Flashcards 105 - The Menu: Make Life Easy
I'm a big fan of food. During one part of my life, I lived
as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, West Africa.
While there, I ate like the locals, which meant pretty
basic food -- things like millet, and rice with dried fish
sauce. For those of you who aren't familiar with millet,
it's a staple in the diet of a great part of the world. If
you have a parakeet or a cockatiel, and you feed it
birdseed, most of what you're giving it, is millet.
It was in this era of my life that I became a real foodie;
started cooking and became enthusiastic about new
foods and restaurants.
When you're at a new restaurant, the atmosphere is
important, but the menu is critical. I don't like menus
that are posted on a blackboard, or menus
containing type with cutesy little things that make it
difficult to figure out what food is being offered. I have
a pet peeve about being given a menu in a restaurant
where the lighting is so poor or the print is so small
that it's really difficult to read.
A database application should use a menu like a
restaurant should use a menu. It should highlight the
things that are most important on the very first page
and allow the user to get around as simply as
possible. This month, we'll build the menu for our
Flash Card program.
|The Mechanics of Building a Menu
Building a basic menu is a fairly straight forward
process, which I covered in the March 2005
version of the
Wizard, so I won't go into detail here about the
mechanics. Rather, I'll focus on utility and the
philosophy of menus.
Here's my starting point for the Main menu:
As you can see, we have a few things going
- A welcome message at the top.
- A picture to add visual interest on the left-hand
- A versioning indicator on the lower left-hand
- The menu itself in the middle.
Clicking an item in the menu will do one of several
things; it will either bring you to a form or a submenu,
or will exit the program.
The Reports item will open a reporting
Tools will bring up a sub-menu that has various
utilities for the application.
The final item provides a graceful exit from the
program. Behind the scenes, I'll typically do some
the user exits.
Notice I have a picture in the menu. This is
and adds a little bit of interest to the opening form. I
am not an artist, so I don't even try to create my own
pictures. Instead I go to Google and type the name of
a picture that I think makes sense. In this case, I
searched on "flashcards," then just browsed around
until I found a picture I thought would both look good
convey the concept of the program.
If you want to try this, go to Google, find a drawing,
clipart, or photo, then right click the picture and choose
copy. Swap to your Access Application, open your form
in design mode and choose edit paste from the menu.
The title at the very top of the form "Flashcards", in
blue, is based on the Switchboard title for the
particular menu, so pay some attention. When you
are titling your switchboards in the wizard (again, see
March 2005 for details), make sure your Top Level
Menu items make sense for the Title Area of the Menu.
The welcome message in black at the top is simply a
text box formatted in bold with a sans serif 18 point
You can certainly get much fancier than I have with the
welcome line at the top. I just tend keeps things
simple. But if I were more artistic, I'd probably play
around with that a whole lot more.
One final note: On the menu, I put the version number
and build date in the lower left hand corner. All my
applications contain this versioning element. This is
based on a versioning table within the application,
and the particular text that appears on screen is
controlled by code. I'll be reviewing how to put a
version on the menu in a future Wizard.
I find that things become increasingly more complex,
as I develop my applications. The menu structure is
designed to hold a maximum of eight items on any
single menu. For most
applications, this works just fine by moving selected
items to sub-menus. The built-it menu manager
(Tools | Database Utilities | Switchboard Manager)
makes it very easy to create and manipulate menu
Occasionally, applications are so complex that they
need a completely different menu structure. But those
tend to have relatively high design overheads, and I
only use them when they're truly needed.
This month, we designed our flash card program
menu. Our goal has been to keep things as simple
as possible for the user, and to make things intuitive
so that no special training is required to use the
This ease of use and making life simple is something
that you should consistently strive for in building
|Trap of the Month - Don't Set Events to Functions
When you are working with controls on forms and
want the form to react to an event by calling a function,
you'll meet a potential trouble spot.
In order to call a function from a form control,
you must start with the equals sign, followed by the
name of the function, followed by a pair of
parenthesis. For example, =LastDayofMonth().
If you don't include any of these items you'll get very
and unhelpful error messages from Access. If you
have problems in your code that calls the function
directly, you'll also get unpleasant and confusing
feedback from Access. For these reasons, I tend to
avoid hooking functions into properties of controls
directly. I think a better approach is to call a
subroutine, and then have the code manipulate the
control to get the results you want. This is a much
more direct way to do this and makes it easier to
Tip of the Month - Copy Prior Record
If you working in a list form and find that you frequently
want to copy the value of the field in the prior record,
use CTRL+ ' (apostrophe). This will repeat the value
from the prior record into the current record.
As a bonus, this technique will also work when you're
on a single record form. Even though the prior record
may not be visible, this trick will still work.