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For example, what if you have 100 valves in a process plant. You want to show at a glance their status, with the most important thing to notice is a value that indicates a valve that is in critical condition.

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Do you want to display this overlaid on a blueprint of the plant - or in an abstracted table of sorts? – icc97 Sep 20 '13 at 8:27
Just in an abstract way. The plant was just an example. I could have just said "processes", or sql server jobs, or anything. – Richard DesLonde Sep 20 '13 at 8:29
up vote 15 down vote accepted

I've implemented something along these lines - here the 'plant' is split into sections and then you display the sections in a hierarchical order and display a count of the red / green from each section along with a histogram:

enter image description here

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Wow! This is great. I think this is a great way to show a large number of status' in a small space, calling out those areas that need attention and giving the ability to drill in for more info. Awesome, thank you! – Richard DesLonde Sep 20 '13 at 18:56

A sorted list, with the important values on top. To add even more information for "quick-scanning", you can include the use of color coding (red colors for items at the top of the list, green for those at the bottom for example). While you could also use icons, just adding color coding keeps your interface simpler.

The sorted list assumes that it is not important for the user to quickly search for a specific item, because then you may have to consider keeping the valves in a fixed order (users expecting values of a certain valve to be on the lower-right corner, for example).

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+1 - I'd note though that depending on how often the list is updated the constant changing of positions brought by the sorting could be distracting. – Andy W Sep 20 '13 at 13:19
  1. Make the status distinguishable – use color coding, icons, different styles

  2. Make the data organized – sorting, filtring to minimize cognitive efforts

  3. Be sure of correct user mental model – to recognize status values

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