Creating organized data tables in modern web design requires that an individual have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the old table formats. In order to create an effective table, it is important that the information be compelling, interesting, and data driven without being overwhelming or burdensome to the reader. There are many different schools of thought on what makes a table effective, but the most important aspect of table creation for a designer is to know the audience and market that will be reading the table.
The purpose of a table, that is often lost on some designers, is to provide more information to the reader in a concise manner that can easily be understood. When compiling volumes of data or presenting detailed information, the layout and structure of the table and its readability will be key to the presenter meeting their goals and objectives.
When deciding on the type of data table that will most effectively portray the intent and message of the data, it is important to critically evaluate the purpose of the data and it’s ultimate intent. Some tables contain static data which will experience minimal changes over the course of a period of time and will be more important for use as a supplementary presentation hand-out than as a dynamic and evolving tool. This type of table is often designed in the form of a chart that may be used with other charts to create a holistic picture of the data.
Other tables are used as dynamic and evolving tools that give accurate representations of the changes in the infrastructure and growth of a company. These tables are normally tied to several other parts of a website and a change made to any part of the website results in a change to the table. This type of table must be easily manipulated and able to adapt to several variables and changes within the company such as pricing plans, services, etc.
Designing tables for “plug-in” data often requires a synergy among several system administrators who control particular sectors or cells of the table. These tables often are in a constant state of growth and change. The cells are designed to adapt to different markets that provide staggered views of data depending on which stakeholders are viewing the table.
The design of the data table that is selected must include consideration to titles, labels, data, and structure that can be easily understood and used by all stakeholders who will be using the table. Many designers make the mistake of create a short-hand system for data labels that makes the table difficult to use and virtually impossible to manipulate without the assistance of the designer. Therefore, maintaining consistency in the table with an eye toward the end-users makes the table much more valuable to the client.
When selecting colors for the table, cells, and grid, it is important to consider that there may be occasions when the table will be replicated in black and white. If the colors that you select will not xerox clearly, it will devalue the table and reduce the ability of the client to use the table to its full potential. Many designers make the mistake of selecting vibrant and bold colors for tables that make it very dynamic when used in a powerpoint presentation, but the client and stakeholder that cannot see the same content in the black and white hand-out they receive will not keep the table and it will not be used over the long-term.