Making the application aesthetically appealing and intuitive

If you've used many different software packages, you've undoubtedly seen examples of poorly designed user interfaces, difficult-to-use programs, and just plain ugly screens. If you're developing spreadsheets for other people, you should pay particular attention to how the application looks.

How a computer program looks can make all the difference in the world to users, and the same is true with the applications that you develop with Excel. Beauty, however, is in the eye of the beholder. If your skills lean more in the analytical direction, consider enlisting the assistance of someone with a more aesthetic sensibility to provide help with design.

The good news is that Excel 2007 makes it relatively easy to create better-looking spreadsheets. If you stick with the pre-designed cell styles, your work stands a good chance of looking good. And, with the click of a mouse, you can apply a new theme that completely transforms the look of the workbook - and still looks good. Unfortunately, Excel 2007 adds nothing new in the area of UserForm design, so you're on your own in that area.

End users appreciate a good-looking user interface, and your applications will have a much more polished and professional look if you devote some additional time to design and aesthetic considerations. An application that looks good demonstrates that its developer cared enough about the product to invest some extra time and effort. Take the following suggestions into account:

■ Strive for consistency: When designing dialog boxes, for example, try to emulate Excel's dialog box look and feel whenever possible. Be consistent with formatting, fonts, text size, and colors.

■ Keep it simple: A common mistake that developers make is trying to cram too much information into a single screen or dialog box. A good rule is to present only one or two chunks of information at a time.

■ Break down input screens: If you use an input screen to solicit information from the user, consider breaking it up into several, less crowded screens. If you use a complex dialog box, you might want to break it up by using a MultiPage control, which lets you create a familiar tabbed dialog box.

■ Don't overdo color: Use color sparingly. It's very easy to overdo it and make the screen look gaudy.

■ Monitor typography and graphics: Pay attention to numeric formats and use consistent typefaces, font sizes, and borders.

Evaluating aesthetic qualities is very subjective. When in doubt, strive for simplicity and clarity.

Note Previous versions of Excel used a pallet of 56 colors. That restriction has been removed, and Excel 2007 supports more than 16 million colors.

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