NJ FileMaker Developer Group Meeting Recap: GoDraw – 03-28-12

Another great session at Essex Computer in Paramus.

We had the pleasure of having Todd Geist from Geist Interactive remotely demoing GoDraw.

Todd always blows me away. He is unbelievably smart with a keen eye to design producing highly, sought-after solutions for FileMaker, such as telephony integration or GoSign to name a couple.

The brand new solution, GoDraw enables users to draw on an image in FileMaker Go. It is amazing and we’ve long waited for such a solution.

The use cases are endless:

  • Emergency response: Take pictures at a crash site. Now you can mark them up.
  • Delivery service: broken package can be marked with exact damage location.
  • Architects: take a photo at a site. Add your own doodle to show what the building would look like with another floor.

mazing and we’ve long waited for such a solution.

You can draw on a plain canvas of different colors or use an image (from camera or gallery) and draw on it with different colors and stroke sizes. You can even switch modes to erase part of your drawing. Once you save it, it will be accessible from FileMaker Pro on a desktop. You just can’t modify it from the desktop and re-save it. You can however, always make changes from FileMaker Go at a later time. The image and the doodle are saved as separate layers.

We saw how easy it is to integrate GoDraw into your own solution. It took Todd about 10 minutes to do it live. All you need to do is import some assets from the starter file (table and data), import a script, place a webviewer on a layout, set up a relationship and hook everything up. You can even dig in deeper to modify the settings, such as change canvas size and colors.

If you need help integrating GoDraw in your solution, we’re here to help, contact us.

The Lite version is free. 5-user license at $149, site license $249. It’s really affordable.

Tip:

We learned from Todd yesterday that you can import a whole table from one FileMaker database to another:

Todd will be giving two great sessions at the upcoming FileMaker Developer Conference: one about writing portable code (one of my favorite topics) and another one about useful techniques such as using unique IDs, how to give users access to their own data only, etc.

Differences Between FileMaker And Excel

Everyone I know is familiar with Microsoft Excel to some extent. Some people are more well-versed than others and can do complex data management. Not long ago I met with a consulting company who is working with one of the largest companies in the country to install hardware nation-wide.

The original process is so cumbersome that they now have a lot of things fall through the crack. By the time an order goes through the myriads of departments and processes, the requirements change and the parts required, as well. But the warehouse doesn’t know how to handle that. So they called in a consultant to help. The consultant doesn’t know FileMaker, so they created a giant web of Excel sheets that actually do a really nice job at filling in the gaps and getting the orders straightened out. FileMaker could’ve given them reports and live dashboard so they can see which orders have mismatched elements or which orders need to be fulfilled in the near future. But at this point they invested quite a lot in Excel, so I doubt they will have the time and energy to redo it in FileMaker.

To those who have not put too much effort into Excel or finding it cumbersome to manage their day-to-day activities, the below will give some incentives to use FileMaker instead of Excel to manage contacts, products, inventory, documents, and events. Contact us if you need help deciding. Learn more about FileMaker development.

Strengths of a spreadsheet

  • Storing and analyzing data in lists
  • Analyzing and modeling data
  • Producing charts and graphs
  • Building a financial model
  • Creating basic reports
  • Controlling who can open or modify a file

Strengths of a FileMaker database

  • Viewing information in list, form, or table view
  • Storing and managing virtually any type of information (words, images, numbers, files and more)
  • Creating and publishing customized forms and reports
  • Connecting related information such as inventory and sales
  • Connecting to and from websites
  • Access by multiple people at the same time
  • Mobile access through FileMaker Go or web
  • Set up recurring imports from Excel

Tip:

Use FileMaker to normalize data headers in Excel. This past weekend I was working on my new web store (ssh!) and I had to export/import products. When importing into the new system I encountered an error: “data headers are duplicated”. Well, I looked through the header row in Excel and I couldn’t see anything duplicated, but when you have a lot of columns you shouldn’t rely on your eyes. I did a quick web search and I couldn’t find an easy method to figure this out. Then I realized, why not use FileMaker? So, I quickly converted my Excel sheet to a FileMaker database (drag and drop) and I had all the fields and data in FileMaker. Clearly, FileMaker didn’t have an issue with the fields, so there was no duplication; the web app lied. So, even though I was back to square one, I figured the web app might not like the file format of the CSV file I was trying to import. So I converted it to another format (Windows of all things) and the import went through just fine. Moral of the story: I could’ve spent more time trying to figure out  how to get rid of the non-existent duplicated headers in Excel. But instead, I called FileMaker to the rescue, and it solved my problem in 2 seconds.

 

UI Design – 10 Tips For Excellent UI Design (And Not Just for FileMaker!)

We can all agree on one thing: Apple knows design. The reason why Apple’s design is excellent is because it’s minimalistic and draws the users’ eyes to what needs to be seen and hides the rest.

A perfect example is the aluminum keyboard:

  • size: as small as physically possible for average fingers to type on;
  • key height: as shallow as possible for a good rebound effect;
  • the USB ports are hidden under the keyboard.

Follow the Universe. The stop sign is a universal symbol. Can you imagine if NYC decided to swap them out in hot pink and the shape of a triangle? You’d have cars piled up at every intersection. Of course, in a database we cannot cause traffic accidents, yet still it is important to pay attention to some design principles.

Quality itself is not enough. Some cultures have always paid attention to design and some took awhile to catch up. I remember how I hated the the style of the former Soviet Union while growing up in socialist Hungary. Every product that entered our country from them was large, boxy and durable, but hard on the eyes and hands. On the other hand, leave it to the Danish or the Swedes and you are guaranteed your product will be carefully designed.

“Even though design is not the most important thing, at the end of the day we are looking at this thing all day long,” said a possible client to me about their current design.

A good designer always looks at the interface from the user’s standpoint, not their own. It is always easier to slap on two more buttons, pick a color quickly and be done. But will those buttons fit in your theme? Do you have a theme at all? Web development has changed drastically over the last decade. Barely anyone uses Flash anymore, and people realized that you don’t need to have every color on the horizon on one screen. FileMaker shouldn’t be any different. A database, actually, gets a lot more screen time than any website, so it really should be paid attention to.

I just was faced with the UI below and even though I’m a designer/developer, I couldn’t figure out how to use this service. My initial thought was I must be stupid and/or getting old. Then it hit me that this experience is not my fault. A good interface is about not having to write a lengthy manual just to find the start button.

I’d like to give some pointers to new and old developers alike on some key details to pay attention to. Your users will thank you for it.

Design your theme

Don’t just start plunking elements on a layout. Or even if you had to do that last week (because your boss put a gun against your head and said you will have to put 23 more buttons there), take some time this week and visualize your user interface. Think about why the user needs to be there in the first place and what they need to see. Resourcehttp://kuler.adobe.com or http://filemakerthemes.com. Kuler even has an option to upload your image (client logo, brochure) and build your color theme from it.

Design for the appropriate screen size/resolution

Ask your client: what screen sizes/resolutions do you have? Are you on Mac or Windows or both? If you have a mixed screen environment, you have to design for the smallest screen, and extend everything from there. You can always extend white space, but if you start too large, they will have to scroll left and right or up and down to see their data.

Be minimalistic

Show interface controls on demand. If there is something you can hide, hide it. The user can always get to it later. If you overwhelm them, they will feel like a kid lost at Grand Central Station. There are plug-ins you can use for this. Resourcehttp://filemaker-plugins.com.

Minimize travel time

Isn’t it great that we have www.hopstop.com now with so many cities that we can choose routes with fewer transfers? Try to think of a way to get your users from point A to B in the least amount of time. Try to get as much information into one dialog as you can so they can choose what they need and move on.

Don’t abuse color

Choose 2-3 colors that complement each other. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to use shades. You can never go wrong with black and white and shades of gray or another color.

Draw the users’ eyes to what they need

If you’ve seen heatmaps of web interfaces, you know that most people look from left to right and tend to ignore elements on the right. Try to put the most important elements on the left side. highlight the record they are viewing. Don’t reinvent the wheel, because you’ll just throw your users off and make them frustrated.

Use appropriate font sizes

Some things need to be in large font or bold (names, phone numbers, invoice totals). Make an executive decision and highlight the most important details.

Use appropriate font faces

Helvetica is an excellent font. If you want to go crazy, you can always mix 2-3 fonts, but no more. Verdana was meant for web design, and even for the web we don’t have to use it anymore. Note:  Some fonts render differently on Windows.

Display help and informational messages

Tooltips are built into FileMaker. Use them to give your users more info to minimize travel time. You can be creative with tooltips. You can use a tooltip on a contact to show:

  • more contact info;
  • whether they owe your client any money;
  • the information on their latest orders, etc.

Replace FileMaker notification messages with your own

A nicely worded error message in proper English is that says “Unfortunately, there were no records found. Would you like to do a new search?” is much more welcome than a plain old “No records match this find criteria.” It’s even more important to provide proper feedback in more complex situations so your user always knows why something didn’t happen. Another example: if you export reports to the desktop, name them with what the report is about and give the user a note at the end that the report was indeed created and this is what it’s called. Finding a document called “untitled” is very taxing for busy executives.

Conclusion

When combined with a clear focus on how the user is expected to interact with your product, the above tips and tricks work hand-in-hand to deliver something that’s not only good-looking, but usable. We can look to Apple as a leader in setting the standard for great design, but they’re not the only company that has design and usability as guiding principles for much of what they build. The excerpt below is from Smashing Magazine, and is what I’ll conclude with:

Similarly, the minimalist interface of the Google search engine manages to fully accomplish its objectives without getting in your way. The interface disappears, letting you focus on getting things done.

Steve Jobs once said, “design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” In fact, the usability and overall usefulness of an app is governed by how well it performs its functions and how easily those functions are accessed. Design with a goal in mind — a goal that the interface helps your users achieve. Not every technique will work in every situation or for every application. Only implement interface elements if they make sense in your particular context. / Smashing Magazine

ZeroBlue Featured On Barcode.com As A “Mobile Solution Provider”

Another application that works well with the Scanfob® 2005 Bluetooth wireless scanner is FileMakerGo, a product of FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker Go is available for iPhone and iPad and  together with the Scanfob® 2005 barcode scanner it offers business-grade mobile scanning scanning solution. Barcode scanning is quick and easy with the Bluetooth barcode scanner, and pairing it with the FileMaker Go app allows businesses to customize the scanned data and keep it organized and available for hundreds of different purposes. Inventory, shipping, attendance, security, and many other business functions are streamlined and simplified with Bluetooth barcode scanning technology paired with the iPad. The medical, government, education, shipping, manufacturing, and retail industries are only a few of the many different sectors that can benefit from Bluetooth barcode scanners. One company to implement mobile solutions using FileMaker Go, is ZeroBlue Technology Solutions, who also sells a variety of Bluetooth scanners many of which are compatible with FileMaker Go.



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