BlockStar: Shane Wilson, director of experience design, H&R Block

August 21, 2018 : Teresa L. Clark

When many taxpayers think about their annual tax filing, the b-word (aka, “burden”) comes to mind. Shane Wilson, director of experience design at H&R Block, has a goal for the word that comes to mind be…“delightful.” To make this come true, nearly two years ago Wilson jumped at the opportunity to leave the digital marketing world and dive into the DIY tax prep world at H&R Block because of the tremendous opportunity he saw.

“There are 74,000 pages in the tax code,” Wilson said. “So, distilling that down to an online product that anyone could complete is really, really impressive, but can we make it delightful? Yeah, I think so. And that’s what we’re working on.”

Step away to get closer

“User-centered design” focuses on how the user uses the product. Because using DIY tax prep products is nearly never linear, the user experience designers must distance themselves from the traditionally linear process to get better at helping clients have a good experience. Much like some paintings that need to be viewed better from farther away, recognizing design imperfections can make it necessary for user experience designers to look at design from a different perspective to see what is really happening.

For example, instead of going straight to the solution, a user experience designer on Wilson’s team plotted out what the user experience was. This process included information architecture, card sorting, plotting sticky notes on a board and then stepping back and looking at the experience – not the screen where the experience lives. In distancing himself from the screen, he saw things about the experience that didn’t make sense. After thorough team review, the plan went into action. The result will be a better client experience.

BlockStar question: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“When people tell you how they feel, they’re never wrong – listen to them.”
– Shane Wilson, director of experience design at H&R Block

The client is a real person

Wilson says visual, experience, technology, process and content designers work together through a symbiotic relationship during development to create a pleasant experience. The tech writers make sure the questions users are asked in a helpful, conversational way – similar to how real people talk to each other. So, when Wilson thinks of the user, he also thinks of real people.

“I try not to say ‘user,’ because it’s our client – it’s a person. I always focus on the human that is interacting with us…’user’ kind of takes away some of that personality, I think. But, it’s that human on the other end of this event we have here [at company headquarters], which is creating the product. It’s that person who is benefitting from that effort – they’re a human. I try to put my mother in that place, my sister or one of my kids in that place and how they would react to that,” Wilson said.

Adding to the non-linear aspect DIY tax prep, is that clients can start their return on one device (e.g., a laptop), take a break and pick up where they left off on another device (e.g., a tablet). This flexibility creates a different experience and the user experience team makes sure this happens as seamlessly as possible.

“An experience designer is thoughtful about what that experience is like and we try to make it as pleasant and valuable as possible. We need to be really great at being helpful,” Wilson said.

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Teresa L. Clark


Teresa L. Clark came to H&R Block in January 2010 after working as a civil servant for more than 13 years. Since that first tax season she has written blog posts and talking points, edited content of all shapes and sizes, facilitated media interviews for the experts in The Tax Institute at H&R Block and supported the DIY team. Clark has a master's degree in integrated marketing communications from the University of Kansas and is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

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