With the advent of native charting in FileMaker Pro 11 developers can take advantage of powerful tools to design reporting dashboards to visually display critical information.
Images can convey information at a glance. Images can also overwhelm. A dashboard design should recognize that in order to communicate information effectively, the key is to illuminate, not overwhelm. Bright graphics and visual effects may have the opposite impact, hiding the data among fancy design and slowing down the user’s ability to interpret information.
Reporting in FileMaker entails sorting and sub-summary layout parts. The basis for any dashboard is almost the same. Data must be sorted and grouped. Charts can exist either as graphs alongside text, such as lists or sub-summary reports, or on specially crafted layouts focused on images only. The latter could display a variety of data from several different sources, all gathered and grouped in ways that make logical sense. I would argue that only the latter is a real dashboard, for while charts can greatly enhance data around it, a dashboard is essentially summary data only, and mostly graphical in nature.
Native FileMaker Pro charts come in only five variations—bar, horizontal bar, line, area, and pie. In addition, there are limits on how one can customize the appearance of each type. Labels with the chart appear untouchable; here a calculation option with Tooltips can prove invaluable. We can, to a limited degree, manipulate the dimensions of the charts by affecting other elements around it, such as the title and label size.
In order to best convey information about data through charts one has to select not just the right type, but consider size, what should appear in the labels, and color. One set of data might make perfect sense as a horizontal bar chart, and no sense in a pie chart.
Charts displayed within a record often require minimal preparation. Dashboards, where different sources can be combined into a single layout, usually require scripting in order to combine all of the elements. In brief, these scripts gather data points into global variables, for labels and/or values, with the last step switching to the dashboard layout where the charts are set up to receive the global variables and display the data.
Incorporating dashboards into FileMaker solutions is now easier than ever, with no need for plug-ins or external data such as the Google Chart API through web viewers. This graphical way of viewing reporting data can enhance solutions and provide developers and users with new tools to understand their data.