Colourful reports with no pictures – use of alternative fonts

When constructing a Reporting Services report we have the option of using pictures to illustrate a concept – and Edit button can look like a pencil, traffic lights usually are presented with small icons, a print button can show a small printer. While in PerformancePoint we must use small pictures to show these, in Reporting Services we can also use alternative fonts in the Microsoft fonts library. Standard Microsoft options are the Wingdings and Webdings font families. Using them we can construct horizontal bar graphs, traffic lights and various other icons. The positives with doing that are: seamless exporting to PDF and Excel, easy change of an icon throughout all reports – both of its appearance and colour and easy synchronisation of colours between various report icons.

Examples of report items using Wingdings are:

Horizontal Bar Graph:

bar_graph_wingdings

Traffic Lights:

tlights_wingdings

tlights_2_wingdings

Combination of icons, traffic lights and trend arrows:

combined_indicators

All of the examples above use Wingdings and Wingdings 2. The definition of the characters, fonts and their colours are stored in control tables, thus they are easily modified without altering the reports.

The first example shows a dynamically generated bar graph where the length of the character string corresponds to the numbers displayed to its left. The largest number fills up the entire table cell, and as it gets smaller, the number of Webdings characters proportionally reduces.

The second and the third reports utilise Wingdings and Wingdings 2 to display colour-blind friendly traffic lights.

The third report fragment illustrates a combination of traffic lights, risk trend arrows and edit characters (pencils icons), all of which use conformed colours, easily synchronised and easily interchangeable. The colour of the upwards trend arrow, in example, is exactly the same as the one used for the red traffic light.

There are a few considerations when using these fonts.

Firstly, only Wingdings and Webdings come with a standard Windows installation, while Wingdings 2 and Wingdings 3 are packaged with Microsoft Office. This is important as the report users need to have all report fonts installed on their computers so that their browser can render them. Also, if we want to allow for printing and exporting the reports to PDF or Excel the fonts must be installed on the Reporting Services server instance as well. Provided we can guarantee this set-up all of the described functionality is seamless for the report users.