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We have a complex database application and would like to display mixed data in a data grid. By mixed data, I mean objects that roll-up to a single category (vehicles) but have unique properties (truck may have: bed length, car may have: hatchback, etc). We need to be able to view the data at the highest level (the composite mixed-data) and the lower classifications (truck, car, mini-van, etc).

Is the best practice to only show common properties of the data types? If there are very few properties, is the data still useful?

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Why are you showing the data? What purpose will it be put to? Who will use it? How will they use it? These all affect how it should be shown in this specific application. –  Alex Feinman Dec 19 '11 at 19:36
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The application is used as a catalog where the user may select one or more items from a data grid and see the component in a 3D window below the data grid. We're using an MDI that allows the user to see their database, the current table, the selected component and the components properties. The data itself isn't important, as the user may need to update multiple records in the data grid or a single records properties in the properties grid. They may also want to adjust components in the 3D view. –  MCRXB Dec 19 '11 at 20:27
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2 Answers

I would display only common data by default, but have a [+] button to push to display additional fields on a per-cell basis. This allows the user to skim the data initially, but to get additional information as needed.

Additionally, if you display only fields common to every row, then you are also providing interesting information to the user simply by what you chose to display. "Hey, you're comparing two trucks, we show all the details", vs "You're trying to compare a Van to a Coup, so very little direct comparison is possible... but hell, click that [+] if you really want to". It provides indirect feedback without restricting the user.

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I assumed this was a comparison shopping type UI in my answer; as Alex commented, a different purpose may necessitate a different UI. –  Myrddin Emrys Dec 19 '11 at 19:54
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Maybe This Dynamic Tools will give you some ideas.

http://www.webinvy.com/images/captivate/dynamicchart/DynamicChart2.swf

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If you are affiliated with a product / website you reference then you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.. Also, you haven't actually answered this question, you've just provided a link to a Flash file. if that link goes down then anything of value is lost and your answer becomes useless. Please summarize the contents of that link. –  JonW Nov 28 '12 at 20:53
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