Sentimental Minions

The theatricalities of the humble bookmark

Archive for October, 2008

Good bill/cheque design: Reliance Energy

Posted by Avadhut on 30 October 2008

I had never known that bills could look this good. Reliance has really scored a big one this time. It may seem trivial to a lot of people, but phone and electricity bills, at least in India, are in a dire need of some major overhauling. They are stupendously cryptic, and even knowing how much you have to pay and by when is a task requiring substantial digging-through-the-text. It is almost as if these utilities companies are trying to obfuscate our own information from us.

Take for example the MTNL bill, it is divided into numerous sections, lots of details, even the amount to pay is printed in red. And despite the plethora of numbers/sections it contains, most of the information printed does not make any sense to a layman—forget “the bill as a value add.”

The Vodafone bill does come close to being slightly more than useful. The language has a friendly tone, there are helpful visual cues all over the place, and I just love the cute little graphics all over the bill—it makes it seem like Vodafone is saying “Here’s your bill; we hope you like us enough to pay us” as opposed to “Oye! The bill’s here. Pay up.”

I thought that is as far as one could go with a bill. But then, today I saw the Reliance Bill stuck on my refrigerator. And, I think this is the only time I’d say this about a bill, it looked gorgeous. It made me—who usually just prefers to pay bills online—stand up, take notice, and actually blog about it.

It served on so many levels:
1. Told me who the bill is for.
2. What the amount is.
3. Told me what period was the bill for.
4. Gave me additional information about my electricity usage.

And all this without even flipping the first page. I mean, almost all bills take care of #1 and #2. But not in a manner that Reliance does. Take a look:

This is the first page. Flipping it over displays the more detailed conservatively-styled bill.

This is the first page. Flipping it over displays the more detailed conservatively-styled bill.

And #3 is something that most bills confuse me with. With their start periods and end periods and bill cycles. I pay bills on a monthly basis, and therefore I’d like to know which “month” the bill is for, not which “billing cycle.”

And what can I say about #4:

Detailed usage over past months.

Detailed usage over past months.

This is just good ole’ “Ha ha! Don’t act like your are not impressed.” I mean, my past usage as a small bar graph. Who’d have thought about it. This small section alone more helpful than MTNL’s entire bill.

It is all so well laid out, and epitomises the word “quick.” Almost the perfect bill for a city with barely enough time.

If we go ahead and deconstruct the bill, though, several things can be used for developing billing information screens for Web apps:

1. The font: Extremely important in setting the tone of the bill. I’d strongly recommend a san/semi-san serif font.
2. The language: Friendly. Informal yet professional. Helpful and approachable.
3. Layout: Clean. Uncluttered. One of the most important things here, which most designers overlook, is line-spacing.
4. Information: In stead of printing several sections on the same page, design a bill as “layers” that can be “peeled” off. The first layer could present the most basic information regarding the amount, due date, etc. Peeling off the first layer could present an itemized bill, and so on. This will also make your bill extremely interactive.

And lastly, deliver what your service promises even through your bill. Don’t let poor billing hamper an otherwise customer-friendly offering.

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Posted in Bill/cheque design, Social media, System design, Visual sick | 1 Comment »

Four cellos and Metal

Posted by Avadhut on 28 October 2008

So different. So much more different than anything I have heard before:

Song: I don’t care
Artist: Apocalyptica feat. Toryn Green of Fuel
At: Live X 99

Posted in Apocalyptica, Cello metal music, Toryn Green, Unplugged goodness | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Weapons of choice: ZendCore, etc.

Posted by Avadhut on 1 October 2008

Most of my development happens in Drupal, PHP, jQuery, MySQL, PostGreSQL, and all good things associated. Until recently, I used to swear by separate PHP and Apache installations. But managing updates for everything involved—Apache, PHP, jQuery, Drupal—separately had become a real bitch: the innumerable backups, migrations, and restorations.

So when Drupal 6 was released, I was thrilled with the new Update module. And it was time I found a server-PHP stack that could support production-scale deployments. Enter ZendCore. The installer not only allows you to use Zend’s own PHP (with FastCGI) and Apache Web Server (ZendCoreApache) but also plays nice with your existing installations. Buy a subscription with Zend, and they will take care of updating Apache and PHP for you too. It also allows you to download and install database servers of your choice—MySQL, DB2, etc.

ZendCore also comes bundled with Zend Framework, which provides an extremely good set of PHP functionalities. I have only gotten as far as Lucene search, but things look very promising.

Drupal runs like a peach on this stack, which is most important for me at the moment, and it supports my other custom Web-apps developed using the Zend framework.

I am almost tempted to shell out on ZendPlatform, which is an enormously feature-rich Web-app server. It handles PHP, Java, and HTTP monitoring, supports session clustering (yummy!), and comes with a really cool Download Server that frees up Apache of monotonous tasks involving huge downloads so that it can handle some of the more serious stuff.

However, I still could not get myself to switch to Zend Studio. Or maybe I just refuse to let go of my beloved Komodo IDE. What? What was that? Dreamweaver? Who? The one that pisses memory all over the place? Yeah I dumped it with DotNetNuke. 😛

The worst excuse I have heard anyone give me for still sticking to Dreamweaver is the Code/Design view. Please, it is a joke. Any standards-aware Web designer will tell you that. It still gloats about its Table layout like it were the 90s. Besides, how long does it take to write a line of CSS, alt+tab your way to your browser, and press F5? Also, what’s with the no-Linux-option? Not even a binary? What is taking Adobe so long? Hurry the fuck up. And don’t even get me started with the abyssmal FTP editing. I have actually shut my PC mid-day and gone home coz’ of it. Free FTP programs have no issues handling huge files. Then why does it have to be such a task for a $500 software to do it? If my server supports long sessions, then so should Dreamweaver. To top it all off, it is way overpriced. Did you see the CS3 release—not only is it godforsakenly bloated (it was consuming 20% CPU just idling), it also expects me to pay Adobe almost three times more than what it would charge my American friends.

The thing I like the most about Zend is that none of the components are prone to lock-ins. Use whichever tool you want, it will still behave with the etiquette expected out of good-natured software. Want to use ZendCore’s PHP with your own Apache deployment? It’s OK. ZendCore won’t hold any grudges. Some other people do need to take a lesson from here. Can you hear me Microsoft? Just because I use Exchange does not mean that I would want to use Office Communication Server. Let me connect to other software!

So, the list would proceed as follows:

  • Webserver-PHP stack: ZendCore
  • PHP frameworks: Zend Framework, Drupal (I use it as one :))
  • Javascript: jQuery, Prototype
  • IDE: Komodo
  • Database server: MySQL, MSSQL, PostGreSQL
  • Mail server: Apache James
  • OS: Does it even matter?

Posted in Drupal, Foo, System design, Zend, ZendCore-Drupal | Leave a Comment »