Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 includes a bunch of new additions to the form customization options and controls. These enhancements provide even more ways to design forms for better usability, perfect for those nit-picky end users! While the form customization enhancements provide much more deisgn flexibility, there are a few downsides to watch out for. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when customizing your forms:
1. Drag and Drop – cool or not? Where did the green arrows go?!
A cool new feature of the form designer in Dynamics CRM 2011 is the ability to use your mouse to drag and drop fields onto the form. If you’re like me, after a while you will wonder where the green arrows from 4.0 went. The good news is that you don’t need them, you can now use the arrows on your keyboard – even better!
2. Up to 8 columns – great idea? Watch out for different screen resolutions!
Being able to display more information with less scrolling is always a goal. In Dynamics CRM 2011, you can now add sections to tabs up to two columns and up to four columns per section. Technically that’s up to 8 columns of information which can be very useful. However, depending on the screen resolution used, you may end up with some very confused users. Below is an example of a form with 8 columns. The first example is displayed in 1366 x 768 which looks great! The second is shown in 1024 x 768 – not so great.
Notice that the last field in the column does not display. (Now seems like a good time to remind you to test, test, test. Even if it is just customization changes.)
3. Less clicks – no complaints from me but beware!
If you notice on the screen shots above, you can now access the form editor directly from the ribbon of the entity that you’re on. This new option saves a lot of time when you are first customizing and testing forms. However, this convenience could be very dangerous in a production environment. Make sure that users have the appropriate security roles to prohibit them from doing this (and to all System Administrators, refer back to my message on testing).
4. Navigate in less time – but know what can’t be undone
Left navigation links can also be edited directly through the UI now. I love this feature because now these links can be ordered logically for the end user. To make edits to this area, click on the Navigation button on the ribbon. If you are working with links of related records, you can drag and drop from the Relationship Explorer onto the navigation area and re-order as you need to (or use your handy keyboard arrows).
One caution on this is that you can only add one link to the navigation area for every related record. In the case of the out of the box Activities and Closed Activities links, that is actually two links to the same related record. So, if you remove those links, you will not be able to re-add them after you save the form without going back into the xml to make that update. However, before you save the form, you can use the Undo button!
5. Tab order – an oldie but a goody!
When customizing forms, it doesn’t matter how nice they look. If the user experience isn’t a good one, then they won’t appreciate it. Tab order is very important on forms since most users don’t use their mouse to go from field to field. The shot below (described in more detail in the Working With Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 book) shows how the tab order occurs.