Welcome to part 2 of our comparison series between Freshbooks, Xero and Quickbooks. Feel free to view Part 1: The Criteria. Now on to Design.
Design didn’t use to be an important factor in choosing accounting software.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, accounting software companies were attempting to replace paper functions by piling on feature after feature to their product offering. They did a fantastic job, and most legacy software applications have the upper hand in a feature by feature comparison with their newer cloud counterparts.
Fast forward to today. Design, interface, and ease of use is a vital component in evaluating accounting software. Users expect to have an intuitive interface as well as an and eye-catching design.
So let’s take a look at how our three cloud accounting software for small business apps compare in design, interface, and ease of use.
Freshbooks design approach is based on a set of tabs across the top of the screen. Tabbed design is very common among cloud applications, and allows the user to reach most any menu in two clicks. One feature unique to Freshbooks is sub tabs located directly under the main tabs. This allows for easier access to those menus without having to click on the master tabs multiple times.
Freshbooks features a standard dashboard that gives its users general visuals of project status, invoices, and expenses. Nothing very fancy here or visually appealing in my opinion, but some helpful information none the less.
With the tabbed design along the top, more room is available below. As menus are selected by the user, the particular data is displayed below. Freshbooks offers a lot of intuitive uses of screens in their software. For example, use your mouse and hover over invoices and it will bring up a useful menu to copy, edit or send the invoice.
Clicking on blue highlighted text will allow the user to “click through” and see the underlying transaction (invoice, expense, project etc.).
Advanced settings for Freshbooks is in the top right corner of the browser. The advanced settings area is a little too apparent for my liking, as you won’t use them very often. Maybe they think keeping a lot of buttons up there makes the software more intuitive to use.
Freshbooks has done a great job with their design. However, it is starting to look a little outdated compared to newer cloud apps coming out, but it’s still easy to use, intuitive, and easy to navigate.
Xero uses the tabbed style interface along the top of the screen similar to Freshbooks. All menus are accessible by clicking on the tabs. Xero has done a great job updating their interface, in particular, to be touch sensitive. Xero has released several updates over the last year to enlarge certain buttons and fields on the screen to make it easier to use on a tablet or other mobile devices.
Xero features a standard dashboard that gives general visuals of significant accounts, and outstanding or overdue sales and payable invoices. Since accounting is more core to Xero than Freshbooks, the bank accounts containing the expense coding and reconciliation screens are very apparent along the left hand side of the screen. Xero has pretty standard dashboard visuals, and I don’t find myself looking at them much as I usually drill down into the numbers to see what’s really going on.
There are hundreds of screens to present data in this accounting system, which is beyond the scope of this review, so I decided to choose one screen to give you a feel for the layout and design of the system. Xero uses large sleek looking buttons, and also uses the sub tab design similar to what I mentioned above in Freshbooks.
Xero has a dedicated tab for settings, as well as a couple other buttons on the top right of the screen that you might miss if you don’t look carefully.
Additional Design Features
Xero also includes one additional design feature in the top left corner that I particularly like. If you click your company name you will see a drop down menu that allows you to switch between companies. This makes it super easy to manage multiple company accounts, should you have that need.
A design review of Xero would be incomplete without evaluating the reconciliation screen. This is unique to Xero and makes it easy for small business owners to classify transactions while reconciling their books. The screen shows bank information on the left, with Xero’s information on the right. When your transactions match, you click “OK”, and your transaction is categorized and reconciled at the same time. This is a great time saving feature!
Xero has invested a lot into their design and in keeping it updated. When the design of an accounting platform is as beautiful and intuitive as this, it makes me enjoy my experience much more. Xero looks beautiful, clean, appealing, and it’s optimized for touch.
Quickbooks has been innovating a lot as of late in order to keep up with the newer cloud accounting apps, and their newest interface has been tweaked even more. They part from both Xero and Freshbooks by using a sidebar menu instead of the top bar tabs. This sets Quickbooks apart from the other two, and is similar to the desktop version. Personally, I prefer the top bar because I’m used to menus being there, and not on the side. However, from a design perspective, I think the sidebar actually looks cleaner than the tabbed top.
The Quickbooks dashboard looks great. The charts and graphs on the Quickbooks dashboard are superior in design than both Xero and Freshbooks. This design reminds me of Mint’s beautiful graphs and charts. (Note: Numbers are blotted out since I don’t have a demo account)
Quickbooks presents accounting transactions and data in a similar fashion to both Xero and Freshbooks. There are sub tabs and summary information at the top, and the data is displayed in a table down below. It’s a bit difficult to see the design since I had to blot out the data, but you can see the sub-tabs and the table information clearly. Some items are clickable like the payments, invoices, and checks.
In my opinion, Quickbooks uses a Xero-esque setting area (I say this because Xero designed their site before Quickbooks came out with their design). The company settings are in the top center and right, and use icons to display much of the settings area so that it looks clean. You can click on the gear and it quickly brings up a list of things to do.
Additional Design Features
Quickbooks has a few unique features that Freshbooks and Xero don’t have that I think are quite useful and look great. The top bar has a “+” and search symbol that allows the user to create a transaction with only two quick clicks, or to search for a transaction with only one click. These buttons are always “on top” so that you can click them no matter what screen you are on.
Quickbooks has released a good looking product to compete with the startup cloud companies Freshbooks and Xero. It’s modern in design, and packs a few extra tweaks the new kids on the block don’t have yet.
Conclusion On Design: Freshbooks vs Xero vs Quickbooks
Just to recap, I have evaluated Freshbooks, Xero, and Quickbooks based on four design elements. I will not declare an overall winner for design, as I think that oversimplifies my opinion, so, I will declare a winner for each criteria I evaluated.
- Main Content & Navigation
- Data Presentation
- Advanced Settings
- Other Relevant Design Features
Of the features evaluated above, I will point out what I think is uniqely good about the winner. Here we go…
Main Content & Navigation Winner: Tie with a Nudge to Quickbooks & Xero
Quickbooks gets a nudge here for having a cleaner design and buttons that look more modern. Xero gets a nudge for having larger buttons and updating their system for touch devices.
Dashboard Winner: Quickbooks
Quickbooks has beautiful graphs and data presentation on the dashboard that are more appealing than Xero or Freshbooks.
Data Presentation Winner: Tie
None of the systems depart from each other very much in how data is presented. It’s all clickable, and in a table format.
Advanced Settings Winner: Tie with Nudge to Xero
Xero gets a nudge here because they led the way in designing their advanced settings and making it easier to get to and understand. Otherwise, there isn’t much to differentiate between the systems. Quickbooks and Freshbooks have similar looks and navigation.
Other Relevant Design Features Winner: Xero
The navigation and design of easy access to multiple company management, plus the unique reconciliation screen set Xero apart from a design perspective. Quickbooks comes in at a close second with global search (not available in Xero or Freshbooks) and the add transaction button.
That’s it for this design review.
Stay tuned for our next comparison between the platforms, as we will comparing the automation feature set of Quickbooks, Xero and Freshbooks.
Also, feel free to review the rest of the series:
- Part 1: The Criteria
- Part 3: Automation
- Part 4: Eco-system (add-ons & apps)
- Part 5: Reconciliation & expenses
- Part 6: Invoicing & payments
- Part 7: Collaboration (Coming Soon)
- Part 8: Reporting (Coming Soon)