Secret ingredients to quality software


Rules to Better Access UI

5 Rules

When designing their UI, Access developers often make these common mistakes:

  • Non-standard fonts - for example, making fonts bold or using different fonts on the same form
  • Different background colors for labels and controls - this will confuse users because it's not standard with Windows, and the colors are distracting
  • No standard OK/Cancel button pair - it's always a good idea to do as Windows does because users are familiar with Windows dialogs. "Save" and "Cancel" are non-standard, for example.
  • Lots of different forms - having a separate form for every block of data that needs to be entered can become a confusing and tedious process.

With the new breed of icons, themes and form layouts, you will try and steer away from the old Access look. Aim for a cleaner, less cluttered, and quicker to navigate look. With just a little time you can fix up your Access forms. Try these tips and see how you can transform even an Access Application!

Do you agree with them all? Are we missing some? Email us your tips, thoughts or arguments. Let us know what you think.

  1. Do you group forms into tabs where appropriate?

    Having a separate form for every block of data that needs to be entered can become a confusing and tedious process. A common example is having one form to add/edit Contact details, another to add/edit that Contact's Address details, and a third to add/edit that contact's Qualifications. This is not user-friendly...

    The best and most organized way to do this is by using tabs - see the examples.

  2. Do you target the correct resolution when designing forms?

    You will target your application towards resolutions that your customers can use comfortably. It is no good to just tell the customer to increase their resolution on their 15-inch LCD  because your application and others can become unreadable on smaller screens.

    See this rule for a guide as to which resolutions you will be targeting.

  3. Do you use appropriate and user-friendly icons?

    All through main Microsoft software, you will see a variety of icons used to represent the information they are related to, and to make the interface more interesting and appealing. When are developing forms in Access, you should aim to make it look and feel consistent and user-friendly, just like Microsoft does. 

    Find a library you like from one of the links at Do you know where you can find some nice icons? and use it consistently over your forms. See some examples of how we used these icons to vastly improve an old and stuffy Access UI.

  4. Do you use clean designs when creating forms?

    As we know, an image is worth a thousand words. So here are some examples of how to make cleaner forms:

    Bad Example

    A fairly standard Access 97 application that needs some love (Before a makeover)

    Figure: Avoid using background colors for your form controls - they can be confusing

    Figure: Avoid using non-standard fonts on your forms - keep them as close to Windows XP forms as possible

    Figure: All these forms will be grouped into a tabbed form

    Figure: The colors on this form are very distracting and add no value to the user - keep it clean

    Good Example

    Screenshots of the existing Application in Access 97 after an SSW makeover (Good)

    Figure: This is the same application above - can you believe it? We grouped the forms into tabs

    Figure: The icons give the form visual appeal and help to break up the plain colors

    Figure: It's easy to present your form more cleanly and with a Windows XP feel

    Figure: Even tricky forms with lots of logic can be tidied up. We used XP-styled controls and careful alignment to make this form more usable

    Better Example

    Access 2007 is an Easy Way to Give Your Old Access Application a new look (Best)

    These samples are from a Property Purchase and Negotiation Tracking application created for Queensland Water Infrastructure.

    Aqua MainMenu
    Figure: The main menu of one of our first Access 2007 UIs. It looks even better than the revamped Access 97 application

    Aqua Valuation
    Figure: Note the Action buttons in the top right hand corner - they are based on the Access 2007 templates

    Aqua PickerForm
    Figure: This picker form is based on a web-style picker UI such as Hotmail so users have a familiar UI

    Aqua Agreement
    Figure: With the use of frames with background colours, we have visually grouped controls

  5. Do you use OK/Cancel Buttons?

    It's always a good idea to follow how Windows does as users are familiar with Windows dialogs. "Save" and "Back" are non-standard, for example.

    For more information read Do your forms have 'Accept' and 'Cancel' buttons?

    See the examples for how to do this on your form.

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