All posts by Mark Scott

Fun with FileMaker Button Bars, Part 3: Tips for Designing Great Icons

Fun with Button Bars header image - detail of magnifying glass

In Part 1 (“Check Please,”) and Part 2 (“Expert Panel,”) of this series, we had some fun doing things with button bars that showed off some of their unique usefulness within the FileMaker design-layer toolbox. Often as not, your button bars are going to include icon labels, with or without a supporting text label, and you want those icons to look great.

In button bars, you want a consistent visual weight across all the segments, and in both button bars and standalone buttons, you want icons that look crisp on both high-resolution (“Retina”) and standard-resolution displays. This article will help you achieve both of these goals.

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Fun with FileMaker Button Bars, Part 2: Expert Panel

customer info button tab selected with customer name occupation and employer fields
expert panel; image composite by lon cook

Fun with Button Bars, Part 2: Expert Panel

Have you ever had a FileMaker design conundrum for which you wished you could convene an Expert Panel to help guide you? If you’re thinking "panel of experts," I can’t help you, but if you’re looking for a more flexible and visually engaging alternative to FileMaker Tab Panels, this combination of a slide-panel control and a button bar just might be your "Expert Panel."

Here’s the Expert Panel.fmp12 example file. Use this to explore Expert Panel examples, scripts, and functions described below.

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Performance Optimizations Make Compelling Case for FileMaker 15 Upgrade

rapid mass transit; photo by Lon Cook
rapid mass transit; photo by Lon Cook
Small Gains: Big Impact

In the transit-planning universe, planners and economists often get excited about 5 minutes shaved off of a 30-minute bus ride. The individual rider might shrug at a mere 50 minutes saved per week, but the planners and economists multiply that 50 minutes by the number of people who ride that route during a typical week and see something much bigger. There’s a compounding effect: it doesn’t take long before these small gains in efficiency add up to a huge economic impact overall.

What’s this have to do with FileMaker, you ask? Well, the new FileMaker 15 is now available, and the inevitable question comes up “should we upgrade?” Sometimes the best discoveries when a new version of FileMaker hits the shelves are the “sleeper” features and under-the-hood improvements. In the most extreme cases, these go entirely undocumented by FileMaker Inc.; such is the case with the improvements in portal performance that accompany the FileMaker 15 release.

Portals being a very important part of the FileMaker user interface, anything affecting their performance, good or bad, is going to have a major impact on the user’s experience. Users of a database application often spend large chunks of their workday in the application, so, like that 5 minutes shaved off the bus ride, small efficiencies add up through the same compounding effect. And, as you’ll see, this one is a “big” small efficiency!

No, I’m not talking here about the new, threaded portal rendering (aka “inline portal progress bar”) that is a key public feature point for FileMaker 15; I’m talking raw performance optimization. So impressive is this optimization, in fact, that I never even saw the new inline progress bar during my testing!

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Fun with FileMaker Button Bars: Check Please

Fun with Button Bars, The Series

In recent years, design, has become such an important aspect of what we do; luckily FileMaker has responded with a much improved design surface. With themes and styles, conditional visibility, SVG icon support, and new layout objects, we can now use design and color to communicate with users in ways not previously possible (see, for example, the “Priorities” example in the accompanying demo file).

When I first saw the button bar demoed, I was a bit underwhelmed. It’s not that it didn’t look potentially useful to have a new layout object type that keeps a group of buttons permanently joined at the hip, but that’s about all I thought it did. Once I got my hands on them, however, I discovered the nuances that make button bars far more than just a permanent grouping of individual buttons. This series will explore some surprising uses for which they’re particularly well-suited. In the end, you’ll not only see how you can improve your users’ “user experience” (UX), but, by letting your design communicate effectively, possibly even their efficiency.

So, let’s get started learning some ways button bars can provide a better user experience in your solutions.

Part 1: Check Please

Boolean fields: 1/True or 0/False the only allowed values. So fundamental are these to the relational model that Chris Date, one of the model’s founders, has called Boolean fields the only data type explicitly required by the model (1).

Mail-Taxes

What’s not so simple, however, is how we handle these yes-no fields on our FileMaker layouts. If you’re like me, you’ve probably long created a special value list with only the single value “1,” placed a single-item checkbox “set” on the layout, endeavored to carefully hide the value, and lined up the label right next to it. It works, if perhaps a bit inelegantly. (FileMaker’s native checkbox-set control is really designed to display value lists for multi-valued fields; in many cases those are better handled by a one-to-many relationship anyway.)

Check Please provides a modern alternative: a simple, transferable layout object, styled just as you like, and without the limitations of Checkbox Set controls. There are no value lists required, no technique-specific custom functions to copy into your files, and only a single script.

Using a button bar offers several advantages:

  • It allows you to control the exact appearance of your checkboxes; the accompanying file shows both PNG and SVG icon examples and discusses the pros and cons of each.
  • It allows the full label to be clicked to toggle the state, a standard behavior users have come to expect.
  • It obviates the need for a single-item “Boolean True” value list.

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