Navigating the warren of your local utility bill is enough to make anyone purple-faced and apoplectic. In fact, as you try to wind your way through the labyrinth of charges and itemizations, it’s surely occurred to you that perhaps these bills are designed to obfuscate, to bury charges you shouldn’t have to pay.
This is not the kind of cynicism that Illinois-based electric company ComEd was eager to generate. And the truth is, the more confusing the bill, the more likely it is to be disputed, the less likely it is to be paid. So, from not only an image perspective, but a practical, financial one as well, the company realized their bills needed better design. They decided to give that power to the people–who knows better, after all, than civilians who regularly decipher the bills?–and teamed up with Crowdspring.
The big question for the crowdsourced design site: How do you build an electricity bill for the 21st century?
“This billing statement is the single most impactful communication we have with every customer, and yet almost no thought had gone into how to ensure that this communication was effective and useful,” says Val Jensen, ComEd’s senior vice president of customer operations. “Our customers told us that it’s not easy to find basic information, such as the statement’s due date and exact amount due.”
What muddling forces were at work here? In ComEd’s case, it was that the average bill might contain charges from numerous different parties, with ComEd as the middleman. “We operate in a state with retail electricity competition,” Jensen explains. “It was not easy for our customers to understand which charges were ours–for electricity delivery–and which were for the electricity they were buying from competitive retail suppliers.”
So ComEd surveyed customers, asking them to identify elements of their bill they found confusing, useless, important, or straightforward. Then Crowdspring approached the company. “We saw their service as an ideal way to solve the design problem and to give us a much more interesting taste of the creativity that could be applied to something like an electric bill,” Jensen tells Co.Design. “This was completely new territory for us, and as much as anything, we were curious to see how the process could work.”
The company hasn’t yet decided on their new bill design, but the three finalists are probably the easiest-to-read electricity bills you’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s fair to say that they’re all more like infographics than the line-item reckonings of old. Featuring simple pie and bar chart breakdowns, the redesigns make it abundantly clear exactly how much you’re paying for delivery versus services, what your usage has been over the past 13 months, and, of course, when your bill is due.
“This crowdsourcing project was, for us, a risk that we believe will pay dividends in the form of better service for our customers and an increased willingness to explore other unconventional solutions,” says Jensen, who hopes the redesign process “is a demonstration to customers that we’re willing to go beyond what they’d expect from their 100-year-old electric company.”
ComEd will be deciding on a winning bill design soon, but no matter which they go with, customers will be better off than they were before. The new statement will debut in the first quarter of 2014.