Tabular Set

Examples: Context:  There are many homogeneous things to show the user, each of which has similar additional information or subparts.   This is often used in a High-density Information Display.

Problem:  How should the information be organized?


Solution:  Show the data in a table structure.  Order it according to some appropriate organizing principle, such as by the value of some column (if the table's principal use is to compare items by that value) or alphabetically by item (if its principal use is to look up values).  Put some white space between columns to set them apart, but not too much; the user's eye shouldn't have to work too hard to go from one column to another.

The columns themselves should be organized logically.  Depending upon your purpose, they may be organized with the most commonly needed data immediately after the item name, and in decreasing order of importance as you move from left to right.  Or they may be organized in groups, with the group names above the column names (Small Groups of Related Things).  The best organization will depend upon the data and the user's purposes.

If it's reasonable to do so, allow the user to adjust column widths, column order, and sort order.  Many user-interface toolkits for computer applications provide these capabilities.

Resulting Context:  If there's no obvious way to indicate that the columns are manipulable (e.g. sortable, or with changeable widths), at least use Pointer Shows AffordanceRemembered State gives you a way to set up the column states according to how the user arranged them last time.

Notes:  Howard Wainer's book Visual Revelations has a brief but good chapter about table design.  It's worth reading if you will be designing a lot of these.

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Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.