Redesigning documents

“H i, I’m Michael Murphy, I’m the Product Director here at Aventus.”

Buy any insurance policy and typically your reward is a hundred-page PDF policy document (that is, if the insurer doesn’t insist on sending it through the post). As you open it on your phone you find the text is illegibly small, and zooming hardly makes it better as you now have to scroll across the page to read each sentence.

All you really wanted to do was check the list of exclusions in the contents section, but the table of contents isn’t clickable, so you’re left trying to scroll through hundreds of paragraphs of text, some of which don’t even seem to apply to you because they refer to an add-on you didn’t purchase. Now you start to remember why you dislike buying insurance!

This experience was painfully familiar for us and when we launched Homelyfe we knew we wanted to do things better. What if we could create documents that were responsive to the screen you were viewing them on, and allowed more sophisticated interactions to aid navigation?

Insurers rely on PDFs because the layout is predictable and they work the same across devices. However they are designed mainly for printing and not for use on a screen (disclaimer: I don’t own a printer), and we wanted our documents to look different on different devices. In terms of finding your way around, PDFs do allow basic hyperlinking within the document but that’s about it. It was clear we needed to try something different.

Building documents as web pages

Web technologies offers responsive reading experiences and powerful scripting to add functionality, so they were a natural choice for our documents. Creating a consistent style is also easier than traditional Word or PDF documents.



Resizing the browser window makes the document reflow within the available space. Columns also become stacked to make better use of the space.

We added a navigation menu too so customers could quickly move between sections. You can access this wherever you are in the document, rather than having to scroll back to a table of contents at the top.



The document has a persistent navigation menu that allows users to easily move between different sections of the document.

Editing and maintaining documents

There are benefits to our approach for underwriters too. Web-based documents encourage separation of the content from the way it looks, which means behind the scenes our documents are stored as plain text. This makes it extremely easy to track changes from one version of a document to the next and allows underwriters to concentrate on content and not margins or branding.

Having a more modular approach can also influence the way documents are written in the first place. Powerful templating features means that sections of wording can be added or removed based on information about the customer and their quote. This means customers only have to read information relevant to them.

Room for improvement

Our document engine has a number of great features for customers and clients:

  • Responsive design across desktop and mobile
  • Interactive navigation to easily jump between sections
  • Change-tracking features to see who changed what, and when it was changed
  • Versioning support
  • Branding and style templates shared across documents
  • Powerful templating tools to build documents based on risk and customer information
  • PDF option for email

Documents aren’t usually worth getting excited about, but in our case we just can’t help ourselves! We’re looking forward to seeing how these changes improve life for our customers and the industry. Please get in touch if you have feedback or would like to know more.

Michael Murphy

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