A Revamped Phone Bill That You Can Read . . . On Your Phone

How helpful is the typical phone bill? Not very. So one design firm took data mining into its own hands.


Bills, like taxes, make us all feel stupid. We get the basic premise, but before we know it, there are countless line items and asterisks, fees we don’t understand but are still going to pay. So our logic is defeated, and we quickly cut checks and just get back to our normal, sensical lives.


“We find [bills] highly frustrating, especially when we know that the service providers probably use this data–that we, as users, helped produce–to better sell their products,” User Studio founding partner Matthieu Savary tells Co.Design. “We think it might be fair to get a bit back as well.”

So they started an R&D project called Refact. Much like will suck in spending reports to break down your expenses, Refact is a prototype that can import a phone bill PDF and spit out useful, actionable information, like total number of calls, average time on calls, and those out-of-contract calls that often unexpectedly crush our wallets.

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“Clearly Mint is super neatly designed. No question about it. Though we think it still has a ‘graphs and charts,’ slightly technical feel to it,” Savary writes. “Data viz, and interaction with data can be so much more. So on the design side of things, we’ve really focused on highly sophisticated aesthetics and interactions.”

For User Studio, it’s not enough of a goal to be clear. Rather, there’s a certain level of friendliness and accessibility that they’re trying to bring to the bill space, too. In Refact, the most-called numbers become shakeable bubbles falling from the sky, the longest calls are transformed into bars you can touch. It’s an important point that Refact’s prototype is working across platforms, because they’re leveraging touch screens and accelerometers to make data more interactive. Plus, Refact becomes your bill however you want it–and for most of us, that means a phone bill on a phone screen, rather than a phone bill in our email or, worse still, snail mailbox.

As of today, Refact is an ongoing R&D project, being scaled to other topics before being commercialized as a product. But the potential is clear. Refact’s next task is tackling the energy bill.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach