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The Evolution of (FileMaker) Charting, Part 1b

Haven’t seen Part 1a yet? Read it here.

Our Charting Legacy
To help us plot our trendline trajectory into the future, please accompany me on a short stroll down memory lane. Reaching back almost twenty years, I’ve been able to collect a few stories about those early days. The first makers of charts in FileMaker Pro truly were pioneers. In the early- and mid-1990s Reinhold Stadelmann and Brian Dunning were wrestling with Cartesian coordinate systems in an heroic fashion. Their successes became the foundation on which FileMaker charting rested for nearly a decade.

timeline of FileMaker charting

timeline of FileMaker charting

So in this spirit and from the perspective of mid-2011, please enjoy my retrospective wanderings.

~Lee Lukehart

ChartMaker Pro, by Brian Dunning
It seems that Brian has always been keenly aware of market needs, and in the mid-1990s he applied his considerable technical talents towards addressing the unmet need for a charting solution that did not require a plug-in to function. There is nothing inherently wrong with plug-ins, of course — they simply provide a different set of advantages and drawbacks. As is often the case, Read more… »

The Evolution of (FileMaker) Charting, Part 1a

For this article I have taken a different approach, and offer up my current perspective on events in the history of data visualization and the FileMaker platform. Naturally, our viewpoints are formed by our direct experiences, but the passage of time also affects our interpretation. The other things that happen leading up to and following a point in time can alter the context — and meaning — of that moment.

Steve Jobs shared an example of this in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech. He told the story of how his taking a calligraphy class as a college “drop-in” created his bias towards the first Mac having rich typography. He pointed out how everything is connected — but that we really never know how, until later.

So in this spirit and from the perspective of mid-2011 (text edited), please enjoy my retrospective wanderings.

~ Lee Lukehart

IN THE BEGINNING, there was data.

The first area chart, by William Playfair

The first area chart, by William Playfair

Of course I’m referring to data in the times B.C. (Before Computing) — circa 1800 and earlier, before Charles Babbage invented the mechanical difference engine. This event begat teletype tape, punchcards, dot matrix line printers, and monstrously laborious plotters such as the CalComp pen plotter I commanded in college with Fortran IV. Its output looked like string art — colored thread strung between nails (often on black velvet) — a fad that was still popular at the time. Coincidence?

Contrast that image with the very first published line and area graphs, in 1786. Their creator, Scottish engineer William Playfair, also invented and published the first bar graph and pie chart within five years of one other. Those were heady times for paper and pen, printing press and engraver. One year after Playfair’s graphs debuted, a Dr. E.A.W. Zimmerman introduced the word “statistik” to the civilized world. And the first true topographical map was drawn by Marcellin du Carla-Boniface in that same 10-year period. Heady times indeed.

So why the fuss over events that happened more than 200 years ago? Read more… »

PivotBrowser UI demo from DevCon

One of our demo files was featured at the 2012 FileMaker Developer Conference (DevCon), at Bob Shockey’s session “The Design Universe.” During the session folks requested a copy of that file, happily provided here. (Thank you Bruce R. & Kevin F. for the nudge to get this out!)

button_parade_anim To recap, this file shows a UI proof-of-concept using the new button states in FMP12. The general idea was to explore how to streamline complex Finds (that usually are multi-step processes) in a way that was iOS-friendly. I also wanted to see if it made sense to use the same UI on the desktop, to provide a more seamless cross-device experience. To demonstrate one such solution we used a single global field, OnObjectEnter script triggers, and a couple short scripts. [9/13/2012: added a straight button-driven method. ~Lee]

exploring a movie database

exploring a movie database (click image to enlarge)

The use scenario is a casual user browsing a movie database. They don’t quite know what they want to see (no specific find criteria) so they will be using the “browsing” links provided to get ideas. True to mobile’s minimalist style, users interact by clicking (or tapping) directly on the content; the data fields ARE the “buttons” that initiate action. Users click/tap on “action” to see the list of movies with that genre, the director’s name to see a list of his films, etc.

The “pivot” descriptor comes from how a user in discovery mode interacts with a database. After each “find” the user sees different information that may take them in a completely new direction (hence, pivot). The user is rewarded with immediate results, with no extraneous criterion entry or navigation. The inherent difficulty with this more natural approach, however, is in how to construct the UI/UX for multi-criteria and complex (AND/OR/NOT) finds.

PivotBrowser demo from DevCon (teaser)

data exploration buttons

data exploration buttons

This morning, one of our demo files was featured in Bob Shockey’s DevCon session “The Design Universe.” During the session folks requested a copy of that file, which I will happily provide… after I return from the conference. 😉 Stay tuned, ~ Lee

Advisory about upgrading to Mac OS X Lion

The next Mac operating system, OS X 10.7 “Lion”, is scheduled to be released this month. “When should I upgrade?” is the hot question for users of FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server.

The short answer: We strongly recommend waiting to upgrade to Lion. There are known issues and potential problem points, regardless of your current version of FileMaker. For our clients whose solutions we host, we will conduct solution-specific tests before giving the green light on upgrading. Please delay upgrading until we have completed our internal testing.

One major change with Lion is that the compatibility software “Rosetta” will no longer be part of the Mac operating system. This means Read more… »

Message to “About Your Rating Symbols”

[Note: This is the text of a message I sent to the owners, seconding a valid user request per the blog post at which itself was a critique on a Netflix chart. These are but two examples of reducing efficacy through poor display choices.]

David and Barbara, thank you so much for your efforts and diligence over the years with The Internet is a better place as a result. I have directed hundreds of people to your site as a tool for fighting ignorance. I encourage folks to not believe everything they read, and to make at least the minimal effort of checking before they forward their erroneous (or even malevolent) message.

SnopesLegend_comparisonSo I was disappointed to learn that you willingly diminish your site’s user experience using red-yellow-green “traffic light” indicators after being informed of the method’s shortcomings ( Nearly 7% of males have a form of color blindness that makes it hard to distinguish between your true-or-false indicators. Your FAQ states that you know this, but you stick with the method anyway. You defend your decision with uninformed, flawed assumptions.

The color indicator problem is familiar to professionals in the data visualization arena — and so we use easily-implemented alternatives to side-step the whole issue. The following suggestions will work for your color-blind viewers, as well as normal-sighted people that print out your pages on a non-color printer. Read more… »

Serving the .fp7 MIME type

The Problem:
Clicking an .fp7 file download link on a web page results in a page full of garbage characters.

Mime or MIME?How do you go about sharing your FileMaker Pro files on the web with others? I’m not referring to hosting files on FileMaker Server — I mean giving someone the entire file to use on their computer or mobile device. With the advent of FileMaker Go for the iPad and iPhone, it has become preferable to post files as a straight .fp7 file (without compressing them to a .zip archive container), so that FileMaker Go can recognize and acquire the file directly.

But what’s wrong with this picture, Sparky?

Charting in FileMaker Go for iPad — what’s new in v2

Charting with FileMaker Go on the iPadWeb technologies have added functionality to FileMaker solutions since the Web Viewer layout object was introduced in version 8.5. The web viewer has proven especially useful for displaying Flash-generated charts from FusionCharts, Maani, AnyChart, and others.

FileMaker Pro v11 introduced a built-in chart layout object with 5 basic chart types. Charts suddenly became much easier to implement in FileMaker Pro!

However, with FileMaker Go for iPad and Phone (separate apps) built-in charting is not supported and Apple’s iOS doesn’t run Adobe Flash. The Google Charts API is popular, but for that you must be online.

Luckily, the potential of HTML5 for charting is huge, and the spec that affects charting functions (via the canvas tag) is fairly stable. Read more… »

Autoscaling Behaviors of the FileMaker Pro Chart Object

Ever have a FileMaker Pro chart “mysteriously” change its scale setting on you? Ever wonder how the FileMaker Pro chart object decides to set the y-axis scale? The FileMaker Pro documentation doesn’t provide that level of detail, so following are the behavior “rules” I’ve deduced through experimentation:

Scaling Behavior “Rules”…
(The following assume the y-scale min-max has not been set to static values.)

  • If the spread of values is less than 20%, the y-axis min-max will automatically adjust to show just the top portion of the plot.
  • If the high value is more than 90% of the y-axis max, the chart draws to the next larger grid line (which has its own set of display logic, by the way).
  • If the low value is less than ~14% of the visible scale, the chart draws to the next smaller grid line.

To experiment with settings on variously-sized charts download the demo file.

Happy exploring, and stay savvy!


Fun with FileMaker Pro 11 Charts, v1.5

Knowing how to represent data visually often draws upon quite varied skills. A data visualist ideally possesses some of the traits of information architect, graphic designer, mathematician, statistician, web designer, teacher, user interface designer, cognitive psychologist, and storyteller. One could argue that these skills are essential to thriving in our future information-rich society. Until the future arrives, however, we must manage with whatever we have. And one thing we now have is FileMaker Pro 11 Charts! Charting is the feature that will drive a new stage of success.

The demo file explores using the chart object in new ways… Read more… »