Lost in Layout Space: Getting to Know FileMaker 17’s Layout Mode

Way back when FileMaker 14 was released, as developers we were treated to the new-and-improved script workspace, adding all kinds of features from line breaks to auto-complete/type-ahead coding. To any of us who spend most of our day working in FileMaker, the response was sheer joy.

For all of its speed, flexibility, and ease-of-use, sometimes our favorite platform is missing some of those “standard”, quality-of-life features you would expect. For a long time, Layout mode has been lacking a few key features you would normally expect to see in a modern design application. With FileMaker 17, we get much closer to bridging that gap, receiving a whole bunch of handy, time-saving features along the way. Let’s dive in and take a look.

Goodbye "FileMaker Pro"

While not strictly an issue in Layout mode, it is worth noting that FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Pro Advanced are now one product under the FileMaker Pro Advanced moniker. If you are a long time user of FMP Advanced, be sure to enable the advanced tools to give you access to all of the features you are accustomed to. You can do that under FileMaker Pro Advanced → Preferences, then checking the “Use advanced tools” box:

use advanced tools - checkbox

One Window to Rule Them All

For anybody who has used a design application like the Adobe Creative Suite products, the idea of docked palettes is not a new one. FileMaker has adopted this behavior and permanently adhered the Field Picker, Object Palette, and the standard Inspector to the left and right of our layout. I know for me, this saves time managing the various floating palettes (which previously always found a way to be floating exactly where I needed to be working).

One window for layout

On Your Left…

The Field Picker and Object Palette can be found on the left side of Layout mode, with tabs on the top to switch between the two. They function much the same as before, but, since they are tabbed, they take up less space. Another benefit is that since you will no longer be closing the Object Palette to conserve screen real estate, the object-level hiding capabilities there are much more consistent and useful.

One notable change is that the width of the palette is resizable, allowing for longer field names to be visible in the Field Picker interface. Also, you can now select the control style of a field being dragged onto the layout (in addition to the placement and label options from previous versions).

Layout - left palette

With the Object Palette now more universally visible to us, it is also worth mentioning the powerful filtering capabilities that this tool gives us. You can filter objects on your layout by type, or use the Search box to simultaneously search field names, object names, or strings within text objects.

And On The Right…

The standard Inspector palette now lives nestled on the right side of the window.

Layout - right palette

Up Top…

Some minor changes to the Status Toolbar have happened as well. On the left, we have lost the ability to click through the layouts in the solution the way you click through records in browse mode.

Status Toolbar left side in FileMaker 17

For those of you who will miss this feature, fear not, there is a way around this. First, you can customize the toolbar to bring back your favorite slider/button interface:

Customize Toolbar menu item

Also, the menu command for Next/Previous Layout still exists:

menu for Next and Previous layouts

Control + Up/Down Arrow will still allow you to cycle through your layouts. If this shortcut doesn’t work for you, check that you don’t have this keyboard combination bound to something else in the OS by going to System Preferences → Keyboard → Shortcuts.

Also in the Status Toolbar is the ability to hide the palettes as needed:

right Status Toolbar hide palettes

A Click Too Far

The Button Setup dialog has seen a minor improvement as well. Prior to 17, when assigning a Script Parameter to a button, it was a two-click process to see if the button was passing values to its associated script, and three-clicks to edit the values. With the new Layout mode, the parameter is now visible in the button setup dialog, saving us a click. While this may not seem like much, I’m sure you’ll notice and appreciate it the next time you are adding distinct parameters to a 12-segment button bar.

Button Setup

Get Your Grouping On

Grouping of objects has long been a helpful way to keep your layout organized. The problem with the implementation of groups in FileMaker was always that you had to ungroup the objects to make any real changes. When the object toolbar was added in FileMaker 16, we got the ability to change some appearance attributes and conditional formatting of an object while it was still grouped, but that was about it.

Now you can edit a grouped object in place. To do it, simply click on your group, then click again on the object you want to edit. The boundary of the group will change to a dashed line to indicate that you are working inside the group.

grouping example

Change Is Hard

If you really can’t stand the thought of losing your floating Inspector palette, you can always hide the right palette and add a “New Inspector” from the menus, just like in previous versions of FileMaker.

add Inspector palette

Bonus: Get Faster In Layout Mode with Shortcuts

Now that the various tool palettes are docked to your window, you should be spending even less time clicking and dragging around your screen. If you aren’t already, you can optimize your time even more by taking advantage of the Layout mode keyboard shortcuts to get you where you need to go even faster. This is not a comprehensive list, but here are some of the shortcuts that I have found to be most helpful. A full list can be found under the “Mode Keyboard Shortcuts” section of the FileMaker Help website:


Show/Hide Field Picker Tab: ⌘ + K

Show/Hide Object Palette Tab: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + T

Show/Hide Inspector Palette: ⌘ + I

Move to the Position Tab in Inspector: ⌘ + 1

Move to the Styles Tab in Inspector: ⌘ + 2

Move to the Appearance Tab in Inspector: ⌘ + 3

Move to the Data Tab in Inspector: ⌘ + 4

Cycle/Navigate Layouts: ⌃ (Control) + Up/Down Arrows

Group Objects: ⌘ + R

Un-Group Objects: ⌘ + Shift + R

Lock Objects: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + L

Un-Lock Objects: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + Shift + L

Align Left Edges: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + Left Arrow

Align Right Edges: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + Right Arrow

Align Top Edges: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + Up Arrow

Align Bottom Edges: ⌘ + ⌥ (Option) + Down Arrow

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