According to Simon’s (1977) decision making theory, intelligence is the first and most important phase in the decision making process. With the escalation of information resources available to business executives, it is becoming imperative to explore the potential and challenges of using agent-based systems to support the intelligence phase of decision-making. This research examines UK executives’ perceptions of using agent-based support systems and the criteria for design and development of their ‘‘ideal’’ intelligent software agents. The study adopted an inductive approach using focus groups to generate a preliminary set of design criteria of ‘‘ideal’’ agents. It then followed a deductive approach using semi-structured interviews to validate and enhance the criteria. This qualitative research has generated unique insights into executives’ perceptions of the design and use of agent-based support systems. The systematic content analysis of qualitative data led to the proposal and validation of design criteria at three levels. The findings revealed the most desirable criteria for agent based support systems from the end users’ point view. The design criteria can be used not only to guide intelligent agent system design but also system evaluation.