Report layout can be boiled down to a few, simple design patterns. These simple styles also can be combined with others to form composite reports and more advanced layout to visualize data. This section offers a quick review of the report layout types, followed by some examples.
Tabular reports have been around for thousands of years. Well, they may not have been reports in the modern sense, but when you think about it, some common reports are really little more than “ lists of stuff ” organized into rows and columns. Ever since early merchants began trading seashells or precious gems for beaver pelts or goat cheese, someone was recording the transaction in some kind of list, be it on papyrus, stone tablets, or a tablet PC.
Ever since VisiCalc, the predecessor to Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel, was released in 1981, the tabular spreadsheet format has become the way many computer users are accustomed to viewing business data. For decades, the only printed reports available from mainframe and midrange computer systems were green - bar reports printed on pin- fed, fan - folded “ greenbar ” paper in classic spreadsheet style.
In Reporting Services for SQL Server 2000 and 2005, Tabular reports were defined using the Table data range item. In addition to the repeating detail rows, data can be grouped on various fields, and each group can have headers, footers, breaks, and subtotals. Tabular reports have a finite number of columns, typically representing the fields in a database table.
Tabular reports can be fine for logging detailed transactions and lists, but business reporting is often about summarizing information for analysis and to provide context to all the numbers and listed items. This is often best done by rolling up the details along groups and hierarchies and then viewing the aggregate totals, rather than the details. A matrix, cross - tab, or pivot report aggregates data along the X - axis and Y - axis of a grid to form a summarized table. The most unique characteristic of a matrix is that columns are not static but are based on grouped values. Both rows and column groups may be multilevel hierarchies, and there may be an infinite number of grouped members on rows and columns.
A matrix is most useful for viewing aggregated values along two different dimensional hierarchies, such as time and geography. For example, a product sales summary report might show aggregated sales with years and months on the columns axis and then the customers ’ countries and regions along the rows axis. At the intersection of each member along each axis, a cell displays the summarized product sales for that time and geography. For example, a single cell might represent the total sales for April of 2008 in Berlin, Germany.
A List report consists of a single, rectangular detail area that repeats for every record or group value in the underlying dataset. If you think about it, a list is a simplified table of sorts, but it has no headers with only one column and only one detail row. The main purpose of the list data region is to contain other related data regions and report items, and to repeat them for a group of values. A chart, table, matrix, and any combination of textboxes or images can be repeated as a group for every record or distinct group value returned by a query.
Because the table, list, and matrix had similar characteristics, all three have been combined into one designer object in the 2008 product, called the tablix . The capabilities and unique behaviors of each of these three reporting paradigms are made possible by enabling different group types and properties.
Behold, the mighty chart — no longer an exception, but very much the rule for expressing aggregated data values for comparison and trending. Column and line charts have become a natural medium to visualize a series of data in a meaningful and intuitive way. We ’ ve grown accustomed to seeing charts on the stock page of the newspaper, and on the home page of our news portal site, showing gas prices and housing market data. And, of course, we expect to see charts in the executive board room, used to explain the latest widget sales trends.
The nice thing about charts is that they provide visual context for a lot of different kinds of data. When used appropriately, the right chart types can tell a complex and important story with very little explanation required. Your challenge is to choose the right type of charts to visualize data in the most meaningful way for your users. In addition to the typical set of column, bar, line, point, and pie charts, you have a huge array of specialized chart types at your disposal.
Gauge Reports and Dashboards
The term dashboard reports gets tossed around loosely these days, often without much qualification. Although different people may not be able to clearly define exactly what a Dashboard report is or is not, I think the essential concept is quite clear. Think of the dashboard in your car. Its purpose is not to provide deep and detailed analysis of your car ’ s performance. If it did, there would be more road accidents because of distracted drivers. No, the purpose of a dashboard is to provide a quick, at - a - glance status of important metrics. All you really need to know is if your speed is in an acceptable range, whether the engine is revving too little or too much, if the oil and water are too hot or too cold, and whether you have enough gas to get to the office for that meeting in 10 minutes (or if you’ re going to have to make your presentation to the CEO by phone with your hand cautiously cupped over your cell phone at the filling station).
Dashboard reports are the same — important information available at a glance. Everyone knows how to read a simple gauge, so why not use the same gauge visualizations as those we ’ re accustomed to using in the car or on the machines on the production floor? Actually, there are several tangible gauge- type metaphors that are very appropriate in business, and the great thing about using these components is that when a business user sees a thermometer, VU meter, dial, or partially full cylinder, they immediately understand its meaning.
Composite Reports The layout types discussed above are more than a set of finite report design options. These report items and data range objects can be used as building blocks to assemble more complex and compelling report solutions.
Once you have the basics down, you can combine the report design and layout elements to create more advanced and compelling reports. Different report items and data ranges can be embedded into a data range to repeat the data visualization within the scope of a group row or column.
Page Layout Let’s discuss some important information you need to understand before you move on. These examples were created on a computer configured with US/English regional settings. As a result, all of the scaling units are set to inches. If your computer is configured for another culture or regional setting, your environment may use metric units.
It’s also important to understand how a report fits onto a page. The report content fits onto a design element called the body . The report defines the page for printing and displaying purposes with associated margins. The relationship between these two design elements will be discussed shortly.
Different scaling units — such as inches, points, pixels, and metric scale units — can be used for the report, body, and margins and control size measurements. The Designer will automatically use either inches ( “ in ” ) or centimeters (“ cm ” ), depending on the current locale setting in Windows.