Microsoft Access Tips
to Avoid 17 Common Form Design Mistakes
Luke Chung, President
of FMS, Inc.
Access forms are extremely powerful. However, the developer can
easily make mistakes to cause a form to behave incorrectly or poorly.
Here’s a simple checklist of common problems with form designs.
Developers should verify these problems do not exist prior to finalizing
Avoid Common Mistakes
Check these items on your forms before you distribute them:
Verify Data Sources
Verify that the tables and queries
used by the form are valid. This includes checking the form’s record
source and the row source of all combo boxes and list boxes.
Without setting the form caption property,
the name of the form appears which may not be what you want your
users to see.
Make sure that what the user sees is accurate
and spelled correctly. In addition to the labels, the user also sees
validation text and control tip text. A common mistake occurs when a
control with these properties is copied, and only the label and
control source are changed. In this case, other properties such as
validation rule, input mask, default value, format, etc. may also be
Avoid Duplicate Hotkeys
Make sure accelerator keys
(hotkeys) are not duplicated. Accelerator keys allow users to use
the Alt key and letter to jump to a control. They are set by using
the “&” character in captions followed by the letter. For instance,
a Help button may have an “H” hotkey and appear as “Help” with its
caption “&Help”. A common mistake is to assign the same key to
multiple controls on the form. Test your form by using each hotkey
twice and verify it doesn’t go to more than one control.
Command Buttons Must have an OnClick Event
If it doesn’t
have an OnClick event, the button should be removed, made invisible,
or fixed. Sometimes the OnClick event is accidentally assigned to
the wrong event, such as the OnDblClick event. Alternatively, an
OnClick event is not necessary if it has a Hyperlink.
Verify Tab Order
Make sure the tab order of the controls
is correct. By default, the tab order should go left to right, top
to bottom. This is what users expect. If your form does not behave
this way, it exhibits unexpected (unintuitive) behavior which can be
frustrating for your users. The default tab order can be easily set
under the View, Tab Order menu. For situations where you want the
tab order to behave differently (for instance, you may want it to go
down columns for an option group), you can change this, but at least
you’re making a deliberate decision to deviate from the default
Explicitly Set the Allowed Views
Views Allowed should be
explicitly assigned to only display the way you want your users to
see the form. Options include viewing the form in form view,
datasheet view, and in Access 2002, PivotChart and PivotTable views.
Without the undesirable options turned off, a user can change the
view of the form by right clicking on the form and switching with
the shortcut menu.
Verify Shortcut Menu Setting
By default, the Shortcut menu
property is set to Yes, and no shortcut menu is specified. This
means Access’ default menu appears. If this is not desired, set this
property to No.
Verify Help File Context IDs
If you are using a help file,
make sure the help file name and help context ID are correct.
Avoid Missing Code
Make sure every event that has [Event
Procedure] assigned actually has an event procedure defined. A
common mistake is to assign the event without actually clicking
through to write the code for it. This can also happen if you rename
a control and forget to rename the event procedures tied to the old
Set AutoCenter to Yes
Make sure the AutoCenter property is
set to Yes. AutoCenter ensures that when your form is opened, it
opens in the center of the screen regardless of where you placed it
when you saved it on your machine, or what the user’s screen
Set Resize Property to Yes
Make sure the AutoResize
property is set to Yes. AutoResize automatically adjusts the display
of your form to the size you designed it. If this property is set to
No, the form appears in the way you last saved it, which can easily
be too big or small.
Set Combo Boxes LimitToList to Yes
Combo boxes should have
their LimitToList property set to Yes so users can only enter values
in the list. If this is set to No, users can enter any value. To
support users adding new values to the list, set the LimitToList
property to Yes, and use the NotInList event to handle the new
Increase Number of Rows Displayed for Combo Boxes
down from a combo box should be greater than the default of 8 (16
for Access 2007), so that if your list is longer, more can be shown
without the user being forced to scroll through them. We recommend
25 or more.
Set Combo Box AutoExpand Property to Yes
simplifies data entry by auto-filling the remainder of the selection
based on the first few letters the user types.
Set AllowDesignChanges Property to Design View Only
AllowDesignChanges property should not be All Views, but rather
Design View Only. When set to All Views, users can change the design
even though they are not in design view. This is something one
rarely wants them to do. In fact, if the form property sheet is open
the last time a form was designed, when a form appears with this
property set to All Views, the property sheet also appears which is
very confusing to end-users.
Use System Colors
For the BackColor property of form
sections and controls, use the system gray color (-2147483633)
rather than the default gray (12632256). In recent versions of
Windows (Windows Me, 2000, XP), there's a slight change in the way
gray is displayed, and the older gray appears darker than it should.
Mixing these two values for older Windows versions is not a problem
but you can see a difference on new versions. For Access 2007, see
the tips below.
Making sure forms are properly designed takes time and effort to
verify all the things that could go wrong. This is especially difficult
if you are taking over someone else’s work and/or if there are a large
number of forms. Fortunately, there are some tools which can address
some of the pitfalls listed here by examining all your forms and
highlighting the problems.
The first is
Total Access Analyzer
from FMS, Inc. Total Access Analyzer is the most popular Access add-in
and offers comprehensive database analysis that covers much more than
forms. With the exception of verifying the accuracy of what users see,
the form analysis detects all the other pitfalls listed here plus many
other areas such as module code analysis, procedure flow diagrams,
cross-reference documentation and verification, and much more.
The second tool,
Total Access Speller, is
also from FMS, Inc. Total Access Speller is a spell-checker that spell
checks what the user sees on your forms, reports, and other objects.
Easily verify all the captions, validation text, and control tips are
For significantly enhancing the user interface of forms, consider
Total Access Components, a collection of 29 ActiveX controls
designed specifically for Access to make your forms dazzle. Add
animation, rotated text, fancy borders, etc.
Tips for designing
Developing an application takes a lot of effort. Don’t let simple
mistakes ruin your application and embarrass you in front of your boss
and/or clients. Even a simple typo can ruin the trust a user has for
your application, work, and attention to detail. It usually only takes a
few minutes per form to ensure those who use it don’t see obvious
problems. This is a wise investment of your time for your career and
reputation. Use this checklist as the basis of your quality assurance
process for your forms. If you find other problems, add them to the list
so you can avoid them in the future. Making mistakes is okay. Making the
same mistake more than once means you’re not learning. Good luck.