FileMaker gives you so many tools for customizing layouts that you can while away hours making each layout look just the way you want it to. Don't mistake this time as wasted effort. The principles of good design and software usability apply to even the most basic database. After all, if you're going to be staring at your database for hours every day, it should look and feel polished. And few databases have just one user (see Chapter 17 to learn how to share your database). So when you're customizing layouts, you have to keep other people's needs in mind, not just your own.
Good design isn't just about how things look. It's also about helping people figure out how the database works. For example, when you're storing data for Contact Management, you want to arrange objects like address fields in forms that people are familiar with. Most U.S. addresses are shown in a standard form like this:
Name Street Address City, State Zip
To make other people—your database's users—feel at home in your database, you should arrange your fields as close to that standard arrangement as possible. So a good arrangement of basic fields on your Contact layout would be to have your First Name and Last Name fields on the same line, with the Street Address on the second line, and the City, State, and Zip fields arranged on the third line and resized to the relative widths each bit of data usually takes up. That is, state names are almost always stored as two-letter abbreviations, so the State field can be very narrow compared to the City field. Finally, you'd group the name and address fields together in a "chunk" and add a little space between the name/address chunk and other chunks of data on your layout (Figure 3-5).
Figure 3-5. This sample layout shows data grouped in related "chunks" to help orient users to the layout's purpose. The Company name is bolded and slightly separated from everything else. The name and address fields are grouped together and arranged in a familiar pattern. Phone and email are chunked together. Metadata (information about the record itself) is chunked near the lower right. (See page 240 to learn how to use Auto-Entry field options for tracking metadata.)
The principles for good software design have filled many books and websites. Despite their massive usefulness, most of those principles are beyond the scope of this book. However, as you're trying to decide how to arrange your layouts for maximum efficiency and impact you can take a look at FileMaker's Starter files. See the box on Explore Starter Solutions for more information. Of course the sample files for this book aim to keep good design principles in mind, too.
Looking at your Lease Agreement layout, you can see that FileMaker plopped all your fields out in a column and sized them generically according to their types when it created your layout. It's up to you to arrange the objects so they make sense. You need to know how to move, resize, edit, and delete objects to chunk your name fields and labels. You also need to know how to import a logo to brand your database and add a splash of color to make it more Data 2.0 than FileMaker's stark white background. Before you get started, take a look at Figure 3-6 to see the end result you're shooting for.
Figure 3-6. Here's a preview of your finished layout. The layout features a logo and title, and the data has been chunked together to help make visual sense. The Lease Document container field is larger, and you can see a thumbnail version of the file itself. The Rental Fee field has been formatted for currency, and the Lease Duration and Date Signed fields have field controls that make data entry quick and consistent.
Up To Speed: Explore Starter Solutions
FileMaker's starter solutions are grouped in general categories, like Business, Education, and Home. They cover common database uses, like Invoices, Expense Reports, Home Budgets, Music Libraries, and Contact Management.
These starter files are a good showcase of FileMaker's features, but because they're generalized templates, they aren't meant to meet your specific business needs. Even if you think about starting small, these files may need a lot of retrofitting to work well as your business grows. However, poking around in these files is a great way to spark ideas about features you want to learn how to create, to get a handle on some good ways to organize your data and create layouts.
So feel free to take a look at a few starter files, and then come back to this book to learn how make a solution that's tailored to your...