Death, Taxes & Product Design

Imagine you’ve been asked to design a way to make it easier and less stressful for people to start work with a new company. Or maybe you have an idea to improve the way a small business owner pays their staff.

Fairly normal design challenges right?

Well, almost. 
For each of those scenarios described above, there’s someone else who’s very interested – the government.

And the government likes things to be done a certain way.

Take tax for example. For the tax system to work efficiently there are a lot of rules and regulations that individuals and businesses need to abide by. The tax collection agency requires specific information like personal details and identifiers to be reported, correct and often on a deadline.

Designing in these problem areas can be challenging

  1. Every law and regulation and compliance requirement exists for a good reason. However users (like employers) will usually view these as an additional burden, something that gets in the way of their typical tasks.

  2. Big risk. Designers familiar with other problem spaces might be used to problems like a lack of engagement or general confusion. If end users don’t meet their obligations they could face financial penalties or worse.

  3. In order to design the best experience, a designer should first feel very confident in understanding the requirements/or problem at hand. But here, it’s confusing. Tax is notoriously complicated and tough to get right.

  4. As designers and product people it’s not possible to make sure the user does everything correctly. That bar is too high. There are too many scenarios, edge cases and permutations. The grey area between correct and incorrect is vast! The success state is hard to hit.

  5. I’m familiar with user problems like I want to zoom into a video so I can see detail” or I want to be able to focus on a video with no distractions”… or even business problems like a lack of engagement. Compliance problems don’t sound like things that a user would express in their own voice.

  6. Compliance is only the beginning. At the end of the day, understanding these requirements may get the check of approval from gov.. yet that’s really just the start of the design right. What is the experience? We have really just started the design process. So it’s really like a foundation… it’s additive.. meaning that its something extra needing to consider rather than just a different way of designing products..

How it might impact your design career?

  • Designing in complex space will strengthen your discovery skills. You will naturally need to be a strong researcher, facilitator and systems thinker.

  • Unfortunately, in a world where discovery takes on a critical importance, the user interface piece of the pie will have to shrink, and I would say when you are a junior designer you get less opportunities sharpen those skills like visual design and interaction design.

October 28, 2022