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Good bill/cheque design: Reliance Energy

Posted by Avadhut on 30 October 2008

I had never known that bills could look this good. Reliance has really scored a big one this time. It may seem trivial to a lot of people, but phone and electricity bills, at least in India, are in a dire need of some major overhauling. They are stupendously cryptic, and even knowing how much you have to pay and by when is a task requiring substantial digging-through-the-text. It is almost as if these utilities companies are trying to obfuscate our own information from us.

Take for example the MTNL bill, it is divided into numerous sections, lots of details, even the amount to pay is printed in red. And despite the plethora of numbers/sections it contains, most of the information printed does not make any sense to a layman—forget “the bill as a value add.”

The Vodafone bill does come close to being slightly more than useful. The language has a friendly tone, there are helpful visual cues all over the place, and I just love the cute little graphics all over the bill—it makes it seem like Vodafone is saying “Here’s your bill; we hope you like us enough to pay us” as opposed to “Oye! The bill’s here. Pay up.”

I thought that is as far as one could go with a bill. But then, today I saw the Reliance Bill stuck on my refrigerator. And, I think this is the only time I’d say this about a bill, it looked gorgeous. It made me—who usually just prefers to pay bills online—stand up, take notice, and actually blog about it.

It served on so many levels:
1. Told me who the bill is for.
2. What the amount is.
3. Told me what period was the bill for.
4. Gave me additional information about my electricity usage.

And all this without even flipping the first page. I mean, almost all bills take care of #1 and #2. But not in a manner that Reliance does. Take a look:

This is the first page. Flipping it over displays the more detailed conservatively-styled bill.

This is the first page. Flipping it over displays the more detailed conservatively-styled bill.

And #3 is something that most bills confuse me with. With their start periods and end periods and bill cycles. I pay bills on a monthly basis, and therefore I’d like to know which “month” the bill is for, not which “billing cycle.”

And what can I say about #4:

Detailed usage over past months.

Detailed usage over past months.

This is just good ole’ “Ha ha! Don’t act like your are not impressed.” I mean, my past usage as a small bar graph. Who’d have thought about it. This small section alone more helpful than MTNL’s entire bill.

It is all so well laid out, and epitomises the word “quick.” Almost the perfect bill for a city with barely enough time.

If we go ahead and deconstruct the bill, though, several things can be used for developing billing information screens for Web apps:

1. The font: Extremely important in setting the tone of the bill. I’d strongly recommend a san/semi-san serif font.
2. The language: Friendly. Informal yet professional. Helpful and approachable.
3. Layout: Clean. Uncluttered. One of the most important things here, which most designers overlook, is line-spacing.
4. Information: In stead of printing several sections on the same page, design a bill as “layers” that can be “peeled” off. The first layer could present the most basic information regarding the amount, due date, etc. Peeling off the first layer could present an itemized bill, and so on. This will also make your bill extremely interactive.

And lastly, deliver what your service promises even through your bill. Don’t let poor billing hamper an otherwise customer-friendly offering.

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Posted in Bill/cheque design, Social media, System design, Visual sick | 1 Comment »