If you live here in the states, chances are your electricity bill has not been significantly redesigned in more than 20 years. Which would be fine if the thing were easy to read in the first place. But, well, see for yourself. Here is a Chicago ComEd bill in 1988. And here it is in 2011:
It nearly makes the butterfly ballot look like an Ed Tufte creation. The Chicago startup Power2Switch, a free service that helps people comparison-shop for electricity suppliers, has developed a slick new electricity bill aimed at empowering consumers to make smart choices about their electricity usage, which, in turn, can save them money. "We get customers who get in touch with us to find electricity suppliers or new tariffs and the first question they ask is, ‘Can you explain my bill to me please?'" Power2Switch’s Seyi Fabode tells Co.Design. "When we explain to them what the line items are and which parts they can impact, the decision to take action becomes pretty simple to make. If people know better, through an easy-to-understand bill, they will do better."
The new look, by freelance designer Kaila Dunn, uses color, charts, and typographic variation to emphasize the bill’s most important information (how much you owe, your monthly usage); de-emphasize the stuff that has to be there, but you don’t really care about (metering info); and highlight new pieces of information your existing bill probably doesn’t include, but should.
Notably, a donut chart reveals where your electricity comes from and how much it costs, including taxes. Why that matters: Thanks to deregulation in states from Texas to Illinois, many consumers now choose their own electricity suppliers. This can be a confusing process: Have you secured as much alternative energy as you wanted, and at a good price? How do you know if you’ve made the right decision? Power2Switch is designed to help you compare options (though it should be noted that it is a for-profit venture; electricity suppliers pay Power2Switch a monthly commission for the life of a new customer’s contract). The bill then provides a crisp visual of your choice.
Here, Fabode takes us through the refreshed bill’s key features:
"Current bills are white and black," he says. "There are no color combinations to draw attention to the important parts. We went with red for the 'need to know’ elements of the bill."
"The elements of a bill are different and we felt the need to visually express this," he says. "Supply can be obtained from anyone (in deregulated states) hence the choice of yellow (a softer color). Customers cannot do anything about distribution and taxes (hence blue and gray)."
"Pictures are remembered better than words so we went with a few icons and charts," he says. "The pie chart was the easiest to understand data visualization model from our customer feedback sessions."
It’s What You Don’t Say
"The rest of the information is mandated to be on the page," he says, "but most people don’t really care or want to know [about it]." That’s why they rendered meter number, read date, load type, and other details in smaller type. It’s there if you need it, but won’t draw your eye away from more pressing information.
Power2Switch hopes to incorporate the new design into its service at the end of the summer. "The plan is to make the bills interactive on our site and accessible to customers," Fabode says. "Our belief is that as customers start to understand their energy usage, and its impact on their pockets and the environment, customers will start to take more responsibility for their actions. An educated customer base is required for the energy industry to be run sustainably."
[Top Image: foray/Shutterstock, Inline Images: Power2Switch]