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From Bad Table to Good Table

In this article, we will take a simple table that appears to be well-designed and show you how to transform it into a much cleaner and more effective table overall.

We won’t be changing any of the data or text. All that will change is the design of the table itself.

That being said, let’s go ahead and jump right in.

From Bad to Good

Take a look at the below.

Overall, the design of this table isn’t terrible. You can see and read all the values and labels, and it’s pretty easy to understand the data. However, a lot can be done to improve the design.

Improvement No. 1

The first thing we can do to improve the design of this table is thin the lines that separate the individual cells.

The thinner lines distinguish the individual cells just as well as the thicker ones. Moreover, it is now much easier to read the text in the table.

Improvement No. 2

The next thing we can do is remove the vertical lines entirely.

Due to the Gestalt Principles of Visualization, our brains have no problem distinguishing the various columns in the table even without the vertical lines.

The absence of unnecessary lines does not hinder our comprehension of the table at all. On the contrary, it makes it even easier than before to read the text in the table.

Improvement No. 3

To improve the table even further, we can remove almost all of the horizontal lines as well.

Now the only lines remaining are those that distinguish the table headings and the total row. This is all that’s needed.

The text in the table is now more legible than ever, and the only lines that remain are only those that are necessary.

We have no problem tracing our eyes across rows or down columns to find a specific value, and the table headings and totals are distinguished from the rest of the table.

Improvement No. 4

As the table stands now, it is very well designed. The only improvement left to make is more of a personal preference.

The remaining horizontal lines do an excellent job separating the headings and totals from the rest of the data. If we want to distinguish them further, however, we can do so by bolding them.

This results in an efficiently designed table that communicates the data clearly without unnecessary distractions.

Hopefully, the next time you find yourself putting together a table of data, you are inspired to put a little extra thought into the design. When it comes down to it, you might just find that less is actually more.

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