Voice and Tone

The design principles for voice and tone support the overall design principles for Harmony. They reflect our Intuit brand voice guidelines, Harmony design principles, SBG Harmony personas, and the ongoing work across the Intuit writing community to create successful messaging patterns.

The guidelines here support the idea of consistency—not uniformity—so that we’re speaking with a harmonized voice. Some variation based on product, device type, and audience is expected.

What is voice?

  • Voice identifies who we are. It’s how we say things, which words we choose, and how we come across to the person who’s listening.
  • Voice influences emotion. Words have the power to inspire, calm, delight, persuade, encourage, and build trust.
  • Voice defines the relationship between our brand and our customers.

Voice for a global audience

Humor doesn’t always translate; neither does slang or colloquialisms. Global voice varies by content type. Errors, alerts, and help should be global-neutral so that customers from across cultures don’t misinterpret instructions. Other types, such as first-time use, may need separate versions to maintain our sense of fun and friendship, but be appropriate for each cultural context.

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This works because it's reassuring, friendly, mentoring, builds confidence, obvious next step

This works because it’s reassuring, friendly, mentoring, builds confidence, and gives an obvious next step.

1. Lead the way

Guide customers in a reassuring way so that they know where they are, how they got there, and where to go next.

Supporting characteristics: Human, Reassuring, Friendly, Consistent, Clear, Committed, Personal, Helpful, Mentoring

Customers may feel anxious, overwhelmed, unsure.
Help them feel inspired, successful, proud, confident.

This example has no guidance for a new user, it's unclear what to do next, and the user is left to fend for themselves.

This example has no guidance for a new user, it’s unclear what to do next, and the user is left to fend for themselves.

How to lead the way

  • Make content relevant to what customers are doing and where they are in the app. Avoid extraneous info.
  • Never leave customers hanging. Tell them what they need to do next.
  • Give customers clues about the length of workflows, where they are in the flow, and the benefit at the end.
  • Build customer confidence with cheering and encouragement.
  • Make the call to action clearly visible over other content in the screen.
  • If customers run into a problem, explain what happened (if helpful), why, and how to fix it.
  • Provide extra guidance for newbies or new features. Let customers know they’re OK.
  • Make it easy for customers to get help when they need it.

This works because it's skimmable, concise, and clear.

This works because it’s skimmable, concise, and clear.

2. Keep it simple

Be concise—write sparingly. Use familiar words and avoid extraneous info. What you take out is as important as what you leave in.

Supporting characteristics: Skimmable, Crisp, Clear, Minimal, Smart, Spare, Clean, Concise, Relevant, Real

Customers may feel frustrated, uncertain, fearful, harried.
Help them feel trusting, confident, warm, content, supported.

This doesn't work because there's too much text and too many options.

This doesn’t work because there’s too much text and too many options.

How to keep it simple

  • Craft short sentences and use familiar, day-to-day words.
  • Write using active voice and simple present tense.
  • Make content scannable. Use bullets, bolding, line breaks, and white space.
  • Don’t overuse methods of emphasis. If everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.
  • Make it clear on every page what the call-to-action is. Shoot for one call to action per screen.
  • Don’t overwhelm customers by describing every option and outcome. Make it easy for them to make a choice.
  • Showcase likely options or common scenarios aimed at the majority of customers, not edge cases.
  • Fight the pile-on. Don’t add links to every possible resource; don’t have multiple links to the same place on the same page.

This works because it's unexpected, humorous spirited, human, charming,  visually playful.

This works because it’s unexpected, humorous, spirited, human, charming, and visually playful.

3. Have fun

Engage customers with playful language. Inject excitement and a bit of energy. Celebrate accomplishments.

Supporting characteristics: Spirited, Lively, Personal, Human, Energetic, Friendly, Approachable, Charming, Cheerful

Customers may feel bored, tired, resigned.
Help them feel happy, inspired, proud, energized, smart, satisfied.

This doesn't work because it's boring, not inviting, gives a command then offers support, uses jargon ("geologication")

This example is boring, not inviting, diverts customers away from the call to action, and uses jargon (geolocation).

How to have fun

  • Use active words, especially verbs; choose unexpected adjectives, nouns, and interjections for variety.
  • Cheer customers to make them feel good, for example, after first-time tasks or completing difficult steps.
  • Reward customers by sprinkling in a little humor. Don’t force it and keep it organic.
  • Make fun of the unexpected and random. Avoid repetition and frequent use. Keep it fresh!
  • Use universal, timeless experiences as scenarios. Avoid cultural references that might become dated.
  • Acknowledge tiresome tasks as, well, tiresome.
  • Never make fun of customers. It’s OK, though, to be self-deprecating occasionally.

This works because it's personal, warm, engaging, real, friendly.

This works because it’s personal, warm, engaging, real, and friendly.

4. Make friends

Talk directly to customers in a caring, friendly tone. Be conversational and create trust by making them the center of attention.

Supporting characteristics: Personal, Friendly, Empathetic, Real, Engaging, Conversational, Informal, Reassuring, Honest, Trustworthy

Customers may feel neglected, alone, voiceless, unacknowledged.
Help them feel trusting, confident, warm, content, supported.

This doesn't work because it's a little impersonal, distant, emotionless.

This doesn’t work as well because it’s a little impersonal, distant, and emotionless.

How to make friends

  • Show customers that you know them; make them feel good.
  • Address the customer as “you”; use “we” (as appropriate) for the product or Intuit.
  • Write as if you’re chatting with someone: use contractions, common phrases, interjections—even dangling prepositions.
  • Acknowledge the customer’s point of view and how they’re feeling.
  • Be honest and transparent. Don’t try to hide bad news or be overly optimistic.
  • Apologize when appropriate, but be sincere.
  • Make experiences personal by using customer info—name, company, and so on—where appropriate.

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