Wednesday 22 April 2009

Designing the Wessex Premier GUI

A program can be amazingly sophisticated but unless the user can easily operate it then it's pretty useless. This is where a well designed GUI (graphical user interface), or in other words a good looking, easy to understand main form comes in.

The Wessex Premier main form is that shape because it is logical to start entering data from the top and with each new type of data continue downwards, finishing with what we all want to know - the total price.
Also it is important to stop the operator accidentally entering data that the program does not expect. For instance the top two size boxes will only accept numbers or a decimal point. The moulding boxes will only allow upto 5 characters (the maximum allowed for a moulding ID.) plus lower case letters are converted to upper case.
Next to the total price button is shown the quantity. Which is a numeric up/down control, numbers are changed using the small arrows rather than allowing the operator to enter them directly.

Those Visual Basic aficionados amongst you will have noticed that the buttons have a non-standard appearance. This is achieved programmatically rather than using bitmaps - the same goes for the graded background. The total effect is (I think) one of good design which helps promote intuitive usage as well as looking right in a sophisticated retail environment.

Whilst the most used part of the program is designed to be as quick & simple to use as possible, other parts the GUI is used to slow down the operator and give them pause for thought. One example is saving of the Options form.
It is purposely meant to be slightly out of the ordinary so the operator has to pause to decide what's going on, and in doing so may save themselves from making a mistake.

Of course what is invaluable is being able to test the program in a real environment with operators who don't really care how it works, just as long as they don't get into a mess with it! Here, the most lowly member of staff is as important(if not more so) than any number of "experts", because they are the ones who will produce the combination of keystrokes and mouse clicks that these experts haven't even conceived of!

Monday 20 April 2009

Optimizing for Vista

It's taken quite a long time to get my hands on a computer capable of running Vista, a couple of months ago I managed it.
The obvious thing to do was to check that all the Wessex Programs worked. They did - WPP1 & WPP2 (written in VB6) had no issues. WPP3 however threw up a couple of interesting things.
The first was the graded colour background to many of the forms which finished (in Vista) before the bottom border. This is because the Menu & border widths are smaller in Vista, so I had to find code that would allow for XP & Vista. This turned out to be (instead of hard-coding for the physical width of the menu & border) to use "Me.DisplayRectangle.Height".
The 2nd issue was when opening another program (PDF reader or Media player) an error message appeared saying no application was associated with the process - the application then went on to open correctly! Annoying or what?
After a bit of digging I found the answer in "VB 2008" published by Wrox (it also applied to VB 2003 that WPP3 is written in). It was to add 1 line of code -
" myProcess.StartInfo.Verb = "Open"" It works without this line in XP, why does it need it in Vista?
Along the way I also tried a preview of the upcoming Windows 7 (Vista as it should have been) and found the programs were fine with that too.
So - Wessex now have the modified WPP3 (version 3.2.1) and all's well ?!

Saturday 18 April 2009

View of Programs

The original Wessex Pricing Program(WPP1)

Wessex Pricing Program Advanced (WPP2)

The main form of Wessex Premier (WPP3)