Today is a rant ‘n rave: bill statements. I’m talking credit card bills, mortgage statements, cell phone, utility bills … all of them! They get harder and harder to read. And, it’s not just me getting older.
Account numbers, the ones you copy onto your check, used to be trouble free. They were at the top of your bill and were large. They were reinforced by an obvious priority of visual information; your account number was close to the date, billing period and amount due. It was easy to find. The number was shorter then (alas, we need bigger numbers now), and they had spaces or dashes. Bill statements and the information you wanted were user friendly.
Today the hierarchy of information on a bill, the layout and the color scheme seem designed not to make the bill “better” and “easier” but rather more difficult and confusing, making it hard to determine what the charges are and why. Contrast is often soft, fonts are tiny, pages are smaller, critical information is squeezed out by promotions and disclaimers, and, the long account numbers are without spaces or dashes, “Are there three or four one’s in a row? Is that a number eight or a letter B?”
The graphic designers of these bills are either college flunkies or geniuses. Here’s a comparison: I was at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School for seven days learning an enormous amount of primitive survival skills. Information was being poured into my head 7:00AM till 11:00PM every day – I was sure that most would be forgotten. Uh-un, nope; it all stayed in my noggin. Then, a week later I was negotiating price and lease terms at a car dealership for a few hours. Nothing stayed in my head and everything was soon a jumble. How did one environment enhance my memory and another diminish it? Design.
Design always plays a role in your ability to function. This is a predominant concern of universal design. These bill designers aren’t college flunkies, they’re geniuses. The problem is that their genius is being used to numb you out not help you out. A business doesn’t want you to really digest your bill and understand it. You might just ask what all those little charges are! The bill is intentionally designed to get you to pay it, not consider it. If you are an online bill payer, you are statistically paying even less attention to the details of your bill than one who still gets a paper, snail-mail bill.
Where’s our knight in shining armor? How about you, Chuck Schumer? You fought for credit card reforms that make it harder for the companies to separate us from our money – how about getting bill statements to be universally designed?