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Thread: User Interface design ideas?

  1. #1
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    Default User Interface design ideas?

    I have been working with Alpha 5 for a few moths now. I am just about finished up an extensive application for our internal usage. Alpha has been ROCK SOLID, and very fast. I have been very impressed with the product, and most of all the information and help available here. This forum in my opinion is second to none. My only issue with Alpha, is with the user interface. I find the interface is a little archaic. It should not matter, but unfortunately how it looks is equally as important as functionality and stability. Has anyone seen or developed a modern "slick" interface for some design ideas?

    Thanks,

    -----------------------------
    Steven McLean
    Cook & Company
    Barristers and Solicitors
    20 Regan Rd #1
    Brampton, ON L7A 1C3
    Steven@CookandCompany.ca

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Hi Steven,

    That's a tough question and one that has been thrown around here for sure.

    Here is a link that you might not be aware exists for some ideas.

    http://www.alphadzine.com/commerce.cgi

    Also, the examples provided by Amanita in this thread show what is possible with some effort.


    Regards,

    Jeff

  3. #3
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Steve,

    It is heartening that Alpha is focused, driven to improve the function/substance of Alpha Five. The package is clearly amazing.

    What I have found so disappointing is that they place much less effort on the form of what their product can do. In short, design and appearance issues get short shrift.

    And this problem is further compounded because new users seem to emulate Alpha's designs, which can lead to crude, amateurish looking applications.

    Don't take my word for it: take a look at any of the applications users submitted several months back in a contest to showcase Alpha. The winner was a minister, if I remember correctly. When I looked at his application, I saw basically a one-off one, one that met his needs but would never, no never find shelf space at Best Buy. It and the others that I looked at, cried out for makeovers: fixing line spacing, alignment, gridding, color, use of gradients, fonts, sizes, etc. all the basics.

    So I would not hold my breadth hoping for better design from Alpha. They are not Filemaker, which is both good and bad. But I can't tell you how many Filemaker applications that I have seen that have more curb appeal that what I find with Alpha.

    The best we can do is to lobby for Alpha not to foreclose design decisions for us. In my mind this means allowing a developer to customize ALL icons for starters; there are simply too many in the Alpha portfolio that as another forum member has characterized, "look like shit".

    Another thing that they need to address is the alignment of everything they create automatically as XDialogs. Why can they not left align fields in XDialog, when I can do it so easily for an Alpha desktop form?

    Bottom line I think is this: Alpha is a tech weanie company; they went public once and reverted back to private ownership when it became clear that Alpha would never be a mass market product. The product generates a nice income for its owners, and has a loyal, if small, group of users. I get the sense that ego may play a large role in this and for the two years I have been exploring the product, I don't see much interest in bringing in first class design talent to bring Alpha up to date.

    While I have seen lots of Filemaker applications that strike me as polished, professional, commercial, and saleable, I hope forum users won't be pissed at me, but I have yet to see even one written with Alpha Five.

    Alpha is improving, but I know am fairly certain, that it's just not in their genes or will to have really great looking logo, web page, package design, etc. That being the case, why would you expect more of the product itself?

    I would like Alpha to see its mission as providing an architecture to develop cutting edge applications. And I mean architecture in the building construction sense. Designing a structure that is strong, serviceable and mets its owners needs and objectives and that is pleasing to the eye and senses in its uses of color, texture, mass, shadow, elevation, etc.

    In sum, I don't have very high expectations of Alpha any more; that way, when they actually do something that is well designed, I can be pleasantly surprised.


    Bob McGaffic
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Any home remodelers out there? Take a look at a 20.00 book published last year on Amazon.com titled Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid, (Prince Charles wrote the preface). After thumbing through its pictures, the lightbulb might go off once or twice as to why a certain placement or alignment of doors and windows works much better than others or how to space columns for a front porch, etc. Similar principles are appropriate to application and form design.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Steven,

    I agree, it would be great if Alpha inherently allowed us to create "modern" looking and feeling user interfaces...however,

    It is possible (as shown in the prior responses to your post) to achieve some pretty impressive results.

    We're on the verge of the release of v10. The attached screen shot was created using v5 way back in 2002 or 2003. This was even before gradients were available.

    Granted, there are other products available that might meet your U/I desires, but I doubt you will find the power and flexibility of Alpha not to mention the value of this forum with those products.

    Louis

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    I'm still fairly new to Alpha Five. I've been working with Visual Foxpro for the last 10 years.

    Visual Foxpro suffers from the same problem of a rather mundane appearance to it's UI controls. However, the one thing they did to overcome this was allow you to create your own class elements by combining some of the core controls that allow you to put your stamp on your application.

    What you end up with is reusable controls via custom classes that allow you to design all your applications to have "your" look and feel. Of course, depending on how much time you want to spend, you can get as fancy as you'd like and emulate any software design that you'd like. And as you would expect, 3rd party developers would create UI elements that you incorporate in your applications if you didn't want to spend the time creating them yourself.

    While I thing a good UI design is extremely appealing, generally it comes down to function over form.

    I know when I first started creating commercial applications with VFP, the UI was pretty plain. As time passed, I tended to spend more and more time changing the UI without changing the function to make it more appealing to more users.

    It would be great if the UI was modern and flexible so that you could incorporate those elements that most users want and yet tweak it just enough to make it unique. Having compared some of the UI controls in Alpha to VFP, I would have to agree that some of the Alpha controls could certainly use some updating, even though the function is somewhat easier to implement in Alpha.

    At this point, I wonder if the enhancements to the desktop development side of Alpha have been put on the back burner as everyone seems to be focused on moving apps to the cloud?

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    While I thing a good UI design is extremely appealing, generally it comes down to function over form
    I agree with you on this. While I have no predisposed ideas that any of my apps will be on the shelf at Best Buy as Bob put it. I know....that is not my market. I am building large scale custom apps for industrial clients. The app needs to look decent but most users of my app want a LOT of data on one screen so they don't have to go to multiple places to see the data that is important to them. That being said, in my world there has to be a tradeoff between form and function....not purely the design.

    I will say that while I am no graphic designer...I did purchase the icon set Bob (Thanks BTW Bob!) mentioned in another post by Glyph Labs. The use of these icons alone made BIG difference in the professionalism and appearance of my apps.

    Regards,

    Jeff

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    One of the hardest things to overcome with Alpha is the inability to place transparent icons. You have to modify the icon with this "Barney" purple background in order to place it and a lot of times that doesn't work out to well anyway. As a result, I have to utilize a lot of white backgrounds in order to accommodate the icons.

    What I have done with my apps is examine shareware with a user interface that I like and try to emulate it in Alpha.

    HOWEVER... Some things I would love to see:
    - Left frame menu with Outlook style accordion controls.
    - Left frame menu with Tree style.

    (Ok.. so you can the left frame menus with xdialog but frankly it's a pain in the butt... You can create these in VB in minutes)

    - Office 2007 style menu ribbon.

    - GRAPHICAL CALENDAR!!! - Why can this this small db company, www.brilliantdatabase.com do it but not Alpha?

    - Grouped browse records! (again, Brilliant Database can do it).

    Item A
    Item a1
    Item a2

  8. #8
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    A while back, we had a thread where people submitted screen shots of various forms. That showed quite a diversity of user interface.

    Try this.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Steve,

    Thanks for the link to a rather long compendium of Alpha Five user application menus.

    Did you have a chance to look at the Brilliant applications suggested by JP above?

    If you do, hopefully you will see what we're trying to communicate here.
    The Brilliant demos can largely be replicated in Alpha Five -- with the exception of easy to use tree menus driven from data tables.

    What distinguishes the Brilliant demos from the Alpha examples is good alignment, good use of color, modern tab controls, with just a few fonts and sizes, good alignment, etc. Alpha developers get carried away with Alpha's capabilities and the result is that their applications look terribly un-commercial.

    So after reviewing the Alpha examples, let me say that I know you can set the background color of every friggin button on your form to a different color -- but don't do it!!! Your application development project should not be a contest to see how many different control properties you can customize.

    For simple menu structures, Alpha Five developers might want to emulate the Microsoft Access Switchboard. Again it offers better design than just throwing a couple of buttons on a form, which is what was the case is several of the link's examples.

    Bob McGaffic
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Last edited by rmcgaffic; 07-01-2009 at 04:04 PM.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    I agree with the thread to some degree but find that most of the time people who use the apps just want them to work well and have the app flow... they don't really really care if it looks fancy. Here's an app I'm working on... it looks decent... I hope... let me know if you think it's appauling. It's simple but the design works and doesn't get in the way.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Not appauling (I can't spell either :)) but it would be appalling if that is Marie's real name and address.

    Raymond Lyons

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Quote Originally Posted by Davidk View Post
    I agree with the thread to some degree but find that most of the time people who use the apps just want them to work well and have the app flow... they don't really really care if it looks fancy. Here's an app I'm working on... it looks decent... I hope... let me know if you think it's appauling. It's simple but the design works and doesn't get in the way.
    I hate to disagree with you on this but the people who usually USE the software are not usually not the ones who BUY the software. Try doing a demo with a ho-hum app.

    A great example is my brother, who manages a large call center operation for a major company. He was part of a group of managers who had to decide on a new app for the call center. When I asked him why he chose the one he did, the first thing out of his mouth is that it looked better (i.e. aesthetics). He said the icons and "user friendliness" won him over. He doesn't really use the software, per say... he just goes in and gets his reports.

    Now as far as Brilliant Database is concerned, this is a desktop database app that has only a fraction of the power that the Alpha 5 backend has. I used a previous version to create a catalog for one company and maintain a supplier database for another.

    Now check out what features they included in their recent releases: calendar and browse grouping (among other things).

    People still want to create desktop apps!

  13. #13
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    But this is the problem, and always has been, with people who buy the software as opposed to the people who use the software. The enlightened companies get users to test drive candidates and arrive at a conclusion agreed upon by majority. The problem companies choose a product and shoe-horn their users into it... you always wind up sitting a PC saying who the hell chose this crap that I'm forced to use.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Regarding the
    Now check out what features they included in their recent releases: calendar and browse grouping
    --

    Agreed an incorporated calendar based scheduler would be great to have...I am curious as to what has been created by some as, if there have been, they have been fairly quiet....would like to see screenshots of any that emulate what has been talked about fairly frequently here.

    The browse grouping also would be great to have pre-made within Alpha as a choice....but is doable even in version 8 via xbasic. Am working on one now (when I can) that will show and collapse via "+" and "-" type tree buttons within the browse. And yes, it will sub-total and total within the browse.

    Having these features automatically done in Alpha would be quite an asset though.
    Mike
    __________________________________________
    It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.
    It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.
    Henry David Thoreau
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  15. #15
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    this is a main page where a jpg in the app folder can be changed to accomodate the company picture.

    The second pic is of the Buyer information screen(no it is not tabs)

    Hope it helps someone. It has been accepted in the type business it was designed for.

    .
    Dave Mason
    dave@aldaweb.com

    Skype is dave.mason46

  16. #16
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    JP,

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Your screenprints are exactly what I have been searching for. I just though it was rather odd that it never occurred to Alpha to include such functionality in A5.

    I don't want to go to a lot of effort and hassle to create appointments or schedules, and I certainly don't want to re-invent the wheel.

    Neither do I want to do complex XBasic programming for a hierarchical browse which is a requirement for any kind of knowledge management or task/project outlining. Again Brilliant offers it right out of the box.

    For my application, I was looking for three out of the box capabilities: email, calendar, and hierarchical grid/browse. Alpha delivers only the first.

    As to the screenprints that were posted on this thread, my opinion is that they can be substantially improved. Guys, how about taking a look at Brilliant's forms and see if you can't pick up a pointer or two.

    Listen, this is not a beauty contest which several of you seem to think it is.
    It is about having an application that looks good at the customer demo stage and works well with users day after day after day.

    For starters, I would make a couple of suggestions for David Kates' form:

    1. Do not use a gradient for a browse row. Using a gradient for the column titles for the browse is just fine.
    2. Do not use two styles of browses in the same form. Your form has two browses and they have different colors for the row 2 color. Why? A simpler and less jaring choice is to use one color.
    3. The Browse's header should be the darker color. How about lightening up the blue for the Row 2 color.
    4. Multiple browses on the same form should use the same font, size, and weight. Drop the use of bold for the left browse.
    5. Adjust the row height of your browse, it is too large. I see that you may being using word wrap, but see if you lengthed the field to avoid this. Alpha's videos on button in grids provides a good example. The button should snugly fit in the cell, not with a gap like yours has on its bottom edge.
    6. Consolidate and rearrange your buttons. I personally place my application icons at the top of a form (consistent with most commercial enterpise software today), but if you place them at the bottom that's fine. Why do you have two separate groupings of them.
    7. Your buttons are two different heights for no apparent reason. Please, please make them the same size.
    8. Your buttons use different gradients. Again why? Pick one and use it on all buttons.
    9. The background color of your form and of the tab control don't work well. Ever consider selecting one color and then using Alpha's Solid color percents (starting with 90% down to transparent) to lighten the same color for the background.
    10. Try to avoid white on a dark color for your labels. Nothing wrong with a slightly darker color for the label, but not so dark that you have to use white for the font color so that your text is readable.

    OK, that's enough for now. But look how simple it was to make Dave's form more attractive and require a lot less work than he surely expended.

    David, I hope you don't think I'm picking on you. I wish I had the time to write a paper comparing and contrasting the user interfaces of the top 50 selling enterprise, logistics, crm, or human resource packages today. I think if more Alpha users had this perspective, they could design stronger applications from the getgo.

    Dave Mason's form presents even larger opportunities for improvement.

    While I don't have the time to redesign your forms from scratch, if either of you would like to zip a database with the empty tables and the forms that you've shown here, I am willing to do a makeover if you would find that useful. Simple, clean, uncluttered is the look we're after.

    Bob McGaffic
    Pittsburgh, PA

    PS: Any one notice that Brilliant's forms are consistent with my recommendations above?

    PPS: Although it's just a first reaction, Brilliant appears to be the product I was hoping Alpha was. I haven't seen version 10, but I am really concerned that all the sneak peak improvements are for web based applications. May be this is Alpha's way of slowly, but surely, pulling the plug on its desktop capabilities by allowing other vendors to surpass it?
    Last edited by rmcgaffic; 07-02-2009 at 10:33 AM.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    This is how I have been handling my designs. Like some have already stated, it would be nice to have a better graphic screen designer interface as I can't even draw a straight line; however, I also try to go just for the functionality vs the looks. Presently, I'm just doing Desktop applications, so I can get by...here's one of my screens that is built to use a touch screen (so bigger buttons)...Ryland

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Ryland,

    I extend my offer to Dave and David to you. Whoever gets to me first.

    Bob McGaffic
    Pittsburgh, PA

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Robert,

    Thank you for the offer, but this was designed for my customer base and no one has had any complaints of the beauty side. For different applications(customer based), the looks would be completely different. This one hase never been beat out in it's arena because anything looked better.

    I will stay with what I have. The customers like it this way. I have a lady friend who is going to do the beautification on a new project coming up. I already have 80% of the program written and it is just very plain right now. It is written mostly for feminine use and I figured a female touch would help it out for sales. I will market this one in about 3 months.

    I think Steve may have wanted to see how some of this is done. Each of us has a different way/method depending on our customer base. I like the menu on the side like JP did. One day, I may have a use for something like that. So a thread like this can be helpful to a lot of us.

    .
    Last edited by DaveM; 07-02-2009 at 11:47 AM.
    Dave Mason
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Bob,

    I agree with your observations although I'm not the best at implementing them. I have to keep thinking less is more. Don't get carried away with the gradients and try to keep a crisp, clean looking GUI. One of the points you have not raised is to try and choose colours that will be acceptable to male and female users. Many applications have very male orientated interface colour schemes, so when picking a colour scheme try to for something that will appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

    Also I have noticed a tendency for designers to make their forms very busy. Lots of fields and data packed into one form. Users can be overwhelmed by this approach. I suspect this is one of the reasons you desire a dashboard control as this allows information to be available to the eye without the detail. Then just one click of the mouse and you can drill down to the specific details required.

    I think Alpha has come a long way since V7 with regard to the control over the interface but there is still some way to go. I am hoping that V10 may have updated some of the desktop controls that have been forgotten over the years (tab and tree function spring to mind). I disagree with some regarding Alpha updating their icons. This is something each developer can invest in as per their application requirements to give it a more unique and modern feel. I'd rather the controls themselves were updated and improved.

    Well heres hoping a good product can become an exceptional one.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Hi Bob, I for one find your comments useful. Particularly for things that are subjective (such as user interfaces) hearing comments and opinions from varied people allow us to determine what works best for us (Us usually is our client). Bob do you have any screen shots you can post. You appear to have a design methodology, which is very important.

    Thanks,

    Steve

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Steven,

    Dave Mason appears happy with his form, so we're down to two candidates for a makeover. I just thought that working with a real life example would be most useful to forum members.

    On the matter of color, let me make one observation: good software design is sexless. Yes, I have worked with women users who insisted on changing their screen color themes to pink or purple, but for the most part, you can't go wrong with blue, olive, tan, or gray.

    Good design is not a beautification process as Dave is considering. It is an upfront activity to make form design easy and fast and yield an application that has a consistent appearance and function.

    Bob McGaffic
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Last edited by rmcgaffic; 07-02-2009 at 12:37 PM.

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Sure Bob... have a crack at it. There's an Activex control on the form so I'm not sure how it's going to behave for you... but you can just delete it if it gives you problems. This is an area I've always wrestled with. The main form name is frmClaims

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Thanks, Dave for the zipped file. Let me play with it over the weekend.

    Bob McGaffic
    Pittsburgh, PA

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Bob,

    I did not mean in any way to disrespect you or your work. I am sure for some it is much desired.

    I have my application in 24 locations as a corporate purchase and many more as single user. This is without heavy advertising or hard work and done part time.

    The last major app I worked on has sold over 7000 copies on a corporate level(last count). This one has a full staff working all day every day. I designed much of the interface on my own.

    Sales production is the bottom line.

    I have a Chinese lady with extensive knowledge in web and desktop design who will choose colors and ideas to make the new app appealing to the female eye. Female is important for this one since it will be mostly females using it. It also has to not offend for the few men(maybe 1 per 100 sales) who will also use it.

    I think enough of asthetics to pursue this course. I am not into gradients very much though. speed and accuracy should never be compromised for beauty unless it is absolutely necessary.



    .
    Dave Mason
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  26. #26
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Here you go Bob... hope it's enough. For the Image per record, just point to any JPG on your system. I left those records out since they wouldn't relate to your system. This is just the tblClaims.dbf

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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    My original intention was to find how many of you have do not have a back ground in programming but create applications and generate an income using Alpha Five. A lot of this discussion seems to be applicable to my situation.
    I am Dept manager for one of the largest senior care companies in the USA.
    You would think that they would have some top programs in use. Nope! Many of our reports are created using elaborate spread sheets. One software package that has the first class looking Interface sucks in actual functionality. ( This software package created by an vendor giant in our industry)
    As someone mentioned ......The people who pick the software don't have to use it. For example; Let's say I want to find how much aspirin is in use by a group of residents. The program kicks out reams of paper with all the medications for all the residents. The program does not allow changes or editing to the report writers. The program crashes and we have to backup constantly. The software vendor says that we may be adding to much information to the database. Are they kidding! We are talking about an average of 200 residents and their information. Okay, sorry I'm just frustrated.

    I know that I can create a better applications using Alpha five. The true strength of Alpha is the ability and power that it allows the actual user of an application. I know my field and industry. So I can create a application that would truly work. Interfaces are great but I would take a basic looking application with functionality over a 30 tab spread sheet any day.
    I'm however not sure how to approach the project. Do I try to market it on my own? How would I go about pricing.I'm up against some entrenched people who make the decisions but there is group that is pushing for something that actually works.

    The IT people are concerned about tech support. They is no in house software development. All of our computers have Excel( Access too, but nobody uses it.) What if the program crashes etc. Alpha is pretty stable and I have a Run time version so they don't have to worry License issues.
    My first though is to create an application that would blow away the spread sheets in terms of ease of use and functionality. Then maybe they would look to me to replace the other packages.
    So what are some thoughts from you professionals out there?

  28. #28
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    The first thing I thought of is, entering data in spreadsheets is a PIA.

    We have developed a number of applications that we use in-house that make our business much more manageable. One of the, is an invoicing program that keeps track of uses and all their upgrade history. I could never find one that kept track of all the information we needed.

    In addition, it provides for bulk email to users so that we can send them vital upgrade or other information. Once again, there are ways to send bulk emails, but we couldn't find one to send bulk emails to over 5,000 users using our data.

    There's a trade off when developing for yourself. On the plus side, you get exactly what you want. On the negative side, when something goes wrong, you only have yourself to look to for solutions.

    There's one more thing you need to keep in mind. As soon as your users find out that you can make changes, it won't be long before the user requests start rolling in. Be prepared to say "not right now" a lot.

    I wrote a very sophisticated Supercalc (I'm dating myself now) spreadsheet app for a client that had menus and did some consolidated reporting for them. It was about that time that I realized that designing a system around a relational database is a lot easier to maintain and enhance. I've never looked back since.

    My two cents is to jump in and make your life easier. BTW, if your plan is to market this application to other users at some point in time, you need to make that decision up front and design it that way. Trying to retrofit it for commercial distribution is very, very time-consuming.
    John J. Fatte', CPA
    PRO-WARE, LLC
    Omaha, NE 68137

  29. #29
    Moderator Peter.Greulich's Avatar
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    Peter Greulich
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pureeman View Post
    I am Dept manager for one of the largest senior care companies in the USA.
    You would think that they would have some top programs in use. Nope!
    Funny! ;)

    The program kicks out reams of paper with all the medications for all the residents. The program does not allow changes or editing to the report writers. The program crashes and we have to backup constantly. The software vendor says that we may be adding to much information to the database. Are they kidding! We are talking about an average of 200 residents and their information. Okay, sorry I'm just frustrated.
    Even funnier! :) Don't the stupid end-users know that you're not supposed to add too much information?

    The IT people are concerned about tech support. They is no in house software development. All of our computers have Excel( Access too, but nobody uses it.) What if the program crashes etc. Alpha is pretty stable and I have a Run time version so they don't have to worry License issues.
    My first though is to create an application that would blow away the spread sheets in terms of ease of use and functionality. Then maybe they would look to me to replace the other packages.
    So what are some thoughts from you professionals out there?
    Doing a wholesale conversion as you are planning is a pretty daunting task. But that's what makes it fun. You have the right idea. Build one small piece first and introduce it into the system. Then build up gradually additional components or modules. As far as big time marketing goes, build first, market later. But jjfcpa is right. It's much harder to build a generic system for others than a custom system for yourself.

  30. #30
    Member
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    Default Re: User Interface design ideas?

    Thanks for the suggestions. The module by module seems to be the best approach.
    I picked up Jeff Johnson's GUI Bloopers which has helped me with designing some interfaces. I guess I'm interface and database junkie. I am constantly looking at applications and trying to figure how they work. How would I create a similar application? From gas stations to grocery store automated checkouts, I am truly addicted!

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