Paperless billing – out of sight, out of mind

I’m Sophy, a content designer at CoopDigital. My team builds digital products that test our core proposition, that Co-op is an organisation that people can trust with their personal data. My job, in collaboration with design, development and user research, is to come up with the words that appear in those products. We’re currently working on Paperfree, a mobile app that helps people get on top of their paperwork. In the last couple of weeks we’ve uncovered a new, unmet, user need.

Most of the companies that sell us necessities like water, gas and television offer paperless billing in some form or another. These companies email us from time to time, urging us to log on and take a look at our latest bill. But how many of us actually do this?

It’s easy to lose track; paying by standing order and opting for paperless billing means that bills just get paid, out of sight and out of mind. Which can be good – you’re no longer knee-deep in paper. But you’re out of touch with your spending and the information you need is buried behind many different login screens. Oh, and companies tend to delete bills that are more than a year old.

As part of our user research on Paperfree, we spoke to people who are very good at being paperless. By doing things like regularly downloading utility bills from their online accounts, they are in control – not just of their documents, such as bills and statements, but also of the information in those documents. They can track their spending over a longer periods of time and make better decisions about their finances.

It’s worthwhile, but hard work. And arguably not much of an improvement on getting paper copies of bills in the post.

We immediately recognised a problem, and an opportunity to fix it. Our group of people with advanced paperless skills go to a lot of effort to understand their long-term spending behaviour. Other people will log on and take a look at their bills when prompted. But they are looking at this information in isolation, without the bigger picture of their spending across different suppliers and sectors. And a lot of us simply don’t bother at all.

So we’ve started trying to solve this problem. We’re still working to our core purpose around trust and personal data, but with a new focus.

This is how it we think it could work: you enter the login details for your (for example) water supplier billing website within the app. The app then logs in to your account for you and downloads all your old bills. We also want it to automatically go and get any new bills as they come in. Repeat this process for all your other suppliers, and you have something that takes care of downloading your bills for you so that you can see them all in one place. You’re more likely to engage with your bills. You don’t have to keep logging in to lots of different accounts. You decide when you want to delete your old bills, rather than having this decision made for you.

Image of the Paperless Team

In the last few days we’ve built a rough prototype that we can test on real people.  As a team we’re used to not getting attached to things – working in the pioneering end of product development at Co-op, we know that this idea may not see the light of day – and that’s OK. We work quickly and cheaply, so if a concept doesn’t take hold, we can move onto solving the next problem without tears.

For now, however, we’re very excited by this new focus. It complements the work we’ve done on Paperfree so far, and supports our core purpose (proving that Co-op can be trusted with personal data). It’s also really easy to explain – a good indicator of it being useful. We’ve set ourselves the goal of releasing a simple version in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we’d like to hear about your experiences of paperless billing sites – share your thoughts in the comments.

Sophy Colbert

Why content design matters at Co-op

Hello, I’m Joanne, a new Content Designer at Co-op. I’m one of 3 new content designers who’ve recently joined CoopDigital’s design team. The team has a range of experience and skills from user research to interaction design. We’ve been recruited from both within and outside Co-op to build transformational, user-focused digital services.

Content design might be new to you. So, here’s what it is, how it’ll change what we put on Co-op’s website and why it’s essential for the future of the business.

Content designers Joanne Schofield, Fiona Linton-Forrest & Sophie Colbert
Content designers Joanne Schofield, Fiona Linton-Forrest & Sophie Colbert

What is content design?

Content design isn’t just writing and editing words.

Content design is discovering why someone has come to our website or web page – what they came to do, find out, order – then exploring the quickest, easiest, simplest way to allow them to do that.

Content design gives essential content only at the point that it’s relevant and through the most effective channel. That means we must understand the whole service – all the steps the user goes through to get their task done – to determine the most effective place to give the user information.

So, content designers will ask ‘why?’. A lot.

Why we need to design content

The internet has given customers power. Expectations are raised. People expect online services to be easy and straight-forward. If we don’t serve customers well, we’ll disappoint them, frustrate them, lose their trust, and consequently their business.The future of Co-op relies on knowing our users and making services that will make their lives simpler.

It’s impossible to have good services without good content design. Getting information to people when they need it, how they need it and in a way that they understand, is critical. Content is the service.

So, we research our services with real users. We’re building services that we’re proud of, that are revolutionary, but more importantly, are built with the user at the centre.

Words get in the way

Users interact with web content in a different way to print. They’re impatient. They’re usually on a mobile device and time-poor. So they skim-read, looking for headings and links that will help them get to where they need to be. 75% of each web page isn’t read. We need to edit content to a bare minimum and get out of the way, so the user can get where they need, fast.

Web content should only exist if we know that there’s a need for it to be there. People generally don’t want to spend much time on a company’s website. They usually know why they’re there and what they want to do. We need to make this easy. If we can’t explain what content is helping our users do, it shouldn’t be on our site.

And all content should be meaningful, written using words we know our users use and understand. This might not be what we call things internally. Each word is competing for our users attention – we need to make each one count.

Designing for all

We can’t control who views our website. We can’t assume any prior knowledge of the subject we write about, the user’s web experience or their personal circumstance.

By writing in a consistently clear, simple, honest way we open up our services to all. The average reading age in the UK is 9 years old, and many users have English as a second language. We should write in a clear way, get rid of jargon and service-specific terminology, be friendly but to the point. We shouldn’t be afraid to be obvious. If we’re not we’ll create a barrier between us and our users. And they’ll go elsewhere.

Designing with empathy

Each user comes to our site with their own story, situation, insecurities and struggles. What we think may be a simple field in a form could have emotional triggers for our users. What if someone is asked to enter their ‘home address’ and they’re homeless or in a safe house? Insensitivity can not just lose customers, but can upset and offend.

Regular user research with a diverse range of users will help us design empathetic services for everyone. And nothing underpins Co-op’s values more so than inclusive, honest, transparent design that puts users at the heart of the business and in control of Co-op services and products.

Joanne Schofield