As you will see, not even Apple does not fully consider this problem: Invoices from all sorts of parties have to be managed, paid and stored one way or another. As it turns out, Apple’s invoices are named very badly. But not just Apple’s invoices, many many invoices from a lot of companies and freelancers.
For anyone who must handle these invoices at some point, not being able to distinguish them is indeed a huge pain.
Experience designers like to pride themselves with that they take on a full-circle, end-to-end approach to (user-centered) experience design. I do agree that most designers I have worked with do understand and care about very nuanced aspects a users’ experience or journey.
The point after which apparently any product or service experience that anyone has ever designed falls flat on its face is this: Sending out an invoice, or receiving them. You will soon see why!
This might sound like a tiny issue at first glance but ask your office managers or accountant.
“What happens when I send my/our invoice to the client?”
For some reason, whether developer or designer - and that perspective comes from direct experience - seems to ever think about the “What happens when I send my/our invoice to the client”? Well, someone has to gather these invoices one way or another - and at most firms that’s mostly a manual process. Even if you company forwards all invoices to the accountant, they have to figure which one is which.
If you get a whole bunch of invoices per month, it will get tricky for you or certainly your accountant to differentiate invoice file from invoice file as shown on the image below.
Can you tell which invoice is from whom?
We, as any other company, receive a whole bunch of PDF invoices per month. In fact, many invoice we have to download from some online portal. It is certainly not a surprise and I assume that you can wholeheartedly agree that across all invoices there is barely any consistency in the naming syntax.
This is totally understandable but a real, real pain for anyone who works in accounting or book keeping, either on the receiving end at a company or at external accounting companies.
I recently got an invoice from a designer that was named, well,
invoice.pdf. No joke. It does not get much better from here though. Even bigger companies do not care much more. Typical naming conventions that are being used:
invoice %number%.pdf, %number%, invoice-%number%-%date%.pdf.
Some invoices we received from Apple in the past:
It’s an accountant’s daily routine!
Giving the file a date is actually a great improvement. Of course, it ain’t sufficient.
Here is what may happen: I open the email, review the invoices’ details and save it locally in a folder with a bunch of other invoices so that someone else or myself can process that invoice later. Now, when the time comes to pay that invoice, the person in charge will select each invoice in that collection folder to figure which invoice is from what sender. This is not much fun. You may now argue that I should store that invoice in a folder and just maintain that email. Well, we have tried but if you are not working as a sole proprietor, that process does not really work either, for other reasons.
Fun fact #1: Not many designers do care or think about it either (proven by the invoices we have received in the past)
Fun fact #2: Even the company with a market cap of $800+ billion does not care much, Apple. Their invoices have the format %number%.pdf. Sad to see that Apple neither does consider the end-to-end experience.
Bigger companies that get a massive amount of invoices have a different process than smaller companies, of course. They have built their own solutions e.g. scan paper invoices automatically when they arrive and process the data further until the actual payment is made. Perhaps they simply hand it out to accounting companies and that’s it for them.
What can we do in the here and now to make the lives easier of all those accountants, office managers and entrepreneurs that cannot pay a finance guy or gal do to the job? Well, be more empathetic and elaborate when preparing your final invoice. A first step to improve and smoothen the invoice/payment workflow is to name your invoice properly: date, number, from whom, to whom One can also use online tools to manage outgoing invoices because those tools usually name the invoices in a more elaborate way.
It may be weird at first to name your invoices after you but believe me, it will conjure a smile into the face of your client’s accountant.
And it shows empathy!
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