FileMaker Pro Interface design

Over the time I’ve been a developer with Linear Blue I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of different styles of design. Some good, some bad, some very ugly. The trend in FileMaker Pro interfaces has vastly changed over the years, moving from multicoloured and uncoordinated patchwork layouts to fairly sophisticated and simple layout design. However, on a large basis the system’s I’ve seen are behind the curve of a UI/UX for users in developed solutions for off the shelf products.

There are several issues with design for most people. The first is the creativity to actually make something unique, which makes your interface stand out, the second however is getting caught in a cycle of doing the exact same things over and over. Typically, at least from my experience, developers and amateur designers get caught in a system of using their own work as a tool for inspiration which leads to the same layout and design in slightly different colours. This leads to a lack of innovation, which hits every area of development at some point, but seems to be quiet prevalent with most FileMaker Pro developers. This is where we at Linear Blue have an advantage that most developers don’t have. Working in a space where you can bounce ideas and designs off each other and see how others are working allows us to take some of the best ideas from each other and adapt and transform them in other systems that we develop.

One of the things that comes into play for interface design as a whole are the new features that FileMaker introduces into each new update. Popovers and Slide panels where a large step forward in how an interface gets laid out. However, there is an ethos among some developers that portrays not wanting to change the way they work. This is an important step to take. Taking the plunge and trying a new way of doing things is at the core of innovation. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but will make your development stand out more than others. Take for instance the old trick of hiding tab panels so you can switch between the two of them. This is an old version of slide panels, but even though slide panels now exist in FileMaker I’ve still seen systems where a developer has gone that route instead of trying the new things that FileMaker 13 brought us, in the form of slide panels.

The big issue, though, for all contracting developers wanting to integrate design, is going to be budget. This is a personal bugbear of mine and unfortunately means that, however much you want to make your system look as good as possible, tends towards functionality rather than the user experience. A client wants their system to be as good as possible, and that includes a workable and as enjoyable an experience as possible while in a system. Not having to click around vast amounts of areas, search for something because it’s not immediately obvious when you need it or wear sunglasses because the colours you’ve chosen are so vivid it’s impossible to work on because it’s so distracting.

A lot of the goods and bads of UI/UX design are really common sense. Don’t make your system hard to look at, for example, or make it easy to navigate etc. But what should really be added to this is to put some effort into thinking about what it’s going to look like. What colour schemes are going to work the best? How can you make yours unique from systems you did 5 years ago? What if I moved the navigation from being a single button to a popover, giving me a dropdown menu? Lots of little tricks and niceties can change what was a very mundane system into something that’s very interactive and good for the user. The best systems can incorporate incredible innovation with minimal impact on a user. Here’s one for some to try and figure out:

Typically when a client wants notes in a system it’s simply a case of putting in a table and portal with relationships to create records and some buttons to delete or edit data. One innovation to try is using HTML and CSS in a web viewer to interact with your table and to allow you to create flexible note space. Usually our fields are restricted to how much space we give them, but with HTML we can give it however much space it needs, something we’ve already done in one of our systems and I’ll go into detail about how in another blog. So until next time, this is something to keep you busy. A nice change to a usually standard/boring interface, to something that’s nicer to use from a user perspective.

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