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I'm wondering if anyone has recommendations of alternative ways of presenting data that is "tabular" than a datagrid.

Can anyone point to some examples of this?

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Depends on the media on which you want to present the data. Is it print media or electronic media like web pages or tablet computers? Also depends on the data itself. What data are you presenting? –  yasouser Dec 23 '10 at 18:45
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What do you mean by 'datagrid'? Are you referring to a .net control? If so, that makes a table. Tabular data probably belongs in a table. –  DA01 Dec 23 '10 at 20:08
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Yes, please clarify what you are asking for here. –  Charles Boyung Dec 27 '10 at 14:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'd suggest considering the 80-20 rule, and evaluating precisely what most of your users would be trying to determine from a grid. Then see if you can answer that question more automatically without resorting to all that raw data. Capture the common cases, and then you might still offer them a grid as a last resort.

Anecdotally: a city I lived in started putting GPS units in buses so you could look at a map and watch them as they moved. It's great data certainly... but watching the icons move on the map was information overload. I simply wanted an indicator that would light up and mean "leave your office now and you'll reliably make a bus without having to wait for more than 5 minutes".

I think that datagrids are often like that animated bus map; wasting code on user interface while leaving too much of the data processing and extrapolation of its consequence to the user...

(Incidentally if you're looking at grids, I had some recent experience with jqGrid and it wasn't terrible as JavaScript things go. :P)

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Charts are good for a few "columns" of data.

I eschew data grids entirely in my applications, and I work in an accounting center where everyone's catch-all solution is Excel. My job is largely about designing solutions for all the stuff that should not have been crammed into Excel in the first place.

I really like to use repeaters.

I work a lot with Windows Presentation Foundation, which is infinitely flexible in terms of templating data.

The value of using repeaters is that users can still quickly scan values based on the consistency of your item template, but within each item, instead of a very wide row, you can have a tidier arrangement of elements and they can be given relative weighting based on size and position. The element that a person (not a computer or database) will likely scan by, such as a name, can be more prominent. Less important data can be smaller and lighter in colour. Related information can be grouped. Data within the row that would make more sense in a vertical arrangement can be stacked vertically, like a contact's phone, fax, and cell numbers.

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I think this question can be generalized to "If I have a grid of values, when should I use a table to display them, and when should I use a graph".

Stepehn Few gives great advice about this question in his book "Show Me the Numbers", here is an extract from the book refering to this specific topic:

http://www.perceptualedge.com/images/Effective_Chart_Design.pdf

Quoting him:

A table works best when:

  • It is used to look up individual values
  • It is used to compare individual values
  • The values must be expressed precisely

A graph works best when the message is contained in the shape of the data, such as patterns, trends, co-relationships, and exceptions to the norm.

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