This is the change in QuickBooks 2013 that everyone is going to notice. This is the one that is going to create the most discussion, and perhaps the most angst with people who upgrade.
Intuit has implemented a wide-ranging overhaul of the QuickBooks (Windows version) user interface. In my mind this has been long overdue, because over the past few years as new features have been added the product has become a mishmash of different user interface styles. Look at QuickBooks 2012 and compare the Item List, the Quick Setup window (in QuickBooks Accountant), the Home page and the Calendar for example – each has a different visual style, and in some cases different methods of navigating. It’s starting to get messy. With QuickBooks 2013 Intuit is trying to freshen up the user interface and make things more uniform.
Unfortunately, change isn’t always welcomed by people who are used to things the way they were.
According to Intuit, QuickBooks 2013 user interface changes will:
- Introduce a new visual design which modernizes and standardizes the look and feel.
- Reduce the cognitive burden by using larger fonts, bigger rows, and green highlighting.
- Add a left icon bar that provides quick access to common functions. This removes the top icon bar to take better advantage of widescreen monitors.
- Provide better integration with Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) apps.
- Include a refreshed design for the Home Page.
- Provide first time use guidance for upgraders by adding an overlay of tips to highlight major changes. The goal is to orient upgraders quickly so any disruption is minimalized and you can get back to work in the new version quickly.
- Add a Ribbon interface to the 13 most commonly used transaction forms, making it easier to find what used to be hidden and hard to find controls and options.
- Maximize workspace control for transaction forms .
Has Intuit achieved their goal? Let’s take a look.
New Visual Design – Reduce Cognitive Burden
I said it earlier, and I’ll repeat it here. QuickBooks has been overdue for a user interface upgrade. We need some uniformity in things like colors, font types and sizes, organization of windows and so forth. Intuit certainly changed all that in this release! Uniformity – but does it work?
The screen shot below is representative of what you’ll see throughout the program. Just about all windows have this same look and feel now, with very few exceptions (exceptions are things like the add-on products such as Loan Manager, and windows that open in a browser).
In many cases they are using slightly larger fonts to display information, which many people will find helpful. The height of the rows is also larger, spacing things out a bit, which makes it easier to see and recognize the information being displayed. Highlighting is done with green bars – you an see the customer that is highlighted in the left (where the focus is at this time), and the lighter highlighting of the invoice on the right. You also see more white space (blank areas) in some “panes”, which make things less busy (but show less info) – which supposedly is easier for your brain to deal with.
Compare this with what you see in QuickBooks 2012.
Overall, I like the new look, it is more “friendly” and it is easier to see (particularly for someone without great vision, like me).
However, at least in this first implementation, there are some issues that may bother some people. Particularly people who are upgrading from the prior versions and who are used to things the way they were.
Less Information in the same amount of space: Perhaps 30% less information (a rough guess) is displayed in the same size window?
We have lost control over colors: Look in your Desktop View preferences. In QuickBooks 2012 you have color scheme preference, but this has been removed in QuickBooks 2013. If you don’t like the color settings in the new program, you can’t change it. People who work with multiple QuickBooks company files will sometimes set each file to have a different color scheme, so you can easily recognize which file you are in by the color. No more!
Note that you STILL have control over the colors used used in some individual windows like Write Checks. In fact, I like the way that they have improved this feature, with the color change being less intrusive.
Some labels are too faint, tiny: Maybe it’s just me, as I get older my eyes don’t work as well. Some of the labels are just WAY too small. The light gray color used in some cases is just too faint to be comfortable, and I have to strain to see them. Also, don’t Windows programs usually indicate that a field is not available by “graying” the field and label?
Small little scrollbars: I know that I’m sometimes commenting about some things taking up too MUCH space in this upgrade, so it is odd that I’m also complaining about something that was changed to SAVE space. See the tiny scrollbar on the right of this Item List window? It can be hard to get your mouse cursor on that. Note, though, that you can still scroll using the mouse wheel.
OK, so I have a few gripes. I’m sure that we will hear a LOT of discussion about these changes. This may be a polarizing issue for some people. However, I have to say that overall, I’m reasonably happy with the changes if you look at the complete change. I like many of the changes, but hate some others. There are some issues, but I hope that we can see some tweaks in upcoming releases to address some of these. Intuit certainly got a LOT of feedback on this in early testing.
We’ve lost some things, but we’ve also gained some. There will be those who disagree with me, though…
Here’s another change that is going to start a lot of discussion.
The Icon Bar is one of the main navigation tools that you have in QuickBooks. You can customize it to fit your needs. Some people can’t live without it (well, that is a bit overboard – perhaps “some people can’t use QuickBooks without it”), but others don’t use it that much. Here’s what you might see in QuickBooks 2012.
Well, we have pretty much the same thing in QuickBooks 2013, so what’s to discuss? The biggest change here is that it has gotten a LOT duller, with these drab gray icons (poor contrast, I don’t like them as much).
Update 12/5/2012: QuickBooks 2013 R4 has been released and offers new options for the top icon bar.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, by default, QuickBooks is going to present a different view of the icon bar, the Left Icon Bar. Lots to discuss HERE. Note that you can switch between these by using the View menu.
Here is what we see, top to bottom:
Next down, My Shortcuts. This is your icon list, just as you see in the top icon bar. You can manage this. Still those dull, gray icons. Intuit’s thinking is that you don’t want a lot of attention here, it isn’t your main working space, so they have muted colors.
After that, My Shortcuts again? This confused me at first until I realized that the top “bar” changes to show whatever bar you have clicked on to expand, as a duplicate of what you have chosen. It wasn’t what I was expecting. No big deal.
My Apps will be a listing of any apps you have set up to work with this QuickBooks company file. Apps that you get from the Intuit App Center (IPP apps, not SDK based programs).
Do Today contains a listing of transactions due today, to-do list items for today, and icons for your Reminders list and the Alerts Manager.
View Balances shows the accounts, and their balances, just as you would see in the Account Balances pane on the right side of the Home Page in prior years.
Run Favorite Reports has an icon for the Report Center, and will list any reports that you mark as a “favorite” there. You can also add reports from the customize link at the bottom of this section. Jacint Tumacder of Intuit pointed out to me that in prior versions, many people would add the reports that the commonly use as an icon in the icon bar. Heck, I do that myself. By adding these commonly run reports in the Favorite Reports section you don’t clutter up the shortcuts section of the icon bar, and you are placing all of your reports in one convenient location. Makes sense to me.
Open Windows will be a list of all windows that you have in QuickBooks, similar to the Open Window List that we had in QuickBooks 2012 and earlier (which is still available if you use the Top Icon Bar instead). This is a good place for it given the left icon bar – but so far I’ve found it to be a bit less convenient to access this way.
Next down is the Do More With QuickBooks section, which used to be on the Home Page. Advertisements for QuickBooks. HERE they have the nice colored icons that are easy to read…
You can shrink the left icon bar by clicking the “<” symbol at the top. This is when I really start to dislike the dull gray icons, since they are very hard to understand.
When the left icon bar is minimized, clicking on the top selected section (such as My Shortcuts as shown here) makes that one section “fly out” temporarily, so you can see the contents.
I’m putting this in a section by itself, separating it from the visual changes, even though it is affected by these visual changes. What kind of monitor are you using now?
I’m sure that Intuit has done extensive research on this, and I’m guessing (since I don’t have their data) that this research says that everyone is moving to large, high resolution, widescreen monitors.
I’m a bit of a techie freak in this regard – I have four monitors on my office computer, One is a widescreen, the others are various size monitors that I’ve had for awhile. Heck, that 19” monitor on the right side seems ancient and cramped now!
I’m not sure that EVERYONE, in a business environment, has moved to large widescreen monitors?
If you look at the technical requirements for QuickBooks 2012 you see that the minimum screen resolution supported is 1024 X 768. I believe that this will be the same minimum listed for QuickBooks 2013. However, there are a few changes in the user interface that are going to make this tougher to work with:
- Larger fonts are used in many places.
- Detail lines are taller.
- Many transaction windows have been rearranged to introduce more “white space” around some elements.
Intuit has introduced a number of features that help you maximize your workspace, which I’ll explain in more detail later. You can minimize the left icon bar and ribbon toolbar, for example. But is it enough? Let’s take a look.
Here’s QuickBooks 2012 open, and maximized, at 1024X768, with an invoice window.
Here’s QuickBooks 2013 with the same settings.
Not that different? Now, notice, I’ve turned off the Icon Bar and I’ve turned off the ribbon for the invoice, so this isn’t directly comparable. In the old version you still have easy access to your navigation tools, in QuickBooks 2013 they are hidden.
Let’s look at QuickBooks 2013 again, with the icon bar at the top, and the ribbon showing. This more closely matches what we had last year.
Now we are starting to see an impact. There are far fewer detail lines in the invoice visible. This is something that people complain about often – not being able to see enough lines in a transaction with smaller monitors.
Will this impact you? I think that if you have smaller monitors, you may not be happy with the new product. With larger monitors it isn’t as much of an issue. Intuit has added a number of little features that help you to get the most out of your workspace (more on that in an upcoming article).
One side note – if you change your monitor resolution to a lower value QuickBooks notices this, and will ask you if you want to move the icon bar from the left to the top. Nice touch.
When I started testing this product I was working on a smaller monitor, and I didn’t like the results. However, as I look at it on my normal production system, with larger monitors, it isn’t an issue for me. Certainly it is something to consider when you look at the kind of system that you are going to use.
Integration with the Intuit App Center
The Intuit App Center lists applications that work with QuickBooks. These are what we call IPP apps, which use the Intuit Sync Manager to copy your database to a “cloud” server, where the app can access the data. There are perhaps 70 IPP apps now, although some of those just work with QuickBooks Online, not QuickBooks desktop. There are far more add-ons in the Intuit Solutions Marketplace, which are SDK programs that don’t require the Sync Manager.
Intuit is working to make access to your App Center apps easier by bringing them in to the left icon bar, where they will be accessible with just one click.
If you have been using Apps from the Intuit App Center, you already have an account with Intuit. If not, you’ll create one, and then you can sign up for Apps (for a fee) that will work with your QuickBooks database. I’ve not spent any time analyzing the changes in detail here, but from what I see they are trying to improve the user experience in how you access these apps, and how you work with the Intuit Sync Manager (the tool that copies your data to the “cloud” so these Apps can access it).
Here’s a screen shot showing the final steps of signing into your account (or creating one). Notice that My Apps in the left icon bar is empty, to start.
Once you sign in, and sign up for some apps, they will be listed in My Apps for easy access. Here we have three apps, QuickBooks Attached Documents, ViewMyPaycheck and QuickBooks Connect. You will also find advertising links for apps that are “recommended for you”. I’m not sure what criteria are being used for these “recommendations” at this time.
This removes the Online Solutions menu option that we used to see in the top menu in QuickBooks 2012.
Many thanks to Laura Madeira for the screen shots of the My Apps section. She is the author of a wonderful book, QuickBooks 2012 In Depth, and is working hard on the 2013 version (available in November).
New Home Page
Not much to say here. It’s a bit prettier, with cleaner icons. If you have selected the left icon bar then the block that is normally on the right side of the Home Page (account balances, reminders/alerts, etc.) is moved to the left icon bar.
This might catch some people by surprise at first, if you are upgrading. Don’t worry, it goes away, and it can help you! When you first open a converted company file with QuickBooks 2013 you will see these orange/yellow (reminds me of those marshmallow “peanuts”?) overlays that point out new features and things that have changed from before. Each new window that you open may show this overlay. Click anywhere on the screen and they go away, and they don’t come back unless you ask them to.
Once you click on the screen to dismiss this overlay, you will see a smaller orange/yellow bar on the right side of the window (just windows that have something new). Click on that, the overlay comes back. Click on the “X” on that bar, it turns this feature off. You can bring this feature back using the Help menu.
I like this new feature, and it seems to work very well. Easy to turn off if you don’t like it.
Ribbons in Transactions / Maximize Workspace
I’m actually going to dedicate a whole article to the Ribbon for transaction forms (including the Maximize Workspace feature). You can see what the ribbon looks like if you look at the Invoice transaction screen shot earlier in this document. Lots to talk about here.
Intuit always finds a way to sneak in a little in-product advertising. In the past it was a case of hitting you over the head – popup windows and things like that. They got a lot of negative feedback on that. As time went on they started making it a bit less intrusive, but it is still there.
The Home Page is salted with advertising icon/links. For example:
Then there is the bottom section of the Left Icon Bar, with more ads. Icons with color, to catch your attention.
The Ribbon interface for transactions (which I haven’t talked about, more on that in another article) seems to be a new venue for this kind of thing (note, this could change as the product rolls out, I think). For example, see this icon in the Estimate ribbon?
Click that and you are taken to the Intuit App Center page for an app by Mavenlink.
This is going to generate a LOT of discussion. You are going to see people who say “I hate it”, some who will like it, some who will wonder what all the hullaballoo is all about. It is different, and that alone will create complaints.
Overall, I applaud Intuit for working on making the user interface more uniform, for trying to bring out features that were hidden and make them more accessible. That is something they really needed to do.
I’m concerned about the screen resolution issue for those with smaller monitors. There are a number of clever features that help to minimize this, but many people will have issues there.
Navigation changes may be problematic for some people. Smaller scrollbar buttons, moving things around from where we are used to them, making SOME activities take more mouse clicks than before, all are the kinds of things that may drive you crazy.
Personally, my biggest problem is the lack of color (such as the icons), the poor contrast for many labels and icons. That may be just me, as I get older I find these soft grays harder to deal with. Visual acuity is a major concern to many QuickBooks users. A long time ago I wrote an article titled “Relief for Tired QuickBooks Eyes” where I talk about a hack that you can use to enlarge many of the fonts inside the QuickBooks user interface. That is one of the most popular articles that I’ve written, if you look at the comments. Anything that makes it harder to see your information is a drawback.
The more I use the program the more comfortable I get with the changes. I’m hoping that early revisions will do some fine tuning to resolve the remaining issues.