Customizing Dynamics 365 Forms Part 1 – What are Your Elements of Style?

 

When you are customizing Dynamics 365  forms — what are your Elements of Style? Back in the days even before there were pocket-sized calculators, in my high school you could identify the juniors because they all carried around a book called “The Elements of Style”. Don’t know if it’s used anymore in English classes (do kids even have books anymore?) but at the time it was THE reference book for anyone who needed to write a paper (yes, back then papers could still be handwritten although we did have typewriters – some of them were even electric!!!). The book gave you guidelines for writing and styling your composition so it would meet the criteria (best practices?) your instructors were expecting you to follow. When you are customizing Dynamics 365  forms — what are your Elements of Style used consistently in configuring those forms?

“Again with the Users

Although I am sorely tempted to create forms based on MY idea of a beautiful, perfect form (if there is such a thing), I know I am destined to do the best I can to fashion it in a manner that makes it immediately informative, efficient and if it’s pleasing to the eye and in ‘my style’, that’s a bonus.

With Microsoft’s current ‘open’ design for content and the ability to format forms in many different ways, you can spend a lot of time trying to come up with that perfect form. And since each CRM installation has its own set of needs, sometimes there are just too many choices to make. So, as you gain experience working with forms, I encourage you to develop some of your own ‘best practices’ for how you design them, and then use them to make your configuration efforts more efficient.

Where does inspiration come from?

There are blogs you can find that talk about User Interface design techniques. Search them out and see what you glean from them. Here’s a link to a somewhat musty whitepaper from Microsoft on the subject. Combine that with your own creative side and the real world requirements of the form to give you a guideline to get started.

There most likely isn’t one ‘best’ way to create any particular form but there are a lot of ways in which a form can be made more efficient/relevant for the intended user. Beauty (and functionality) are in the eye of the beholder, yes?

Form creator beware…

I will admit to seeking a good amount of ‘consistency’ and ‘order’ in the forms I create. And it’s easy to take that path just so my brain tells me I’m doing a great job. Reality check – if the user doesn’t get what they need out of it, I’ve only succeeding in putting lipstick on a pig.

Some of my lipstick

In no particular order, just to get you thinking about what your ‘style’ will be . . . here are some things I try to do:

  • Footers – display the Modified On, Modified By, Created On, Created By (this info can be very helpful and I know exactly where it is every form that I work with).
  • Headers – who knows . . . they’re all different – do what makes sense for each record type.
  • I like to direct my eyes (and the users) to the sections on the form by exposing the line under the section labels – OOB format is too ‘open’ for me. But that’s just me.
  • I like the Tab labels to be lower case (they are already big so having them in CAPS seems like shouting) and the Section labels to be upper case.
  • Social Pane positioning (I know, it’s called something different with each version change) — I prefer it over to the right rather than in the middle (and I don’t like the fact that Customer seems to always end up way over to the right on Opportunities, etc.). However, I can see the case for keeping it in the middle if customers are creating many activities from it.
  • Top page of the form — really want to present as much of the important info to the user as possible on the first page they see so they don’t have to use the scroll bar/I can minimize the use of the ‘navigate to tab’ feature.
  • However, ‘navigate to tab’ is a real time-saver and so setting up the form so that it is broken down into multiple tabs rather than tons of sections within a smaller number of tabs makes sense to me many times.
  • Sub-grids – can be overused but for people who look at Orders and Invoices, Opportunities and Quotes, Cases, etc., I like to give them a tab for ‘Orders and Invoices’, with a column for an Order sub-grid and a column for an Invoice sub-grid. No reaching up to the Navigation bar and finding Orders and clicking through a bunch of steps.
  • Accounts and Contacts – really don’t like some of the ‘Details’ fields being way down on the form – Description or Personal Notes for example. My preference is to put them up in the top right of the form, right above the Social Pane.  Also, if I move things around on one or the other of these forms, I try to update the other form so they are pretty close to having the same type of format and content.
  • Opportunities, Quotes, Orders, Invoices – as I ranted about earlier, move the Customer over to the left hand column; also try to keep these forms consistent (as budget allows).

Have it YOUR way (kind of)

Customizing Dynamics 365 forms – what are your Elements of Style? My style is certainly not yet complete nor is it perfect. Develop your own ‘style’ and as long as the User community is able to work with it in a relevant and efficient manner, let your creativity and your personality show through.

By John Clifton, Application Consultant, Dyn365Pros, Microsoft Dynamics 365 partner, San Diego, Southern California. Click here to talk to a Pro!