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How much art to put into database?

P: n/a
A recent change in the user interface of one of the tech forums I
frequent prompted furious debates in the areas of functionality versus
look'n'feel of professional applications. This has made me wonder:
how much "decor" should I put into my database? I'd like to see what
the general opinion is.

I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos, for
example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end bloating,
and should be avoided on forms unless specifically requested for, and
used judiciously in reports where necessary. What about text fonts /
styles and form colour? What about adding colour rectangles like the
ones on the Access default switchboard? Drop shadows behind text
labels by using a black copy of the label? Where do you draw the line
between visual "features" that increase usabitlity and ones that are
just eye candy?

I hope I'm not wasting your valuable time posting this. I just want
to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Alan
Nov 12 '05 #1
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11 Replies


P: n/a
I think this is an important topic, and not because of the "bloating".
With PCs having 2 Gb or RAM and 250 Gb HDs, bloating is not a major
issue anymore, I think. However I am convinced that reducing user
fatique and increasing the ease of use of the software are key factors
to successful database design because DBs are kind of applications
people spend hours at a time using.
I did searches on software ergonomics and the subject is quite
contraversial. It seems to still remain largely a matter of personal
preference, with real research facts not easily available. Therefore for
my own humble purposes I try to follow the color schemes that are known
to induce certain mental states: light pastel palette, green for main
form background - green relaxes the eyes and calms the user down. Blue
on search screens - it increases attention level. Yellow label
backgrounds, not form backgrounds - for Attention! kind of messages; I
avoid red and use it only for text face color for Attention messages.
Small logos make the user feel that their company is important and thair
software is really custom, but I keep omitting them for no good reason -
bad boy, I will give them a refund :-) I avoid switchboards at all costs
after observing several frustrated users trying to navigate through 2
levels of switchboards to get to useful forms. We see nothing like
switchboards in any other software - I almost never see a need for them
in my DBs, there are tab controls that can serve the same purpose and
are far more intuitive to the users.
I am ABSOLUTELY NOT saying this is the best way of doing things but I
insist that people making tools for other people must think of the users
fatique and tools ergonomics. You notice that pliers have handles on the
same side, not on the opposite, although that would work too. I think we
must follow the ergonomic design rules, too.
I notice that I can work 10 hrs in a row using Mac OS9. My eyes get
tired in 2 hrs at the PC. Is it due to the fact that Apple is (perhaps,
was) the only major company who had software ergonomics engineers on
staff? I don't know for sure but it may very well be.

Pavel

"Andante.in.Blue" wrote:

A recent change in the user interface of one of the tech forums I
frequent prompted furious debates in the areas of functionality versus
look'n'feel of professional applications. This has made me wonder:
how much "decor" should I put into my database? I'd like to see what
the general opinion is.

I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos, for
example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end bloating,
and should be avoided on forms unless specifically requested for, and
used judiciously in reports where necessary. What about text fonts /
styles and form colour? What about adding colour rectangles like the
ones on the Access default switchboard? Drop shadows behind text
labels by using a black copy of the label? Where do you draw the line
between visual "features" that increase usabitlity and ones that are
just eye candy?

I hope I'm not wasting your valuable time posting this. I just want
to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Alan

Nov 12 '05 #2

P: n/a
IMHO: Less is more!

P
"Andante.in.Blue" <05********@sneakemail.com> wrote in message
news:bc**************************@posting.google.c om...
A recent change in the user interface of one of the tech forums I
frequent prompted furious debates in the areas of functionality versus
look'n'feel of professional applications. This has made me wonder:
how much "decor" should I put into my database? I'd like to see what
the general opinion is.

I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos, for
example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end bloating,
and should be avoided on forms unless specifically requested for, and
used judiciously in reports where necessary. What about text fonts /
styles and form colour? What about adding colour rectangles like the
ones on the Access default switchboard? Drop shadows behind text
labels by using a black copy of the label? Where do you draw the line
between visual "features" that increase usabitlity and ones that are
just eye candy?

I hope I'm not wasting your valuable time posting this. I just want
to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Alan

Nov 12 '05 #3

P: n/a
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in message news:<bc**************************@posting.google. com>...
....This has made me wonder:
how much "decor" should I put into my database? I'd like to see what
the general opinion is.
Okay - here is my 2 cents worth. I know there are a number of views
expressed on "interface design" / "usabililty" if you search back too.

....What about text fonts / styles and form colour? What about adding colour rectangles like the
ones on the Access default switchboard? Drop shadows behind text
labels by using a black copy of the label? Where do you draw the line
between visual "features" that increase usabitlity and ones that are
just eye candy?
My general rule is that plain is better. IMHO <puts on flame proof
suit> use Windows standards. Just because you CAN colour the
background of a list view fluorescent green does not mean it should
be.

You can get information on MS standards from books like "Microsoft
Windows User Experience" (now a bit old I think) or similar. See for
example:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...92617?v=glance

For an entertaining and sometimes radical view on user interfaces in
general, I find Alan Cooper great value. See for example:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...92617?v=glance
I hope I'm not wasting your valuable time posting this. I just want
to hear your thoughts on the issue.


In my view, this is a VERY important issue. I think most of us will
have seen some awful UI messes and asking this question is the
beginning of distinguishing yourself from developers who "don't know
what they don't know" when it comes to interface design.

Best wishes
Stuart
Nov 12 '05 #4

P: n/a
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in message news:<bc**************************@posting.google. com>...
A recent change in the user interface of one of the tech forums I
frequent prompted furious debates in the areas of functionality versus
look'n'feel of professional applications. This has made me wonder:
how much "decor" should I put into my database? I'd like to see what
the general opinion is.

I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos, for
example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end bloating,
and should be avoided on forms unless specifically requested for, and
used judiciously in reports where necessary. What about text fonts /
styles and form colour? What about adding colour rectangles like the
ones on the Access default switchboard? Drop shadows behind text
labels by using a black copy of the label? Where do you draw the line
between visual "features" that increase usabitlity and ones that are
just eye candy?

I hope I'm not wasting your valuable time posting this. I just want
to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Alan


Depends on the end user, like many things.

I work in a testing laboratory, and I have a dozen or so individual
databases that have test results fed into them by various users. Over
half of these users are not very computer savvy, so I make the user
forms as simple as possible. The only place I put a graphic is on the
Switchboard form, so the user can quickly see which database is open.

The forms have various background colors (again, to aid the user in
knowing which form they're working on), but the fonts are all
cookie-cutter. If the background's dark, the text is yellow, and if
the background's light, the text is black. Definitely a case of
K.I.S.S. in my case.

I think the most adventurous I got was when the user wanted a "needle"
pointing to how acidic/base a liquid was, after calculating the pH
value. Since the test colors go from pink to yellow to blue, I made a
gradient strip of colors so the needle pointed to a spot on the
pseudo-rainbow strip.

Now, mine is probably an extreme case, but my users usually have only
two requests: Making a new form for a new task, or simplifying data
entry (with the addition of drop-down boxes and such). Personally, I
don't use a database program with pictures on the forms/reports except
where the pictures are photos of test specimens (and therefore, part
of the actual data).

Dennis
Nov 12 '05 #5

P: n/a
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in
<bc**************************@posting.google.com >:
I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos,
for example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end
bloating, and should be avoided on forms unless specifically
requested for, and used judiciously in reports where necessary.
What about text fonts / styles and form colour? What about adding
colour rectangles like the ones on the Access default switchboard?
Drop shadows behind text labels by using a black copy of the
label? Where do you draw the line between visual "features" that
increase usabitlity and ones that are just eye candy?


I generally restrict the "art" to the opening screen, either a
plain splash screen, or a main menu form with a graphic. Often I'll
have buttons on a transparent tab control so that I can re-use the
same screen real-estate for all the command buttons for the main
menu. This URL includes some representative samples of mine:

http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc/Splash/

Some of those are from old apps that were started with the
Switchboard wizard. Most of them do not use it, though.

Within the application, I mostly use standard Windows system
colors, so that the forms look like Windows dialogs. I also never
use anything in the way of fonts or colored fonts, except whatever
my standard font is. In general, for A97 I've used MS Sans Serif
for everything, but occasionally with Verdana used for labels. Now
that I'm developing more in A2K, I'm using Tahoma, as that's the
default and it does look quite attractive. But, other than that, I
don't use fonts.

Now, I do tend to use colored form headers as a way of visually
unifying parts of an application, but that can be overdone. A small
number of colors (2 or 3) is usually best, because beyond that, it
loses its utility.

In the case of one client application, I completely avoided
standard Windows title bars in order that the color scheme could be
better carried through. See:

http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc/examples/

All the graphics in that directory except Statistics.gif come from
the app where I utilized non-standard title bars for many forms. I
think it's a very attractive application, but it was a bitch to
format and maintain.

There are subdirectories in that directory with some examples from
some other apps. Most of what is there is just things I've put up
as illustrations for posts here in the newsgroup, but it might give
you an idea of exactly what range of possibilities I consider
reasonable.

One thing, though -- all those forms with a dark gray-bluish
background are, in fact, using Windows-standard colors, as I had a
weird color scheme back when I made those screen shots.

--
David W. Fenton http://www.bway.net/~dfenton
dfenton at bway dot net http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc
Nov 12 '05 #6

P: n/a
Thanks for the reply Pavel. I original similar thoughts on UI design.
I really liked the idea, but then I kept reading various articles
recommending that we leave form colours (esp background colours) alone
since users like to feel that they are in control of the app and want
their system settings to "stick" even while using the app.

I've never met anyone who has changed the default "system gray"
background colour for their Windows OS though. I can't imagine what
they'd change it to! I can understand users messing with the "Windows
Blue" colour gradient of the active window's title bar and the
"highlighted text" colours (my faculty in school changes it to the
faculty colour, for example); there are some custom "desktop themes"
out there too. But are there users that do this in the office? I'm
just wondering if there would be repercussions to changing form
background colours that might come back to bite me later on.

Some of the controls in Access don't seem to lend very well to
changing background colours either. The Tab Control, for instance,
can't be made to change colours properly; or, rather, part of it
changes colour, while part of it remains grey. If I recall, it's also
hard to get the textboxes to "look right" as well.

Any thoughts on this?

Alan

Pavel Romashkin <pa*************@hotmail.com> wrote in message news:<3F***************@hotmail.com>...
I think this is an important topic, and not because of the "bloating".
With PCs having 2 Gb or RAM and 250 Gb HDs, bloating is not a major
issue anymore, I think. However I am convinced that reducing user
fatique and increasing the ease of use of the software are key factors
to successful database design because DBs are kind of applications
people spend hours at a time using.
I did searches on software ergonomics and the subject is quite
contraversial. It seems to still remain largely a matter of personal
preference, with real research facts not easily available. Therefore for
my own humble purposes I try to follow the color schemes that are known
to induce certain mental states: light pastel palette, green for main
form background - green relaxes the eyes and calms the user down. Blue
on search screens - it increases attention level. Yellow label
backgrounds, not form backgrounds - for Attention! kind of messages; I
avoid red and use it only for text face color for Attention messages.
Small logos make the user feel that their company is important and thair
software is really custom, but I keep omitting them for no good reason -
bad boy, I will give them a refund :-) I avoid switchboards at all costs
after observing several frustrated users trying to navigate through 2
levels of switchboards to get to useful forms. We see nothing like
switchboards in any other software - I almost never see a need for them
in my DBs, there are tab controls that can serve the same purpose and
are far more intuitive to the users.
I am ABSOLUTELY NOT saying this is the best way of doing things but I
insist that people making tools for other people must think of the users
fatique and tools ergonomics. You notice that pliers have handles on the
same side, not on the opposite, although that would work too. I think we
must follow the ergonomic design rules, too.
I notice that I can work 10 hrs in a row using Mac OS9. My eyes get
tired in 2 hrs at the PC. Is it due to the fact that Apple is (perhaps,
was) the only major company who had software ergonomics engineers on
staff? I don't know for sure but it may very well be.

Pavel

Nov 12 '05 #7

P: n/a
Thanks Dennis! I really like the idea of putting a pic on the
Switchboard to make it more distinctive. I might do away with
Access's default switchboard but I think I'll put a pic on the
starting form. It adds a nice finished touch to the app!

do*****@fflax.com (Dennis Kuhn) wrote in message news:<ee**************************@posting.google. com>...
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in message news:<bc**************************@posting.google. com>...
A recent change in the user interface of one of the tech forums I
frequent prompted furious debates in the areas of functionality versus
look'n'feel of professional applications. This has made me wonder:
how much "decor" should I put into my database? I'd like to see what
the general opinion is.

I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos, for
example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end bloating,
and should be avoided on forms unless specifically requested for, and
used judiciously in reports where necessary. What about text fonts /
styles and form colour? What about adding colour rectangles like the
ones on the Access default switchboard? Drop shadows behind text
labels by using a black copy of the label? Where do you draw the line
between visual "features" that increase usabitlity and ones that are
just eye candy?

I hope I'm not wasting your valuable time posting this. I just want
to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Alan


Depends on the end user, like many things.

I work in a testing laboratory, and I have a dozen or so individual
databases that have test results fed into them by various users. Over
half of these users are not very computer savvy, so I make the user
forms as simple as possible. The only place I put a graphic is on the
Switchboard form, so the user can quickly see which database is open.

The forms have various background colors (again, to aid the user in
knowing which form they're working on), but the fonts are all
cookie-cutter. If the background's dark, the text is yellow, and if
the background's light, the text is black. Definitely a case of
K.I.S.S. in my case.

I think the most adventurous I got was when the user wanted a "needle"
pointing to how acidic/base a liquid was, after calculating the pH
value. Since the test colors go from pink to yellow to blue, I made a
gradient strip of colors so the needle pointed to a spot on the
pseudo-rainbow strip.

Now, mine is probably an extreme case, but my users usually have only
two requests: Making a new form for a new task, or simplifying data
entry (with the addition of drop-down boxes and such). Personally, I
don't use a database program with pictures on the forms/reports except
where the pictures are photos of test specimens (and therefore, part
of the actual data).

Dennis

Nov 12 '05 #8

P: n/a
Those screens are quite an eye-opener, David. Thanks! The customized
look really adds a distinctive look to the database. How do you
implement the custom title bar though? Can you actually disable the
Windows title bar that appears on the top of the form?

Hey, so you changed the default "Windows gray" background colour?
Maybe I should take back the comment I made above about no one ever
changing it. The computer lenses I wear makes it virtually impossible
to disinguish the two colours ><

Alan

dX********@bway.net.invalid (David W. Fenton) wrote in message news:<94***************************@24.168.128.74> ...
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in
<bc**************************@posting.google.com >:
I understand that putting in Picture Frames (for company logos,
for example) in Access leads to a certain amount of front end
bloating, and should be avoided on forms unless specifically
requested for, and used judiciously in reports where necessary.
What about text fonts / styles and form colour? What about adding
colour rectangles like the ones on the Access default switchboard?
Drop shadows behind text labels by using a black copy of the
label? Where do you draw the line between visual "features" that
increase usabitlity and ones that are just eye candy?


I generally restrict the "art" to the opening screen, either a
plain splash screen, or a main menu form with a graphic. Often I'll
have buttons on a transparent tab control so that I can re-use the
same screen real-estate for all the command buttons for the main
menu. This URL includes some representative samples of mine:

http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc/Splash/

Some of those are from old apps that were started with the
Switchboard wizard. Most of them do not use it, though.

Within the application, I mostly use standard Windows system
colors, so that the forms look like Windows dialogs. I also never
use anything in the way of fonts or colored fonts, except whatever
my standard font is. In general, for A97 I've used MS Sans Serif
for everything, but occasionally with Verdana used for labels. Now
that I'm developing more in A2K, I'm using Tahoma, as that's the
default and it does look quite attractive. But, other than that, I
don't use fonts.

Now, I do tend to use colored form headers as a way of visually
unifying parts of an application, but that can be overdone. A small
number of colors (2 or 3) is usually best, because beyond that, it
loses its utility.

In the case of one client application, I completely avoided
standard Windows title bars in order that the color scheme could be
better carried through. See:

http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc/examples/

All the graphics in that directory except Statistics.gif come from
the app where I utilized non-standard title bars for many forms. I
think it's a very attractive application, but it was a bitch to
format and maintain.

There are subdirectories in that directory with some examples from
some other apps. Most of what is there is just things I've put up
as illustrations for posts here in the newsgroup, but it might give
you an idea of exactly what range of possibilities I consider
reasonable.

One thing, though -- all those forms with a dark gray-bluish
background are, in fact, using Windows-standard colors, as I had a
weird color scheme back when I made those screen shots.

Nov 12 '05 #9

P: n/a
I am not sure what to say. Following the Windows scheme is an ok
solution that is widely accepted. But I have a feeling that it is not
optimal itself. There is not much flexibility in this department but I
do find that backgrounds other than bright white give me less eye fatigue.
As far as doing your own color schemes in Access I think you can trick
Access into just about anything. On Tab controls I simply put a colored
rectangle that is the same for all tabs, if I want it to be. I almost
always make textboxes transparent because I want the user to look at the
text, not at the frame around it.
Design preferences are pet animals of every developer and I don't expect
anybody to agree withe me! This post is just my personal opinion, and
the fact I have satisfied customers tells me that there are others who
like the style I chose.

Pavel

"Andante.in.Blue" wrote:

Thanks for the reply Pavel. I original similar thoughts on UI design.
I really liked the idea, but then I kept reading various articles
recommending that we leave form colours (esp background colours) alone
since users like to feel that they are in control of the app and want
their system settings to "stick" even while using the app.

I've never met anyone who has changed the default "system gray"
background colour for their Windows OS though. I can't imagine what
they'd change it to! I can understand users messing with the "Windows
Blue" colour gradient of the active window's title bar and the
"highlighted text" colours (my faculty in school changes it to the
faculty colour, for example); there are some custom "desktop themes"
out there too. But are there users that do this in the office? I'm
just wondering if there would be repercussions to changing form
background colours that might come back to bite me later on.

Some of the controls in Access don't seem to lend very well to
changing background colours either. The Tab Control, for instance,
can't be made to change colours properly; or, rather, part of it
changes colour, while part of it remains grey. If I recall, it's also
hard to get the textboxes to "look right" as well.

Any thoughts on this?

Alan

Pavel Romashkin <pa*************@hotmail.com> wrote in message news:<3F***************@hotmail.com>...
I think this is an important topic, and not because of the "bloating".
With PCs having 2 Gb or RAM and 250 Gb HDs, bloating is not a major
issue anymore, I think. However I am convinced that reducing user
fatique and increasing the ease of use of the software are key factors
to successful database design because DBs are kind of applications
people spend hours at a time using.
I did searches on software ergonomics and the subject is quite
contraversial. It seems to still remain largely a matter of personal
preference, with real research facts not easily available. Therefore for
my own humble purposes I try to follow the color schemes that are known
to induce certain mental states: light pastel palette, green for main
form background - green relaxes the eyes and calms the user down. Blue
on search screens - it increases attention level. Yellow label
backgrounds, not form backgrounds - for Attention! kind of messages; I
avoid red and use it only for text face color for Attention messages.
Small logos make the user feel that their company is important and thair
software is really custom, but I keep omitting them for no good reason -
bad boy, I will give them a refund :-) I avoid switchboards at all costs
after observing several frustrated users trying to navigate through 2
levels of switchboards to get to useful forms. We see nothing like
switchboards in any other software - I almost never see a need for them
in my DBs, there are tab controls that can serve the same purpose and
are far more intuitive to the users.
I am ABSOLUTELY NOT saying this is the best way of doing things but I
insist that people making tools for other people must think of the users
fatique and tools ergonomics. You notice that pliers have handles on the
same side, not on the opposite, although that would work too. I think we
must follow the ergonomic design rules, too.
I notice that I can work 10 hrs in a row using Mac OS9. My eyes get
tired in 2 hrs at the PC. Is it due to the fact that Apple is (perhaps,
was) the only major company who had software ergonomics engineers on
staff? I don't know for sure but it may very well be.

Pavel

Nov 12 '05 #10

P: n/a
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in
<bc**************************@posting.google.com >:
Those screens are quite an eye-opener, David. Thanks! The
customized look really adds a distinctive look to the database.
How do you implement the custom title bar though? Can you
actually disable the Windows title bar that appears on the top of
the form?
With Access forms, you just turn off the form border. To make it
look good, though, you then have to put your own 3D border on the
form, because otherwise it's extremely flat. I use that very effect
for my spash screens/main menus, where have just a graphic and look
very nice completely flat. But for forms, I think it's better for
there to be something of a raised look.

So, you have to have a frame around the edge of the form with the
RAISED appearance. You have to work very carefully sizing your form
as I find it's better to have a pixel or two on all sides or the 3D
highlights get lost.

For the fake title bar, I just used colored boxes, some flat, some
raised, and then use a command button in the upper right for the X.
The font MARLETT, which ships with MS Office, has an X that is
usable for this and looks just about like the real Windows one
(though it does not change size with the Windows title bar
settings, of course).

But I simply wouldn't recommend this kind of thing, as it's very,
very fussy work! I spent a lot of time developing the look and it
was a pain to maintain, as it was way to easy to accidentally
resize the form and lose the 1px borders around the raised frame,
or any number of other problems.

And picking the colors is really important. You'd be surprised at
what does and doesn't work, and too many colors becomes a problem
as once you're beyond about 4, it's hard to keep track of what
color is associated with what task.
Hey, so you changed the default "Windows gray" background colour?
In my Windows setup, not on the forms.
Maybe I should take back the comment I made above about no one
ever changing it. The computer lenses I wear makes it virtually
impossible to disinguish the two colours ><


Which two colors are you talking about? The backgrounds of every
one of the example forms you see there are set to -2147483633,
which is a Windows system color. Some of them are blue, some gray,
and that is entirely based on the Windows color scheme.

And that's the way it should be, in my opinion. Anything else
distracts attention from the work at hand. Your UI should be
invisible to the user.

Notice that Microsoft doesn't use color in its UI designs, either.
I take my cues from MS and I think that enhances the appearance of
professionalism.

--
David W. Fenton http://www.bway.net/~dfenton
dfenton at bway dot net http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc
Nov 12 '05 #11

P: n/a
05********@sneakemail.com (Andante.in.Blue) wrote in
<bc**************************@posting.google.com >:
I've never met anyone who has changed the default "system gray"
background colour for their Windows OS though.


I've seen lots and lots of people with different color schemes,
some of them butt ugly. But that's their choice. I don't want my
app to look different from the Microsoft programs on their
computer, so I get the colors from the OS.

--
David W. Fenton http://www.bway.net/~dfenton
dfenton at bway dot net http://www.bway.net/~dfassoc
Nov 12 '05 #12

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