Build Your Own – Details

In my previous article on using Filemaker Pro to design a garden planting database I covered an overview of how to setup the look and feel of a project. Now I want to get into a few more details of why use a database in the first place and what to include in your database project.

Why A Database

Having worked in the corporate environment for many years I have watched people struggle with using spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel and Apple’s Numbers to try to create some type of database functionality. And, yes, these apps can do a little bit of that. If you only have access to Excel or Numbers then make the best of it. But, it you are going to need serious manipulation of information (data) a true database application like Filemaker Pro, Panorama or Microsoft Access is the only way to go. Trust me, there really is no comparison. 

In the old days a database app was just a way to manipulate data, just lists of stuff. But a modern database app has all kinds of cool ways to present information for data entry. These files can also be served up so other people can interact with the database over a network. Also, they can be saved as a “canned” solution for your personal or company’s specific needs. There is no end to their versatility and power.

I have already gone over how to setup the design theme of a database project in Filemaker Pro. Lets take a deeper look into what should actually go into a database. 

Database Details

When designing a database it is important to determine what is the purpose of the database. What kind of data are you tracking, how will this project be used. Once your purpose and design is solidified you can start adding the details to make it all happen. This means adding the “Fields” for the information you want to massage and manipulate (keep track of). When you open a new project in Filemaker Pro it presents you with the “Field Picker”:

Click on “New Field” and start adding the data fields for the database. The above picture is of my garden database. The fields make sense for the purpose of the project. On the right you can see what type of field each one is. There are Text, Container, Number, Date, Time and other types of fields. Depending on what data is going into a specific field, you select the correct field type for that data. Once you have the fields you need (you can always add fields later) you place them in your layout theme in the order you wish. Then you are on to styling the appearance and look, how the information is presented.

Appearance & Design

Most database programs allow you to style how your layout actually looks. This involves all kinds of stuff like types of fonts, colors, how fields are presented (text, dropdown menu, radio buttons, etc.). Here is the “Appearance” Inspector in Filemaker Pro:

You can tweak graphic items, fonts and all kinds of stuff. It really is quite sophisticated. Here is one of the layout windows from my garden project:

You may want to double-click the image for a larger version to better follow along. As you can see I have dragged the fields onto the layout and placed them where I want them to be. The “Plant” section above lists all the info I wish to track on the various veggies we plant. The “Soil” section below is a separate table (don’t worry about what a table is) listing the soil conditions at the time of planting. On the right there is a picture of the particular veggie with mature fruit on it. I also have added some buttons that provide certain functionality. You add a button and then add a script to the button that tells the button what to do when pressed. This scripting area can get very complicated, but there are some more obvious, simple scripts as well that are not difficult to figure out. 

Conclusion

There are all kinds of things I can talk about in setting up and designing a database in Filemaker Pro, Panorama, etc., but just don’t have the space. Hopefully, these two articles provide enough information to encourage you to take the leap into the true database world. If is fun and can be very useful to your household and/or business workflow. My wife and I are really liking our garden database. It will help us determine what works and what does not work in our garden year in and year out. You can design a database project to track just about anything you do. They can be extremely useful when a little thought is invested into the project.

Doug