Sapling Energy

Bringing your utility bill into the 21st century with real time reporting, savings, and account management 🚀

Overview

Sapling Energy is a new utility company dedicated to their customers. After realizing that they could offer a service that no other utility company does and set themselves apart, we got to work developing an intuitive app for customers to use and save.

Role & Duration

Lead Product Designer


User Research, Journey Mapping, Sketching, Wireframing, Screen Flows, Product Design


October 2018 – November 2018

The Problem

Nearly everyone has a monthly utility bill. Whether it be gas, sewer, or electricity, people are in dire need of an accessible way to track this large expense and learn ways to keep money in their pocket. Most utility companies have portals or apps, but for the vast majority, they are clunky and virtually useless.

The Sapling Solution

Sapling Energy, through technology and transparency, is dedicated to bringing a level of service to their customers to keep them informed and save them money.

REPORTING

Real-time reporting allows users to track consumption and form a deeper understanding of their utility bill.

SAVINGS

Sapling offers in person or remote advice for homeowners to understand their bill and ways they can save even more.

CONTROL

A simple interface grants users the ability to control their account, pay bills, and see / report outages in their area.

What does the current technology look like?

I recently took over utility payments and was disappointed with the lack of intuitiveness and design aesthetic found in my providers app. It lacks both the interaction and information I crave. The data is limited, and I can never get a good sense of exactly how my bill is broken down. One particular point of annoyance is when my paperless billing notification arrives in my inbox. After being redirected to the app, I’m presented with a pixelated PDF version of my utility bill. I can hardly read the minimal data and I’m often left wondering what I’m paying for. I became curious as to how other companies size up against my provider’s.

After searching the web for the top utility companies in the United States, I found three that had apps that I could take a look at. After looking through them all, I was disappointed to find that although these companies are considered the best of the best, they similarly lacked the same quality when it came to a consumer-facing product. None of the apps were user friendly and almost seemed as though they were just websites placed in the App Store. Poor design partnered with a clunky interface is sure to result in a large number of dissatisfied customers.

Exelon

National Grid

Southern Company

The First Steps

My first actions when starting a project like this, is to draw, write, and create without a screen or filter. This is done in an effort to think through the project as a whole rapidly and and get as many ideas out as I can. Whether they are feasible or make any sense at all, I find value in them all. I usually do this in several sessions and then start to organize and piece together a basic flow based off of my initial thoughts. More often than not, this exercise ends up with concepts that act as the foundation for how the product will be built.

BRAINSTORMING

ORGANIZING

The Building Blocks

This basic information architecture allowed me to lay the foundation for the coming steps. When building this, I kept two key thoughts in mind. First, it has to be easy to comprehend and navigate. If this is overcomplicated, it has the potential to lead to a confusing interface. However, it also must have enough information to be beneficial. Striking that balance is key. Second, the IA has to be easily scalable. It has to be easy to add new features to the app during design, build, testing, and after its release.

The Build

The Design System

Having a predefined design system when beginning to build out a product is extremely important. Whether you're creating one from scratch, or using one that is already built, it acts as the single source of truth when it comes to rules, constraints and principles. Further and without question, a system ties every bit of the product together.

Mobile Optimized

Equally as important is to understand the device that I'll be designing this app for - the iPhone X. Having a guide to ensure end-user usability was key. Here's a guide that I built to display the margins of my screen.

Log In & Sign Up

Integral to any account management app, is a seamless log in & sign up experience. This is the first piece of content that users see. Therefore, this may be one of the most important experiences that goes into a design. The first point of interaction should be one that sparks delight while allowing the user to accomplish a task with ease.

When designing these screens, I wanted to make sure that both the Log In and Sign Up were quick. At this point in the flow, I didn’t want users to have to verify account information or sync accounts. This may result is significant drop-off and I Instead decided they can do that after they get access to the platform.

With that thought in mind, I included Face ID so that users could further improve their lo in speed without even having to press any buttons.

Finally, because the app has the potential to contain bank, credit card, and other sensitive information, I included a SMS verification in an effort to add another layer of protection for users. In iOS 12 Apple introduced feature called Security Code AutoFill (shown on screen), which further improves access speed.

This functionality easily integrates for iPhone users and allows the ability to verify with one click.

Home

The home section is command central for users. In this tab, users can look at in-depth and real-time reporting to understand their utility bill in the greatest detail possible. The top section is their most recent bill, which they have the ability to pay by selecting it.

The second section is a utility breakdown. This take the bill at the top and presents to the user each component, the cost, and the percent change from the previous month. When selecting one of them, it takes them to a reporting page. Here they can take an even closer look at data to understand how their current bill correlates to usage and compares to different time period options.

Below the Utility breakdown there’s a section for new utilities that Sapling has introduced. This allows users to stay up to date with market trends and find new ways to save money each month.

The “About your utilities” section provides the user with a written explanation detailing how their bill is calculated as well as access guides and talk with experts. Both help users learn ways to conserve energy resulting in saved dollars.

Alerts

Emergencies are unfortunately a given in the utility industry. However, we’re trying to combat the frustration customers feel by providing accurate, detailed, and real-time information on all types of emergencies. The main Alert screen boldly displays a current outage (if there is one) for the user to access. Gone are the days of receiving text or worse, recorded phone messages. Users are able to access this portal and real the most recent updates on emergencies that are impacting their service. By selecting the “See Map” option, users can see exactly where the issue is occurring so they can be aware, while ensuring they stay safe distance away.

The bold “Report” button gives users the ability to submit emergencies or disturbances they are having with their service. Then they can track their requests but like they can see the recent updates on Screen 1.

One other great feature included is the share option. Users can share optimized alerts to those who need to stay on top of emergencies, no matter if they have access to the app or not. Safety and awareness are Sapling’s #1 priorities.

Menu

While these screens aren’t nearly as flashy as the one’s pictured above, this is where users can find complete control for a tailored experience. None of the apps I had researched gave users the ability to customize their experience like this. I think that this was a huge piece missing and most likely contributed to the outdated feel of the tested apps.