Invoice Design: Typography, Color, and Format

Invoice Design Tips

In our previous post on invoice design, we examined “the moment” when creative agencies hand over the invoice to their clients. That piece of paper or, more likely, downloadable e-mail attachment, is more than a business transaction. When clients choose to hire a creative agency they are agreeing to a collaborative process. Often, clients work closely with the project managers to provide insight into the process.

When all is said and done, when a project is finished, crafted, and curated, an invoice appears. To ensure prompt delivery and no hurt feelings, the best way to present this invoice is by following the 3 D’s of invoice design: design, device, and delivery.

As a creative professional, your craft is your income. Why not, then, use craft when asking for your income? In this article we explore invoice design more deeply. At Bric we are dedicated to improving the creative professional process. We believe creative invoice design takes your business to a new level of professional care, so we came up with a few tools to get you started.

What a doldrum invoice design says about your creative agency

Blank piece of paper. Name and contact information at the top. Services listed below. Price at the bottom. Here you go.

As creatives we are all guilty of those kind of invoices. When you pour your imagination into a project, you end up feeling pretty exhausted. Sometimes, you just want it to be over. You type up a quick invoice and send it, the only wish on your mind being “please, just pay me on time.”

It’s the same feeling a college student gets at the end of the fifth draft of a research paper. She’s read it over, she’s rearranged her ideas again and again, she’s gone for peer review, and it’s time to turn it in. But she still has to do the works cited page. And is there anyone who enjoys typing works cited pages? Absolutely not.

Time tracking and invoicing are the works cited pages of the creative world. They are “boring” to most people with creative tendencies, but they are necessary, even mandatory, to back up your work. You need to invest in great invoice design!

Imagine if the college student put an equal amount of effort into her works cited page. Then, the entire paper, from the title page to the last annotation, would be a rounded reflection of her work ethic.

In the professional world you need your entire project process to be a rounded reflection of your work ethic, particularly because you’re being paid by someone who may or may not choose to hire you again.

Think of your invoices as beautiful thank you cards that make your client feel appreciated for choosing your agency above the others in town.  And I’m talking about a fancy, like $6 thank you card from Stumptown Printers. Not just some piece of construction paper folded in half.

The “please, just pay me” mentality is counterintuitive and not representative of a creative. Clients are more likely to pay you on time if your invoice design is aestheticly inviting, positive, and pleasing. A plain invoice may be shoved to the side, but if the client feels cared for with a nice invoice they are more likely to care for you. AKA give you money.

Starting from the price and working out

The design of an invoice must be simple. There is one thing that you must communicate when you send an invoice, the number. The bill. The what you owe me.

Your design should start with the balance due and work out. Think of the end goal of your invoice as decreasing the time it takes them to pay you. If you hide the number in exuberant color and graphics, they’re going to feel frustrated. If you present the number boldly and clearly, they are more likely to a) remember what they owe you and b) have positive associations with your work.

The other parts of the invoice, like the list of deliverables, the prices per unit, the contact information and legal information, those are all key aspects of the design that must be present but should not be more bold than the balance due. Seen, referenced, but not heard.

As you play and experiment with the arrangement of these facts on your invoice, there are three things to keep in mind: typography, color, and format.

Typography: that’s a dead art, right?

Typography is dead? Yes and no. Twenty years ago when you walked into an ad agency you’d meet a couple full-time typographers. They’d sit at their drawing tables, designing fonts, or setting letters in a press. This doesn’t happen anymore. We have automated fonts and spacing on our computers. We are all unpaid typographers. So in that sense it’s kind of dead. But it’s still an important part of design, particularly for invoicing. Typography is “the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed.” People still win awards for beautiful type design, as you can see here

Essentially, typography is word and number conscious design. In typography, color and formatting are secondary. They are compliments to the text, only in place to make the text stand out more, not to draw attention on their own.

The balance due, remember, is the most important piece of information on the invoice. The balance due is a number set in type. Designing an invoice with a typography-centered mindset allows you focus on fonts and spacing that brings out the balance due in a bold, but not aggressive fashion. Clear but not overbearing. Positive but still firm.

Here is a quick lesson on type sizing summarized from practicaltypography.com.

Most people use 12 pt. font without question for one of two reasons: it’s required by their company or its the default font and their computer and therefore a mindless decision.

Sizes work differently with different fonts. Times New Roman at 12 pt. appears bigger than Arno in 12 pt. This allows you to play with different sizes. Don’t be afraid of varying fonts on a single page. Experimenting with font sizing will actually work to your advantage as you attempt to highlight the balance due. Compared to using bold or italics to highlight certain parts of the invoice, font size adjustments are more subtle. Since you’re not trying to shout at your client to pay you, this may be a good thing.

Here are some pictures of well balanced invoice design for the visual learners: 

invoice-17

Remember how the balance due is the most important part of invoice design? Epic, a Belgian add agency, nailed it. They experimented with font sizing and color play to bring the balance due to the forefront.

invoice-10

Pascale Dufour also experimented with color. In these designs, the eye is immediately drawn to the balance due. The blue and orange contrast each enough to make the price stand out, but not too much to seem aggressive. The memos maintain a friendly tone. Well done, Dufour.

invoice-4

Rich Sullivan‘s invoice template is straight forward, professional, and bold. He plays with font size well here, understanding that the list of services is important but not what the client needs to see first. The touch of red is subtle and tasteful.

Sense-conscious coloring

Color may be an accent to the type on the invoice, but it is still crucial to choose colors with care. The wrong color can create the wrong resonance with your clients. Be it from years of ad soliciting embedded in our brains or perhaps Freudian-esque subconscious proclivities, different colors make us feel different things.

Here’s a short list of interesting color facts that may save you from poor design choices in your invoice:

  • It seems to be almost universal that red translates to feelings of anger, dominance and aggression. It’s also the color your elementary school teachers graded your papers with, so just avoid deep reds of pre-pubescent anxiety.
  • There have been studies on buttons too. More specifically, what color buttons will get more clicks on websites. They’ve discovered that orange buttons get more clicks than blues and greens. The subtle attention getting qualities of orange may translate well for your invoices. Remember, at the end of the day you are trying to inspire action and embrace what others have learned before you.
  • Color symbolism, or the meaning of color relative to different cultures, is something that should be kept in mind when choosing colors for invoices. Yellow, for instance, is associated with mourning in Egypt, but is usually associated with happiness and sunshine in Western cultures. This may require you to be more conscious by taking into consideration the audience of your invoices.

This is the point where you may think all this invoice design sounds nice, but just in theory. Who has time to research type and color, then sit down and set up templates?

How to complete your formatting: interns and the Internet

Who has time? Interns and the Internet. Don’t feel like this needs to be the burden of one employee. Your interns may enjoy a creative project instead of paperwork for a change. Or, use the Internet to research and download templates that make your life easier, such as the softwares listed here. However, your employees may also see this design challenge as a break from their other projects.

Once you’ve stockpiled 15-20 of these invoices, make sure you and your staff make them your own. Don’t make the mistake, however, of saving the templates in one software. Make sure you have several copies saved in:

  • Excel
  • PDF
  • Word
  • Photoshop
  • InDesign
  • Etc.

Be flexible and make sure you can bill your client in a way they prefer. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot when you want to use a template but your client can’t open in. Be proactive with this project.

Investing in well crafted invoices is an investment in your business. By caring about every step of your business, you ensure clients get the whole package: not just a research paper with a sloppy bibliography, but a beautiful project with a professional thank you card attached.

If you do care, show you care, and get paid!