like?

For answers to these questions and more, read on for a deep-dive conversation with our very own Intuit Vice President of Design, Cesar Villegas, and get to know his unique background and approach to work.

Meet Cesar Villegas, Intuit Vice President of Design

Hi Cesar, thanks for chatting with us. To get things started, what’s your role at TurboTax and how long have you been with the company?

Cesar: I’m the Vice President of Design leading a team of about 100 designers who design the TurboTax, TurboTax Live, and Mint customer experiences. And I’m in my 11th year at TurboTax.

Outside of work, what type of hobbies and activities do you enjoy?

Cesar: The things I enjoy doing most are going biking with my two boys, Tristan and Noah, playing golf, and going to the beach during the summer.

Gotta love that summer months are just around the corner for beach trips! In your down time, have you read anything interesting recently?

Cesar: One is Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change by Amy Bucher. I’ve been very interested in learning more about Behavioral Science, how we can apply it at Intuit, and to improve the TurboTax experience for our customers. 

Another is Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr. It’s a book that was recommended by another leader on our team, Greg Johnson. The authors are both early employees of Amazon and in the book, they give an insider’s view of Amazon during its massive growth period, and they share some great insights on the principles and practices that drove Amazon’s early success. 

Isn’t it great when the things we read in our spare time end up inspiring our careers? Speaking of careers… let’s dive into your work life! What does your typical day on the job look like?

Cesar: My typical day begins at 6 AM, and has me catching up on email and Slack. Design is a very collaborative craft and as a result, much of my day is spent on Zoom, in one-on-one meetings with my team, product review sessions with our partners in Product Management and Product Development, design reviews, and project status discussions. 

I typically block off 30-minute working time windows here and there where I can be heads down to work on things like strategy and project briefs.

We admire that kind of on-the-job dedication to keeping things moving. Now for the big picture, what inspired you to work in user experience, and how did that lead you to TurboTax?

Cesar: Doing work that makes a real difference in people’s lives is what inspires me the most as a UX designer. As a group, we’re obsessed with making a product experience nothing less than delightful. 

I was attracted to TurboTax because it helps millions of Americans get the biggest refund they deserve. And for most Americans, their tax refund is the biggest paycheck of the year. Having a hand in that is pretty meaningful to me.

Can you tell us a bit about how TurboTax products you work on are optimized for an accessible and user-friendly experience? And why is it important to build an accessible and user-friendly product?

Cesar: Our goal is to create products that enable all of our customers to solve their tough financial challenges, whether that’s navigating their taxes with confidence, getting out of debt, saving for retirement or improving their credit score. There should be no restrictions on who is independently able to use our products. This is why we focus on building accessible, inclusive products.

It’s also important to remember that inclusive products are not only specific to people with disabilities. A website that works without a mouse is also much easier for a parent to complete their taxes while holding their child, for example. 

TurboTax products have an excellent component system built with an accessibility-first methodology. The development doesn’t start until there’s a complete set of accessibility requirements, and many times these are informed by interviews and observations with customers to understand potential blockers. TurboTax has also included tools to support reduced motion preferences, accessible colors, and simplified navigation.

We do this to take the difficulty out of doing taxes. TurboTax includes readable language, which reduces anxiety and increases customers’ confidence that their taxes are getting done right. TurboTax also lets the customer know what parts of the process have been completed and what is left in the tax filing process.

Beyond TurboTax products, in what ways can accessible products have the biggest impact for good?

Cesar: Accessibility provides equal access and equal opportunity to so many people with disabilities. With many aspects of our lives moving to digital from employment, to commerce, to education to healthcare and even recreation, accessible products lead to independent living for people with disabilities. The more we invest in it, the bigger the impact.

Are there any other ways that TurboTax and Intuit invest in accessible design?

Cesar: Intuit co-founded Teach Access, a collaboration with major tech companies and universities to include accessibility in computer science curriculum. Intuit was also a co-founder of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. We sponsor various conferences and organizations for entrepreneurship in the disability community. 

Our designers and engineers also participate in global conferences, open source projects, publish articles, and volunteer within our communities. Our goal is to increase accessibility in all products, including those built by our competitors because it benefits our entire customer base.

Looking forward, what advancements in software design regarding accessibility do you predict will happen over the next 10 years?

Cesar: Our expectation is that technology, driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning, will enable much more personalized experiences. We will not design a single application, but rather, we’ll have a platform with millions of adaptations driven by personal settings. A button will still be a button at its core. But there will be no limit on how a person interacts with it.

Wow, the future’s looking bright for accessible products! Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Cesar: One of the areas I haven’t touched on but is at the heart of inclusive design is diversity. At TurboTax, we purposely design experiences that reflect our diverse customers regarding gender, race, and background. 

Some of the work we’ve done in this space includes shooting our own lifestyle photography rich in racial diversity, re-creating product icons to be gender neutral, and following a clear set of principles to ensure that the voice and tone of our content is inclusive.

About TurboTax

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