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Microsoft: Access Forms FAQ

Form Basics

Better Looking Forms by Garridon
Posted: 26 Dec 01 (Edited 25 Jun 03)

Now that you've finished your database, you want to improve the appearance of your forms.  What do you need to do?

Alignment is probably the single biggest thing you can do to make your form look better. Draw a line on the form and use it to line everything up (this is much easier than trying to eyeball it on the grid).  Text, fields, and buttons should all be lined up horizontally and vertically.  Use Format>Vertical (or Horizontal) Spacing to evenly space the fields.

For your title, you can extend the field or the label across the entire form and center.  That way, it's always lined up properly.  Make sure that you don't forget to change the caption of the form--you don't want your user seeing frmInventory in the title bar!  The title should be in upper and lower case letters to make it easy to read.

Consistency:  Use the same font on all forms.  Likewise, if you use white as a background color, don't randomly switch colors.

Buttons:  Buttons should always be located in the same place on each form--on the right side or at the bottom.  This is an industry standard and helps your users immediately understand how to use your database.  

The buttons should all be a uniform size.  Hold the shift key down and click on each button to select all of them.  From the menu bar, select Format>Size.  You can then size them all "To the Tallest," "To the Widest," etc.  You can use the Format>Horizontal (or Veritical) Spacing to evenly place the buttons.   

Use simple terms on the buttons that the USERS will understand.  "New Equipment" is better than the more vague "Add Record."

Row selectors, navigation bars, and dividing lines: If you don't need them, turn them off.  That alone adds a professional touch to the form.

Scrollbars: If you don't need them, turn them off. If your form scrolls just a little bit, try to make adjustments so that it fits on one screen.

Fonts:  You may use Times New Roman in everything you work with, but for your forms, use a San Serif font.  These are much easier to read on a computer monitor.  Microsoft recommends Tahona, eight points.

Color:  For a "corporate" look, use white or light gray for the form background.  A good contrasting color like black or Navy blue for the text will create a clean appearance.  Avoid any color combinations that a colorblind person may have trouble seeing, such as red on black.  Avoid red if your database deals with finance. Also avoid using color as an essential element to understanding the content.  You may want to take a screen shot and paste into a program like PowerPoint.  You can then view it or print it in black and white.

This link from the Lighthouse of the Blind has examples of color choices that people may have a hard time seeing:

Once you've chosen all your colors, test your choices by going to the Control Panel's Display to see how they look under the different themes.  Not every user will be using the same setting as the one you use in your design--you may find a particular color is not as readable if the user has his Windows colors set to "Rose."

Fields: The fields should be in an order that is logical to the user.  Tab through all the fields to make sure the tab order is correct--especially if you've rearranged them.  You may also want to change the form's cycle propery to "Current Record" so user won't automatically go to a new record.

Verify also that your fields aren't truncated--that is, the letters are cut off along the bottom.  An easy way to correct this is to double-click on the bottom handle of the field.  Access will automatically adjust the field to the next line.

For larger fields containing, say 150 characters, type enough content to fill the field.  Adjust the field as necessary so that when the user gets to the end of the field, they are at the end of the text box as well.  Otherwise they'll think that they should be able to type more in that block and wonder why they can't!

Labels: Labels for fields should be flat.  Sunken or raised labels may give the users the impression the label is a field.  Flat labels will help eliminate any confusion.  Add a colon after the label name to further identify it as a label (this also helps with accessibility).  The label should be attached to the field as well so you can use keyboard shortcuts.  To reattach a label to a field or even a button, cut the label, click on the control, and paste.

The text for labels should be normal sentence case.  Typing in ALL CAPS or Title Case is very hard to read--and it also takes up more space.  Avoid italics, which are also hard to read. Make sure everything is spelled out completely and correctly.

Finally, view your form at the different resolution settings to make sure there aren't any unexpected issues, like a user viewing at 640X480 can't access part of the form.  

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