Dynamics 365 – Elements of Style – Ch, Ch, Changes

The evolution of Microsoft Dynamics 365/PowerApps, etc. has been swift and unrelenting. Those of us who create and implement solutions face more and more “to-do’s” with each new engagement. Not only do we need to try to keep up on the functionality changes and the expanding holistic environment, but we also have new tools that enable us to really ‘present’ a product to the consumers. Appearance counts for a lot and sometimes a little bit of form over function is an approach that should be considered. So, we need to be technicians as well as artists (and I use the word loosely).

As David Bowie sang many years ago “Turn and face the strange ch, ch, changes”.

A while back, I wrote a couple of Dynamics 365 ‘Elements of Style’ posts which were intended to get you thinking about what your style is and about some of the elements that you should consider as you ‘compose’ your solutions. And now, here we are in the transition phase where we will see the twilight of the ‘classic’ interface (classic D365 8.2/9.0) and the move to the Unified User Interface (UUI). At least that’s today’s plan.

I will admit that:

  • I am very excited about the UUI.
  • I have yet to jump in and create a solution using it.

So, this may well be my last chance to pontificate about the use of the elements of style for the ‘classic’ interface . . .

The name is ‘Monet’ . . . ‘Claude Monet’

I’m not an artist but I do like symmetry and color and somewhat of an ‘order’ to things. What can I do to make my products more interesting/more functional/more user-friendly without involving a lot of effort? This is not rocket science and these tools are part of the standard toolkit but if you’re not delving into them, please do. I’m going to mention the tools/functionality and then a few general points to think about.

Sub-grids

Love sub-grids . . . they can be a big help and they can be overused, too, so make sure you tailor your use of them to the requirements. And, yes, I know that UUI has a nifty way of economizing the space they occupy on the form, but we’re talking ‘classic’ here. Anyway, think about using the ‘Panel header color’ option on your forms:

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Partner San Diego Southern California

What if you use color AND a little method to your madness? Why not use “#90EE90” as the header color for ALL your Contact sub-grids across the various forms? Users will get used to looking for the color – might make them a little more efficient, might make their forms a little more interesting. (Ok, maybe a different color is better, but you get my point).

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Site Map Editor

While the actual Dynamics 365 drag-and-drop process can be a little ‘clunky’ (at least on my PC), you’ll have to admit that for adding/deleting/moving sitemap objects, the new 9.0 editor is pretty nice to have. Use it to de-clutter and make the user experience less overwhelming. We all know that Dynamics 365 is a killer ‘tool’ because it can do so much and is so extensible, etc. But for that same reason, it can look like a sledgehammer to users who thought they were getting a tack hammer.

Just remember to get into the habit of exporting your existing sitemap before editing ‘just in case’. And then work with the users to fashion a less intimidating version of what “they have to look at and search for things in” many times a day.

There are still a lot of choices below but it’s a lot cleaner than the OOB version. We’re always trying to keep the choices to the bare minimum . . .

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Custom Icons

Now, it’s easy to go too far with some of this ‘purtying things up’ business but it really does make a difference when each choice on the sitemap is represented by a unique icon and if you’re lucky, one that may at least somewhat represent the item it is associated with. In the example above, the business deals with products for autos so they have data about the various makes and models. The ‘Makes’ icon is the symbol for ‘Ferrari’ . . . sometimes you get lucky.

On the downside, finding the icons, tweaking the colors and padding, creating the web resource, updating the D365 config with the 16 bit and the 32-bit web resources . . . admittedly it can be tedious and a little time consuming but once you get into the ‘routine’ of it, you’ll become more efficient and the user experience will definitely be enhanced.

A free tool to consider for icons is the ‘Syncfusion Metro Studio 5’. Very easy to learn, very flexible as far as design goes and has a lot of icons to work with. Adds some fun to the tedium.

Themes

Not going to spend a lot of time on this topic as this IS definitely one place where you can get lost in changing the colors and various settings. If you’ve got a lot of spare time to get into all that minutiae, then go for it. Minimally, you should consider adding your company logo to a custom theme and maybe tweak a few of the colors, perhaps to match your corporate colors. Also, a good way to help differentiate environments (make Sandbox an ugly color 😊).

Maybe I am an ‘artiste’!!!

Okay, I’m not . . . but why not try to kill a couple of birds with one stone. Exercise some of your artistic genius and ‘brand’ your creation while making it more attractive and functional for the users. And then if you’re doing it in version 9.0, just think about when it makes sense for you to jump over to the UUI camp and figure out how to do the equivalent there. Ch, Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes . . .

By John Clifton, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Application Consultant, Dyn365Pros, Microsoft Dynamics Partner, San Diego, Southern California