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FileMaker Pro Design Tips
Pages: 1, 2

Mix and Match

Some UI elements can be created within FMP, but often they look crappy. Learn techniques (I'll cover these later) so you can mix and match elements from inside and outside FMP and keep the file size down.



I find that I typically use about 50/50, larger items coming from FMP and smaller icon-based elements coming from LiveMotion.

Themes

Be sure that once you define a graphical theme for your solution, you carry that across all of your files. Consistency is the key to user comfort.

Streamline Tasks

The reason we have wizards is because users often feel daunted by large screens with numerous fields and buttons. You don't want to overwhelm a user, so think of splitting some tasks into steps. However, try to keep steps within a few screens or layouts. You don't want the tasks to be tedious. I try to keep my tasks to three steps or less.

An example might be in building a list. I often use a series of three screens to help users build a list. One involves a menu of what type of list (this selects the right layout), the next helps them select the data, and the third helps them use that data (print, email, view, etc.).

Keep a Core Solution

I often find that I develop solutions for different clients with similar needs. I hate to reprogram everything from scratch, so I keep a simple set of solutions that I can quickly customize for a client. This saves me a lot of development time and decreases my turnaround time for projects.

Automate, Automate, Automate

Users don't want to mess with toggling status areas and windows. Provide as much automation for simple and complex tasks as possible, but organize that automation. You don't want to litter a screen with 500 buttons. I'll cover some of these techniques in the future.

Peace of Mind

Build in safety nets. I find most users forget things or make simple mistakes, so performing certain scripted tasks, without dialogue, makes for forehead-whacking moments. I think the biggest of these is printing errors between the current record and records being browsed. All you need is a user sending 5,000 pages to a printer, when they only wanted one.

Another safety net is a global "Home" button. Sometimes, early in development or with new users, you have an issue where someone gets lost in the database and needs to get back to some place they recognize. I create a global field with a Home button that can take the user to a familiar location.

One of my favorite safety nets comes in the form of preventative modification and deleting records. You don't want to give deletion and modification power to just anyone.

Let's talk about deletion. We all know when a record is gone ... well, it's gone. Even if you back up records, you can't possibly track hundreds of thousands of records going back months and months. I never give anyone "god" power in my solutions ... and this is for their own good. I build a deletion script/button that allows a record to be marked as deleted and moved to an invisible/hidden database, or the "scrub" database. This database keeps all "deleted" records with their deletion dates and who the user was. Then an administrator can go through and restore any record from this file with the click of a button.

O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference.

When it comes to modification, you know that once you modify a record and commit it, that's it. Even I have accidentally erased fields and changed data. I'll go into how I prevent these mistakes in another article.

Lastly, a global field with a "Bug Report/Help" button is valuable. I have two support buttons, one for reporting bugs/feature requests/support, and another which links my Instant Messenger to a "Helpline" button. This gives my client a "red phone" for those 911 moments. Plus, as a business measure, it gives me an added stream of revenue for providing this level of live support.

The night before Thanksgiving last year, a 911 moment occurred. Thanks to my support button and VPN, I was able to ensure an entire office of people were able to get out and off to their families. I don't have a family ... I'm a developer.

Enjoy!

I'll be going into more detail on some of these topics in the future, but in the meantime I wanted to share a few files with you. The first file is a collection of buttons and other UI elements you can use in your solutions. They are LiveMotion files, so if you don't have the program, go over to Adobe and download the demo. You can play with them in LiveMotion, or you have 30 days to move them to your program of choice.

The second file is a collection of demos within FMP. I've built a run-only version (for those without FMP) and an open version that is unlocked and free to use anyway you like.

Alan Graham is the creator of the Best of Blogs book series and is a frequent writer on the O'Reilly Network.


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