Designing Crystal Reports for Users
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by Jeff McWherter
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Design Basics

The Users

The users of your reports are usually in a hurry. They do not have time to read everything on the report, and often just scan the report and find the pertinent information. It is very important that you take this into consideration and create a clear visual hierarchy in the report. Reports should be broken down into a clearly defined header, body and footer. The header should contain data such as the title and filter criteria. The body should contain the report data sorted into a logical hierarchy that is easy for the user to read. The footer should always contain the page number and the date/time the report was created.

Figure 1: A clearly defined report hierarchy

The report above was created using only the tools and techniques we have discussed so far. The images were downloaded from Stock Exchange, the color scheme was created using Adobe Kuler, and Paint .net was used to create the images with rounded corners. Notice the hierarchy of this report. Often times when printing product images or employee images within a group, it is difficult to maintain an easy-to-understand hierarchy. In Figure 1, you will notice the employee information and sales numbers are indented slightly to the right to make the hierarchy visible.

How to Get your Message Across

When creating your reports, keep the message you want to convey in your mind as a priority. This message may be as simple as "Sales by Quarter" or maybe "Order Fulfillment." If the message of your report is "Sales by Quarter" I would assume the total number of sales would be a vital piece of information. The message should be displayed near the top of the report allowing the user to see the message right away. If the message is "Order Fulfillment," you may want to fit as many orders on the same page as possible. Report names are important when trying to get your message across. If a user does not know what data is contained in a report based on its name, it is a sign you are not getting your message across. If you have reports that do not allow filter criteria, but that are filtered by a value, include it in the report title i.e. "Order Fulfillment for Current Year."

Figure 2: Getting your message across

The report in Figure 2 contains a large amount of data, with a very clear message. The alternating row color also improves the readability of the data.

To add alternating row color to your report, in the Section Expert choose the color tab for the details section and click the formula (the X+2) button.

Figure 3: The Section Expert

Figure 4: Alternating row color formula

 

Large Amounts of Data

Often times when reports are created, they are not developed using a dataset that is representative of production data. This causes issues in design when you only expect to render a small set of data. For example, an "Order Fulfillment" report has the potential to be a very large report depending on the number of orders. Since this report may contain many line items, you will want to take care that each line item does not take up any extra space. If you are not using data that is representative of production, you may run into issues with overlapping fields, incorrectly formatted fields, unexpected page breaks, hundreds of pages, and performance issues.

Figure 5: Overlapping fields

Field Formatting

Pick a common format for your field values and stay consistent with this format through all your reporting applications. If you decide negative numbers should be enclosed in parentheses and the font should be red, stick with this format throughout every report in your application. In most business cases a negative number is a bad sign. I have found that users react better to negative numbers with a font color that is maroon instead of "fire engine red."

Figure 6: Maroon instead of "fire engine red"

figure1.6.png

Ensure your fields only take up as much room as they need, this helps keep reports clean.

For reports with large amounts of data use a small font such as 10pt.

Select the "Can Grow" option for large data fields.

Set tool tips to describe complex fields in more detail.

Logical Grouping of Data

The flow of most reports depends on how the data is grouped, how the data is sorted, and whether the data is contained in a cross-tab. Sometimes these questions are addressed in the business requirements, other times it may be upon the developer to make these decisions. At the minimum, developers should take care in ensuring that all data is sorted logically and consistently. Grouping data allows reports to be read easier.

Grouping by Field

Grouping data by fields allows analysis of the field summarized into a logical grouping.

Figure 7: Orders grouped by order month

   


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Title: Mr   
Name: Mahmud Rahman
Date: 2009-04-22 2:12:38 AM
Comment:
Great article and explained everything about designing rich report within short time and awesomely helpful links.

Thank you very much!!
Title: Designing Crystal Reports for Users   
Name: Leda Justiniani
Date: 2009-03-24 1:53:42 PM
Comment:
Thanks for the information. I did not know about this links. Please keep me in mind when sending this kind of articles.
Title: Designing Crystal Reports for Users   
Name: bruce spong
Date: 2009-02-10 6:09:15 PM
Comment:
Great article - offers practical tips and helpful links to tools. I didn't know about Kuler.

Figure 2 probably should be set up with the Unit Cost being decimal justified... much easier to read.

Thanks!
Title: Crystal Report   
Name: Chetan
Date: 2009-02-05 11:43:30 AM
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How can I Create Dynamiclly Or Runtime Report(Crystal)

I Want to Add FieldObject Dynamiclly in Crystal Report
Title: Mr.   
Name: A.
Date: 2009-01-21 5:16:26 PM
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Great article. Very concisely offers practical tips and tools that are easily accessible. The abstract clearly indicates this is not an article for beginners, but if a beginner reads the article with that understanding, they could still some useful concepts to keep in the back of their mind as they go through more basic training (i.e., a basic reader should be able to follow most of the article). I'll have my staff read it.
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