Creating User Interfaces in C

Lesson 1

User Interface Design Principles

  • Ease of use = paramount importance
  • Design of UI primary consideration = target audience

Forms, Controls, Menus

  • Form

    • Primary element of UI
    • Contain related info / options - provide user with info required to proceed
    • = class
      • can create multiple instances of form
      • can inherit from form
  • Control

    • Make information / options accessible
    • Some display info (e.g. labels, picture boxes)
    • Some display and accept info (e.g. text box, list box, combo box)
    • Others (e.g. button ) allow course of action to be selected
  • Menu and toolbars
    • Expose available commands in structured fashion
    • Menus provide access to high level commands common to all forms in application (e.g. save, exit)
    • Items can be enabled / disabled to control options available at different times


  • Simplicity

    • V. important
    • Only expose functionality needed at that stage of application
    • Use tab orders to facilitate rapid navigation
    • Don't reproduce real-world objects (e.g. paper forms) - utilise capabilities added by computer
    • Use default values (based around target audience)
    • Utilise user feedback when designing UI
  • Positioning

    • Reflect importance and frequency of use
    • Most UIs read left-to-right, top-to-bottom

      • Important / frequently used at top of form
      • Controls used after from completed (e.g. submit button) placed according to logical flow at bottom of form
    • Group related information
  • Consistency

    • Key = design
    • Consistently use colours, fonts and control types
    • Only use what is needed - don't show-off
  • Aesthetics

    • Avoid busy forms
    • Colour

      • Use muted, agreeable colours
      • Design around target audience

        • Corporate colours
        • Cultural significance
      • Avoid hard / unreadable combinations
      • High contrast in important elements of application
      • Don't rely on alone to convey information
    • Fonts

      • Consistent throughout application
      • Avoid embellishments - use simple ones (e.g. Times New Roman)
    • Images and Icons
      • Add interest
      • Avoid distraction with busy images
      • Be aware of cultural significance (e.g. road signs for STOP vary)
      • Keep icons to shapes that can render within 16 x 16 grid
  • Shapes and Transparency

    • Do not overuse unconventional shapes

      • Doughnut shaped textbox may be unique but is unusable
    • Transparency can be used to manipulate controls while monitoring background activities

Lesson 2

Using Forms

  • Can create app without forms, e.g. service or console application, but rare
  • Apps with frequent user interaction have at least 1 form
  • Complex apps may require several forms

Adding Forms to Project

  • Create new Windows Forms project receive initial form named Form1
  • Form1 = class representing code behind an instance of Form1
  • Add additional forms

    • Through IDE

      • On Project menu select Add Windows Form
      • On Add New Item dialog click Windows Form and Open
    • Programmatically

      • Declare variable representing type of form
      • Create instance of form
// Assumes form called DialogForm 
// already designed by you

DialogForm myform

Myform = new dialogForm()

Visual Inheritance

  • Used to create several closely related forms
  • Allows a form to incorporate all members, controls, menus and code of existing form
  • Create base form with common UI elements
  • Use inherited forms to provide specific behaviours
  • Add visual inheritance through IDE

    1. On Project menu select Add Inherited Form
    2. From Add New Item dialog choose Local Project Items in left pane. In right pane select Inherited Form. Provide a name and click Open.
    3. Inheritance Picker shows Forms in project. Choose one to inherit from and click OK


  1. To inherit from form outside project click Browse and navigate to appropriate application. Click Open and choose desired Form.
  • Add visual inheritance through code
// Derive from MainForm residing within project
public class myForm : MainForm


Set Startup Form

  • If app contains multiple forms must designate one for startup and it must have a Main method
static void Main()

  • Choose any form (implementing Main) in Startup Object of project properties window

Form Start Location

  • Form StartPosition property select
    • Manual - open at Location property
    • CenterScreen - open centred in screen
    • WindowsDefaultLocation - open at default location
    • WindowsDefaultBounds - open at default location and size
    • CenterParent - open centred within parent

Changing Appearance

  • Some properties controlling appearance are structures. Expand by clicking '+' in properties window
  • Can change properties via code
// Change form colour within its implementation
this.BackColor = System.Drawing.Color.Red;

BackColor, ForeColor, Text Properties

  • Text = form caption
  • BackColor and ForeColor control forms colour
  • Controls inherit ForeColor from parent form
  • Many have also have BackColor from parent, others (e.g. text) are independent
  • Choose colours carefully - aim for high contrast

Font, Cursor, BackGroundImage

  • Once Font changed on form it is applied to all controls within form (for consitency)
  • Cursor controls icon displayed while mosue over form
  • BackGroundImage places specified image as form backdrop. Overrides Backcolor setting


  • Opacity controls form transparency, range 0 to 1
  • 0 = opaque, 1 = transparent
  • Control inherits form opacity
  • In property window Opacity represented as percentage

Form Methods

  • Methods perform actions
  • Every form inherits functionality from System.Windows.Forms.Form including
    • Form.Show - causes form class to load, display on screen (Visible property set to true) and receive input focus. If form already in memory effect = setting Visible to true
    • Form.ShowDialog - same as Form.Show except form displayed as modal dialog (no other app forms can be interacted with until this form dismissed)
    • Form.Activate - shifts input focus to form currently visible. If form not visible, method has no effect
    • Form.Hide - remove form from view, but maintain in memory. Sets Visible property to false
    • Form.Close - closes from and removes from memory. If called on application startup form then application closed

Form Events

  • Interesting occurrence occurs, raises event enabling other portions of app to handle event
  • Each control and form can raise events, e.g. FormHide method raised Deactivate event and VisibleChanged event
  • Developers create event handler - a method executing in response to event
  • Create via IDE or programmatically (latter more complicated)

    • Select form or control to host event handler
    • From properties window click Events button (lightning bolt)
    • Select desired event from list
  • Some events raised during forms lifetime
    • Load - fired when instance of form first loaded via Form.Show or Form.ShowDialog. Only raised once per form instance. Use to initialise form + prepare for use
    • Activate - raised when form receives input focus (Form.Show, Form.ShowDialog, Form.Activate). Use to set focus to particular control. Does not fire if click on another app and then return
    • Deactivate - raised when form looses input focus (Form.Hide, Form.Close). Use to validate user input. Does not fir if click on another app
    • VisibleChanged - raised when visible property of form changes (Form.Show, Form.Showdialog, Form.Hide, Form.Close)
    • Closing - form in process of closing but not yet closed (Form.Close). Use to verify all tasks require by form have completed - can abort close if required
    • Closed - raised after form closed (Form.Close) and handlers for Closing event completed. Use to execute clean-up code

Lesson 3

Using Controls and Components

  • Control

    • graphical tool to create / enhance app functionality
    • hosted by form
    • added from toolbox
    • some, e.g. button, textbox receive user input and perform simple tasks
    • customise functionality via event handlers
  • Component

    • similar to control
    • do not have visual representation, e.g. timer
  • Together implement most app functionality

Working with Controls and Components

  • Add to form using designer which displays form in graphical state - similar to how looks at run-time
  • Designer adds code for control to app
  • Position and size via mouse
  • Properties window displays / permits modification of properties for selected control (or common properties of multiply selected controls)
  • Can achieve same through code but designer + properties window = easy!
  • Components no visual representation - placed into component tray, not form. Use properties window to change its properties
  • Add to Toolbox

    • Select desired Toolbox tab
    • Right click and select Customize
    • If already registered select from appropriate list (.NET or COM)
    • Otherwise browse to location, select and click OK.
  • Add event Handler
    • Every control has default event, e.g. Button = click. To add handler double click control in designer
    • For other events
      • select control
      • Click events button in properties window
      • Find required event in list and select it

Control Tab Order

  • Tab Order dictates sequence controls selected when tab key pressed
  • Specified by controls TabIndex property - lower values receive input first. If two controls have same value focus goes to control closes to font of form (set by Bring To Front / Send To Back menu items)
  • IDE has tool for setting Tab Order. From View choose Tab Order and click controls in desired order

Controls Can Contain Other Controls

  • Container controls allow others controls to be placed within them
  • Use to logically organise groups of controls - group set of related radio buttons within GroupBox
  • Logical groupings can be manipulated programmatically
  • Create sense of flow within UI
  • GroupBox and Panel

    • Both provide logical and physical grouping
    • Changes in their properties, e.g. Enabled, affect all contained controls
    • Move + position all contained controls as group
    • Groupbox provides caption to label contained controls
    • Panel provides no label but is scrollable
  • TabControl

    • TabControl hosts number of TabPages
    • TabPages host controls
    • Group controls onto a set of tabs
    • Example = app property pages
    • TabPages similar to Panel controls - scrollable subdivision of form
  • Controls collection
    • exposed by all control containers
    • Count property = number of controls.
    • Item property = returns specific control
    • Add and Remove methods support dynamic maintenance of controls within container
Control aControl;

aControl = myForm.Controls[3];


Docking and Anchoring Controls

  • Anchor

    • Define constant distance between control and 1+ edges of form
    • Fixed position in form by anchoring top and left
    • Resize by anchoring to opposite edges
    • Float freely by removing anchor
    • Set via properties window. Choose Anchor property and choose edges to anchor control to
  • Dock
    • Attach control to edge of form / completely fill form
    • Docked control resizes with form
    • Example = menu bar at top of form
    • Set via properties window. Click on part of interface corresponding to edge of form to dock to. Clicking in centre causes control to fill form
    • Anchor automatically set to top-left

Extender Providers

  • Specialised components that provide additional properties to other controls
  • E.g. ToolTip provider. Place instance on form and every control has new property - ToolTip - that is displayed when mouse hovers over control
  • Others include HelpProvider and ErrorProvider
  • Via Properties Window set new property for each control in turn
  • Programmatically set values via the Extender Provider
// Retrieve ToolTip for button1
String myToolTip;

myToolTip = toolTip1.GetToolTip(button1);

// Set tooltip for button1
toolTip1.SetToolTip(button1, "Click this button for help");

Lesson 4

Using Menus

  • Access top-level commands and functions in familiar, easy to understand interface
  • Expose app functionality logically and consistently
  • Group items according to functionality

Creating Menus at Design Time

  • Created via MainMenu component which manages MenuItem controls
  • Add MainMenu component to form

    • Component appears in component tray
    • Box with text "Type Here" appears in menu bar of form. Create new items by typing where indicated. Additional boxes created below and to right (below = menu items, right = new / sub menus)
    • Each menu item represented by MenuItem object. Its properties can be adjusted in Properties window
  • Menu separators (horizontal bar) added as hyphon in text box

Access and Shortcut Keys

  • Menu access via keyboard
  • Access Keys

    • Open menu via Alt-<key> combination, e.g. Alt-F for file
    • Select menu item in same way
    • Can have same access keys for different menu items - provided they are in different menu groups. If in same group use access key to toggle between them, cannot select with Enter key
    • Identified by underline character in menu item
    • To assign type & in front of desired letter for access key in menu item
  • Shortcut keys
    • Instant access to menu items - shortcut for frequently used items
    • Single key, e.g. Delete, F1, etc. or combinations -Ctrl+A, Ctrl+Shift+A, etc.
    • Key combination written to right in menu (provided ShowShortcut property of menu is true)
    • To assign
      • Select menu item
      • Select its shortcut property
      • Choose key combination

Menu Item Events

  • Create in same way as other controls
  • Click - executed when menu clicked
  • Select - menu highlighted, e.g. provide detailed help
  • Popup - prior to menu items being displayed, e.g. enable / disable menu items

Context Menus

  • Appear when item right-clicked
  • Similar to main menus, access keys not supported
  • Create with ContextMenu component (edit same way as MainMenu component)
  • Can associate single ContextMenu with several controls - only cone menu per control

Enable / Disable Menu Commands

  • Every menu has Enabled property.
  • When false menu disabled (including action and shortcut keys) and greyed out

Check Marks On Menu

  • Checked property displays check mark next to menu item

Radio Buttons On Menu

  • Set RadioCheck property of menu item to true. Menu item will display radio button instead of check mark when Checked set to true
  • Radio buttons used to indicate exclusive options - e.g. background colour. Must write own code to handle exclusivity

Menu Item Visibility

  • Set Visible property to false
  • Removes item (and any submenus) from menu - becomes inaccessible

Cloning Menus

  • Can copy menus at runtime, e.g. clone edit menu form MainMenu to serve as ContextMenu
  • Create new menu via CloneMenu method
  • Cloned menu all original menu items, properties and event handlers
// Declare + instantiate context menu
ContextMenu myContextMenu = new ContextMenu();

// Clone fileMenuItem

//Attach context menu to myButton
myButton.ContextMenu = myContextMenu;

Merge Menus

  • Display multiple menus (main or context) as single item
  • Call MergeMenu method

Add Menu Items

  • e.g. display pathnames of most recently opened files
  • No event handlers associated with them, can add Click handler via constructor of new menu item
// Define event handler
Public void ClickHandler (object sender, System.EventArgs e)



MenuItem myItem;

myItem = new MenuItem ("Item 1", new EventHandler(myClick));


Lesson 5

Validating User Input

  • Validate UI -> reduced chance of input error
  • 2 types
    • field-level - control over UI as it occurs
    • form-level - validate data after all fields completed

Field-level Validation

  • Use properties and events
  • Common control for UI = TextBox. Some properties include:

    • MaxLength - limits number of characters entered
    • PasswordChar - display text entered as '*' or other desired character
    • ReadOnly - prevent entry of data in TextBox
    • MultiLine - allow entry of multiple lines. Individual lines stored in array of strings (TextBox.Lines)
  • Keyboard events permit immediate UI validation

    • KeyDown and KeyUp - raised when key pressed and released. Commonly used to determine if Alt, Ctrl or Shift pressed (via KeyEventsArg parm)
    • KeyPress - raised when user presses key that has an ASCII value (a - z, 0 - 9, special characters such as Enter). Ctrl, Alt and Function keys do not raise KeyPress. Intercept and evalauet keystrokes, e.g. ensure key pressed is numeric
    • Validating Characters via static char methods such as Char.IsDigit, Char.IsLetter, Char.IsLower, etc. Return true if match
  • Focus = ability for object to receive UI
    • Every control implement Focus method - sets focus to control that called it
    • If succeeds method returns true
    • Determine if control can receive focus by checking CanFocus property
    • Following Focus events raised:
      • Enter - focus arrives at control
      • GotFocus - control obtains focus
      • Leave - focus leaves control
      • Validating - raised before control looses focus, only if CausesValidation property set (default). Validating event includes CancelEventArgs class - its cancel property when set to true causes focus to return to control
      • Validated - raised after control validated. Perform actions based on validated input
      • LostFocus - control looses focus

Form-level Validation

  • Central procedure implements form-level validation, called when user proceeds to next step
  • Keyboard handler
    • more sophisticated form-level validation, e.g. only enable command buttons after input present in all fields
    • events passed to form if no visible, enabled controls. Can force form to receive them first by setting KeyPreview property to true

User Feedback

  • User should be informed when invalid data entered

    • Sound
    • Change control colour
    • Message boxes (modal dialog box)
  • Error provider
    • Set error message for each control (either programmatically or at design time)
    • When message set, icon indicating error appears next go to control and message displayed as tool tip
    • Other properties effect behaviour, e.g. BlinkStyle and BlinkRate
    • Call SetError method to cause error condition
myErrorProvider.SetError( nameTextBox, "Name cannot be blank");