Mind-numbing and hard to read, receipts are more often than not just a piece of non-recyclable paper that we toss out as soon as we get home. But buried in those lines of non-hierarchical text is a wealth of information that could help us get a handle on our spending—if we could make better sense of it.
Susie Lu, a senior data visualization engineer at Netflix who also pens a great comic, has redesigned the ubiquitous receipt to help shoppers reach insights about their spending. “I was compelled to think of ways that data visualization could be used to redesign everyday experiences,” Lu told Fast Company. “Of the use cases I had brainstormed, the receipt was the idea I was most excited to play with first.”
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The result is divided into two sections: On top, a bubble chart bunches spending by category, while the itemized list below includes a bar chart letting you know how expensive an item was in relation to other items from the same category. “I found it [most] useful to understand by category how I spent my money,” said Lu. “I would be interested in seeing this over multiple grocery trips to see how the trend changed week over week.
Lu used a thermal printer to create the prototype but ran into some issues. For example, the printer couldn’t print horizontal lines so she had to resort to “visual tricks at the pixel level,” as Fast Company points out.
Further iterations might incorporate more information, like best-by dates, an estimated carbon footprint for each item (especially useful in keeping that beef habit in check, as one Twitter comment aptly pointed out), or a QR code that lets shoppers view the data on their smartphone. Having access to this kind of information digitally might make the most sense, especially given the limitations of the printing process. Although, do we really want to be generating even more data than we already are?